The “So You Wanna Be A Pro Artist” series is original content conceived and written by Tania D. Russell, all Copyrights reserved.

At the end of my last chapter I wrote that the next chapter would be on Kit Building. However, a few folks emailed me and asked how to embark on becoming a professional makeup artist without going to school. This is a fair question, particularly since I am a partial DIY artist myself (I went to school for film makeup after college, but working on films wasn’t my thing so I learned the print side of the biz all on my own…). Here are a few suggestions to guide you on your self-tour (note: all of these suggestions apply to artists who plan to go take lessons as well, it’s just that a good school or workshop will generally bring these points up).

1 ) Starting Right Now…

Think of yourself as a creative professional and not as a makeup enthusiast. There’s a big difference. As a fan of makeup, you will have styles and products that you like following. Things you think are “in”, looks that you like to put on yourself, etc. As a Professional Artist your job will be to utilize your talents and skills to create the look needed for a successful project. This means – while all artists have an aesthetic and an artistic point of view – you cannot just do what you “like”. You will need to learn a variety of styles of makeup, techniques of applications and be mentally ready to work on a variety of talent for a variety of clients.

2 ) Don’t Make Model Mayhem Your First Stop

I’m not saying don’t go there at all, but I am saying there is a lot of wrong information and not great work there. MM has a well earned so-so reputation in the business. There are definitely some sold working talented photographers and artists on there, but there are a lot who perpetrate that they are when they clearly are not. When you become a bit more seasoned, you will recognize the difference. This is also true of One Model Place, One Talent Source, Muse Cube, and any of these other directory/forum “for the industry” sites. Join them after you have a better lay of the land and understanding of your career.

3 ) Read a Couple Of Good Books

It’s always kind of amazing how little new artists know about the art of makeup. Most good schools will teach some basics of makeup history but this is an area where DIY artists can be lacking. Makeup Artistry did not start with Lady Gaga, cool though her makeup might be. Actually, most of her looks are quite referential meaning whoever her artist is knows their makeup art history and the techniques necessary to achieve those looks. This is important because if a photographer or director says they are going for a – say – Flapper inspired look, nothing screams AMATEUR like not knowing what they are referring to.

4 ) YouTube *Can Be* A Great Resource…

…when used correctly. First of all, there’s just a lot of bad bad bad “artistry” on there. Bad technique and bad results which no client would EVER hire someone to do. Remember, you are trying to be a Working Artist, not impress your friends to go to a club. The second issue: In my opinion – and this is just in general not just on YouTube – young artists worry too much about product and not enough about technique. Once you learn the techniques, you can use any product you want. This is a part of getting out of thinking about makeup as a fan and getting into thinking of it as an artist. If you can remove yourself from thinking you need all the products you see in the videos, however, you can learn a lot by studying some of the really good YouTube artists. Disclosure: I do not personally watch YouTube makeup videos, so the artists suggested later in this article were suggested to me by YT watchers.

5 ) Study Those Magazines

Again – don’t just read about the products, but really STUDY magazines. Learn the names of the editors at magazines, the contributing photographers, who the makeup artists are, etc. Beyond that and almost more importantly, study the magazine to start developing your eye for the difference between good and bad photography and good and bad makeup. Even with really edgy European magazines, if you start to really study the makeup and hair looks and how they are shot you will see that it bears no resemblance to a lot of the pure junk you see online. As an emerging professional makeup artist THIS is the work you should be aspiring to.

6 ) Your Friends are Your Friends…and so is your Family

You have to DO makeup in order to become good at it. Practicing on yourself can be beneficial to a point, but I think it is really best to start practicing on other people as soon as possible, and this is where friends and family come into play. Putting makeup on other people is a whole other ball of wax. You need to learn how to handle someone else’s face gently but firmly, you need to be able to approach someone else’s face with tools without fear. You need to be able to match features and do even applications (particularly on the eyes). You *need* to work on other people’s faces and practice as often as possible. Every makeup artist I know has photos of their first first makeup applications on our long-suffering friends and family. They love you and they want you to succeed. Don’t be shy, get them in your makeup chair.

7 ) Network, Network, Network

Networking is not something you do “later”, networking should start the second you begin your career. One of the advantages to going to a (good) school is having access to working professionals in the industry. When you’re going it alone, you will need to create those opportunities for yourself.

RESOURCES For This Section:

Good Books:
The Technique of the Professional Make-Up Artist

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The Technique of the Professional Makeup Artist – Vincent J-R Kehoe

Vincent J-R Kehoe was one of the forefathers of professional makeup artistry and a true Master in every sense of the word. Of all the books that I’m recommending this is the only one that is not limited to Beauty. Really, this is makeup school in a book. It covers product basics, on-set basics, color theory, lighting, beauty makeup, character makeup, lab FX makeup, and more. The vast majority of the pro makeup artists I know have at least read this book if not own it.

The Art of Makeup

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The Art of Makeup – Kevyn Aucoin

A more modern day Master, Kevin Aucoin was part of a group of artists (along side Francois Nars, Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown and others) who revolutionized makeup both in terms of artistry and product. This was also the start of the Star Makeup artists who were as well known as the clients they served. Before his untimely passing, Kevyn wrote several amazing books. “The Art Of Makeup” is his first book and still my favorite in terms of studying makeup because this is the book where he broke down is technique more thoroughly. This book also includes a nice section on makeup styles through the years. While the makeup trends may have changed since this book’s 1996 publish date, technique is forever and there is much to learn from these pages.

Fine Beauty

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Fine Beauty – Sam Fine

What Kevyn, Bobbi and Nars did for “mainstream” beauty, Sam Fine did for Black women and women of color in general. Like Kevyn’s book, this was published in the 90s so the trends have changed, but Sam’s technique is true classic beauty that you still see all this time on celebrities to this day (hence he is still a very much in demand artist). A good artist can work on any face that may sit in their chair. If you need to learn makeup for Black women, this is the book to do so.

Glamour Gurlz: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Great Makeup and Gurl Smarts

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Glamour Gurlz: The Ultimate Step by Step Guide to Great Makeup and Gurl Smarts – Joanna Schlip

This book is very clearly intended for end users and specifically teen girls/young adults but I’m including it because Joanna Schlip is a world-class, top tier artist and her technique epitomizes modern perfect beauty. This book is also significantly more recent than all the previous books so the trends and styles are all current. This is a good way to see the looks a current day top tier artist is creating.

Jemma Kidd Make-up Masterclass: Beauty Bible of Professional Techniques and Wearable Looks

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Jemma Kidd Make-up Masterclass: Beauty Bible of Professional Techniques and Wearable Looks – Jemma Kidd

Like Joanna Schlip, Jemma Kidd is a current-day, top tier artist. This book is brand spanking new (late 2009) and all of the information is au currant. What I particularly like about this book is Jemma Kidd is a British artist and it has that UK vibe, which is hard to articulate but it’s a different vibe from the States and when you get to know it, you’ll know it whenever you see it.

YouTube Artists to Watch (UPDATED 5/9/14)

NOTE: When I first wrote this article, I didn’t really watch or know any of the YouTube artists and, in fact, I had a bit of an attitude about the whole “YouTube” scene. LOL! This is because most of what I saw was terribad, but this article was originally written a while ago and I have since found some very good artists online. If you know of some folks I should know about, hit me in Comments. My preference is for Pro Artists who also Vlog.


Lisa Eldridge

Robert Jones Beauty Academy

Wayne Goss / Goss Beauty

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The “So You Wanna Be A Pro Artist” series is original content conceived and written by Tania D. Russell, all Copyrights reserved.

© 2010 – 2016, Tania. All rights reserved.