How To Build A Makeup Artist Portfolio

Hello there, you fabulous makeup artist! Thanks for stopping by. Today we're talking about PORTFOLIOS. This is your "ultimate guide" on how to build a makeup artist portfolio, and we'll cover EVERYTHING you need to know to collect the best images of your work and arrange them in a way that lets the world know how incredible you are.

This is a long post, but we wanted to give you ALL the info you need to create a really impressive portfolio. If you've got questions, oh my goodness, they're answered on this page!

(One quick note: if you're here because you want a recommendation for a good portfolio, we like the Itoya Art Portfolio Multi-Ring Binder for new makeup artists, and the Prat Paris Start 2 Presentation Portfolio Case for MUAs who have been around for a little while. Both are excellent models, and we review both of them in the section titled "Where Can I Buy a Print Portfolio" below).

What Is A Makeup Artist Portfolio?

A makeup artist portfolio is a collection of photographs that display a makeup artist's best work. The artist then uses those photographs market herself to others, attract new clients, and get more work.

The photos usually focus on the makeup work the artist has done on a client or series of clients. That could mean headshots or close-ups of eyes, lips, noses, and so on, but it also could be full-body editorial photos from a photo shoot, pictures of a bride and groom, etc.

Here's an easy way to think of it: in the business world, if you want to find a new job, you'd show an employer your resume. In the world of makeup artistry, you show them your portfolio.

Why Is A Makeup Artist Portfolio Important?

There are a bunch of reasons, but here are the most relevant:

  • It's proof that you know what you're doing. Because there are no makeup artist licenses (at least at the time we wrote this article), employers can't always be sure that a MUA has been trained and knows what he or she is doing. If you have a portfolio and it's full of incredible shots, people will know that your are the real deal.
  • It allows you to showcase different looks and styles. As a MUA, every single client you work with will require a different look—and require a different skillset from you. A portfolio lets you show employers that you are well-versed in many different types of makeup. We'll get into this a little bit later.
  • It gives you control over where your career goes. Because you can control the images you put in your portfolio, it allows you to get new work and direct your career. For instance, let' say you've only done bridal work, but you want to get into editorial shoots. You can hire a model and a photographer, have the photographer take pictures of your work on the model, and then stock your portfolio with the editorial photos. Creating a makeup artist portfolio with a new focus will allow you to present yourself to employers as an editorial MUA, and get different kinds of work. We discuss how to find models and photographers below.

The truth is that the beauty industry can be pretty brutal, and people make judgments about you and your work almost instantly. You need a collection of your most impressive photos so that when people make their "one-second analysis" of your work, they know that you are capable and professional.

How To Build A Makeup Artist Portfolio

Types Of Portfolios

There are two different kinds of makeup artist portfolios. Let's take a quick look at each kind and see what they have in common, and how they're different.

Online Portfolio

This is the most common kind of portfolio, and it's arguably the most effective. To make an online portfolio of your work, you'll need a website, where you can list your photographs, give a quick bio about yourself, and include your contact information. It's a great tool to have, because it can be accessed by any person at any time (unlike your print portfolio).

Many people think that setting up their own website is going to be difficult, but fortunately, building a website is VERY easy. If you can set up a Facebook account or use an iPhone, you have enough technical skill to build your own website. We wrote a detailed post on how you can set your site up, and it's definitely a "must read."

Print portfolios are black leather books that have clear plastic pages inside where you can insert your photos. It's kind of like a family photo album, but instead of images of your loved ones, you'll add photos of the models and clients you've worked with. Many MUAs call them portfolios, but they’re also referred to as “books.”

Print portfolios can only be seen by one person at a time, but they are a GREAT tool to have when you're meeting in person with a makeup artist agency or a creative director or newly-engaged bride. In fact, any time you meet face-to-face with a prospective client, you should have your print portfolio with you. The portfolio makes you look like an artist—someone who is very serious about her work—rather than a hobbyist or a newbie. In the section below titled "Where Can I Buy a Print Portfolio," we discuss different models you can buy.

Now that we've given a quick description of each, let's take a look at how it’s done.

What Makes A Great Portfolio?

(Note: The instructions below about portfolios can be used to make both your print portfolio and your online portfolio.​)

The best portfolios do two things at once: they present the artist's unique style, while also displaying the technical skills and techniques that any capable MUA should have.

