Make-up artists ensure that models, performers and presenters have suitable make-up and hairstyles for appearing in front of cameras or an audience
As a make-up artist, your work will involve creating images and characters through the medium of make-up, hairstyles and prosthetics according to a brief.
You'll interpret the make-up requirements of clients to produce both a creative and technically accurate visual representation. This may involve very basic make-up for a TV presenter through to more complex period make-up or special effects.
You may work alone and perhaps in a freelance capacity, as an assistant to a more senior colleague or as part of a make-up design team.
Types of settings requiring make-up artistry
You may specialise or work across a variety of settings, including:
- live music
- photographic shoots
Working as a make-up artist, you’ll need to:
- communicate with clients to clarify visual requirements
- read scripts to ascertain the materials and look required, considering budget implications and identifying areas where research is required
- produce and sketch design ideas for hairstyles and make-up
- ensure continuity in hair and make-up, liaising with other members of the design team to ensure the overall look/effect is consistent and coherent
- demonstrate and implement a practical understanding of lighting, the photographic process, colours and the impact of special effects/make-up processes on the skin
- ensure that appropriate action is taken to minimise unpleasant side effects from the use of specialist make-up/hairdressing techniques
- maintain awareness of health and safety issues and legislation
- cast facial and body moulds and sculpt latex foam, known as prosthetics
- fit and maintain wigs, hairpieces and prosthetics
- keep up to date with available make-up and beauty products
- source, budget and order materials and equipment from specialist suppliers
- be effective with your time management - knowing how long a client will take to be made up
- work quickly and accurately in time-pressured conditions
- take detailed notes and photographs of work to maintain an up-to-date portfolio of work
- hairdressing, if you have the skills - many make-up artists do both.
- Trainees should receive no less than the national minimum wage or the London living wage. For a feature film, trainee make-up artists currently earn between £11 and £14 per hour.
- Make-up artists working in fashion can earn £450 a day for an event like London Fashion Week, and around £275 for other events. For fashion editorial work head make-up artists earn £170 to £320 per day, depending on the designer.
- On major feature films, with budgets over £30million, a trainee make-up artist can earn £140 for a ten-hour day, while a key hair and make-up artist with several years' experience, will earn £410.
Many make-up artists initially work for free or for a small fee on low-budget productions or editorial shoots to build up a record of published work and gain experience.
The majority of make-up artists work on a self-employed or freelance basis. Freelancing is often an essential prerequisite for the very limited number of permanent jobs. Professionals are contracted for projects, either directly or through an agent.
Rates are negotiable and individuals who are well regarded in the industry are in great demand and are paid well above the rates listed.
Income data from BECTU. Figures are intended as a guide only.
A typical working day includes long and unsocial hours, and you'll find that shifts and weekend work are common.
Working on a film or television project means that you'll need to be on set before filming commences and remain on set throughout filming in order to re-apply make-up.
Advance fittings are often required, but you won't be alone - working as part of a production team is integral to the job.
What to expect
- The environment varies - you could be working in indoor dressing rooms, hot studios or cold outdoor locations. The work is physically demanding and requires great concentration. Most make-up artists carry around their own equipment.
- Employers are located mainly in cities, particularly those with independent regional TV companies. Most opportunities are found in London.
- Travel within a working day, periodic relocation, absence from home at night and overseas work or travel is frequent. Make-up artists may travel overseas for film work on location.
- Word of mouth, networking and speculative CVs are a common method of generating work. Many make-up artists use a photographic portfolio demonstrating the range of skills they offer.
Traditionally, academic qualifications are not as important as creative and practical skills. It's possible to become a make-up artist without a degree or HND.
However, entrance is generally becoming formalised, and candidates will often undertake several specialist HNDs in make-up artistry as a precursor to freelance industry experience and traineeships.
Several colleges and universities offer a variety of two-year foundation degrees, as well as three-year undergraduate degree, in areas including:
- fashion, theatrical and media hair and make-up
- hair, make-up and prosthetics for performance
- media make-up and character design
- media make-up and special effects.
NVQs in relevant subjects are also available, such as:
- beauty therapy
- media and theatrical make-up.
