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How To Become A Professional Makeup Artist

makeup artist

By Blake Barnett

| Video Production, Video Tips



As a working Art Director and Storyboard Illustrator, I’ve drawn and painted my share of peoples’ faces over the years rendering their likenesses on canvases and sheets of paper. However, one day I experienced an epiphany and made the connection, between what I had been doing as an artist working with pencils, pens and brushes on blank pages IN a sketchbook, and the work of a professional Makeup Artist using similar tools to superimpose a beautiful image onto an individual’s face. 


Each and every model or actor is simply a blank canvas for the Professional Makeup Artist to work his or her art: And please understand, applying Makeup to a human being is an ART, at least as much as anything else in life.  In fact, the tools of my trade are nearly identical to theirs so by working with a series of brushes, pencils and color palettes, you’ll learn how to contour a woman’s features; lay down a primer; apply the foundation; and choose precisely where on her face to place those contrasting values in the form of highlights, concealers, blushes, lip gloss and mascara, to add dimension and color to give each woman her own special look.  In essence, the Makeup Artist is painting a portrait, an idealized vision of the woman and applying it right onto her face.  To drive the point home, there are even some Makeup Artists who’ve taken their art a step further by creating portraits using only the materials found in their makeup kits. Here’s a short video demonstrating how one particular artist, Sofia Metaxas, mixes her arts. SofiaMeTaxas But I digress. Let’s focus first on what it will take to get you started working in the field professionally. 


makeup artist The Professional Makeup Artist begins by learning all he or she can about the talent they’ll be working with that day. They’ll want to see photos, videos and headshots of the talent as well as some indication as to the specific art direction and styling needs that have been pre-assigned by the producers to the film and to the character. You could begin by asking yourself, what’s the look and feel of the picture? Is it naturalistic? Historic? Dramatic? Futuristic? Apocalyptic?  If you are serious about become a Professional Makeup Artist working in Film, Video or Theater, you’ll need to learn a bit about the language of light, color and texture and how your work serves the emotional arc of the story. 


As I also learned during my ad agency years, hiring the right Makeup Artist is absolutely critical to the look of any production: But perhaps more importantly, the right Makeup Artist can also be critical to the on-camera actor or model who’s been cast to appear in the production.  This is why you’ll want to become more compassionate, more insightful, more thoughtful, and be willing to provide a shoulder to cry on for any emotionally damaged actors who may lack experience or feel insecure playing a challenging role or working for a difficult director.  Think of it this way: Every actor who has landed any part in any movie, commercial or soap opera, has had to repeatedly run a gauntlet of rejections. From Cattle Calls to Casting Sessions to Callbacks: At each stage of the casting process an actor faces the prospect of being cut from the production and losing their part to someone else. That’s tough! Facing constant rejection, especially if the criteria for selection are your physical looks, can take its toll and damage an actor’s psychic well being over time. For that reason alone, having an empathetic, understanding Cosmetologist to make you appear absolutely stunning and frequently remind you of how gorgeous you look, might just give an insecure actor that emotional boost and a feeling of self confidence they might need to knock it out of the park when the camera starts to roll. “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” Many directors willingly give credit to the Makeup Artist for enhancing their actors’ performances as well as providing an artistic look to their pictures.


So let’s begin with the mechanics of what you’ll need: One of the first is to get our terms straight. An individual who is trained and certified for cosmetics is called a Makeup Artist; a person trained and certified to work with hair is called a Stylist; while an artist trained and certified to do both is referred to as a Cosmetologist. As one of the several “departments” serving the production, a common way to reference your services is “Hair & Makeup,” which is often abbreviated simply as “HMU.”  You also need to understand that there is a steep learning curve involved in working at the professional level of any field and this is especially true in the field of Cosmetology.  You’ll want to consider all your options because, whichever route you choose, you should be aware of the need to dedicate yourself fully and wholeheartedly to the task of educating yourself, understanding that it’s going to require a considerable commitment of both time and treasure to reach your goal. 


