#BizTalk – Taking Your Makeup Kit From Student to Pro

makeup to go blog Los Angeles makeup San Francisco makeup Tania d Russell taking your makeup kit from student to pro

I was asked to make a post specifically about taking your kit from student to Pro, and I wanted to be sure to do so before this weekend’s The Makeup Show trade show. This one goes out to all of my Emerging Artists who are finishing up makeup school and about to head out into the Real Makeup World. If you’re just starting out DIY-style and didn’t go to a makeup school, hopefully this helps you as well. 🙂

makeup to go blog taking your makeup kit from student to pro

…but one of the many variations of my working makeup kit…


Ahh product. Product is great. Don’t you love it? I sure do. And lucky us, as makeup artists we legitimately need product to do our work. HOWEVER product is but ONE piece of the financial puzzle of growing a makeup business. Obviously, buying new makeup is the fun piece of the puzzle, right? But buying makeup because you actually have JOBS is even more fun. And getting jobs means doing what it takes to get booked as a freelancer. Thus, when transitioning from a student to a Pro, you have to resist the temptation to just wildly buy AllOfTheThings and develop a plan of investing in and building your kit.

[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]A lot of would-be artists never make it because they tether themselves financially and cannot afford to invest in their makeup business[/pullquote]

Let me say that again for the folks in the back: If you do not allocate the money necessary to grow your business, you will soon be out of business.

What are these business expenses of which I speak?

– Promotions (business cards, promo cards, your website, a digital or print portfolio, etc.)
– Continued Education
– Trade Shows
– Testing and/or low budget projects (if a job isn’t making you money, it’s costing you money, period.)
– Job opportunities (??? Yep. As a freelancer many jobs require money spent up front (travel, accommodations, special items like Wigs, etc.) and then you’ll be paid back when the client pays your invoice.)
– Transportation to and from tests and jobs including parking, tolls, train fees (BART goes up seemingly every time in working in the SF Bay Area).
– Business and personal insurance
– Liscensing and/or professional fees where applicable
– Taxes (as a freelancer you pay business tax and eventually you’ll be kissing those refunds goodbye)

If I took the time to think I could probably come up with 5 more things to add to this list. Also, be mentally prepared for the fact that – at least for those of us who work in media makeup – you will likely NOT be paid right away. Sometimes you can negotiate for that, but more often than not you will invoice a client and the industry standard is that they have 30 days to pay you. Some international jobs take 60-90 days. And real talk: 30 days often means 40-45 days. Therefore maintaining your cashflow so you can keep going is one of the most important aspects of becoming and staying a freelance artist.

How would I suggest proceeding thoughtfully and wisely with taking your makeup kit from Student to Pro? Here we go…

1) First Things First
Without any doubt, when you are first coming out of school the two main things you need to invest in are your foundation/skin products and your tools. The inter-webs are constantly inundating you, as a young artist, with the latest greatest thing that is supposed to take you from rank amateur to superstar makeup artist in five seconds. But do you really need a new gadget to help you clean your brushes when you haven’t invested in good brushes yet? Do you really need a new doodad to give you a “flawless foundation finish” when you don’t have a full selection of foundations yet? If you get called to a job and you find you do not have the proper color foundation for your client you’re going to wish you had bought foundation instead of some silly thing to clean your brushes. And PLEASE do NOT forget skincare!!!!! Your preparation prior to applying makeup can be more important than the makeup application itself. This is a time where cheap-o drugstore brands will largely NOT get it done (although there are a few exceptions). Quality skincare will absolutely, positively elevate your makeup applications.

2 ) Think Like A Pro
If you’re saying you’re a pro makeup artist then it is time to start thinking like one. The latest greatest products do not necessarily work for us. Mass-market/drugstore brands do not necessarily work for us. Does the caliber of product I am using correlate with the work that I am doing? (i.e. – if I’m doing a $150 headshot job, is now the time to pull out my $80 Tom Ford foundation?) When I open my kit am I making a good presentation/first impression to my client? These are all things that must be considered when building a kit. I am NOT a fan of an artist running out and buying all the most expensive product in an attempt to impress a client. Even if you can afford it, a lot of that stuff does not even work in a pro kit. That said, you absolutely cannot open your kit and have a bunch of cheap brands (BH Cosmetics, Coastal Scents, etc.) and mass-market/drugstore stuff with a couple of popular items stuck in there and call that a working kit. Your kit should be a balance of professional product and high quality brand-name product that you know will perform when you go to use it. Oh and forego the temptation to buy these super-premium makeup brushes that are all the rage as well. Some of them are amazing, some of them are all hype, none of them will turn you into Troy Suratt overnight. Artistry is in your hands and your skill-set which is developed with time, not product.

3 ) Not Everyone Is Your Color
Even if you get a good brand-name product, it does not mean it will work on everyone. Below is a picture of my hand. On top is a “black” eyeshadow color from a popular consumer brand, middle the Black eyeshadow color from the LORAC Pro 1 eyeshadow palette, and the bottom is the BLACK eyeshadow color from the Viseart #1 neutral palette. See the difference? When you are purchasing for your kit, remember that people of color not only need a different color range, but we also need a lot more pigmentation. I’ll tell you right now those cheap-o 1-zillion color eyeshadow palettes do not even register on my skin. It will look like you did not even put anything on me. It is vital to bear this in mind when you are selecting your color cosmetics.

makeup to go blog taking your makeup kit from student to pro

black-ish, blacker, blackest… not all color cosmetics are created equal


4 ) Get Organized
The way I see a lot of students carry their products is – and I mean this in the most loving way possible – laughable. You will never be able to work with these setups. The most common mistake I see is people trying to carry EVERYTHING with them all the time because they’re “afraid” of not having something. A ) That’s highly inefficient and will make you work more slowly. B ) It’s unrealistic almost anywhere other than LA where we drive everywhere. In NYC and SF – for example – you will likely be on public transportation to the job and then you may have to carry that kit up multiple flights of stairs. How’s that train case looking now? C ) That’s a good way to have your entire inventory of product damaged, lost or stolen. D ) If you are working on a private client in their home or hotel room, they are not checking for you dragging some big a** setup into their space. Ain’t nobody got time for all that!

