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The Best Makeup Books for Aspiring Artists

We've gotten a few emails about what books we recommend, so here it is: the books we consider the best makeup books, both for those people who simply want to learn makeup, and those who want to start a career in makeup artistry.

On the page below, we'll discuss two types of books: the kind that teach you skills and techniques, and the kind that teach you how to navigate the beauty industry and get paid for providing makeup services to clients. Any questions? Hop down to the "Comments" section and ask away!

Books to Help You Learn Makeup Skills​

First up: Making Faces, by Kevyn Aucoin.

You may notice that in any post about the best makeup books, you will always find a few titles by Kevyn Aucoin. It's almost like it's a requirement that wherever the words "makeup" and "books" are put together, you'll see that name. Why is that?

There are three reasons:​

  • His story is really inspirational;
  • He was an incredible makeup artist; and
  • His books are kind of the gold standard when it comes to truly helpful makeup guides.

Aucoin grew up in Louisiana, where he realized very early on that he was gay. He was bullied in grammar school, and absolutely tortured in high school---and after one incident where has chased by classmates in a truck, he'd finally had enough. He dropped out of high school, entered the nearest beauty school he could find, and graduated at the top of his class. Even after graduation, though, he faced the same discrimination he experienced in high school: the women in his area felt uncomfortable having their faces done by a man, and his career never seemed to take off. He and his boyfriend left Louisiana and moved to New York City, hoping for a better life and more opportunity.

Within only a few years, his career had absolutely taken off. He'd begun working shoots with Vogue, doing covers for Cosmopolitan, and collaborating with supermodels like Cindy Crawford and celebrities like Tina Turner. At 21---21!---he became one of the Creative Directors at Revlon. He wrote three books (The Art of Makeup, Making Faces, and Face Forward) and worked with dozens of notable designers. His success was quick and overwhelming.

Sadly, Aucoin died very young---he developed a type of brain cancer called a pituitary tumor, and began severely abusing pain medication. In 2002, he died of kidney and liver failure related to his drug use. His story is both very sad and very inspiring.

About the book:

What's so amazing about this text is that it seems to have aged so well. It may seem a little dated, but so much of the material---including the photographs---seem relevant, or at least glamorous in a retro/late 90s sort of way. The first sections discuss the basics---skin care, different products for different skin types, and so on. The later sections discuss skills and products: how to use foundation, tricks for concealing blemishes, shading and highlighting to alter facial features, etc. Later he creates various looks, and while this may seem a little dated---some of the looks include "The Flapper" and "The Starlet"---his words provide a lot of insight on how to create a FEELING: how to use colors and tones to make a person express an attitude through makeup.

Of all the books in our list, this is one most famous, and in our opinion, it is DEFINITELY worth a read.

Face with A Heart: Mastering Authentic Beauty Makeup, by Chris Scott

Chris Scott is an incredible artist, and his book, Face with A Heart: Mastering Authentic Beauty Makeup, is a fantastic read.

Chris treats his career like one big adventure---he's worked with some big name celebrities (Paul McCartney, Al Gore, Maya Angelou), been on dozens of television programs, taught as a visiting professor at the Fashion Makeup at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and---perhaps most impressively---he's developed his own makeup line, called Makeup Gourmet. He's living proof that not only is a career in makeup possible, but that it can fascinating and exciting and profitable.

The book itself is fantastic. So many makeup books look fantastic, but don't have any real substance. Chris Scott's book not only discusses various techniques, it provides step-by-step guidance on how to take care of your skin, prime lips and eyes and apply stains and shadows, and form a makeup strategy using model's various facial shapes. Chris supplements the book with a set of super-helpful how-to videos here.​

Also, as a bonus---Chris discusses certain aspects of makeup artistry as a career, and as someone with more than 30 years in the business, his insights are truly helpful.

Makeup Is Art: Professional Techniques for Creating Original Looks, by Academy of Freelance Makeup

The Academy of Freelance Makeup has schools in London, Paris, New York, and Belfast, and their instructors have trained hundreds (if not thousands) of men and women who have moved on to professional makeup careers. They are one of the few schools that backs up their classes with actual job placements for students, and their alumni seem to rave about them. The authors are in the business of teaching motivated people about makeup, and their ability to teach comes across in the pages.

Their book, Makeup Is Art: Professional Techniques for Creating Original Looks, is how you'd hope a makeup artistry book would look: gorgeous full-size color photos of models wearing avant-garde makeup, close-ups of skin treatments and masks, and detailed images of how-to techniques. The content starts with the basics (eyes, lips, cheeks, etc.) but moves to some interesting places: there's a discussion of the different types of professional makeup application (namely, advertising, editorial, and live events / catwalk / red carpet), but the book also discusses body art, underwater makeup, and (gasp!) makeup application on men. It's kind of silly that more books don't include men as a makeup topic.