So how do you do those two things at once? Here are some "best practices" that you can use in both your print portfolio and your online portfolio, to show others that you're the best there is.

Have An AMAZING First Image

Here's the first rule on how to make a makeup artist portfolio: your first image should be STELLAR. It should capture the viewer's attention immediately. You have literally one instant to capture the viewer's respect, so that first image should make the person want to flip that page and see more. It may be the best work you've done, a famous model or photographer, or a well-known event.

Whatever it is, you want to capture the viewer's attention, and make them curious to see what else you've done.

Use Authority To Your Advantage

If you have worked with a "person of interest"—any noteworthy artist, model, photographer, celebrity, or publication that many people know about—a photo of your work with that person should be at the front of your portfolio.

Why is that a good idea? Because people trust the decisions that authoritative figures make. If someone sees that you've worked with a big name agency or photographer, they're going to assume you're fantastic. If your portfolio has an image of your work for Vogue Magazine, the person looking at your portfolio will say, "If they're good enough to work for Vogue, they must be pretty incredible."

If you've worked with any person, company, or publication that is well-known and seen as a taste-maker, a photo of your makeup work with that person or entity should be right up front.

Use Social Proof

Social proof is another psychological principle that can help you make your portfolio great. Basically, social proof is the phenomenon where people decide the appropriate course of action based on what the people around them are doing. It's the reason why you get quieter when you go into libraries and why you feel comfortable in a bathing suit at the beach but not in an airport. Basically, we look at the actions of others to see what we should do.

So how would social proof make your portfolio better? If the people looking at your portfolio see others recommending you, they'll be more likely to hire you. In the back of your portfolio, after all the images, you can give a list of references who will recommend you, or on your website you can add testimonials that praise your work. When people will see that others have trusted you and appreciate your work, they'll be more likely to hire you and use your services.

A quick note: testimonials work GREAT for bridal makeup artists and their portfolios, but they may look a little amateur-ish for editorial portfolios. For testimonials, use your best judgment, or get advice from an MUA you know.

Use A Variety of Images and Styles...

Another super-important aspect of your portfolio. You want to show that you are a versatile artist, and capable of creating a number of different looks. You should include one or more photos of clean makeup, editorial makeup (aka, makeup for a fashion shoot), and, if you want to branch out into more creative work, "avant-garde" makeup. If you can include photographs that both 1) show that you have mastered the basics, and 2) look very different from all the other photographs in the portfolio, you'll be in great shape.

When you're trying to vary the images in your portfolio, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • The first image should be one that presents the message you want to send. Is it a bride? An editorial shoot? etc. Figure out how you want to be seen, find the best photo that represents that desire, and put it up front.
  • You can include a few black and white photographs, but not too many. Makeup for black and white photos requires a different skill set than makeup for color photos, so it can be good to have those in there, but don't overdo it.
  • It can help if you include a few photos that include a model's/client's clothes, as a way to let photographers know that you can come up with a style that enhances the look and feel of clothing.
  • Try to include models/clients in very different lighting circumstances. One of the most challenging parts of being a makeup artist is anticipating the light that models/clients will be photographed in. If you can show that you can make subjects look fantastic in many different types of light (ie, daylight, indoor lighting, fluorescent, spotlights, flash photography, etc), you will create a makeup artist portfolio that really stands out.

One quick note about variety in your print portfolio: you'll need to make a decision about whether you'll be doing editorial makeup or bridal makeup, and have your entire portfolio full of photos of one or the other. You shouldn't include images of both types. That sounds a little weird, but if you're showing your portfolio to someone who is organizing a photo shoot for a magazine, they'll want to see your editorial photos, and not your bridal shots.

In fact, it's not uncommon for makeup artists to have two or more portfolios, each for a different kind of makeup. If you are enjoying a career that spans different areas of makeup, you may have a fashion portfolio, a bridal portfolio, a makeover portfolio, and so on.

There is, however, one circumstance where you don't want a variety of images. You will either use many different images...

...Or Determine "An Area Of Focus"

If you have a specialty within the field of makeup, that should be the focus of your portfolio. You may want to focus on editorial, runway, theatre, television and film, bridal... whatever it is, if there is a particular kind of makeup you want to be known for, that should be the theme of your portfolio, and you shouldn't include any other types of photos.

