What is a Makeup Artist?

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All artists have their favorite canvas; for makeup artists, their canvas just happens to be the face: the inspiration of countless poems, artwork, and songs.

Makeup artists use their talents and their tools to makeover, transform, and improve a person’s face (and sometimes their body). Their work corrects imperfections, highlights positive attributes, and remedies issues. Whether they are highlighting cheekbones for a special event, perfecting the smoky eye for a fashion shoot, or applying prosthetics for theatrical productions, makeup artists are truly artists in their own right.

The best makeup artists command lofty fees and possess loyal clients, whether they are transforming performers to create an accurate visual representation, or perfecting brides for one of the most important days of their lives.

Their work demands a perfectionist attitude, as this profession requires a steady hand, an eye for detail, precision in application, and a well-developed appreciation of color, shading, and blending.

Successful makeup artists have a passion for beautifying the individual, so they are keenly aware of which colors look best on which person. They are masterful with their makeup application techniques; they have a deep understanding of skin types, skin colors, and makeup ingredients; and they appreciate how practices and techniques must change as to accommodate a specific event, setting, or location.

The tools of makeup artists may differ slightly depending on the industry or setting in which they work, but a professional makeup brush set and cosmetic palette are always a must.

Settings, Responsibilities, and Opportunities

Makeup artists can be found working in a number of settings within the creative industries, such as:

  • Film
  • Television
  • Theater/musical theater
  • Fashion (photography, fashion shows)

They also often work out of salons and spas (esthetics salons and spas, full-service salons and spas, and makeup salons).

Makeup artists may work alone, or they may work as part of a team. Makeup artists new to the industry often work under a senior makeup artist or colleague. Although their duties/responsibilities may differ from one setting or job to the next, these beauty professionals must typically:

  • Communicate with clients regarding specific requirements and concerns
  • Sketch design ideas for makeup
  • Communicate with other members of the makeup design team to ensure continuity is achieved
  • Consider lighting, backdrops, colors, and the photographic process for each assignment
  • Maintain an awareness of health, safety, and sanitation issues
  • Update and maintain a kit of cosmetics, beauty products, and tools
  • Pay close attention to time constraints and achieve superior time management
  • Maintain a current portfolio of work

Makeup artists in the fashion industry generally work on site at fashion shoots or runway shows. Their work is required both before and during fashion shoots and runway events, and they are usually supervised by a photographer or fashion designer.

Makeup artists working in film, theater, television, and commercials may be required to perform special effects makeup or apply prosthetics. In theater, television, and film jobs, makeup artists may sign on to work for an extended period of time, while makeup artists working in the special events industry, like weddings, for example, are usually hired for the day. In the creative, fashion, and special events industries, makeup artists often work as freelancers or independent contractors, while those working in salon and spa settings may work as either employees (usually on a commission basis) or as independent contractors, where they rent booth space from the salon owner.

The Traits, Qualities, and Abilities of Successful Makeup Artists

Makeup artistry cannot be undervalued, as the face is used to make a first impression; capture and hold attention, and communicate with others. Through the application of cosmetics and the skilled use of specialized techniques, makeup artists make the face into a masterpiece of expression.

In addition to being adept at makeup artistry and possessing excellent color perception and artistic ability, successful makeup artists likely possess a number of traits/qualities:

  • Patience
  • Tact
  • Excellent communication/interpersonal skills
  • Excellent critical thinking skills
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Ability to work with tight time constraints
  • Ability to assess customer needs
  • Ability to evaluate customer satisfaction
  • Good listener
  • Excellent judgment and decision making skills

Many makeup artists, particularly those working as independent contractors or those operating their own makeup artistry businesses, must have an excellent knowledge of business and management principles in areas such as:

  • Resource allocation
  • Strategic planning
  • Leadership skills
  • People and resource coordination

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