Everything You Need to Know About Being a Make Up Artist

Here it is, everything you need to know about being a make up artist.  This is the stuff no one tells you about becoming a make up artist, the nitty gritty, the first hand accounts from real professional make up artists.  I’ll cover the pros, the cons, the ins and outs…a comprehensive guide.

As a working make up artist myself, naturally a lot of my close friends are also in the industry.  It becomes a bit of a family you see, so when I posed a few questions to the lads and ladies, I got some really interesting replies….some answers even I didn’t know!  IMG_4058It seems every young girl (and some of the boys too) want to be an ‘MUA’ these days, I’ve unfollowed, muted or blocked countless social media accounts that spew reams of “Instagram eyes” (as I call them, you know the ones…half open, tilted to the side and filtered to f**k).  An industry in overload, influenced by of-the-moment celebrities and their make up artist entourages (some of the Kardashian’s glam squad are almost as famous as the sisters!) and the illusion of a glamorous lifestyle.

This guide isn’t meant to put off budding make up artists, far from it.  Instead it’s an honest account of the finer details, why for some it’s worth it and for others make up simply isn’t the be-all and end-all.

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First of all reasons for wanting to become a make up artist.  Never go into something for the wrong reasons, you’ll never end up with the right outcome (like trying to win the X Factor for the fame, Ben Who-now?).  Some of the best make up artists I know fell into the job accidentally, through drag artistry or just plain art, but not everyone was always creative or arty.  In fact, I can’t draw or paint and I’ve never studied art.  Give me a face and I’ll paint it but a piece of paper or canvas? Forget it. I’ll dispel some of the myths about money, freebies and lifestyle a bit later.

I quit my job and went back to college full-time as a mature student (just about, mind) to learn make up artistry.  That’s how serious I was about the career change I desperately wanted.  I realised after two failed attempts at uni (I lasted about a month in Trinity) and lots of boring office, banking and retail jobs, that it might be better to stop doing what I thought I should do and do what I wanted to do instead.  While I don’t think I actually learned that much during my year diploma in fashion, media and special effects make up artistry, I did come out with the skills I needed to progress further into my chosen career.  I got a job working for Inglot, but MAC was where I had my mind firmly set and when I got there, that’s when I really started to learn about make up.  Training is all well and good, but the things you pick up from other artists day-to-day are invaluable.  While I hated retail cosmetics (at the end of the day, it is still just a sales job…all about the figures. And the pay? Not much more than minimum wage), I’d recommend it as a stepping stone for any wannabe make up artist.  I made life-long friends through my job, built up my professional kit (hefty discounts!) and gained the confidence and ability to become a much better artist.  If I’m being honest, though, the real reason I left was to head off on the holiday of a lifetime to LA for three months and not surprisingly they wouldn’t give me the time off…go figure?

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So, the moral of that part is to get some good quality training, spend every weekend doing make up for family and friends asking for honest constructive criticism, get better… and then apply to every counter in every department store until you get a job working on new faces every single day.  Set yourself a time limit with goals to achieve in that time, then get out.  Retail ruins lives people (I will NEVER forget the day I left my cosy pyjama-clad, chocolate-eating, movie-watching family to go to work St. Stephens’ day on counter, soul destroying and completely and utterly unnecessary).

After that, the world is your oyster.  There’s so many different paths you could go down in this industry so try not to get stuck in a rut.  I’ve worked in TV (on and off screen), on weddings, fashion shows, been a Beauty Editor, tutor, Head of Education in a make up college, worked with brands training their staff.  Now I write about beauty, make up and male grooming, I get to review products and treatments (spa breaks are classed as work!) and one day I hope to get into product development.  I get sent tonnes of products to review and use now, but that was never on the agenda from the beginning and I spent every spare penny on building  up my professional kit.  As a result my product knowledge across a broad variety of brands is really strong.  It’s so important to know your stuff and not just about your favourite brand.  Watch YouTube videos, read blogs, do your research and become an expert! The opportunities are endless… if you make them.

IMG_4060All sounds pretty good so far, right?  Let’s get into some of the ugly stuff…here are some of the answers to ‘the worst part of your job’ question I asked my make up artist friends;

“Long hours and Christmas in retail”. “Never having a weekend off, sacrificing social life, early mornings (like 4am), people contacting you late at night, never being able to fully switch off”. “Working weekends and long days”. (This answer was unanimous across the board).

“Suffering back problems”.

“The shallow opinion some people have that you must be stupid and only into all things girly”. 

“MONEY, STRESS, EMPTY DIARIES”

“People expecting you to work for free… be it a friend, family member, stylist or another person organising a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ for their club/ school/dog”

So, you get the drift right?  It’s not all fun and games, but what job is? A beach location shoot might sound glamorous but it’s not always practical and in Ireland, almost always freezing.

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So, what makes it worth it?

“Receiving an email from a client you worked on years ago who kept your details because they loved how you made them look and feel”

“Getting to meet new interesting people and working with amazing, talented artists”

“Being able to express my creativity. It’s like being paid for my hobby! The flexibility of the job is also fantastic as I can basically just work when it suits me”

And every single one said, “making people feel better”.  Giving people confidence is something we’re lucky enough to be able to do and it’s so rewarding! The end results (of that ice cold location) can be pretty worthwhile too…

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What about some career highlights gang?

“Working with Florence + The Machine”

“Working at London Fashion Week”

“Working on Joan Rivers and going on Paul Simon’s European tour….oh and doing a photo shoot on a yacht in Capri and Sorrento”

For some though, the industry isn’t stable enough to support a family or pay a mortgage and while that might not be something you’re thinking of when starting out, some of the make up artists I spoke to said that if they could give their younger selves career advice it would be to choose a better paid, more secure job.  For those who packed it all in and chose a different avenue, the main reasons were irregular hours and poor pay/unreliable source of income for their families.  We’ve got make up artists turned midwives, competitive athletes, teachers and life coaches in our group, so it’s safe to say creativity and an ability to work closely with other humans are a must!

