Becoming a Makeup Artist : A Guide.

I am often emailed and asked advice on how to become a Makeup Artist. There is so many aspects you need to know and absolutely no *magic formula*, so I thought it would be easier to do this post so I can direct people here.

I will never forget being trained at makeup school, and how they used to really tell us how difficult it was…and they were not lying. So many people are trying to be makeup artists, and as a mainly freelance industry, it is very competitive, and lots of people out there are trying to do the same thing as you. Here, in my mind, are the main aspects you need to know, and the typical route you will take as a makeup artist. Now I am not claiming to be at the top of this journey, I’m not, but I’m nearly 14 years in to it so I can at least share with you my experiences and pointers.

I was lucky enough to be trained by the best educator in the biz, David Horne. This was back in 2006 at the Jemma Kidd school and it was a great jam-packed 6-week intensive course.  This has sadly closed but there are loads of makeup courses long and short available all over the UK, Just do your research and get first-hand feedback from past students. David currently runs and teaches @ The House of Glam Dolls.

On another note, I know some AMAZING makeup artists who are self-taught so don’t feel like you have to have a course under your belt to call yourself a makeup artist (it seems if you simply start an Instagram account nowadays you can self-certify yourself as an MUA meow) but seriously if you have natural artistic skill and makeup love thenyou may not necessarily need a cours at all.

I personally found I had natural skill, had worked on-counter for a brand for a few years but just needed refining and my technique taken to that next level. The course I did was perfect for me, as it did exactly that. If you are younger and know you want to become a makeup artist, but haven’t any on-hands experience, then maybe enroll on a longer course. If I had known what I wanted to do at 18, I would have probably done a 2-yr course, but I was older when I wanted to switch up careers so hence why I did a short course.

Things I learnt on my course that I hadn’t picked up on counter were things such as colour correction (in depth) , brow blocking,  bone structure, eye structure, the dynamics of the skin and the history of makeup which has been actually really helpful to know particularly for references on jobs etc. The colour wheel will become your new BFF.

I still have all my makeup school notes and they are still helpful to me. Such valuable information can be picked up from your experienced tutors.

You need the tools to progress! It takes time (& money) to build up your makeup kit to a standard.  During my course, we were given a full set of Jemma Kidd makeup and brushes which was a great basic start to get us on our way. Like most makeup schools,  we also had discount 30% shopping evenings such as MAC and Benefit which was really good & most courses will offer this: my tutor David was on hand to recommend good colours and shades that we would use a lot and I still have this list in my makeup notes! (ask if you want me to share…)


I would say as a professional artist you want your kit to reflect your makeup. There is nothing wrong with mixing in high st brands with your kit, but it’s a good reflection on you to have good quality skincare & brands when you are working professionaly. Also, never use just one brand, models may have allergies (mostly from MAC actually or Touché éclat in my experience) so you ALWAYS need options.  I carry maybe 5-12 foundation brands on me for jobs. I personally do not use high street/budget foundations in my kit but that is a personal choice. Remember to also get yor kit insured once you have invested money in it. Imagine the horror of losing it and having it stolen? I insure mine through Pro Beauty. A fully built kit can go into the £5,000+ mark.

Once you are more established and have worked for publications and professional shoots, you will be able to apply to many brands who offer pro discount. Usually you will need to provide a certificate of training, call sheets of shoots you have done, then you fill out a few more details. I know brands who do this are Bobbi Brown, MAC, Illamasqua, Inglot, Benefit….and many more. Usually it’s around 30%- 40% discount so well worth looking into.

After you graduate from makeup school, it is all about building up your professional portfolio.  To get jobs, to work with agencies, to do anything really you need some form of proof of your work and what you can do. This is your portfolio. When you haven’t much experience, the best way to build up your collection of images is to immerse yourself into the world of ‘testing’. Testing is when a bunch of creative peeps all get together and create a photoshoot – all working for free, and you all get the same thing out of it ; pictures for your book.

Usually on a test you will have the photographer, a makeup artist , a hair stylist, a stylist..and a lovely model who is the subject. I contacted a fashion college after I makeup school and did loads of testing with the fashion students, I was testing around 4/5 times a week so got a lot of images my way, and quite quickly…which was important as I had moved to London, and getting unpaid work was really not something I could do long term.

You can make a profile on certain sites to network and shoot with other teams who are testing. Just check up on the work of those you are working with….if the model is not good, then it’s pointless to shoot as it’s likely you cannot use the images. A model makes a HUGE difference on a shoot. I still do test shoots, and it’s a great way of updating your book and adding new skills you have learnt to your portfolio. I work with one photographer currently for test shoots. If I’m free on a day and he is testing, I will usually do it, as I know the images will be great and it’s an oppurtunity for me to bring fresh things into my book. I may not use all the pictures, but testing is also a way to keep creative and try new things you may be hesitant to do on a paid shoot.

