Jacqueline Kalab | So you want to be a Makeup Artist... - Jacqueline Kalab

So you want to be a Makeup Artist…

So you want to be a Makeup Artist…

Posted by Jacqueline Kalab in Blog

Well what girl (and occasional boy) doesn’t want to grow up and play with makeup all day every day?  Dream job!  I feel that every second day I get told “My daughter wants to do what you do.  Can you tell me how she can get in?”  “I want to do what you do”  or women marvel over my kit and say how much they wish they could play with that all day.  It is true that it’s a wonderfully fun job.  However, I have some important information that should be considered before diving into this most enchanting career.

The Good:

Wow, I just can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have the privilege of working with so many wonderful talented celebrities, VIP’s, artists, musicians, sports heroes, politicians, VIP’s, how positive their energy is and what an honour that they welcome me into their homes, find me worthy of their company, and trust me with some of their most intimate aspects of their lives.  Being a makeup artist is very much like being in the bathroom with someone alone for 2 hours, helping them with every aspect of their grooming (and often being their life coach) that no other person in the world gets to be part of.  What an honour and responsibility.

As a makeup artist, you are not tied to a desk or set hours.  Almost every job feels a bit like a party – there can be music going, dramas, friendly chatter, lots of artists creating their art…

You get to carry out your hobby of playing with makeup and making people beautiful, or gory, or whatever look is called for.  If you really earn your stripes, you get to work among the best artists in the country and learn so much from them , whether that be about lighting or hair, or poses, or anything.  Every day is completely different and brings about a different challenge and adventure, it could be a different location, celebrity, tv show, fashion shoot….  Life is rarely ever dull!

You have an obligation to research, try and buy makeup!  Wow!  You’re telling me I have to do one of the funnest things as an obligation?

And sometimes, you get to be suuuuuuper creative.

You get to be celebrity to the celebrities.  I was working backstage at a major international fashion show recently, and celebrities I’ve looked after over the years kept spotting me throughout the night, running over to me in excitement, while screaming my name.  Audiences were looking at me wondering what on earth was special to warrant such attention from such big names.  It can certainly give your ego a boost.  Essentially, if you are successful, you get to live a life among more celebrity than the actual celebrities as you could be with a big name almost every day, something celebrities themselves rarely get the privilege of.  But so much more than this, is the close friendships you forge with people who are at the top of their game, whether they are a star, and Hollywood actor, an Olympic champion, a brave hero.  This by far is one of the most special and truly golden parts of being a makeup artist – the privilege of alone time with such special and inspiring people is a blessing beyond words.

You get to see your artwork in print, in media, on the tv, online, on billboards… and if you are proud of your art it’s a wonderful sense of achievement and pride.


The Bad (sorry to really bore you with this bit, but I gotta!):

Early mornings and long hours:

I read an article about a makeup artist’s life when I was 14 years old and it stayed with me.  However, when the artist said you have to be up at 3 and 4 in the morning on a regular basis, I read it, but it thought somehow that bit would bypass me in some magical way.  I didn’t realise it meant that you often have to be up at 3 or 4 in the morning.  There have been times when I’ve had to do that every day for 31 days straight.  I know artists who have done it for a tv show for years.  There are times when you only have to do it once per week… but if a celebrity has to be ready by 7am, you have to arrive to them at maybe 5am to unload and make them up, means you’re up at 4am.  There are many variations to this.  A tv show I worked on for Disney had a start time of 4am so that 2 x makeup artists could get ten actors ready to start filming by 8am.  That meant waking at 3am each day and working with hardly any breaks until 6pm each night.

No sick days:

I hardly ever get ill,  but most of us experience some points where we might be deathly ill and struggle to even walk, or have been up all night as sick as a dog.  Well, when a client has spent half a $million on a tv commercial, and there’s a whole camera crew that can’t do anything until you have done your job, and you’re due on set at 7am, guess what, you have to pull every bit of “army seal” or whatever you have in you, and turn up and do the best job of your life and work your tush off, running around like mad, until the end of the day, if you ever want to have work again.  Similar goes with fashion shows, photo shoots, celebrity appearances, live television… If your mad scramble at 5am or 6am to text your makeup artist mates doesn’t miraculously get met with someone who can cover you, up you get!