The surest route, if not the most costly, would be to enroll in any of the Cosmetology Schools scattered around the country in order to get the proper training and certification. You should be careful however since they are all different and some can be very expensive.  If you do choose to attend a Cosmetology School, make sure you‘ll be learning both Makeup and Hair. They are distinctly different skills and have different certification processes that can vary by state but knowing how to do both is crucial. We’ll talk more about that need later. For example, Paul Mitchell is a large, national chain with a good reputation: However their specialty is Hair, not Makeup and they focus heavily on promoting their own line of beauty products. That can be okay if you simply want to be a Hair Stylist but do your research first because the tuition alone can cost you $12,000 and up and that’s just for a single course of study.  So choose wisely: We’ve provided a couple of links to sites that break down a number of the different licensed Cosmetology Schools scattered around the country by state. As you can see, each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  Top Cosmetology Schools Beauty Schools Directory


However, there is something you can start doing immediately to help yourself and this is spending time watching as many YouTube videos as you can and learning how different professionals apply Makeup and style Hair.  By doing so you’ll also become familiar with the tools of the trade that each artist finds useful. Of course, every video and Makeup Artist will be different so bookmark those you find the most compelling and helpful to be reviewed later as you make progress. JLo’s Makeup Artist Does My Makeup Another thing you can do to jumpstart your career is to line up a number of friends and family members who might be willing to let you practice on them. Most people will let you play with their makeup since it can all be easily removed if something goes wrong but if you give somebody a bad haircut it can put you in the doghouse with them for a very long time: At least until their hair grows out and they can get it fixed. So go slow and easy on peoples’ hair, at least in the beginning.


Oftentimes in film production, budgets will simply require you to be able to fulfill both Hair & Makeup duties on set or on location. Having the skills to do both will certainly make it easier for you to find work, whether you’re aspirations are to work on movie set, in salons, at cosmetic counters. Even if you’re just styling a wedding or a quinceaño, having one individual certified in both skills is a definite plus and simplifies life for everyone involved.


By now you’ll know that you would need to outfit yourself with a Professional Makeup Kit. These can also be quite expensive so let’s discuss your kit now.  One place you can get the high quality theatrical beauty products at a reasonable price is at Camera Ready Cosmetics. This site specializes in beauty products that are created for people working in production. Unlike Armani and Dior with their huge advertising budgets, the products from Ben Nye, Cinema Secrets and Joe Blasco are designed and priced for Professional Makeup Artists. The fact that you’ve probably never heard of them is why you’ll save money. CameraReadyCosmetics Now let’s get back to what goes into your kit: It should contain a range of different sized brushes; some hair clips; scissors; an eyelash curler; and rather than mixing colors on back of your hand, you might want to invest in a number of small, inexpensive metal palettes for mixing colors.  Speaking of mixing, don’t forget your foundations, concealers and bronzers, which you will need in a variety of shades and skin tones. Face powders; lip balms; setting powders eye shadow, eyeliners; a brow palette with brow gel and setter; smudge-proof eye shadow base; assortment of glitters; liquid eye shadow; eyelashes and lash glue to apply them; and of course, waterproof mascara in an array of shades. Last but not least, your kit should include a number of disposable items such as moisturizers; rubbing alcohol; makeup remover; small spatulas for mixing; and brush cleaners to disinfect and sterilize your tools between clients. You’ll also need an assortment of different sponges and clean towels for laying out your tools on your makeup table. While it’s not technically part of your kit, of course you’ll want to purchase a comfortable Makeup Artist’s chair for you and another for your talent. You will be sitting for hours at a time so you might as well both be comfortable. Building an inexpensive kit Freelance Makeup Kit


Once you’re trained and certified, and have confidence you can perform on the job there is one final step to go: You’ll need to know how to handle yourself as a business and you can start by increasing your visibility on set by having your name stenciled on your new chair. This lets everyone on set know who’s been hired to do HMU. Bring along some business cards, too. One of the most difficult parts of being a budding Cosmetologist is knowing what your time is worth and establishing the proper rates to support your business. This should include a percentage of your earnings you set aside for marketing your brand. That’s right, you will become a brand and you will want to separate yourself from the crowd of other very able Cosmetologists out there. Good luck! Related Articles: