There are few questions I am asked more than ‘how do I get into make up?’ and there are so many aspects to the role as professional make up artist I couldn’t possible fit them into one short, conversation. So I thought it would be best I address the basic steps in a post. A lot of people will tell you that getting into make up ‘is super easy’ (queue me shaking my head in the background) and others will say it isn’t easy, and they aren’t lying. If you dream of working at a make up counter, this is probably easier than being freelance and being entirely responsible for your own income, with freelance comes pressures you wont expect, and may not be ready to face. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but here is my guide.
I wasn’t lucky enough to be trained in a school or on an intensive course like a lot of people are, there are plenty of short courses out there and lots of schools i have visited and can highly recommend (Cassie Lomas would be top of my books) there are free courses run at local colleges, and paid for classes that tend to offer a more personal and intense education. If you are young and a 2 year course is free to you, take it, I promise it will be worth it.
On the other hand, I know some amazing make up artists who are self taught, like myself, who decided we wanted to do make up and picked up a brush and started doing. If you have the skills and are willing to build up experience, you can achieve just as much as those who are trained. I taught myself by watching other artists work, constantly applying and reapplying make up to myself, my mum, anyone who would sit still long enough, and reading every make up book I could get my hands on.
Being self taught can still be expensive, at make up schools you are generally provided with a start up make up kit, to help you through your training, something which isn’t provided when you are self taught and starting out. When i started i had £200 to buy everything i needed for my kit, which wasn’t a lot. So I was forced to reinvest my earnings in products, meaning it took a little longer to make a living from make up.
Building a Kit
An artist is only as good as their tools… Don’t fret if you’re still rocking MUA 12 eyeshadow palettes when you start up, with proper primers etc. they can be amazing! Remember it takes a great deal of time and money to build up a professional standard kit. As i mentioned before, during a lot of courses you are given a start up kit. People generally don’t want to pay you to use make up they can buy on their own, girls often coo over my Mac Palettes, and ogle at lipsticks and demand i write down where they can get it. Theres nothing wrong with mixing in a little drug store with your high end, but remember what your clients are paying for, not just the application, but the exposure to new products.
If you are lucky enough to attend a course that links with big brands that allow you a student discount, great! Buy an item or two a week if you can and by the end of your course you should have a good selection, but don’t be lured in by new shiny products when you’re lacking in staple products. You’re shopping for your kit, not yourself.
High street Vs High End?
I personally don’t use high street (drugstore) foundations in my kit, this is because i feel they do not last as well, and although there are plenty out there that are good for the everyday, I don’t want to use a product that doesn’t feel like pure luxury on a client who is paying for my service. Most of the products i use are high end, i enjoy some high street lip liners (MUA do some lovely waxy ones for £1 that stand up to hot studio lights) and eyeliners, such as Barry M. I will occasionally use drug store mascaras on clients, but it really depends on the job.
Keep it clean
I cant even tell you how many make up girls I’ve seen starting out with filthy train cases and brushes rattling around inside. Get rubbing alcohol and clear the inside of your train case, the packing of your make up, and brushes. Lets not give anyone an infection now? I knew a girl who had studied make up yet had never been taught about about hygiene, so please keep your kit clean and sterile, Please.
Before you start.
There are three things I think any make up artist needs before starting out, the last two will be addressed later, but first and foremost you should get Public Liability Insurance. This protects you in the event your kit is stolen or damaged. It also protects you against law suits by clients. Things happen, we can’t always anticipate problems. People who are fine with a product one day can have an allergic reaction the next, infections can occur even if you have been as careful as possible. Part of our job is too protect our client, with proper sterilisation, but its best to protect yourself first and foremost.
Secondly, Business cards and self promotion material.
Lastly, a good understanding of the tax man.
Once you have acquired a certificate to prove your trained, and/or have done some professional work (usually publications or film and TV) you can apply for pro discount schemes. The general requirements are certificates, call sheets, tear sheets, business cards, letters of recommendations etc.) and these range from 20-40% depending on the brand, most big brands do them, but the bigger the name, usually the harder to acquire. For a list of discount schemes i belong too, please let me know and I will do a separate post.
Generally, before you can start to make a real living from make up (joining agencies, acquire paid work) you need to build a portfolio to prove your work is worth paying for. This is a record of your experience and skills, and is essentially a visual CV that can be presented to anyone interested in hiring you. There are a number of ways to do this, but personally i did Time For Print (TFP) with models and photographers all looking to build portfolios together. This gives your portfolio a professional edge, as a few snaps of a smokey eye done on your mum from your smart phone will not cut it.