Heavy, heavy, heavy makeup kits:

I used to carry even more than this but after my elbow and knees started keeping me up at night with pain, I decided I really had better cull!  I now have 45kg (100 pounds) of basic makeup kits – 2 x makeup cases, and 1 x hair case.  If I have a special editorial job, high end fashion, or advanced hair shoot… I have several more bags and cases that may need to come as well.  Some times there is help, mostly there is not.  And backstages or celebrity’s houses can mean carrying these heavy, heavy cases up three flights of stairs.  You can be exhausted before beginning work.  And then at the end of the day – a day that maybe 12, or a lot more hours long, you must muster up the energy to pack up those kits and carry them back out again.  One benefit, though, is your shoulders and “guns” always look super fit!

Crazy hours – bye bye social life:

Alright, I talked about the early mornings…  but there’s more to it.  Makeup is normally first one to arrive (allow 15 – 30 minutes to load up and set up for your celebrity) and last to leave (you pack up and bump out after the celebrity/ talent has finished being filmed, say).    Shoots times are set around the availability of the celebrity, the director/ photographer and remaining crew ether have to fit to these times or they don’t get the job.  I’ve had weeks where five different big shoots all wanted the Wednesday, yet the rest of the week I had no work.  There have been times I’ve had to look after grooming Olympic commentators overnight, or arrive at 4am, finish at 11.30 at night.  Especially with commercial shoots, filming, or television, you do not know when you’re finishing until you have actually finished.  You think you’re all running ahead of schedule but then a sound issue next door makes filming almost impossible for the next few hours.  Or it starts raining so you all have to pause… or the clouds appear and you need it sunny to match what has already been filmed…  You can be delayed by many hours.  It is quite common to be booked for a shoot 1 – 2 days before the fact – say goodbye to those plans.  If you look after celebrities, you will often be needed on peak social days such as Saturdays, Friday and Saturday nights and the like – so when all your friends are off to the races, special functions, concerts, you generally are working.  It’s a wonder I have any of my darling friends at all.  The amount of times I’ve stood them up, refused or had to cancel to do work, the amount of times I’ve had 2 minutes to get ready for a friend’s weddings…  For six years in a row, I had to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, making up big name celebrities for television broadcasts.  Sure, you can always turn down the job.  But that will mean turning down most jobs, and probably not being asked again.  So be ready to work your weekends, public holidays, have little or no social life outside of the job, crazy early mornings, crazy long days, and no sick days if you really want to be successful and make a name for yourself

Crappy pay:

Ok, after you take out insurances, web costs, makeup and hair products, update training, portfolio costs, promotion, a makeup artist pay is probably equivalent or less that a supermarket shelf stacker.  However the sheer long hours add up, providing you are successful, and because of that, can be a decent enough income to live on.  Some jobs will pay gold, others a pittance, it all balances to a very average wage.  If getting rich is one of your goals, I don’t really recommend makeup as a career.  I know very few makeup artists that are actually able to live off their makeup incomes alone, without supplementing it with something such as hairdressing, teaching, books etc.   Have a back up job or business that can provide a reliable income but is flexible enough that you can accept makeup jobs at last minute

Intense competition:

I know at any given time, there are hundreds of hopeful artists who would happily step in and take my job in an instant.

In my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, where we have a high amount of celebrity productions and international filming with international studios in our city centre,  there would likely be enough work to support around 50 makeup artists, in my field of fashion/ celebrity/ tv.  However, local makeup schools probably pump out a good 100 or more, hopeful makeup graduates each year.  All who have paid many thousands of dollars in tuition, makeup, promotion…  If you were spending $500K on a shoot, are you going to risk hiring someone who has little or no experience, or will you hire a veteran who knows how to deal with celebrities, knows everything about lighting and cameras, and poses etc?  So what happens to all these new makeup artists?  I’m not saying no-one can make it, but the completion is fierce.

Furthermore, the arts world has changed so much, drama series have mostly been replaced with reality tv shows, arts budgets have reduced so much.   At tv station that used to hire twenty freelance makeup artists, now hires three or four.  TV studios are often wastelands compared to what they once were.  So the work for even the very experience artists has greatly diminished, and due to this, pay rates have not only not gone up, but have come down considerably over recent years.

Further to this, I tell people that it’s only after you’ve been doing it ten years, that you really start to know what you’re doing.  Makeup is a fine art with advanced artist skills, combined with business and communication skills and hard work.  In most cases, to be very successful in this biz, you need to stick at and keep turning up and learning.  There is no failing if you can just be the last person standing, so to speak.

That said, most of your work will come from other makeup artists.  In those cases where I have five jobs want me for the same day, what am I going to tell those clients – I’m going to pass four jobs onto reliable, trustworthy, loyal makeup artist friends, and they do the same for me.

Being bossed around by people with BIG attitudes:

People always ask me “Which celebrity is the biggest princess/ ego?”  Truth is, the celebrities are mostly the nicest people you can ever meet.  They are the ultimate “people-person” and that is normally how they got to where they are. And who’s going to be mean to the person who works hard and makes them look amazing and becomes a best friend?  I am constantly awed by how gracious and wonderful and selfless and caring and polite celebrities.  They are not entitled to a day or even a minute of grumpiness or being rude, or being tired or sad, as they are constantly being watched.  However… behind the scenes can occasionally be a completely different story.  I have been physically “shoved” out of the way by a ego driven stylist, I’ve had five different bosses (agency art directors) tell me to do things five completely different ways.  It’s very common for a directors or producer (your boss!) tell you to make up a celebrity in a certain way, meanwhile the celebrity is telling you to make them up the complete opposite way.   You may have spent two hours making someone look stunningly beautiful amazing, to be told later, by an uneducated eye that the person is coming up “naturally beautiful” on camera so your touch ups are only getting in the way.   So as a makeup artist, you are very often the meat in the sandwich between the many conflicted opinions, egos, bosses and the celebrity.  Learn to massage this, not get phased or offended to be successful.

Extreme Selflessness:

One misconception I find with the idea of being a makeup artist, is that you get to look gorgeous – after all, you’re playing with makeup all day, right?  While your skills come up to the point that you can make yourself amazing in a few minutes, nothing could be further from the truth as far as the work goes, except for working in makeup stores, where you are encouraged to keep up a great appearance.  On set and photo shoots, you are the hardest-working person there and you can often struggle to get a bathroom break or lunch break.  Makeup and grooming takes maintenance and time, and really, every speck of your time and attention, every last drop of your energy needs to go into making that photoshoot better – and this means giving your model/ celebrity every bit you can, constantly watching the screen for every hair that may come out of place, every possible improvement you can make – you are normally running between your makeup station and set to get things, or makeup the next person while looking after the people on set at the same time.  My record was making up 26 people in one day.  If you think you’re going to get a second to make up or look after yourself, you may get a rude shock.  You can tell an inexperienced person on set by the way they arrive all dressed up.  That said, it’s great to present as well as you can with a look that needs no maintenance  – some cool trainers, comfortable jeans or pants, fashionable top, some earrings… Think cool fashion clothes you could comfortably go for a run in, and preferably black to avoid being caught on camera, or staining your clothes with makeup.   Take your vitamins or energy drink and be prepared to give it your all.

What now?

So, if you’re still with me at this point, I am very impressed and I guess you want to know some tips?

I recommend following and listening to every word of top working artists such as Rae Morris, Andrea Black, Pat McGrath, Greene/Street team, and anyone else who really is a serious makeup artist.

Get yourself some training (Rae Morris puts on a really great course) but many of the pricey makeup colleges are not necessarily a must, other to learn some very important hygiene practices.  What is more important is practice.  Especially practice on mature aged women.  Anyone can make a 17 year old look stunning.  If you plan to makeup celebrities, you will need to get really good at undetectable but gorgeous middle aged makeup.

Work on free shoots – many photography colleges or film schools will need artists for shoots all the time.  This is the perfect place to donate your services, as you don’t kill your career by making an experienced mistake on a commercial shoot.  You get practice, you get to learn about on-set etiquette, and how your work can come out complete;y different on camera.  Experience is the best teacher.

