The Brutal Truth: The Makeup Artist Edition

That’s me in the background, doing touchups on the set of the first feature film I worked on. That one was overall a good experience with a nice cast and crew, but not all of my jobs have been that good.

Every industry has its pros and cons. Teachers may have summers off, but they also have to put up with some bratty kids and nightmare parents. Real estate agents may have the potential to bring in a lot of money, but they also have to deal with demanding clients and buyers who disappear after showing them eight houses a week for two months. And bartending may seem like a fun, social job, but would you want to cater to drunk people every time you went into work? Let’s not forget that people throwing up on a bar is a thing.

Working as a makeup artist is no different. Sure, we get to make people look pretty (or look the part) and that in turn helps them feel more confident. We are able to flex our creative muscles, which you don’t get to do in a lot of jobs. We get to meet a lot of people and work on cool projects. And some of us get to see our names in movie and television credits, which is a good feeling. But it’s not all glowing skin and long lashes (the makeup equivalent of “puppies and rainbows”). There are some negatives to being a makeup artist, and if you’re considering working in this industry, it might help you to be aware of what you could be up against.

Gossip Girl. When I interview Independent Contractors for AB Beauty, I always make sure to tell them we are not a catty, gossipy company. I say that because unfortunately a lot of salons and makeup and hair trailers on set have that atmosphere. And it’s not just a behind the scenes thing. Have you ever been at a salon, getting your hair done while your hair stylist or one next to you talks crap about a fellow employee or a client? Sure you have. I think we all have. I’m not saying every salon is like that–and I’ve been in plenty that are not–but it’s a reality if you’re working in the industry.

It’s not just salons either. I’ve worked with many awesome hair stylists and makeup artists on different films, commercials and television shows over the years, but I’ve also worked with a few who would talk badly about someone the second they walked out of the room or trailer. That makes me so uncomfortable and is part of the reason I no longer take certain jobs. If you’re thinking about working in the beauty industry, my biggest piece of advice to you is to stay out of the drama. Don’t badmouth coworkers, bosses, clients, other crew members–really anyone. It may feel like it’s making you closer to the person you’re talking with if you gossip with them, but it will come back and bite you, either when what you’re saying gets back to the subject of your tirade, or in the form of other people viewing you as a shit talker.

Don’t be a 10 year old girl. Save the drama for your mama (or better yet, avoid it entirely.)

When I’ve been face to face with a shit talker in the past, I’ve always tried to find a way to change the subject. For example, if Nice Person #1 leaves the room and the S Talker says “Nice Person is so full of herself. And she’s not even good at her job,” I would say “Have you worked with her before?” (a neutral question). If the S Talker said “Yeah,” I would ask what job they were on together. Then I would say something like “Oh, was that the one that went a week over schedule and messed everyone up?” or “Did you have a million overnights on that one?” or something off topic but in a natural way. Or if they hadn’t worked together before, I might say “I haven’t either,” then pull from my memory something that I meant to ask them at some point anyway. Like “Oh, I keep meaning to ask you! Have you tried that new Ben Nye powder? I heard it’s really good and I know you like that line.” You feel me? It’s a way out without joining in the gossip or walking away (which isn’t always possible). In this industry, your professional reputation is part of what gets you hired, so why risk losing opportunities because of badmouthing, which adds no value to anything anyway?

The Professional. The beauty industry has a reputation of being unprofessional. That’s not true of everyone in the industry, and those that I am friends with and associate with are professional. But the truth is, many people in the industry are not. I know this from personal experience and what I’ve seen and been told by other beauty service company owners and makeup artists. Over the course of the almost 11 years AB Beauty has been around, I have received several panicked calls from brides whose makeup artist or hair stylist cancelled weeks or days before their wedding. Can you imagine?!?! (I’m writing this on a Monday and got a panicked call from a bride whose makeup artist cancelled on her for this Friday.)

Professionalism encompasses not just showing up for a job–which you’d think would be a given–but arriving on time, being prepared and having appropriate conversations. It would be a) crazy to go out and get wasted the night before a job and b) tell that to a client, right? I’ve heard of hair stylists and makeup artists who have done just that. I’ve also heard of people who were dressed inappropriately, drank on the job (we get offered mimosas at most weddings!), left without finishing their work, etc. The good news is, if you can act and speak appropriately, show up on time and complete your work, the people who can’t or won’t do those things help you look better.

