Practical Career Advice For Future MUAs
We've found that some of our most popular posts are the interviews. And that makes sense—it's truly helpful to get advice and guidance from someone who's been there. We've also found that in each interview, there are bits of advice that come up again and again, no matter who we were talking to.
So we thought it would be super helpful to gather all these bits of advice together and a "Practical Guidance"-type post, for those of you who are just starting a career in makeup, or considering a career in makeup. Some of the advice is about being professional, some of it is about finding your "niche," and some of it is about simply hanging in there when the going gets tough.
It was a lot of fun to pull all this information together, so hopefully it'll help guide you when you're just starting out.
You Will Learn A LOT On The Job
Many of the MUAs we've talked to have mentioned how much they loved school, and how much school helped them. However, ALL of them have said that while school was definitely worthwhile, "on the job" training was where they learned the most and where they truly developed as artists.
The consensus is that school is where people learn their skills—the "how to" of makeup—whereas on the set (or in the theatre or at the wedding or wherever the job may be) is where people learn how the business actually works. They learn how all the different parts of a shoot came together, who the decision-makers are, and how people with different jobs interact to come up with a final product. That makes sense, because it's almost impossible to recreate that atmosphere in a classroom.
The next bit of advice is totally related to "You'll learn the most on the job..."
Become An Apprentice or Assistant
When you're starting out, the easiest way to get "on the job" experience is to become a makeup artist's assistant. Even though the assistant position is often an unpaid one (at least at first, and depending on who you work for), it can literally mean the difference between getting your career started and floundering on the sidelines. It can be an incredible boost to your career.
There's no formal process for getting an assistant position. You need to find a makeup artist in your area, and convince him or her that you'd be truly helpful to them. And that's the trick of it—you actually need to be helpful! Your work agreement probably won't be for any set period of time, so if your MUA finds you burdensome in any way, she'll probably let you go. You need to really be an asset.
And, that can be difficult, because being an assistant isn't always fun! You do a lot of dreary tasks that have nothing to do with makeup (ie, "Get me some a latte and three spiced pumpkin cookies and...") but that's totally ok. You're there to observe, see how the business works, and make connections.
One more quick note: It can be VERY tough to work without any money coming in, so you may need a side hustle (like waitering, bartending, or buying/selling stuff on eBay) to get by during the "lean" times. We've written an entire post on how to get an assistant position (and how to make it worthwhile). Definitely check it out.
No Two Jobs Are The Same
One idea that came up over and over again was that everyone's face is vastly different. That's kind of what makes the job so much fun, but it's also a challenge, and it means that you can't "coast." You will need to consult with every client you work with about their preferences, their skin allergies, and the look they're trying to achieve (or the look the creative director is trying to achieve).
It may be tempting to think that after a few years in the business you know it all, but that won't be the case. You'll constantly be learning, and that's a good segue into the next bit of guidance...
Some of the most successful and capable MUAs we know said how amazing it was, after all their years in the business, that they still needed to practice in order to keep their skills sharp.
If you think about that, it's amazing. Even the pros have to practice.
Many MUAs also mentioned that practice alone isn't enough, and that experimenting with how makeup looked on film was an important. What may look fabulous in real life may look flat and boring on film. Being able to produce consist results across different types of lighting and different types of photography was a skill they needed to continue developing.
Finally, many of them said that some of the most valuable advice they received was very critical. One even said, "When I think I'm doing a great job, and everyone tells me my work is awful—that hurts, but it's very valuable feedback. You need to see your work through someone else's eyes. That can be difficult, but it can be very helpful when you're on the job."
Another good segue!
"MUA" Is A Tough Gig
EVERYONE we talked with—with the exception of one—said how difficult it was to start their career. It takes a little bit of time to build a reputation and a client base, and many people quit during that time. Plus, some of the people in the fashion industry can be very, very petty. Your clients—be they celebrities, brides, or families at a reunion—may often be grumpy. Mean, even! That is a BIG part of being a makeup artist—keeping calm and playing it cool, even when the person you're working on is freaking out. If you look at TheKnot.com or any site that lists reviews of bridal makeup artists, the top-reviewed artists always get feedback like, "She was so calm... she made me feel so relaxed..."
You May Be Poor For A Little While
When you first start out as a makeup artist—particularly if you are doing assistant jobs—you will not be making very much money. You'll need to plan on that. Luckily, makeup artistry is a field that rewards longevity: if, after a while, you are able to build your professional contracts and build a business for yourself, you will begin earning some good money.
But, at the start, you're going to be... less than rich.
Lastly, the best piece of advice we heard from many different MUAs:
Find Your Niche
Maybe you're amazing with brides and build up a truly lucrative local business. Maybe you've made some incredible connections and work the runway at Fashion Week. Maybe it turns out that you are a fantastic teacher, and you LOVE teaching people in your community how to look amazing and feel great about themselves.
Here's the thing: You never really know where you'll end up. There are so many people who think "I'm going to do THIS" and end up someplace totally different. And that is TOTALLY ok!
You need to find your area of expertise—your "niche," as they call it—and then you need to own it. Do it better than anybody else. Become the go-to person for that area of makeup.
If you can find where you truly standout, you'll be in wonderful shape.
(And if you're wondering, "niche" is usually pronounced "neesh.")
There were a couple of more brilliant bits of advice that our MUA friends gave us, but we'll save those for another post. We hope these helped!