The text is dense and information-rich, and that's another big plus. Many books about makeup technique have almost NO insight on how to apply a technique, the obstacles you need to look out for, and the opportunities that each makeup product present. Most books that are published by a school go in-depth about each topic, and this is no exception.

Jemma Kidd Make-up Masterclass: Beauty Bible of Professional Techniques and Wearable Looks, by Jemma Kidd

So, if you were sitting there thinking, "These all sound like great books about makeup, but I'm looking for something written by a woman who is English royalty," then Jemma Kidd Make-up Masterclass: Beauty Bible of Professional Techniques and Wearable Looks is your book.

Jemma Kidd is many things: makeup artist, fashion model, and finally, Marchioness of Duoro. If you're an American (and most of the writers of are American, by the way---in fact, most live in Brooklyn, NY, the least royal place in all of the United States), please allow us to unravel that: a Marchioness is the wife of a Marquess, and a Marquess is an English nobleman of hereditary rank. Jemma is married to Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Douro, and that makes her the Marchioness.

And, please don't be impressed---we totally had to look on Wikipedia to figure out what a "Marchioness" is.

Pretty neat!

Anyway, the Marchioness of Douro writes a pretty good book about makeup. She goes deep on a lot of topics that many cosmetics books ignore, and discusses makeup for various skin tones (porcelain, fair, light olive, dark olive, and deep), age (she splits it up into teen to early 20s, mid 20s to 30s, mid 30s to 40s, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, and 60 and beyond), and the facial shape. She then goes into different looks AND how to work different looks in different light (ie, daytime, nighttime, flash photography, and so on).

This is actually a really good book, and is both image-heavy and content heavy. It's thorough and well-organized. It's also one of the only titles we found that includes a face map, which is a super-important took when you're starting out and learning makeup (and even when you've made it and know what you're doing).

Last but not least---and this is fantastic, so if you're a pro and you're thinking about writing a book, do this and make it easy for us---Jemma includes a list of her favorite products. That's fantastic.

Make-Up Designory's Beauty Make-Up, by Yvonne Hawker and John Bailey

This is one of two books on our list that's published by a makeup school, and there's a reason why we've included a second one: we think it's fantastic. In our opinion, the Makeup Designory is one of the best schools of Makeup Artistry in the country---they've got locations in Los Angeles, NYC, and Overland Park, KS---as well as a unique cosmetics line that's sold in the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Spain, Japan, and a whole bunch of other countries. In other words, they know makeup, and they know how to teach it.

Make-Up Designory's Beauty Make-Up is pretty straight-forward---base, brows, eyes, cheeks, lips---but it includes sections on applying makeup to mature models, applying makeup via airbrush, and working with brides. You get the sense that they borrowed from their live classes to write the book, and that's a good thing. There's a (very) small chapter on actually working in the beauty biz, but it's not long enough for us to include it in our section titled...

Books for Aspiring Makeup Artists​ and the Business End of Things

Makeup Artist Money Manual: A Simple, Step-by-step Guide to Your Long Lasting, Lucrative Career in Wedding Makeup Artistry, by Theresa Amundsen

Even though this is about starting a wedding makeup business, this might be the absolute best makeup book on our list. Seriously. Even if you're not interested in wedding makeup, Makeup Artist Money Manual: A Simple, Step-by-Step Guide to Your Long Lasting, Lucrative Career in Wedding Makeup Artistry is an excellent read, because it discusses running a small business---and as a makeup artist, no matter where you go, you will be running a small business!

So, let's be honest here: when you were a little girl or boy and you imagined yourself as a successful adult, traveling all of the world as a sought-after makeup artist, did you imagine, "It will be magnificent! I'll constantly be thinking about taxes and start-up costs and artist discounts and client rosters and branding my business!"

Chances are very, very strong that is not what you had in mind.

But, sadly, it's part of being a makeup artist. As we've said (like, a million times---we're sorry about bringing it up all the time), makeup is a business, and you'll need to master aspects of it in order to be successful. This book is a literal God-send when it comes to the nitty-gritty business stuff. It discusses:

  • How to actually start a business---the forms you'll need to fill out, and the business plans you'll need to prepare;
  • How to market your business and build a list of happy clients;
  • How to build a website, use online advertising resources, and find new work;
  • How to work with difficult clients (in this case, brides); and
  • How to maximize the money that your makeup business is pulling in.

