15 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Makeup Career

1. Learn. To. Budget.

Makeup Artist Career Advice | www.MascaraWars.comBeing freelance is very much feast and famine. You will have awesome months where you feel like you’ve won the lottery, and you will have dry months when you feel you’ll never work again. Make hay while the sun shines as they say, and don’t just fritter those pay cheques as they come in. I’m not saying don’t treat yourself when it’s going well, I sure as hell do, that’s what we work for after all! But whether it’s paying yourself a monthly wage, or having a nerdy spreadsheet of incomings and outgoings as I do, once I started to budget and treated my wildly unpredictable cash flow in a way that provided me a little more security, I lifted a weight off my own shoulders!

And on the subject of security; try to build yourself some. I feel very lucky that from the day I left college I’ve never had to do anything other than makeup to earn a living. But I started with weddings, I did prom makeup, I worked in makeover studios and on makeup counters, I didn’t walk straight into my dream career… If you’re freaking out because you’re not getting enough of the work you want, don’t give up! If you have to take on other work there are flexible options like those mentioned and many more that still allow you to play with makeup while you’re headed towards your goals. It’s good for your soul not to feel stressed about money belieeeeve.

2. Forget It And Move On

Makeup Artist Career Advice | www.MascaraWars.comThis job is awesome. Filled with incredible experiences and real pinch me moments. But… You will get disappointed, you will have bad luck, you will want something so bad it hurts, and it will fall through. You may get dropped from a client and never know why. You will have a sucky day at work and feel like giving up the whole damn thing. When this first happened to me I was all tears and whyyyy meeeeee?! Now, after a good few years in the game, it’s water off a ducks back.

If it’s something you really want, it’s a stinger yes, but don’t let it get you down. We all have bad days. Shit happens and it happens to us ALL believe me but onwards and upwards. Will you even remember it in a months time? Probably not, so chin up and on you go.


3. You Don’t Have The Gig Until You’re On The Gig

Makeup Artist Career Advice | www.MascaraWars.comI’ve become oddly superstitious about this which I know is nonsense but if an option comes in for a job, even if someone tells you its 100% happening, don’t go shouting about it until you’ve wrapped the job. You can almost guarantee that an “OMG I’m doing so-and-so’s makeup for her World Tour” Facebook status will result in her regular artist becoming available, the gig going away, and you feeling like a right plonker. This industry is subject to last-minute changes all the time.

In the same vein don’t count your pay cheques before they’ve hatched so to speak. Don’t budget with money for jobs you’ve not done yet. Even in bridal work say, you can often count on three bridesmaids backing out on the wedding morning, and if you’ve put that money aside in your head for those new shoes you bought last week, then that’s not ideal. That said, if you’ve put number one into place securely enough, that won’t be an issue right? Riiiight.

4. Say “No Problem”

Clueless Gif | Makeup Artist Career Advice | www.MascaraWars.com“No problem” is my Zen mantra at work. Difficult colleagues and clients pop up all the time, and often the problems they throw your way come simply from a lack of knowledge, or often they’re just doing their job, or, on occasion, they’re just downright rude. But whatever the reason, your go-to response should always be “Of course, no problem!” I am a mouthy Northerner, and certainly no doormat, and for a good few years didn’t take kindly to folk making my life difficult at work and would happily make that known. Until I came to realise that as frustrating as it may be, in a line of work with few contracts and no job security to speak of, the customer is always right.

Use your own judgement obviously, if someone suggests a green lip for a red carpet look, or asks you to do three full makeups in half an hour then of course, gently advise the client as to your point of view, but don’t bite back. If someone rushes you, or expects unrealistic things, don’t let your ego get in the way, just say “I’ll try my very best”. In fact, “lose the ego” is a vital point in itself. There are some huge egos in the creative fields, and when you encounter them, what do you usually think? Do you think “Wow, that person’s so talented and important?” No, you think wow, that person’s an asshole. Don’t be that guy, big egos are for people with little self-worth.