Contact them, don’t wait for them to contact you. Set up a profile on TFP sites, such as model mayhem, the creative book, pure storm, etc. and start emailing photographers and models in the local area, hook up with hair stylists and any other professionals working to the same goal, if the shoot has a range of professionals on set, that can only make the images better. Its always good to contact local colleges or fashion schools, and ask if you can come in and do make up for any shows or end of year productions. Ask the coordinator for a letter of recommendation at the end, take your images and move on.
Know when its ok to get paid.
If you’re working for more than a few hours on a set that is going into print or publication, ask for pay. Don’t expect to be able to charge the high rates right away, but if you were located through a TFP site, its probably best to ask for expenses (Travel, Lunch) plus a fee for your time. There are a small number of people out on these sites that just want a job done for free, so make sure you read comments on pages and make clear your terms. If you have a healthy looking portfolio, move on and get paid.
When i started it was standard to have a portfolio book. A nice folder (standard size 11 by 14) where you would place photographs of work you have done. Nowadays, its acceptable to have a website instead. I personally feel that having both is ideal. You can take your Portfolio book to meetings with Clients and let them mosey through it (this always works in my favor, they love the personal touch of browsing my work at their leisure, instead of at a computer) but they also often ask for a link to the website to get an idea of the work you do before arranging a meeting. This can also be sent to agencies who represent other MUAs if you want to do some assisting work.
Social Networks and Self Promotion
Its so easy now to get the word out there that you can do make up, but just because you can hold a make up brush and take lots of photos of make up you’ve done on yourself doesn’t make you a make up artist.
One thing I’ve really struggled with in the last few years is the amount of girls on twitter and instagram labelling themselves ‘make up artists’. Just like the girls who pay for photo shoots and then call themselves a model. Personally, I think you are a make up artist if you can make a comfortable living. Please be aware of fakes out there. This makes it much harder for real working make up artists to gain clients, if they are charging £20 and we are charging £50, theres probably a good reason we get to charge so much.
Don’t forget to be humble, if you have the chance to work with a celeb, don’t tweet all day about it. Generally any contract I receive to work with high profile clients bans the use of social media while on set, and I respect that. Celebrities suffer from an inhumane lack of privacy, so stick their eyelashes on without telling the world.
It takes time to build a client base that will support you in the longterm, so freelance is a great way to go to gain experience, clients and a little bit of money. You should be building relationships with other brands and will hopefully be becoming known for your work in your field over time. It can take years to build up a client base that will keep your diary busy.
Most people I know in the industry go into Bridal and Prom make up first, they are great earners, relatively easy looks and can be done in the local area (I personally do not enjoy dragging a 20 kg train case on the train to London often…)
Drop your business card in dress makes, wedding shops, florists, bakeries, and make sure you introduce yourself and talk passionately about your business. Its these little places that bring in the big business.
I find being freelance very rewarding, and self motivation is a big part of my life. A lot of new make up artists do both freelance work and have a day job, this can be great if you’re struggling with bookings for a few weeks at a time. Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t swimming in bookings right away, treat each client like a superstar, and word will soon travel about what a great service you provide.
Remember the Tax Man.
When you receive your first paycheck, remember that you have to pay tax on that. Especially if you’re freelance. A lot of young girls coming into make up i speak too have no idea how about taxes, national insurance, and i think it should be a part of any curriculum teaching.
When any money i earn hits my account I separate enough for my Tax and NI at the end of the year into a separate account, this means no nasty surprises when i receive my tax bill for the year!
And learn to do your taxes and invoices. I have a folder I have labelled ‘ OUT ’ and one labelled ‘ IN ‘ this is where i keep copies of my invoices, and mark them as ‘paid’ once they are no longer outstanding. I usually give clients 30 days (four working weeks) to pay my invoice, unless it is an agreed pay on the day job.
I put all my receipts in the folder OUT organized by month, I then also include a copy of my bank statement with highlighted sections. At the end of the month I total the amount I spent on work related items, and the amount I earned and write the difference down. When you start out, you will not likely be in profit for a little while, don’t be scared, it does get better.
It can be scary to put yourself out there for the world to see, to hope that people will want to pay you for what you love doing. There will be knock backs, but remember to take them constructively, and remember why you are doing it. Its a huge financial burden at first, you have no real promise of steady work, but remember you can do this, and you will if you try hard enough! Good luck!