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Something else that cropped up more than a few times during my research was the seemingly never ending flow of new artists to an already saturated market.  Healthy competition is always a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but the issue is to do with qualifications being thrown around like they mean something when anyone who is anyone in make up knows experience and talent are and/or should be the only things that really matter.  A lot of newly qualified artists work for free, is that right?  It’s not my place to say.  Getting your name out there is important and lots of brands/publications might not have the budget to pay a make up artist/hair stylist so they’ll offer to print your name (e.g. ‘Make Up by Nadia El Ferdaoussi’) in the credits section in return for your make up services.  This is fairly normal practice but some artists find it frustrating and feel like they’re having work stolen from them.  It’s important to remember where and how you started and how you got your break.  I think the real issue is clientele wanting to pay poorly yet still expect a good quality make up artist, you get what you pay for and hopefully in time people will really realise this (or maybe I’m just naïve!)

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Unfortunately, like with anything, sometimes it can be a case of who you know, not what you know.  Don’t be put off by this, try and network as much as possible.  Make contacts, you never know who you’re talking to, what they do or who they know. Social media and marketing yourself are a must.  Facebook is fine for local business, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are more worldwide (one of Rihanna’s personal make up artists famously got noticed through her IG account!).  Also keep in contact with other artists you studied with or have worked with. I’m part of a group of ex-colleagues (and friends!) who are always sharing jobs.  It’s often the case you get bookings for more than one job on the same day, it’s great to be able to recommend someone else and the favour will be returned during quieter times.

Another way to get some experience and images is to do test shoots with up and coming photographers and stylists, all working for free collectively to produce something great.  You’ll often get asked to style hair too, be honest about your experience…don’t over exaggerate your skills just to get the gig.  A lot of the time you’ll be expected to do both, so maybe consider a basic hair styling course.

I couldn’t finish this post without adding a funny story from one of my make up artist friends that got the whole group giggling…

“I was just finishing a bridal party and was all packed up, ready to leave, but the bride was having photos taken in the hallway so someone asked me to wait in the kitchen for a minute.  Next thing I know, I hear the alarm beep and the front door being locked…I was locked inside with no way out!!! I peered through the sitting room window and all the neighbours were gathered outside, I knocked on the window and a few of them just looked at me weirdly and looked away.”

Now she does the last minute touch-ups at the front door so she’ll never be forgotten about again…lesson learned!

I hope I’ve been able to answer some of your questions about the make up industry, but if there’s anything else you’d like to know then just leave a comment below.  I know that while teaching some of the most common questions I get are about portfolio and kit, so If you’d like me to do something on that just let me know…P.S. Zuca is our bag of choice…(and Peroni our beer)…

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Top image and INSIDER cover photo by Naomi Gaffey, first published in INSIDER magazine with the Irish Independent.

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13 Comments

  1. Mary Fogarty
    17 January 2015 / 15:29

    Excellent

  2. 17 January 2015 / 17:01

    omg you hit the nail on the head like 20 million times there!! Totally rewarding career if you’re willing to put the work in!! Thanks for this inspirating post! When you’re just starting out, you need a pick-me-up everyday!!

    • Nadia
      17 January 2015 / 23:01

      I’m glad it’s hitting home, thanks for the feedback Andie 🙂

  3. Geane
    17 January 2015 / 22:44

    Very good advices, Nadia!

  4. Lauren Kane
    18 January 2015 / 00:50

    I’d be interested in tips on portfolio building

  5. misia
    18 January 2015 / 16:59

    Nadia you are absolutely right about every single thing…and the retail part….agreed.
    Can you please tell more about zuca bag? Have you got picts how it looks inside??
    Did you try trolley one?

    Regards

    • Nadia
      18 January 2015 / 22:18

      Thanks 🙂
      I’ve got both the trolly and backpack, I’ll include pics in a post…I love them!

    • 2 February 2015 / 13:06

      Thanks for your comment, I’ve got the trolley and backpack. I’m going to do a kit post where I’ll tell you all about it!

  6. Fiona Cooke
    18 January 2015 / 21:38

    Really lovely post and so informative. Very best of luck with the blog x Fiona

    • Nadia
      18 January 2015 / 22:15

      Thanks Fiona!

  7. Nicole Pringle
    21 January 2015 / 16:40

    Wow I could n`t have come across this post at a better time. I left a full time job last year to pursue my dream to become a full time freelance make-up artist. I find it really tough to stay positive when I have very little work coming in a lot of the time, but then feel really excited about jobs that I do get which, reassures me that this IS what make me happy. If I could just get more of it.
    Truly inspiring and I agree with every word it has answered many questions and doubts I am beginning to feel about the whole industry. Its good to know that it is a universal feeling for all MUAs having ups and downs, struggles and then rewards that make it all worth while.
    It is reminder that you make your own luck and you can have it if you really want it.
    Thanks Nadia.

    • 22 January 2015 / 10:02

      Thanks for your comment Nicole, trust me if you stick at it and work hard it’ll get easier. There will be less of the difficult times and much more exciting opportunities…you put it well when you said “you make your own luck”, so I’ve no doubt you’ll succeed!

  8. 5 October 2016 / 05:51

    If you don’t want to work at a large salon, you don’t even need a degree to get started, providing you can prove quality results. Candidates will explore the absolute necessities of makeup art and application of instruments along with skin and hair care methods.

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