Are you one of those “I’m already running late but lemme grab a coffee” people? If so, stay out of the beauty industry. You won’t regularly get hired if that’s how you operate.

Even if you are professional, there are people who will assume you’re not, just based on the industry you’re in. It’s a stereotype you have to fight against, but you can prove people wrong. You’ll likely encounter others who decided to play into that stereotype and sometimes that will have an effect on you if you’re working with them, but if you show up on time, are prepared and have appropriate conversations, it will become pretty obvious that you are a true professional.

Noses Up In The Air. For whatever reason, some people look down at makeup artists. Those snobs don’t take our jobs seriously, and for no good reason. I think they think “How hard can it be to put lipstick on someone?” (First of all, no paying client wants just lipstick. And secondly, I’d bet all my money that they couldn’t do a perfect red lip on someone with uneven lips who tries to talk while lipliner is being applied.) People think a makeup artist’s job is just putting on makeup on others–which, by the way, most people couldn’t do without experience–but a) it’s not that easy and b) there’s more to a makeup artist’s job than just applying makeup.

If you’re going to be a makeup artist, you might encounter this even with people in your personal life. The mother of a friend of mine once said “Your parents must so happy that they paid for your college tuition and now you’re a makeup artist.” I thought, First of all, bitch, my parents did not pay for my college tuition, so don’t make assumptions, especially when your eyeliner is as jacked up as it is. But I said nothing, and went on to build a successful company and a lifestyle that she would surely be jealous of if she has to live in New England during the winter, which I believe she does.

If someone looks down on you because of your profession, hold your head up high, look them in the eyes and say “You have lipstick on your teeth.” Even if they don’t or they don’t wear lipstick, it’ll feel good to watch them squirm or be confused.

My advice to you if you want to be a makeup artist is to grow some thick skin (but keep it moisturized). If someone thinks they’re better than you because of their job, don’t let that affect you. What they think of your profession has zero impact on your success, so let them use their energy judging other people while you work a job you love and potentially make more money than them. (The average full day rate for a commercial makeup artist is anywhere between $500 – $1000, depending on the market you are in. So take that, snobs!) If someone thinks less of you because you’re a makeup artist, take solace in the fact that they are wrong, you are right and your face will always look better than their’s.

D-I-S-R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You’d think when you’re on set at least, other people you were working for or with would understand the importance of your job, right? WRONG. The snobs you find looking in from the outside and judging you without really knowing what you do aren’t as bad as the ones who judge you and treat you disrespectfully, even though they are on a set or at a job with you. I’m talking about directors, producers, photographers, wedding planners and others who rush us makeup artists even when we are on time. Or stand in our way/our light while we are working. Or pull someone we are about to do makeup on for a 15 minute meeting then get mad when we are not done on time, etc. Yet we are expected to have the utmost respect for everyone’s job. Know what would happen if a makeup artist walked in front of the camera mid-shot? All hell would break loose!

There’s also sometimes just a general sense of “we’re better than you” that you can feel at some jobs. What the people who are giving off that vibe don’t realize is that the actor/bride/client/model/politician we are doing makeup on is not going to want to be on camera or in front of a crowd without spending some quality time with a makeup artist first. Trust me, no one wants to be filmed or photographed with dark undereye circles, redness or a shiny T-zone.

I’m lucky enough to work with a great crew, producer and hosts on the TV show I work on, and most of the wedding planners I work with at this point are respectful and protective of my time and set up area the day of. I sometimes get to work with awesome wedding photographers, and I love it when they are there. But I’ve also been on jobs with several photographers and videographers who try to move my makeup while I’m working (not my fault if I bite your hand as an automatic response to that), turn off lights while I’m working because they need different light for their shot of a wedding invitation, hit my shoulder with their camera lens while I am applying lipstick, etc.

I once had a photographer move a couch in front of my set up while I was working, essentially boxing me in, and when I asked them to move it after they were done getting a picture of the bridesmaids’ dresses, they looked at me, said “No,” and walked out of the room. I had to climb over the couch and then lift my heavy kit over it to be able to leave. The photographer had left some camera lenses on the couch and I thought “I could ‘accidentally’ pour my brush cleaner on these lenses and ruin some very expensive equipment,” but I let my Professional side overrule my Sicilian side, and I walked out. (Then I texted my photographer friend, Joe Laurin–who would never treat a makeup artist like that–to vent.)