And, as we mentioned in the last section, you can always have two or more portfolios that show off your different areas of expertise.

There's one exception to the "Develop An Area Of Focus" rule, and that is if you had one BIG-TIME gig. For example, let's say an artist wants to be the most sought-after bridal makeup artist in Virginia. Her portfolio should be chock full of photos of beautiful brides you've worked on. BUT, if she's also worked on a model for the cover of Elle, that would be an image she'd want to include, just because Elle has such big name recognition.

As with many things, there's no "right" answer, and you'll need to use your judgment.

A Reasonable Amount Of Images

Part of a professional portfolio is having enough photographs to show that you've worked a number of different jobs, but not too many, so that you don't bore your reader. You want to wow them with a couple of images, and then have them wanting more. In a print portfolio, that could be anywhere from 10 to 15 images (at the very most); in an online portfolio, you can have as many images as you like, but if there is an area of your site called "Portfolio," you should stick with 10 to 15 images for the viewer to really focus on. That's actually a mistake that many MUAs make with their online portfolios—dumping hundreds of photos on a website, and making it difficult for the viewer to navigate through the site. When you build a makeup artist portfolio, you need to limit yourself to a small number of FANTASTIC images.

A Logical Order To The Images

Try to arrange your photos so that there is a "flow," or a logical sequence to the photographs. One way to do that is to group similarly-themed photos together.

That can be a confusing idea, but here's an example. Say you have:

  • two black and white photos;
  • one photo from a small editorial shoot,
  • ​another photo from a photo shoot of a well-known fashion brand, and
  • four images close-up images of clean makeup: two of a model's eyes, one of the lips, and one of the entire face.

Here’s how you might arrange them, from first to last:

  • You would put the well-known brand first, as it shows you've worked on some big projects.
  • To keep things "grouped" together, you would include the small editorial shoot second.
  • You could then include the close-ups, one after the other, because having those interspersed throughout the portfolio would seem disjointed.
  • Then you could include the black-and-whites, to show that you've learned different styles of application.

The order of photographs is obviously very subjective, and there's no "correct" way to order the images in your portfolio. Absolutely everyone will order things differently. Just remember that having a "flow" to your portfolio, where similar photos are grouped together, makes you seem much more professional.

Before And After Photos

Some makeup artists choose to include before-and-after photos in their portfolios; others do not. You'll have to make a business decision about this.

If you're looking to do editorial work, stay away from before-and-after photos. They don't look professional or cutting-edge. If, however, you are an MUA focusing on the local market by doing makeovers, brides, and classes, a before-and-after section of your portfolio can be a powerful selling tool (especially in your online portfolio), and you definitely SHOULD include them. It all depends on where you want your career to go and what kind of jobs you want to get.

Correct Spelling And Grammar

A lot of fantastic makeup artists do great work, but their portfolios (both online and print) look sloppy because they're full of spelling and grammar errors.

A portfolio is basically a resume that's in the form of a photo book—but it's still a resume, and you want to look like you are an absolutely professional. And an absolute professional does not have spelling and grammar mistakes on her resume.

That may seem odd, because grammar and spelling have nothing to do with makeup. A person could be AMAZING at makeup but lousy at spelling, right?

But it does matter, and it matters a lot. The people who will hire you want to know that you pay attention to detail, and in the field of makeup artistry, detail matters very, very much. And not only that, but having a spotless portfolio proves that you are a professional, and that you will allow no errors of any kind in your work.

So how do you make sure your portfolio has no spelling or grammar errors? The easiest way is to get a friend who is a good writer and have them take a look at it. If you don't have anyone in your life who could help you, you could always check out Fiverr.com or Craigslist.com or another online site.

Create A Makeup Portfolio

How To Put It All Together

So now that we've detailed a few of the things that will make your portfolio stand out, let's take a closer look at how to create a makeup artist portfolio.

Steps And Requirements For Your Print Portfolio

Portfolio Color: You want a black or brown leather portfolio. It's sleek, it's professional, and it makes you look like a mature artist. Nothing fancy, and nothing quirky—no wild colors, zebra stripes, etc. Wow them with color on the inside, not on the outside. Also—if you can, you want real leather, not faux-leather. Some people get their name embossed on the cover, but that's expensive, and you can hold off on that if you want. On the inside, you want clear plastic sleeves to insert your photographs.

