How I Started Out in the Wonderful World of Makeup

Growing up makeup had never been a career I had considered. It had never come up in those weird job match/career match software programmes in school and even though from a young age I had been competent with makeup, I just didnt think about it.

So how did I end up here? At 16 I stayed on at 6th form and did an Advanced GNVQ in Health and Social Care. From there I went to university and studied a BA in Childhood Studies. I lasted a year and a half before it became very, very apparent that this wasn't the way I wanted my life to go.


College work still inspires me now.
So I left. I took a year out and worked in a video rental store (which to this day aside from makeup is my favourite job of all time!) while I tried to figure a few things out. I went through all my interests and things I excelled in at school and started to narrow things down. I made a list and crossed things off and in the end I had two things left on there. Movies and fashion/clothing. I was (and still am) a very good sewer and I got consistently good results in textiles during school. So I set about gathering prospectus's of colleges offering a costume design course. It was during this research that I found a course at Hugh Baird College for Media and Special Effects Makeup. On the list of course objectives was a section about putting together a complete character including costume. When I mentioned it to Mum she became more excited than I had ever seen her and said she just "knew" that was the way I should go. Which was perfect because for some reason, so did I. 

I applied for the level 2 (and went on to do 3) a little later than everyone else, as I was still desperately searching for the right path but the course adviser (Sara) was utterly fabulous, interviewed me and let me start asap. It worked out about 2 weeks after everyone else. From the word go, I knew I had made the right decision. Makeup just came naturally to me and I found it was a skill that must have been running through my blood without me ever knowing. I had always been able to do my own makeup nicely, but pro artists know that's not always an indication of anything. My mum told me during this time that I was always good with makeup when I was little,  and she would often let me do her lipstick and eye makeup before she went out!

This was almost 10 years ago now. Not only did I learn the most valuble hair skills I could ever wish for but I made lifelong friends and I still miss my college years. It was quite simply, wonderful. 2 years immersed in makeup and hair and monsters and beauty. Towards the end of the two years, I suddenly realised that come kicking out time, there was going to be 30 or so other newly trained artists all looking for work. So, I hit the internet. I read everything I could get my hands on about what it meant to be a professional artist and how I could get there. Unfortunately, this side of the makeup course was sadly lacking and we really received no guidance in real working world scenarios. It was then that I came across what became my holy grail of information and that is the FAQ section of this forum EmElle's Industry Forums Forums. I read it inside out and back to front. Then over again. I searched and took notes and made a real business plan. It was here I learnt about the importance of networking and building my portfolio BEFORE my course finished. I needed something tangible to hit the ground running. 

My first ever shoot. Shot in my living room
modelled by my best friend.
I searched some more and found some semi pro photographers in my area. I contacted them and explained that I was in college and sent some of my college shots through. I asked if I could meet them and chat about testing with them. For any really new artists reading this a "test" is just that. You, the model, the stylist and photographer all give their time to test out a concept, lighting set up or just the team dynamic. Some photographers will give you images on a CD once they have chosen them others will give you prints and sometimes you will have to pay for the prints yourself either directly from the photographer or from a print lab. Make sure you agree the terms before your shoot so you know where you stand and avoid crossed wires.

I found a photographer who was willing to give me a shot and I worked with him a lot building my book and in turn getting experience and improving my skills. I also started to contact working artists and assisting them. I got the chance to shadow some amazing artists who I learned more from in one day than my whole two years at college, one of which was the off the scale talented Rachel Wood.

Early test shot with a photographer I ended up working (paid)
on multiple jobs and throughout Europe. Shot by Bruce Smith.

Things I learnt During This Time:


1. DO be proactive and contact people whose work catches your eye. If you don't ask you don't get and you have nothing to lose.
2. DON'T work with people that will not benefit your book or your contacts. Concentrate your time on real world, working creative's OR students like yourself with masses of potential.
3. DON'T take paying jobs for free/reduced rates because you are new or a student. You undercut pro artists in your area which will make you very unpopular very quickly and it saturates and dilutes the potential for decent paying work for everyone. You will be in over your head and one mistake on a job could tar your reputation for ever. I am not even being remotely dramatic.
4. DO use your tests to develop the skill of restraint. Crazy, creative makeup is always the most fun but if you're building a book with an aim to work you need clean, wearable, commercial looks. Look at top creative agencies and aim for looks that wont look out of place on their books. (A quick Google search for "makeup artist agent London" will bring up lots of examples).
5. DO "test up"...This phrase was handed to me from an artist I considered to be a "mentor from afar" when I was starting out. The crazy brilliant Tania D Russell. In fact I am probably subconsciously ripping off all of her advice in this blog. Testing up means always go for better models, better photographers, better stylists. Make each shoot better than the last. Its the only way you can progress. 
6. DON'T BE SCARED. You really have nothing to lose by contacting photographers and working artists and everything to gain. Fear of failure will only ever make you fail. Its a vicious cycle.
Another early shoot. This image got me more
work than any other at that time. Shot by
Chris Rout.
7. DO fill your time constructively. If you aren't physically working then work on working. (emails, phone calls, website, blog, youtube etc. )  Make sense? Good.
8. DO get a senior artist to critique your work. It can be hard to open up your work to criticism at first but if you take on board what is said without taking it personally or being defensive, you will grow as an artist. I still have my peers look over shots I am not sure on and always, always take their advice. Never stop learning.
9. DON'T take everything at face value or pit yourself against others. What I mean by this is; just because someone is pumping out behind the scenes tweets of all the fabulous "jobs" they are doing or adds the word "celebrity" in front of makeup artist, the proof is in their work. If their website looks like it was knocked up by a glitter obsessed teenager, they have no celebrities in any of their pictures (and I am not talking about meet and greet style pics either) or they are claiming Estée Lauder campaigns when they can barely manage an eyebrow/hold a camera steady then move on. Focus on you and your career and leave them to it.
10. DO be nice. Its a simple rule. Talent is half the battle but being nice and pleasant to have on set will get you rebooked more than your work. I see artists all the time whose work is lovely but not outstanding and they work 7 days a week, 365 days a year because people like them. They are nice people and deserve that success.

From those first initial tests I was able to approach local agencies who put me in touch with their photographers and allowed me access to their models. I did 6 months on counter with the wonderful Bobbi Brown cosmetics to build my kit and gain invaluable experience, the rest followed. The more I worked the better my book became. I got a great website and had high Google rankings so the work kept coming. The rest as they say is history!

As usual, any questions or comments I love to read them so email me (through my site) or pop them in the comments box or if you fancy it, tweet me @lucyferrr.