On the set of short film “His Take On Her.” That was another great cast and crew and a fun job, if a little bloody.

If you want to be a makeup artist, you’ll work some great jobs with people who respect and understand the importance of your work, just as you (should) respect and understand the importance of their’s. But you’ll also inevitably work with some real jokers who think your job isn’t important and that you’re not smart or professional. These assholes have their minds made up about you before they meet you, so pay them no heed. Just try to not let it ruin your day when you do have to interact with them. It’s your job to do your best work and be professional, no matter what kind of jerks you encounter along the way (barring of course inappropriate or abusive behavior). You can bitch about them to someone in your personal life after you leave the job. I once told my father about an assistant director was who was rude and disrespectful to the female crew members on set, and for some reason described what the guy looked like. My father’s response was “Guys who look and act like that usually get punched.” Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but it made me feel better. So if it makes you feel better to think that a person who is rude is to you on a job is the type to get punched, imagine them getting clocked and see if that helps.

Trade Off. When you start out as a makeup artist, one of the most important things you’ll need to do is start a portfolio. But how do you get pictures of your work when no one is going to hire you because you don’t have a portfolio? The answer is trade work (aka “testing”). Find a photographer, hair stylist and model who are all also starting out and collaborate on a shoot that you can all use the photos from in your portfolios. I recommend doing that as often as possible until you build a portfolio that shows potential clients a good selection of your work. It’s smart to do these type of trade shoots when you’re starting out, as they will set you apart from the “makeup artists” who just have Instagram accounts with non-pro photos of makeup they’ve done on themselves and friends.

Trade work can also be something like doing makeup for the cover of a local magazine who doesn’t pay you but gives you free advertising in their publication, or doing makeup for the owner of a clothing boutique’s branding photos in exchange for a gift certificate to their store. This is part of the bartering world, and as long as you think the exchange is worth it for your time and level of experience, it’s not a bad thing.

Evidence of some 2013 trade work I did. Worth it. Photo: Jacqueline Marque Photography
Hair: Alexandra Wilson for Allison Barbera Beauty

But there’s another type of “trade” work that will surely be offered to you, and it’s less “trade” than “volunteer” work, except it’s not true volunteer work that is done for a good cause (like the Look Good, Feel Better program.) What I’m referring to is a job that is offered to you for no pay, but with the promise of “good exposure” (cue eye rolling from any veteran makeup artists reading this). If you are going to be a makeup artist, you’ll likely field several offers from people who want you to do makeup for a shoot, small fashion show, competition, etc. for free, but with the guarantee that you’ll get good exposure from doing the job. I don’t know if it’s common to be asked to work for free outside of the beauty industry, but it is very prevalent in this industry.

I took some of this “good exposure” work when I started, partly because I didn’t know any better and partly because I needed the practice. I don’t think I ever directly got any work from those type of jobs, but I did gain some experience, which has its own value. After a while, I realized I didn’t need those types of jobs. I’ll still very occasionally do a trade shoot if it’s with an AB Beauty hair stylist, a photographer I love and a model whose look I like, but that’s it. For anything other than that, unless you are my mother, my sister in law or select cousins, if my foundation brush touches your face, you’re paying me. This is my livelihood, and my time and my products–along with my 10+ years of experience–are worth more than one million exposure “dollars.”

When you are starting out, it may be worth it to take some exposure jobs to get experience, but I wouldn’t take this type of unpaid work past your first year as a makeup artist. I also wouldn’t do it that often, as your time would be better spent doing trade shoots and taking classes.

This ended up being a lot longer than I intended! Surprise, surprise, I have a lot to say about my career as a makeup artist. For me, the pros heavily outweigh the cons, and even my worst day in this career is better than my best day in my previous careers, as I’m doing something I enjoy, and on my own terms.

If you are starting out as a makeup artist or thinking about becoming one, I think it makes you better prepared if you’re aware of some of the not-so-great things you may encounter. No job is perfect, but if you love what you do, are good at it and are professional, this job can be damn close.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

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