So testing, as I have said is something that you can continue doing throughout your makeup career to build relationships with new teams and improve your book. However, things to be wary of are photographers who don’t give you images after a test – this is the reason why you are doing it! This has happened to me, only once, but it kind of common. You can only ask so many times, if they aren’t repying and it’s 6 weeks on, just cut your losses and move on. Also, people frequently try and *pay* makeup artists/ stylists/ etc with credits for a photoshoot, particulary if it is going into a publication. This is absolutely fine if it something that will look great on your CV, but be careful that people don’t take the piss. If it is a 2-day music video and they want you to work this for free, then that is A LOT of work and there must be a budget somewhere. If other people are getting paid SO SHOULD YOU. Try and negotiate if you feel you should be getting paid, or just do not do the job. At some point, you need to move from freebies into getting paid.

Also there are various makeup groups and photography groups you can join on Facebook that are looking for people to test & collaborate. 

Hopefully by testing, you will get a selection of images that you can put in your portfolio. A portfolio is literally a range of your best work, and it should show of as many of your skills and techniques as possible. It should also reflect you as an artist and where you want to go. If you want to work in fashion, don’t have a portfolio full of glamour models etc etc.

when I was starting out, it was standard to have a portfolio book, a physical book of printed images. Nowadays, it is more common to have your portfolio in an online format. Investing in a physical portfolio is good in the long run, but a website is probably the first thing you want to invest in. Clients always will want a link to your website so they can quickly see your work and CV. You can build basic sites yourself on places such as WIX, once you have built up your career than look into investing more money into a professional website, but initially all you need is a place, online when your work is showcased. Instagram still isn’t enough if you want to look professional (some clients may accept this, but only a *certain* type of client if you get me). Instagram is great to have but have a seperate portfolio site at least & there is more about the importance of social media below.

Placement of your images into your portfolio is important too ; you are likely to put your best images in at the front and filter the shitty ones to the back – NO! …you want to start strong, follow some kind of pattern so it makes sense and keeps the viewer interested. Have something punchy and attention grabbing in the middle and something really strong at the end. Don’t even bother using images you aren’t sure of, its better to have 6 strong images than 20 *ok* ones. It will reflect better on you. You can also put tear sheets in. Tear sheets are things from magazines etc which is your work, which you literally tear out and pop neatly into your portfolio.

If you do want to splash out on a portfolio book then the standard agency size is 11 by 14 inches. Don’t go for another size as this is what will be expected of you if/when you start going to to see agencies. Brodies in London is where a lot of makeup artists go as they specialise in creative portfolios, but they are £££. Mine was a fair few quid, it’s leather bound and embossed with my name, and I will have this forever. HOWEVER some fab makeup artists I know went online and bought a more purse friendly one for around £150/£200. It’s up to your, but go for a website first and physical leather bound portfolio after, when you have enough images and tearsheets to start filling it up.

It is good to have someone more experienced to have a look through the portfolio you are building up so they can tell you what is good and what isn’t. Sometimes you cannot see it yourself! I look back at some of the images I used to have in my book and cringe – I though they were so good but really they are an absolute horror show. Luckily I had David to look over some of my images when I first started building my portfolio and although it was sometimes hard to hear the (not so good) feedback , it was a huge help! UPDATE ; Even in the 2/3 years this post has been up, some of the images I have used here are now outdated and I wouldn’t use in my book!! Just sayin’.


Assisting is not for everyone but gives you a great experience into what you should be aiming for as a professional makeup artist. This is when you are hired to work with (usually for free at the beginning) a bigger, more experienced makeup artist. You do small little jobs for them such as making tea, fetching makeup, cleaning brushes, prepping skin, holding kit etc…kinda like a dogsbody but the assisting jobs will really vary with the more experienced assistant you are – even assisting has tiers. It’s a never ending process.

You may want to be a full-time assistant. The more experienced you become the bigger artists you will get to work with. If you are someone’s no.1 assistant you are literally like their third hand. Going to their house before a shoot, packing and prepping their kit, organising transport and often very involved in the makeup side of things. If you are lucky enough to work as no.1 with one of the *big* MUA’s (I’m talking Val Garland, Lucia Pieroni, Charlotte Tilbury, Pat McGrath etc etc) you are pretty much made as makeup artist.

I have been lucky enough to work with some of the biggest names in the industry for shoots and fashion weeks such as Sharon Dowsett, Charlotte Tilbury, Alexsandra Byrne, Kirstin Piggott, Lisa Houghton, Maxine Leonard & David Horne which has been really, really beneficial. You learn so much from experienced artists, I could not recommend assisting enough. How do you assist? Well , that in itself can be tricky as you need to contact agents that represent MUAs… And they get A LOT of emails a day wanting to work with their artists, so be persistent, without being annoying, showcase yor current work and CV to them and see what you get back….. A good tip would be to start with the smaller agencies to begin with, the big agencies will usually take on assistants who have good experience already. For big artists you will have to have a pretty rigourous ‘testing’ process, where you have to sometimes spend a day in interviews both verbal and then also doing makeup tests to see if you are up to scratch. I have done this, and it’s nerve-wracking but pretty standard if you want to work in a team with the best.