5. Know Your References

5. knowledgeWhen I first started out I would scrapbook makeups I liked from magazines, but I didn’t know who the models were in those images, or who shot them, or even who did the makeup half the time. I just thought “Ooh I like that”, the end. I started assisting, and soon learned I’d been pretty ignorant. I sat chatting to a model over lunch on one shoot and asked her if she’d been modelling long. Well, only long enough to be the face of Gucci and Versace and… yeah, cringe. I turned up to assist on a Vogue shoot, not knowing who the photographer was, only to discover afterwards he’s responsible for a huge chunk of my favourite editorials ever and is a legend in the field.

I say this because even though I once was blissfully ignorant myself, once I bucked my ideas up I was shocked by just how many makeup artists and fans don’t know who makes the very images they love. Do you think filmmakers can’t give you a list of their favourite actors and directors, and that knowledge of the work of their heroes doesn’t enrich their own? And I’m not just talking McGrath, Testino and Delevingne here, most of the biggest influencers aren’t household names. Get to Models.com, get involved.

This goes for your own work as well, research your teams… When you get a call sheet, take your time to look at the hairstylist’s work, or check out the models, or look at the names of the producer etc. Showing up without knowing or caring who anyone is, or what work they’ve done to get them there is, in my opinion, a bit rude. Plus walking up to a world-class director/stylist/model and saying “so what do you do then” is just a bit embarrassing.

6. Be Persistent

6. forrestI could almost scrap all the other points and just write this in huge letters. BE PERSISTENT. There’s a Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” that could have been written by a bloody freelance makeup artist. If you want something, go after it, and if you get the door slammed in your face, brush yourself off, and go back. So you emailed twenty photographers and none of them got back to you? Well the twenty-first might book you for the best editorial of your life, so keep going. You went to ten agencies and they all said no? Then take their advice, work on your book and go back in six months. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and keeping focused on your goals, over time, is key. I emailed agencies for two years before I got my dream assisting gig. And I’d been slogging it as a freelancer for four years before I was signed. Keep on keeping on.

And by keeping on I mean; Be proactive. It seems obvious but many folk aren’t. Get out there and hustle! You want more editorial? Then research the magazines and photographers you like, put together some concepts for them and get in touch. You want more private clients? Then get some ads online and drum up some business! If you just sit at home with your feet up waiting for the phone to ring you’re likely to get nowhere pretty fast. Get involved with your own career goddamit, you need to kick down some of those doors yourself!

7. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

7. amyAah the wonders of social media. Where we all put up our best work and the career highlights and the most flawless versions of ourselves. Where’s the Instagram picture of you eating cereal, watching Netflix, captioned “No work this week, FML.” Where’s the picture of your sweaty face on a packed tube while everyone glares at you for taking up valuable rush hour space with your giant kit? DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE ONLINE. Yes I’m sure Charlotte Tilbury’s life probably is that glamorous, but the majority of us aren’t in her very spectacular shoes (yet!) The amount of times I’ve had hideous pangs of jealousy looking at people’s online profiles, only to bump into them and have them tell me how quiet/rough/stressful work has been recently. Don’t assume the grass is always greener, we all have our good days and bad days, we just only share the good ones!

And another reason not to compare is that in this game, luck plays a huge part. The list of makeup artists whose “big break” came from meeting someone in a supermarket or through a friend of a friend, or being in the right place at the right time is endless, and as such no one’s journey through their career will ever be the same as someone else’s. Your luck can change in five minutes in this job. Every gig I’ve ever had that has been life changing started with an unexpected phone call or conversation that I never saw coming. This isn’t to say that talent and hard work don’t pay off, of course they do. But you combine hard work with the little sprinkle of good luck that will come your way and you’re onto a winner.

8. Listen To Your Client

8. sisterThis seems screamingly obvious but experience tells me that for many, it’s not. Getting a makeup booking is not your excuse to go all “jazz hands” creative and just have fun and show off regardless of what the job requires. If the client says I love your references, I trust you, then wonderful, off you go! But if they say we want natural makeup, and you fancy going all Alex Box on them, well tough. You’re there to do a job. The same goes for working within the team’s vision on an editorial shoot. Do what’s best for the shot and the story as a whole, not just what might be the most fun for you in the moment.