If you can find a makeup artist who will allow you to assist them, this is the most amazing opportunity you could receive.  You can learn skills from them that took them years to teach themselves.  However, taking on an assistant can be a big risk or great trouble to an artist – sometimes it’s quicker and easier just to do everything yourself – so you have to learn to be an amazing help to your mentor.  Be humble, don’t interrupt them, don’t ask them questions when they are working, be efficient, be there when you need them, don’t try to get in with their clients, look after them, get them coffees, kiss their toes, do whatever is needed.  I know an artist who assisted a well known artist for three years.  At the end of that three years the mentor promoted her from assistant to a senior artist on the team and she had the skills and career as if she had been working 15 years.

Back up your fellow artists in the industry.  It’s a small industry where “everyone knows everyone” and if you try to steal work from another, word spreads like wild-fire.  Like I said, most of your work comes from other makeup artists, so be worthy of it and you’ll succeed.

Be nice to everybody.  You would be amazed how much someone who seems to have a lowly rank on a shoot, is actually very well connected or recommends you for big shoots or worldwide celebrities.   I greatly helped and mentored a gorgeous but inexperienced makeup artist, and later she recommended me to a client, and that client has gone on to hire me for some of the biggest names in the country for many years.  I have got jobs in part because I was friendly to the cleaners when no one else was watching.  I gave makeup tips to an haggard looking young lady on a shoot and it turned out she was the big, big producer boss of two high-rating tv shows.  Be nice, and trustworthy, to everyone, especially your fellow makeup artists.

Learn the skills of look after celebrities and VIP’s.  Don’t give away anything – not where you were shooting, not what you were shooting, not anything, unless you know without a doubt you have permission to.   Treat them with respect but also as a real person.  Be the person you would want looking after you, if you were in their shoes.  Often a celebrity has a much tougher job of being classed as normal – can get accused of being precious if they ask for a drink of water, say.  Look after their needs, be real, tell the occasional joke, be a dear friend, realise that you are their last point of call before they face an audience of thousands or millions.  Give them good vibes, energy and a confidence pep-talk if they need, read their needs – some will need alone time to psych themselves up, some need some hand-holding…  Make sure their belongings are safe. Get them drinks of water.  Help them.  Be honest.  “Oh, I am not entirely happy with what I did with your eyes – do you mind if I quickly fix it?”  Be trustworthy, fresh and read to work, and very, very good at your job.

I hope this helps.  Please do comment below and let me know any questions or feedback you might have.

Love, Jacqueline xx

02 Sep 2016 5 comments
  • Mike Stryk September 3, 2016 at 3:21 am / Reply

    Wow. I never realised it was such back breaking work. I thought my job was horrendous at times, but this beats it all.

    I’m sad, but not surprised to hear how studios have become wastlands compared to yesteryear with the money going out of tv to so-called reality tv or cheapo tv as it should be called.

    Very illustrative. Thanks Jax

    • Jacqueline September 5, 2016 at 11:41 pm / Reply

      Thanks for reading and taking an interest in it, Myke. I guess most careers are underestimated, but this one is especially.

  • Danielle Murrihy September 5, 2016 at 4:23 pm / Reply

    I loved this…..And I have to agree with everything. What makes it sad is that this career of ours is so lowly paid when you do the maths and fact that most need a second stream of income to survive. I have found my second income stream in a completely different field and what really makes me laugh is that is earns way more than makeup ( so much more than what makeup artistry will ever earn ) so I spend more time focused on this and makeup is turning into my hobby now

  • Josie Oflynn September 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm / Reply

    Super fun read and very true for this industry !! :))

  • jol mua September 6, 2016 at 12:53 pm / Reply

    Im a fairly new MUA only in the industry a year and whole I dont do celebrity clients, if you change ‘celebrity’ to ‘model’ I can 100% relate. Ive worked my butt off this year. Sometimes 12hr days for free. The amount of free work Ive done out weighs my paid work 10 fold! But you know what, I love it. Ive been published in NZ and online in my short time, Ive hired teams for various runway shows and while its unpaid, my experience invaluable. I have other muas contact me all the time asking the ins and outs of how the industry works. I get contacted by Photographers at least 1-3 a day to do shoots. While my journey has been hard and my back is already breaking, Im having fun and love the lifestyle.
    So just wanted to say Thank You for writing this. I SOOOOO relate!! And for me, its just the beginning. The clients and ppl you meet make it all worth while. I love the Melbourne industry and our Creative industry in general ♡ jo-l x

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