Don’t be afraid to contact makeup artists on twitter or social networking sites (within reason!)… don’t expect Charlotte Tilbury to snap you up as an assistant if you tweet her, but smaller artists with experience like myself. I have given assisting jobs and paid jobs to makeup artists I have met through Twitter.

It’s easy and useful to set up different pages to promote yourself as a makeup artist, I just use Twitter and Instagram really but knock yourself out and get a Facebook page, Snapchat, Periscope, Pinterest and the rest…..if you have time.  It’s a great way to keep in touch with other creatives and you get to meet some wonderful people.  The makeup communities are great and most people are really helpful.

DO’s & DON’Ts

One thing I find annoying and have seen too much lately is the good old twitter blag. People seem to think because you have a twitter account and hold a makeup brush that this makes you a top makeup artist all of a sudden. Beware of the fakes and please don’t become one yourself. Proclaiming you are a huge makeup artist and bragging about this and that will do you no favours. Other makeup artists will start questioning credibility and you will always fall flat on your face, something I have seen a lot of lately across twitter. DON’T LIE!!

If I’m working with a celebrity I will rarely tweet about it, most other good makeup artists I know are exactly the same. On big shoots you are often contracted NOT to tweet etc anyway. People don’t need to know 20 times in one day what shoot you are on and it’s a tad unprofessional, think of potential clients who may be reading your Twitter/ facebook feed.  Social networking, if used correctly can be great for your makeup career, but use it wisely.

Get some business cards! This will make you look professional and also so handy for events and networking when you are out and about. You never know when you may start talking to a potential client. I always have cards in my wallet, diary and in my portfolio bag. You can get some decent and cheap business cards online at places such as Goodprint, moo and vistaprint.

You will slowly start building relationships with brands, other makeup artists, smaller agencies and clients, so hopefully will start getting regular jobs and income. This won’t happen in like a year, it takes a few years to build up constant work usually, but everyone is different. You will probably also be drawn to one aspect of the industry more than others. There are many different areas in the makeup industry – film, tv, theatre, commercial, fashion, music, bridal. For me, I do a few different areas, but so far not much film, as I do not do special effects. Although you can obviously build up different skills as you go on through your career.

Bridal Makeup can be a great little earner for freelance artists, so consider this when you are starting up on your own. Go down to local bridal shops, florists, wedding dress designers and introduce yourself, leave business cards. It’s small things like this that may give you the edge and open oppurtunities.

Being self-employed can be so rewarding, but you need to have a lot of motivation. It is far from easy, but if you have a passion and skill then just keep going as the success will come! A lot of makeup artists balance freelance work with regular jobs/ counter work to begin. Whatever works for you and keeps you afloat. Being freelance, you also need to remember things such as tax returns, keeping on top of invoices, public liability insurance etc etc. You are your own little business!

Make your invoice look professional and neat. I usually invoice within a week or so of doing a job, depending on how busy I am! Now really, you should be paid within 4 weeks, BUT I don’t mind waiting up to 6 weeks, after this I will chase it up either by email or call your contact for the job. Some clients / company’s are really quick and will pay within says, some, ahem, a huge top-selling fashion magazine, can take months…..and months…..and months. It is your money, so by all means, really chase up payments if they are holding back. It’s totally unfair and it’s your living. Some makeup artists will state on the invoice when they expect to be paid (4 weeks usually).

Helpful links:

Again, this is something not every makeup artist does, but pretty much all the top makeup artists, will be signed to a professional agency. These guys, will take control of all their bookings, and of course, take a percentage of the fee. Most big jobs, clients will go straight to an agency to book with them rather than directly to a makeup artist. I guess this is just to know they will be getting the best of the best and someone who is accredited and very experienced.

Again, not EVERY successful artist is signed to an agency but this option will crop up as you get further on in your career. It also makes it easier for you as an artist to get regular work coming in. Top agencies, in my opinion would be those such as Premier, JedRoot, Art Partner, Tim Howard, CLM, Streeters, Frank, Julian Watson….there are many more! I one day hope to be signed to an agency like one of these, but initially I will start looking at smaller ones and work my way up. That is the next step in my makeup career, and I am 10 years in. Most artists who are signed to the *big* agencies are 15-20-30 years into their career.

I hope this was helpful to all you budding makeup artists out there, and also to those who are considering as a career. It is not easy, like any career, there are a lot of other people doing the same, and success won’t happen overnight.

Please, please leave any comments or further questions!