How to become an alternative makeup artist

makeup artist


See how to become an alternative makeup artist from scratch with professional expert tips on building your kit, networking and more.

SEE ALSO: Alternative makeup tips and tutorials

This alternative job fits the bill for:

  • Part time jobs
  • Most exciting jobs in the world
  • Jobs that allow piercings
  • Unusual jobs

The lovely and talented James Clark has put his heart and soul into becoming an established makeup artist, working for money as well as for love. From packing up your kit bag to glamour shoots and networking for indie film contacts, he tells you how to start at the bottom… but aim for the top.

Most people look at the make-up artist and see someone with piles of make-up and a huge roll of brushes and think… “Wow! You have the best job!” And sometimes I think… yep, I do. I’ve had fun working with some of the best actors, models, photographers and filmmakers around (I’ve worked with some bad ones too but that’s between you and me). However, it’s not all glamour and shine – it’s hard work and weird hours too. Your work is really good fun at times but sporadic. First and foremost I remind myself this is a business and I need to pay the bills so I work where I can: weddings, films, photo shoots, you name it.

How to become a make-up artist: Top tips

Network, network, network. Cultivate your contacts. If you want to do film and TV then concentrate on finding the right contacts for that. There are loads of people out there making independent films and they are always looking for make-up artists.

Find your local media access centre. This is the best resource of independent filmmakers available outside of the internet. Most big cities have media access centres – they’re basically places where you can hire film equiment and access crew (like a make-up artist, or camera people, all working freelance). The closest media access centre to me is GMac.

Arrange test shoots.If you want to get into fashion, contact your local modelling agencies and ask about test shooting. You can use these to build a portfolio and start making contacts. This is the time to experiment and learn about working with models, photographers etc.

Build your kit well. Colleges will tell you that you need the top-end make-up brand to achieve the best results. Wrong. I use a wide range of make-up from theatre make-up (most of the companies have been around for years – with good reason), high street and obscure brands that you can only find on the internet. Why should I pay twelve pounds for one cream blusher when for a few pounds more I can get a selection of colours in a convenient and tidy wheel? A little later I’ll give you a full list of my favourite brands.

Make sure your kit is portable. When it comes to your kit, invest in a good quality suitcase. Those metal train cases look uber-professional but they’re a nightmare to carry around, they’re heavy and they rarely hold everything you need. I gave mine up years ago in favour of a suitcase with wheels. If it’s good enough for make-up artists at the BBC it’s good enough for me.

Brushes are a major part of your kit. You will start to notice companies offering ultra expensive brushes, if you can have a full kit of just one companies brushes then ok, me, I have a wide range of brushes from theatre suppliers, high street stores and specialist make-up brush companies. Get on the internet and look around! You will be amazed at what’s out there. I strongly recommend Crown Brushes, they’re cheap and good quality (Crown is a british brand but most of the american make-up artists rave about them). On the cheap end, Ruby and Millie are also good for eye brushes.

Your two most important marketing tools are a website and a portfolio. Most people will find a make-up artist through search engines. So make sure you have a good website with a selection of images. A portfolio is a fantastic way of showing someone face to face what you can do.

In all, it’s hard work being a make-up artist, but the perks are worth it. I’ve had the chance to travel all over the UK and into Europe. With that in mind I will now leave you with this: if you are considering a career in make-up, go for it. It’s hard work and long hours but with perseverance and imagination you can make it!

Good cosmetics brands to look out for

Good brands to look out for are Mehron, Ben Nye, Graftobian, Screenface and Charles Fox.

‘Treasure House of Make-up’ is a great place to go and they stock Mehron, Ben Nye and Graftobian. All these brands have a good pedigree as they’ve been used in the theatre industry for years. Ben Nye himself started the brand (and worked with Yule Brinner amongst others). ‘Treasure House of Make-up’ don’t have a website any more but you can call them direct on 01614761115. The staff are really good and very helpful. I use this company a lot. They are my top supplier for make-up, especially blood and visceral display stuff, or my Ben Nye blush creams (they also do airbrush make-up).

Screenface are a good supplier. Although they can be expensive they offer a wide range of products including their own brand of make-up. I like their eyeshadow brushes.

Map or Make-up Artsit Provisions ofers a wide range and again includes some fantastic theatre brands as well as a variety of companies including Paris Berlin and Make-up Forever.

Charles Fox is a good supplier too, if you’re looking for brands like Kryolan and Ben Nye. Kryolan is a German company and often used by theatre and media make-up people.

If you want a high-end range of make-up I personally love Smashbox, set up by the grandsons of Max Factor. I use The Smashbox no. 10 and 15 brushes are to die for.

I also, believe it or not, use Boots a lot for mascara and lip gloss. Companies like Wet and Wild, Barry M, Rimmel and Bourjois are fantastic (Bourjois is cool and it was a theatre make-up company in its beginnings in France). Max Factor two-stage lip glosses are amazing for bridal and fashion work.

Superdrug offer a good range including Gosh, and for the more fashion-consious there is G Spot Cosmetic.

Lastly, for the truly budget-consious, Eyes Lips and Face is a good starter. Everything is £1-50! The lip gloss and lipsticks are really good, so I am told…

Getting started as a makeup artist: my story

I started my career as a make-up artist in night clubs – yes, night clubs! I was hired to put make-up on drunks. Not my idea of a good time, but hey – work’s work. In the last few years I’ve done indie film, corporate video (I love those well-paid and easy to do corporate video shoots), teaching and theatre work.

Even now that I’m a fully established make-up artist I still work on gothic and alternative shoots because I love the look of the clothes and it reminds me of my days working with some very exotic and intriguing people who varied from being delightfully decedent to downright bizarre. God, I miss it! I still smile when I go through photos on my computer of me posing with various models, giggling and hamming it up for the camera (yep I have posed with ‘toys’ for a laugh).

© 2007-2008 James Clark: Make-up Stylist. All rights reserved.