Regardless of whether you want to do bridal makeup or not, if you'd like to get into makeup as a career, this is a great book to have. The business principles that the author discusses are relevant to ALL makeup artists, and not just the ones who work on brides. Plus, to do all this research online would take you hours, if not days---but most (not all, but most) of what you need to know is right here.

Makeup Makeovers Beauty Bible: Expert Secrets for Stunning Transformations, by Robert Jones

Robert Jones is another artist with a long and prosperous (and impressive) career: he's worked with celebrities like Selena Gomez and Cindy Crawford, and had his work appear in Glamour, Vogue, Allure, and a ton of others. If you really like his stuff, he has a bunch of other books (Makeup Makeovers is one), but he tends to recycle material across his books, so this one may be all you need. He's got online courses available as well. (Note: there's some annoying music going on when the page loads, but it's still worth the trip---it's a very good site).​

Makeup Makeovers Beauty Bible: Expert Secrets for Stunning Transformations is a fantastic book, and if before-and-after photos are your thing---and who among us does not like the magic of before-and-after photos---then this is the book for you. The tutorials are excellent, and there's plenty of material here, but the real value from this title is the discussion on light. We've talked a lot about how it's not how you look when wearing your makeup, it's how you look in different light environments wearing your makeup. This book seems to get that, and incorporates strategies for different lighting scenarios. It has advice and guidance on how to work with high-definition photography, and that's also hugely helpful. Most makeup artist books totally neglect that photography is a vitally important part of makeup.

The book also has plenty of guidance on how to work with brides, and that's a fantastic addition, because even if you're NOT interested in wedding makeup, it's at least something you should know about. We're friends with a few makeup artists who started out and were absolutely certain they wanted to do fashion makeup, got a few fashion makeup gigs, hated it, and are now making a great living doing wedding makeup.​

Plus, special bonus: the book is spiral bound. Why isn't every single book about makeup spiral bound? WHY? It's a huge plus, because it makes the book waaaaay easier use to use when you're practicing the techniques in the book. You won't have to weight both sides of the book down with a shoe or something.

The Makeup Artist Handbook: Techniques for Film, Television, Photography, and Theatre---2nd Edition, by Gretchen Davis and Mindy Hall​

This book is an excellent choice for future makeup artists, because it discusses topics that affect makeup artists in various industries. As we've discussed, there are many, many different ways that you can become a makeup artist, and each area is a little bit different. Bridal makeup is different than stage makeup, stage makeup is different than runway makeup, runway makeup is different than editorial makeup, and so on. And yet, makeup artists need to know how to work in each of these areas! This book does a pretty good job of addressing the different areas, and provides readers with an introduction to the various "players" at any makeup job (ie, directors, photographers, event managers, and so on), and a quick introduction to the unions that many makeup artists join at some point in their careers.

While The Makeup Artist Handbook: Techniques for Film, Television, Photography, and Theatre has more of a "business" thrust to it, the skills sections are still very good. Sections provide background information and build on the lessons provided. Plus, the authors discuss airbrush makeup, which is a topic that older books don't tackle at all (widespread use of airbrush makeup is still fairly new, believe it or not), and that's a huge plus. The book may overdo it a little bit---some of the lessons and diagrams about anatomy seem like overkill---but the discussion on shadows, shades, coloring, and the products used to capture them are excellent. One bonus is that the authors state specifically the products that they use---and that's fantastic, because most beauty books don't do that (beauty products become passe VERY quickly, and the authors want their books to always seem up-to-date).

For better or worse, this book feels like a textbook---something that you might have to read in school. So, it may be a little less seductive than makeup books that feature colorful images and beautiful models. BUT. The subject matter is something you love, so it's probably an easier read.

We've offered a few criticisms here, but that's not to say it isn't an excellent book. If you're interested in a career in makeup artistry---as opposed to just learning a few new ideas---this is an excellent choice.

How to be a Professional Makeup Artist: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners, by G M Reyna

This is another book that focuses on the business side of makeup. We've included it because it's a more "nuts and bolts" approach to the career, and discusses building a kit, training, and portfolio building.

This is another book that doesn't really provide techniques or glossy how-to photos; if that's your interest, you should look at the Kevyn Aucoin book and the Chris Scott book above. How to Be a Professional Makeup Artist: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners provides just that: a kind of road map to a makeup artistry career.

Did We Miss Any?​

That was a LONG post! Why is that whenever we write something, it's thousands of words long? Sorry about that! That seems to happen on most of our posts. Perhaps it's a good thing? We want you to have all the information you can.

Anyway, if you have comments---questions about the books, titles we've missed, or maybe even a book you've written---let us know! Comment your heart out. We'll reply.​

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