I see so many people just ignore clients references, doing instead what pleases them and cannot fathom where they’re coming from. It very rarely ends well. Again if you think what they request is a bad idea, by all means chat to them and advise them, but don’t just put your fingers in your ears and do as you please. If you’ve ever had a really bad haircut where you asked for a trim and they gave you a buzzcut, then you know what I’m saying.

9. Make Friends

9. friendsOne of the exciting parts of being a freelancer as that we don’t work in the same place with the same people everyday. But that can also make it quite a lonely gig, so befriend the lovely people you work with! I’m not saying ask them all to yours for dinner after you’ve met them once, but if you get along, ask them if they fancy a drink after the shoot, get to know them over lunch on the day, be genuine and get stuck into meeting new people! I thought when I started that all I had to do was show up, do great makeup, go home and the work would pour in. But that’s not how it works. Imagine if you’re the one putting teams together, do you want to hire the makeup artist who sits texting all day and never talks to anyone? Do you heck. Don’t be billy-no-mates that’s no fun for anyone.

And while you’re at it, go the extra mile for your client. If you’re working with a freezing cold team on location… make everyone a cup of tea. If your model arrives early and is knackered from a long flight, give them a mini facial, pamper them a little. If you have a celebrity client who’s just lost their makeup bag and they have no time for a shopping trip, put some calls in and see if you can help them replace their products. Yes you can turn up and just do the makeup, but you can do so much more. You are your business, make it a business people want to invest in.

10. Always Look To Learn.

10. duckieYou don’t know what you don’t know, know what I mean? I meet so many overly confident, fresh-out-of-makeup-school makeup artists who think they’re ready for the big time, and considering I still feel like I’m learning every single day ten years into the business, I don’t think the learning finishes the day you step out as self-employed. Always be ready to learn everything you can from all angles. Be a sponge to techniques, to styles, to references… Listen to advice, ask questions, don’t assume your way is the right way, and don’t be cocky, basically.

You know when you look back on your work from a few years back and think what the hell was I thinking? Well that will likely happen again, five years from now. Bare that in mind!

11. Don’t Talk Sh*t

11. hollaThis one is short and to the point. I love a good chinwag as much as the next person, but the industry is small, and idle gossip is just not worth it. That pop star whose new music video you’re slagging off? You can guarantee your client’s manager happens to manage them too. Or fancy telling the runner on set that you think the director’s up himself? Well that runner’s probably the director’s little brother. If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all, it’s safer that way!

12. Think Long Term

12. saltDon’t be short-sighted. Again, this comes down to it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t sacrifice what you want long-term for what you want right now. A magazine comes to you asking you to do male grooming for an actor, but you want to be doing their main beauty editorials, so you say no thanks. Then you sit at home that day instead of working with the teams that make those very editorials, that you could then be doing a few months from now. Tired of assisting for little or no money after six months and throw in the towel? Well a couple of years down the line once you’ve paid your dues you might just start getting that overflow work that sets you on the editorial career of your dreams. Don’t let your rush to get to where you want to be the thing that stops you from ever getting there.

13. Take Holidays!

13. holsThis could probably be the other main commandment after be persistent. TAKE YO DAMN HOLIDAYS. It’s baffling that as freelance people, who can frankly up and leave whenever we please and don’t have any kind of holiday allowance to adhere to, that we stay locked on home soil like we’re protecting it from some sort of invasion. No, you don’t get holiday pay, that’s true, and yes you probably will miss out on a great job, but what the hell are we working for if we can’t enjoy it?! Just book it and go. I’ve moved holidays three times for work in the past, only for new work to come in on the new dates I’ve booked. I won’t be doing that again. Yes you may miss work, you may not, but I can guarantee once you step off that plane you will not care either way.