Photo Size: For a long time, makeup artists would use tear sheets in their portfolios (a tear sheet is a photo or image literally cut out of a publication), but there's a lot of variation on that in recent years. Mostly, people use photos that are 9 x 12 or 11 x 14. There's no set rule on that, really, but remember: bigger is better (most of the time). You want people to really see the work you've done, so 9 x 12 or 11 x 14 will work fine.

Printed Material: In the back of the portfolio, you may choose to include a resume or CV, and you can include business cards if you think they're helpful. Remember: no spelling mistakes! You want the person looking at your portfolio to know that you are the best there is.

For a fantastic presentation of what a portfolio should look like, check out MUA Lee Pycroft's video. She does a great job explaining what a portfolio is, and talks about her (very impressive) client list. She also does a great job explaining the "flow" of a portfolio, and how to place your images in a logical order.

Where Can I Buy A Print Portfolio?

There are some fantastic models you can buy, and here are two of our favorites:

The Itoya Art Portfolio Multi-Ring Binder. ​This is a great "starter" option. It's got three rings in the middle of the spine, which means that you can add new sheaths if you'd like to expand the portfolio. It's a smaller model at 9 inches by 12 inches, but that's absolutely big enough to show your work (and it's a little easier to carry around, as well!).

The Prat Paris Start 2 Presentation Portfolio Case. This is another excellent option. It's 11 inches by 14 inches, so you'll be able display photographs clearly; it has a zipper lining, which is good because sometimes your images can slide out of their pages; and it comes with 10 pages that you can use for your tear sheets. If you need more pages for more photographs, you can purchase additional ones.

Requirements For Your Online Portfolio

This is kind of an in-depth topic, and this post is getting pretty long as it is! We wrote an entire post about it, and you'll need to check that out.

The good news is that creating your own website is very, very simple, and it takes about an hour.

How Do I Find Photographs If I'm Just Starting Out?

Ok! This is the first question on everyone's mind. "If I'm just starting out, how do I fill up a portfolio with photos of my work, when I haven't ever been hired for a job?"

There are two different ways to go about it. You can set up your own photo shoot, or you can become an assistant for an already-established makeup artist and get prints from your work with her.

Let's take a look at both options, and find out which one is right for you.

Option #1: Stage Your Own Photo Shoot

It's kind of fun, isn't it? Setting up your first shoot—even if it is simply for your portfolio—is your first step towards building a professional career for yourself. It's exciting!

So what will you need to create a photo shoot? You'll need a photographer, one or more models, and someone to do makeup. Here's how you get them:

You pay for their services. The best—and easiest—option, if you can afford it, is to pay for a professional photographer and professional model (or models). You'll see how experienced professionals work, and you'll have a fantastic networking opportunity with the photographer and the model.

Many of you are laughing right now, because... come on. Very few of us have money for that.

So, if you don't have the money to pay for professionals, here's some great news: just as you are starting out a career as a makeup artist, there are photographers in your area starting their career as photographers, and they need to build their portfolio, too. And, you guessed it—they'll be looking around for makeup artists who will offer their services for free.

When photographers, models, makeup artists, stylists, and so on work for free to build their portfolio, the process is called "Trade For Print" work or "Time For Print" work (or "TFP" for short). Basically, TFP work is when a model or makeup artist trades his or her time with a photographer for a set of prints from the photo shoot. The prints may be actual prints of the photographs, or digital files sent via email. When you're doing TFP, you'll want to negotiate with the photographer beforehand how he'll get the prints to you. (A quick note: sometimes people say "TFCD," which means "Trade for CD," where the photographer puts the images on a CD).

There a bunch of different places you can look for TFP work.

To Find Photographers: If the real world, you can find a photography student at a local university, art school, or community college. They're usually very motivated and you won't have to travel too far to work with them. Online, you can visit Model Mayhem, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (try the Makeup Artist and Photography forum) and reach out to photographers/models who you think would be up for TFP. If you strike out there, do a Google search for photographers in your area who are at the start of their careers.