On the flip-side, those little boxes that open up with the drawers are really only good for smaller jobs/private clients where you can take a more edited kit. Otherwise you’re trying to cram too many things in too small of a space and it gets messy and cluttered, which slows you down and also does not make a good first impression. And your product can become easily damaged that way.

I have posted articles on my kit setup before (click to read), and I am about to do a new updated post because things have changed again. But if you do some research online it is easy to find information on how working artists organize their kits and even though every single artist on the planet has their own method, you will see certain commonalities repeated and you can start to emulate those practices.

5 ) Think Long-Term and Cross Platform
I think the reason a lot of artists become fixated on the latest greatest new palette or whatever is because they are trapped in their current circumstance, and not thinking about further down the line. Let’s say you are currently primarily doing Bridal. On a Bride you may very well use a lot of the popular consumer products, because there is a lot of psychology involved with doing “real people” clients and part of that is making them comfortable with product with which they are familiar. What many consumers think of as “high end” and “professional”, however, most artists would not. If you only build a kit with bridal/consumer clients in mind, what happens when you go to move beyond Bridal? If you have ambitions to move into media makeup, for example, you need to build a kit with that in mind, starting now. First of all, quite frankly, your bridal will come out better. If you think of Bridal as a photographic event – because once you do the bride’s makeup she will be photographed all day and night – you and your bride will be much happier with the final makeup outcome. Secondly, there is no more sign of being an amateur than having to do the mad dash shopping trip before a job. That’s just lack of preparedness. Buy products that can work in multiple venues. I already showed the difference – for example – between the Viseart and LORAC Pro palettes, and the run-of-the-mill consumer brand palette. If you select professional foundation/skin products and then stick to color products that can work in multiple mediums, you have just saved yourself a lot of time and money AND you’ll be ready to work when the opportunity presents itself.

6 ) What Else Are You Doing?
Thus far we have talked about the Beauty makeup kit. This blog is run by a beauty makeup artist and hence, most of my discussion is from that point of view. Also on the practical level, it is where a lot of artists start since a lot of artists nowadays start out with bridal or working for a cosmetics line, etc. However, for most of us the Beauty Kit will not be the only game in town. For example, a goodly percentage of my jobs – over half, I would say – also necessitate that I do hair. This means I had to invest in and now have to maintain a hair kit. Hair product is expensive. Tools are expensive. One of my best clients also required that I carry extensions. Extensions are expensive. Therefore, you will need to plan for that as well. I also do a lot of men’s grooming so I had to invest in a good clipper/trimmer, a nose/ear hair trimmmer (which thankfully I rarely ever have to use, but I do have it), and with the whole “Lumbersexual” trend, beard grooming/styling product, etc.

And we have not even touched upon maintaining an FX kit, which you will obviously need to do if you plan to work in FX. I do NOT work in FX at all, HOWEVER I’ve worked on projects where I had to bald cap or do some facial hair work. Or create a bruise or bloodshot eyes. So while I do not often carry it with me, even I have to own some theatrical/character makeup (I refuse to keep any blood of any kind whatsoever. Refuse!!! LOL)

7 ) How Do You Get There?
If this post seems like more questions than answers, my apologies but it kind of is. I am throwing out guidelines for you to think about as you grow your kit and your business. Here at Makeup to Go, I focus a lot on thinking, which is exactly what a lot of these trend brands and trend items do not want you to do. They want you to blindly purchase whatever it is they are selling so they can keep making money. I want you to not be a sheep and to build a successful makeup business. if you want a particular popular item because you have thought about it and decided that it is going to add value to your kit/business, go for it. The name of the game, however, is making informed choices based on your priorities of what you are trying to do and where you are trying to go. If it is not adding anything to the party, skip it. Once you have what you feel is a fully materialized kit where you can walk out the door to any job feeling prepared, then you can start adding in doodads, trinkets, and the latest palette du jour if you so choose. 🙂

8 ) Give Me Some Specific Recommendations, Dammit!
As you know, I talk a lot about products I am actually using here on the blog, so that is a good place to start. I am reticent to “prescribe” specific products because the journey of developing a kit is quite personal. What one artists loves another may disdain, hence I am a huge advocate of getting a lot of samples and trying a lot of product before you settle down and start committing.

THAT SAID: If you just want to know what products I use and recommend, there is always my Makeup to Go Preferred Products List. You can buy the List for $10, or you can by a Subscription (updated quarterly or so, and actually a new update is coming soon) for $25/year. The links to purchase are below.

MTG Preferred Products List –






MTG Preferred Products List SUBSCRIPTION –





As you can see, there is a lot to think about, purchase, maintain and upkeep in the professional working kit. Do you really have time for another contour kit? Nah…and not only that, if you have a functional pro kit, you do not need a contour kit at all. You’ll already have about 10000 different products you can contour/highlight with.

© 2015 – 2016, Tania. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

  1. March 28, 2015 / 5:49 pm

    So helpful!! Thank you, Tania xx

  2. March 29, 2015 / 9:26 pm

    Great! Glad to help! Thanks for reading 🙂

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