What is a Makeup Artist Career Actually Like?

There are so many people who are interested in a career as a makeup artist, but there aren't that many websites that actually talk about what a makeup artist career is LIKE. What are the best parts of the job? What are the worst parts of it? What are the experiences that MUAs get to live out? What does it feel like to actually work creatively with makeup every day?

We checked in with some of our readers and a few of our interviewees to get their opinion, and asked "What is a makeup artist career actually like?" Here's what they said.

What is it Like to be a Makeup Artist

"I feel fully engaged..."

Monica in New York City, MUA---makeup artist in theatre and performing artists: "There's something about doing what you LOVE to do. I'm not great at a lot of things, but I'm REALLY good at this, and I spent a lot of time and a lot of practice to get where I am. And it was worth every second. The work that I do---mostly with actors for on-stage performances---is really intense, and when I'm at work, I am at work. I am totally in the moment, and I love it. I wish the rest of my life were like that!"

"I'm a hustler, baby!"

Shana in San Francisco---bridal/special events/tv-and-film: "I was talking to a friend about this the other day. I get jobs in all kinds of different areas. You name it---bridal, corporate, whatever it is, I'm there. I have all my information on Gig Salad, Yelp, all the wedding sites... if it's a site where I can advertise, I'm on it. I pick up jobs wherever I can and whenever I can, because the work isn't constantly coming in. But that's kind of the best part---last week I did two weddings up in Mill Valley, this week I did a music video for this soul singer who's trying to start a career, and later today I'm doing private lessons for a woman in Presidio Heights. I'll take on any kind of project that interests me. I'm like a hustler! I'm getting my hustle on."

"I never thought I'd be a business woman…"

Rebecca, Brooklyn, NYC---bridal/fashion/education: "I got into makeup because I loved it. I always have. But I never really thought about the business aspect of it. I didn't realize that it would be unlike most of other beauty jobs, and that I'd be in business for myself. That's not a bad thing---it's actually a lot easier than I thought it would be---but it changed my way of thinking about things.

"When I started out, all I wanted to do were the 'exciting' jobs. But those don't always pay so well! So now I do a looooot of private lessons, because it's good for business. It gets my name out there---I get a lot of referrals from people I give lessons to---and it is a big part of my income. I live in Brooklyn, and there are some really wealthy parts of Brooklyn, and I can take the subway into Manhattan and teach people there, too.

"There's another thing about giving private lessons that I love: it helps pay the bills when I come across a 'passion project' that I really want to do, but might not get paid so well for. I have to make all these decisions that affect my business, and I really like that. It feels like a game, sometimes."

"I thought I wanted to work with movie stars, but it turns out I wanted to be a teacher"

Rachel in Los Angeles, CA---bridal/private lessons/fashion: "I got into makeup because I thought it would be so glamorous. I'm from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I moved to LA thinking that everything was going to be fabulous. And you know what? A lot of it was. I mean---it's LA! Of course it was fabulous.

"But I was really surprised to find that it didn't really do it for me. I worked on a couple of tv shows, did some makeup at awards shows where there a ton of celebrities and beautiful people walking around, and it was great, but... I don't know. It wasn't what I thought it would be, and I kind of got over it. I was doing what I always wanted to do, and I wasn't happy, and I was kind of pissed about that! I had to stop and take a good look at what WAS making me happy.

"And I was really, really surprised to find out that giving private lessons really made me happy! I loved, loved, loved seeing the look in my clients' eyes when they try something new and find that they look amazing. I still do weddings, because that brings in some great money, and there are some crazy-big weddings out here, but I really like teaching. That was a nice surprise. And who knows? Some people have done really well teaching others about makeup!"

"I do it because I love it."

Anj, Chicago, IL---cosmetologist and bridal MUA: "Makeup is my side gig, really. I'm a cosmetologist, and I work at a salon in Chicago in a neighborhood called River North, and I do pretty well there. So I do makeup gigs on the weekends. I do weddings, mostly, but there are proms and bar mitzvahs and quincineras and other family events that I get hired for every once in a while. I like have a beautician job and doing makeup on the side, because I don't have to chase the work as much. I know a few of the makeup artists in Chicago, and they work hard! I'm very happy working at my salon and doing weddings on the weekends. It's a great way to make some extra money."

"I have a little career insurance built up..."

Char, Chicago, IL---fashion/tv/bridal: "I'm actually friends with Anj! Hi, Anj!

"I'm also in Chicago, and I'm a full-time makeup artist. Anj works in a salon, and I'm jealous of her sometimes! I'm in charge of my schedule, and that takes a lot of work. But for me, it's totally worth it. From the time I figured out seven years ago, 'Hey, I love makeup... why don't I do that for a living??' to the present moment, I haven't had one regret. I love it. It can be tough, but I love it.

"I do think that being a cosmetologist is a little easier, though! I got my cosmetology license---not all makeup artists have that, but I do, and I'm glad I got it. If my career ever falls apart, I always have the cosmetology license to fall back on. It's like having an insurance policy on your career."

Thank you, Interviewees!

A big thank you to Monica, Shana, Rebecca, Rachel, Anj, and Char for sharing!! This is totally helpful.

Because the field of makeup is so big---there are bridal makeup artists, tv-and-film makeup artists, special effects makeup artists, etc---we want to just remind everyone that each experience in each area is a little different, and we'll probably have a few more posts like this. Talk soon!

​Image Credit: "Fashion Show" by Allen via Flickr

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