Here’s the secret: you’ll need to keep contacting photographers and models until you find one who will work you. It is almost a sure thing that the first photographer you contact won't want to work with you. Same with the second, third, and fourth photographer you contact. You just have to keep calling/emailing/reaching out to people until you find the photographer who says "Yes." Don't get discouraged! Stick to it, and you'll be able to find someone to partner with.

To Find Models. If luck is on your side, the photographer who agrees to work with you will know a model who will work you and the photographer for prints. If not, your best bet is Model Mayhem (even though you may have to pay for an account) and/or a web search similar to the one you did to find a photographer. Remember, it may take a bunch of "No"s before you get to your "Yes."

If you can't find a model through a photographer or your online efforts, look to your friends! Is there someone you know who would look great in a portfolio photo? If so, reach out to them… BUT, keep in mind that people you know personally should be your last option. You will find out—very quickly—that modeling is not as simple as it looks, and there are experienced models and inexperienced models, and inexperienced models are not easy to work with!

Finally, when you're selecting models for the shoot, remember:

  • You will want to apply various styles of makeup on them: clean makeup, fashion, bold colors, and so on;
  • If you can get a couple of different models with different skin tones and facial shapes, that would be fantastic for your portfolio; and
  • You should ask the photographer if he can use different lighting during the shoot. Being able to produce excellent looks in varied lighting is the mark of an excellent MUA, and if you can include images in different lighting in your portfolio, that'll be a huge plus.

Something To Keep In Mind About TFP Work

You may find that you get very good at finding TFP work. There are, after all, a lot of people who are trying to build careers in the beauty industry, and need to find people willing to do TFP work. After a while, you'll want to get picky and only choose people who truly further your career. Find photographers you like, models who would produce an interesting look for you, and so on.

Eventually, you will reach a point where you should no longer offer your services for free, and you will only accept TFP work if the model or photographer is a well-known figure who can help your career (and, even then, some argue that you should never work for free—the thinking is, if you're good enough to be hired, you're good enough to be paid).

In fact, there is actually a spirited debate in the arts community about TFP work. Does it actually help you once you've been working for a while, and you actually have a portfolio? Is it better to simply pay for experienced models and photographers and get top-tier images?

That's not a problem for you now, though—you need to build that portfolio ASAP, so find some up-and-coming photographers and models, and get to it!

Option #2: Become An Assistant

Basically, working with an artist who's been in the game for a while can be a GREAT way to develop your portfolio. You'll gain exposure to the business side of makeup, make connections, and learn techniques that they DO NOT teach in school. Unfortunately, not all MUA assistants are paid for their work, but if you can swing it, an assistant position is an incredible experience.

We wrote an in-depth post about becoming an assistant, so you should skip on over if you're interested in learning more.

We probably don't need to mention this, but we'll mention it anyway: don't cheat, don't lie, and don't include images in your portfolio of client's you didn't work on.

That sort of thing always gets found out. Always. Just don't do it.

That said, there are a couple of other issues you'll need to keep in mind:

  • If you are using an image from a photo shoot, ask for a written document that gives you permission to use the image. Many images are copyrighted, which means they're off-limits for use out of the publication (or film, book, or whatever). If you get photos from a job you do, make sure you get permission to use the photos.
  • DON'T take the credit for the work someone else has done. If you are an assistant, you will need to include a note (on the page where the photo is listed) that you were the assistant (or whatever your role was). Also, it's a good idea to get permission from your key (aka, the head makeup artist).
  • DON'T use a photo editor to "touch up" the images in your portfolio. That's cheating, and many of the people looking at your portfolio will know it. And, if the photo has been copyrighted, altering it may be illegal and you could face fines and penalties.
  • If you do the photography yourself—which we don't recommend, because you should leave that to the pros!—you'll need the written permission from your model to use his/her image in a portfolio.

We've written a post about contracts that makeup artists can use; if you're worried about getting permission to use some of your photos, you should check it out.

Building A Portfolio Is A Process

Don't be frustrated if your portfolio isn't fantastic when you're just starting out. That's ok. You're new! You're not going to have dozens of fantastic photos.

Here's the good news: as you gain experience and get more jobs, you'll have more and more photos to use. You'll actually have your pick of photos, and you'll have so many fantastic images that you'll be forced to leave some out. Putting together a fantastic portfolio is difficult when you start out, but it gets much, much easier as you go along.

Hang in there, keep working, and before long you will have an amazing portfolio!

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