What do you do when you hear about a job in an industry you haven’t worked in? I’ll tell you: you immediately picture what that job is. Maybe you only come up with fuzzy details (“Ok, Hedge Fund Manager. Something about investing other people’s money?”). Or maybe you think, “Kindergarten teacher. Teaches cute little kids the alphabet for nine months a year.” (Wrong.) But if you’re an adult, unless you’ve truly never heard anything about that job (like how we all felt when we first heard about “social media influencers”), you likely have some idea of what that job entails.
I would argue (against myself, it seems) that we don’t really know most of what people’s jobs truly are unless we have had their job or worked in their industry. While I will admit that the makeup artist part of my job is a little easier to understand than the entrepreneur part, I think there are still a lot of misconceptions and/or things people have no idea about when it comes to the job of a professional, working makeup artist. And guess what I’m here to do? That’s right. Clear it up.
And if you don’t know, now you know. (Or you will by the end of this post.)
- It’s hard for us to identify colors. I don’t mean that we are colorblind. I just mean we see undertones and/or temperature (cool or warm) in every color we look at, unless it’s pure black or pure white. Go ahead, try to show a makeup artist something brown. We’re going to call it a “reddish brown” or an “orange brown.” Blue? Well, is it a gray blue or a purple blue or hold on, isn’t that flecked with silver? The red dress you’re wearing is a cool red or a warm red to us, and the pink couch? It could be a blue pink (yes, that’s a thing) in our eyes. So if you ask us what color something is and we pause, it’s not because we don’t know. It’s because we usually see more than one color in everything we look at.
- This shit hurts. Makeup artists carry a lot of gear. Kits, chairs, set bags, lighting, overflow bags (that’s what I call the extra bags I bring when my main kit for a job is full.) We have to lug this stuff through parking lots and garages, up and down stairs, and back out at the end of sometimes brutally long days. We also often stand for hours at a time, sometimes on the concrete floor of a film or television studio, which is a stellar way to cause back pain. One summer, I sprained both wrists carrying my stuff back and forth to weddings and shoots. And every time I lift my pro kit, I feel something pull in my neck. (Likely part of the reason I’ve had to go to a chiropractor three times a week all winter.) You may not think of makeup artistry as a physically demanding job, but surprise!, it is.
- We haven’t tried every product ever created. There are so many beauty products out there. So many. Although I would love to try each one, I don’t have the time or budget for that, and I feel confident every other makeup artist on the planet would say the same. So if you tell a makeup artist you use a certain mascara and are met with a blank stare, it’s because they are not familiar with it. That doesn’t mean it’s not good and you shouldn’t use it. It just means they haven’t tried it. Got it?
- Meals can be tough for us. Sometimes, we are on set or with clients for several hours straight with no real breaks. And we are usually driving to jobs, so our “dinners” are often protein bars scarfed down while driving home from a long day. So if you encounter a makeup artist who seems bitchy, they are probably just hangry. And that is our right.
- We don’t always wear makeup. If I’m going out or going to an event, I am wearing makeup. If I’m on a corporate gig or doing a wedding, full face. But any other time, you might catch me in just mascara and undereye concealer (which I barely even consider to be makeup). Most of the makeup artists I know do not always wear makeup, or at least not always a full face of it. We tend to be busy creatures, and while most of us can do a ten minute face if we have to, we usually prefer to have the time to do our own makeup in more of a relaxed fashion. So when we don’t have that time, we may shock you and your preconceived notions by opting for no or very little makeup.
- We’re not judging your makeup. Are we noticing it? Yes. But are we judging you? No! (At least not in my experience or from what I’ve heard others say.) We know you are not a pro, and we don’t expect your makeup to be perfect. In fact, I personally tend to be more concerned that my makeup looks good, as I’m the professional, so it should. So if you’re meeting your makeup artist friend for Happy Hour, don’t feel pressure to make sure your makeup is, as the kids say, “on fleek.” You look great!
- We don’t want to do your makeup when we are not working. My first couple years in business, I liked doing my friends’ makeup before we went out. I think it was a combination of being excited to be a makeup artist and being in my 20s and loving getting ready for nights out together with a friend. But somewhere along the line, even though I still love my job, it began to feel like work. And that’s because it is! Especially being a business owner, a lot of the lines between my personal life and my work life are blurred. Meaning I don’t have set hours, so I jump back and forth between work and personal, work and personal, all day. So when I know I can get into Personal Life Mode for a couple hours straight, I don’t want to turn that off and go back into Makeup Artist Mode by doing someone’s makeup. Every MUA I know feels the same way. We want to spend time with our friends and family when we are not working, not cover their undereye circles. Sorry! I can’t lie to you in my own blog.
- Our job is not just doing makeup. It doesn’t matter what part of the industry a makeup artist works in–there are always tasks we have to do that don’t include doing makeup. Getting clients, marketing, booking work, collecting payments, applying for pro discounts–the list goes on and on, especially for freelancers and business owners. It would be nice to just show up to a job, but how did we get the job? And the liability insurance we have to carry to set foot on that set? Did the makeup order itself? And who made that portfolio that potential clients look at? Much like a teacher’s job doesn’t end when the dismissal bell rings, a makeup artist’s job doesn’t end when the setting spray is on.
- It’s not a glamorous profession. Do makeup artists help people look more glamorous? Absolutely. But is the job glamorous? Well, I have to check people’s noses for “bears in the cave” before they go on camera, so you tell me. Sure, being a makeup artist for weddings sometimes means we get to pull up to a luxury hotel, valet park and set up in a beautiful, well-lit suite. But it also sometimes mean we are doing makeup in a small, dark lakeside Airbnb cabin and oh, we have to set up in a bathroom that has maybe seen better days. And don’t even get me started about the glamour of working in film. The first time I used a Porta Potty in my adult life was when I was working on an indie that was filming all day at a beach location. It makes a girl not want to drink anything all day, you know? As makeup artists, we are often on our feet all day, often barely eating and setting up wherever we are allowed to, which can be a gorgeous room in a five start hotel or a dirty basement in the house where a commercial is being filmed. We ignore all of that stuff because we still get to do what we love, but it’s not a life of luxury for us when we are working.
- Doing makeup is draining. It is so important to me that every person who is in my chair is happy. I put 150% into every makeup application I do, as do most makeup artists I know (and certainly everyone on the AB Beauty team!). When I’m doing makeup, I’m in the zone. I am thinking about nothing else but doing what I need to do to get a smile on that client’s face when they look in the mirror after I am done. And it’s not just that I do makeup–I have genuine conversations with my clients (unless I can tell they are not in the mood to talk), so I’m putting into effort there too because I want them to enjoy the entire experience. But when it’s over–whether I did one trial, six people at a wedding or a ten hour day on a commercial–I’ve got nothing left. I feel like I temporarily give away a part of my soul with each makeup application, and other makeup artists I’ve talked to say the same. We all have said that we need some recovery time after, and I’m guessing it’s the same for most people who work in any creative field. I can tell that some of my friends and family don’t understand why I’m a zombie after four hours of doing wedding makeup, but this is why. This is probably one of those things that are hard to understand if you haven’t been there, so just trust me, okay?
What do you think? Do you feel like you have a little more insight into the world of a makeup artist? Hopefully you now have a better grasp on what we do. This profession is a lot different than I pictured when I started, and I even knew a bit about it, so I can’t imagine what, oh, someone like my father who only knows foundation to be “what a building is built on” might think.
Fellow makeup artists–if I missed anything or if you have a different take, I’d love to hear it.
Have a beautiful day 🙂