Makeup Artist

Standing on the frozen banks of a local river in minus 20 degrees C while actors do their thing in the front of the camera for a TV commercial, the thoughts of the makeup artist turn elsewhere. "What am I doing? I could be in my studio where it's nice and warm."

But a split-second later, the artist, John, remembers he enjoys his work because he keeps getting asked to do more. "I guess what I like best is the warm fuzzies I get from the clients, the people who keep coming back. I'm interested in return and satisfaction. If they come back, that's my warm fuzzy. If they want me back to do a movie or an opera, that's my warm fuzzy."

John has worked as a makeup artist since the days of black and white TV. He owns his own studio, has developed his own line of cosmetics, and teaches makeup at local post-secondary schools. Over the years he also has worked on dozens of films, TV shows, commercials, over 90 operas, and countless theatre productions.

"Those are wonderful learning tools," he said of the local theatrical work. "I wouldn't trade them for the world. Those productions allow you to hone your craft, keep up your skills." And don't be fooled, this is a highly technical craft. Not only does a makeup artist have to be able to help the average person off the street with makeup consultations, but know how to make a 30-year-old look 70, understand the complexity of properly applying werewolf makeup to an actor, and know the difference between applying makeup for a stage performer, a movie actor or a TV news anchor.

The successful ones are the ones who know how to deal with the client.

The veteran makeup artist spent years improving his craft, initially getting into cosmetics while working as a display artist for a department store. From there he moved into the airline industry to focus on customer service, followed by working with cosmetic companies in promotions and by providing beauty consultations. Over the years he also spent countless hours attending makeup classes in cities such as Rome, London, New York and Chicago.

With that experience and his credentials, John has worked his way up to the point where he now calls most of his own shots. A typical week sees him work Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the studio, then work freelance the remainder of the week. Studio work includes teaching makeup classes and private lessons, dealing with clients, planning for upcoming productions such as operas and carrying out the basic duties of ordering supplies and preparing the studio for client appointments. Freelance work includes, among many other things, doing makeup for photo shoots, TV news shows, commercials, stage, lectures, bridal parties and demonstrations.

John said in any situation, letting the client set the climate for communication is key. "People don't realize what it takes to do makeup," he said. "A lot of stuff is learned the hard way. The successful ones are the ones who know how to deal with the client. A lot of our work is reassurance, be it talent, or a person who comes in for makeup. The client wants to be reassured this is the right thing for them."

It's a hard racket.... Your underwear never gets washed.

While John enjoys the variety of working in many settings, some makeup artists work solely in salons. Pay for work in a salon will vary from business to business. Some will require the makeup artist to pay a set fee to work in the salon, while others will take a percentage of the cost of each visit.

And he has some advice for those wanting work primarily in the movies: be prepared to wait. Most local films require makeup artists to be members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union. This involves a lengthy apprenticeship period and demanding tests. John said the work holds much less glamour than many believe.

"It's a hard racket," he said. "You work six days a week for seven weeks or eight or nine months. What's left? Marriages go to pot. Your underwear never gets washed. People don't realize you're up at 4:30 a.m. and work until 11 p.m. Try standing in the wilderness in a foot of snow for that time and see how you like it. And when the film's done, where are you?"

Regardless of where one wants to use the makeup skills, John recommends people begin with a job selling cosmetics to learn about the huge variety of products. He said classes are a great way to learn different aspects of the field, which varies from applying eyelashes, shadowing eyebrows to putting on latex skin. With his years of experience, the required creativity and challenge of the work keep John going. "It's a learning experience everyday," he said. "Every face and situation is different."


Alberta Occupational Profiles - Makeup Artist