Regional arts councils provide useful links to media organisations and their websites. These include:
You'll need to show:
- theoretical interest
- an understanding of period and current fashion
- excellent practical make-up and technical skills
- good interpersonal and self-promotion skills.
Most people entering this field have taken a course in both make-up and hairdressing, as the job requires you to be multiskilled. An understanding of film and video production techniques, camera and lighting processes, styles of literature, performance and dramatisation may also be important.
Relevant experience is desirable. This includes working backstage at amateur dramatic productions or working in a beauty or hair salon, plus any work placements or relevant unpaid work.
By job shadowing and carrying out work experience assisting a make-up artist you'll gain valuable insight, develop your portfolio, build a network of contacts and demonstrate your commitment to the profession. Observation is one of the best ways to learn skills and techniques.
Competition is tough and professionals are often employed on reputation and popularity. A good starting point is to think of the contacts made during study and particularly through work experience.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
There are several industries that regularly employ make-up artists. Employers include:
- network and independent television
- film, video and advertising and commercial companies
- commercial and fashion photographers and, on a less regular basis, portrait photographers
- the wedding industry, for bridal make-up
- the fashion industry, for both haute couture and retail outlet fashion shows
- cosmetic companies and designer hairdressing salons, particularly for demonstrations or hairdressing competitions
- large theatres, some of which may offer a limited number of permanent positions, other theatres contract freelance artists to run make-up workshops for performers prior to new productions
- education institutions, who employ make-up artists as teachers on established and certificated make-up courses, other education institutions occasionally employ make-up artists to run make-up workshops for students as part of the practical performance element of their drama or theatrical studies
- the medical profession, where a make-up artist may work with patients following injury or surgery.
However, as most make-up artists are self-employed, they normally bid for work on a project-by-project basis. Creating an online portfolio of your work is a good way of showcasing your work and social media and online booking systems are a helpful way to get and manage work.
Look for job vacancies at:
Many people working in the media obtain work by advertising through media directories such as:
Diary services, which manage the clients and work you already have for a fixed regular fee, are a popular method of linking with employers, but will often only provide a service to individuals with experience. You can find a list of these on The Knowledge website.
Agencies will represent you and find you work. Payment is usually in the form of a fixed fee.
Make-up artists with a portfolio of experience may make speculative applications to production companies or approach make-up directors directly. For this, it can be helpful to produce a website to showcase examples of work. Get more tips on how to find a job.
Informal training is just as important as formal qualifications. You'll find that industry experience, whether paid or unpaid, is vital to professional development and the ability to get work.
Training is often on the job and freelancers have to manage their own continuing professional development (CPD). Many make-up artists believe that their on-the-job training and experience is just as important as their professional training, if not more so.
Many artists and designers wish to enhance or consolidate existing skills in order to open up new areas of expertise or to produce better quality work within their own specialist area. Further study provides the opportunity to experiment, diversify or obtain the specialist knowledge required. There are limited training opportunities, mainly based in commercial schools, which you'll have to pay for.
Make-up artists may take short courses in specialist areas, like special effects.
You could join the National Association of Screen Make-up Artists and Hairdressers (NASMAH) and take advantage of discounted training courses, events and information. Screenskills, the skills body for screen industries, also offers careers guidance, training and funding opportunities.
Career development usually means securing more temporary contracts and demanding higher rates of pay, dependent on experience, networking specialist area and popularity. Few permanent positions exist.
Working as a make-up artist, you'll find that there is no defined progression route. The freelance nature of the profession means that individuals may move between trainee make-up assistant, make-up artist, chief/key make-up artist and designer roles, depending on your experience and confidence within a sector.
Consequently, you may charge different rates for different jobs. Decisions as to the right time to request higher rates of pay and bid for project work in a more senior role are very much based on your own sense of confidence and how much experience and expertise you feel you have to offer.
Ambitious individuals aim towards the role of make-up director, but many freelance artists who do not reach this position still enjoy an autonomous and lucrative career.
You might become a specialist in one aspect of the job, such as a wig or prosthetics specialist, body painting or making contact lenses or teeth.