14. Learn What Matters

14. hatersIt’s easy to get sucked into the celebrity side of the job, or the fashion world or the whole Devil Wears Prada side of things, but news flash; That’s not real life. As often as possible I like to go and sit on a hilltop and check out the view. Or go and visit my nephews and build train sets and do jigsaws with them for hours on end. You will encounter people who have been sucked into the flashy side of things, and a lot of those people will be MEAN. I remember composing myself in a toilet a good few times in my early assisting days as someone was so straight up awful to me. And it certainly didn’t end in my assisting days, but now, if someone tries it, I just smile and carry the fuck on. Rise above, and don’t let the insecurities of others make you feel bad about yourself. It’s a lot easier to do that if you know that you’re a good person, and that you’re professional, and that no one else’s sticks and stones can change that fact. Or try to imagine them as a five year old kid, that helps.

And don’t brag about who you met or where you went or what you did. Be proud and be happy, but don’t be flashy and gross. Because none of this is really what matters. If you feel wonderful when you’re doing your best work, that matters. Otherwise its family and friends that matter and that’s it. All the rest is very often superficial bullshit.

15. What To Do For “Free” (And What Not To!)

15. jokerGood God, I’m stepping into a minefield here. I could, and probably will, do an entire post on this at some point, but yes… what should you do for free and what shouldn’t you? Young makeup artists are wising up to people taking advantage of them for free labour that should be paid, and that’s great, but does it mean that if someone’s not offering you cold hard cash you shouldn’t do the job? Hell no. You just need to know your worth, what amounts to payment in kind, and be wise to what you should and shouldn’t take on.

My agent gave me great advice early in my career that in the creative field, “there is currency other than money”. If you think there should clearly be a fee on the job then feel free to walk away, and obviously the majority of your work should compensate you financially, but if you’re unsure ask yourself this; Could my payment be… A great contact for future paid work, who I wouldn’t otherwise meet? A great image for my book? A great experience that I would never otherwise have? If you’re being offered any of those things, then while it may not pay your rent right now, there is currency on the table, and you’re not working for “free”. And if the answer to those things is no, you can walk away without looking back.

*And Finally; Enjoy Yourself!

ririSo many people go through life never finding what they love, or if they do find it, it’s resigned to being just a sometime hobby. That’s not us, how lucky we are! It has it’s ups and downs, but there is nothing I love more than creating makeup looks and beautiful images on a daily basis. Yes there are stressful moments but they fade away. Concentrate on the great parts, don’t get consumed with money, be creative and enjoy yourselves!

Doing what you love for a living is success in itself. You’ve already made it.

Lucy xx
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Featured Image by Ben Hassett For Vogue Paris, Makeup by Aaron De Mey

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10 Responses

  1. Leanne Hodson May 11, 2015 / 9:51 am

    I absolutely love your blog Lucy, I’m just starting out and this post was very insightful. Thanks

    • Lucy G May 26, 2015 / 11:14 am

      Thanks Leanne! xx

  2. Amy Lawrence May 11, 2015 / 12:51 pm

    Lucy I cannot even tell you how helpful this post is. Love it x

    • Lucy G May 26, 2015 / 11:13 am

      Thanks Amy, so glad you found it helpful :) xx

  3. Brimmers May 11, 2015 / 6:51 pm

    This is such sound advice, and can be applied to all kinds of creative freelancers. Keep up the good work x

  4. Chiara Guizzetti May 13, 2015 / 9:38 pm

    amazing article Lucy! I too wish I knew all these precious advices when I started! you couldn’t explain it better!

    • Lucy G May 26, 2015 / 11:13 am

      Thanks Chiara! I wish I knew them when I started too, ha! x

  5. Laura Wisinger July 11, 2015 / 10:42 am

    Wise words Lucy thanks for sharing xx

  6. Lucy G August 9, 2015 / 10:26 am

    I’ve just realised that no one gets notified of my response to individual comments, oops. Thanks so much for your lovely feedback everyone! xxx

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