You'll need creative flair, practical ability and an up-to-date knowledge of fashion and beauty trends to become a make-up artist

A make-up artist ensures that models, performers and presenters have suitable make-up and hairstyles for appearing in front of cameras or an audience.

You could work in a variety of settings, including:

  • film
  • live music
  • photographic shoots
  • television
  • theatre.

The work involves creating images and characters through the medium of make-up, hairstyles and prosthetics according to a brief.

In the role 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.

Responsibilities

Whether you work alone, as an assistant to a more senior colleague or as part of a make-up design team will depend on the nature of your role.

Working as a make-up artist, you may find yourself:

  • communicating with clients to clarify visual requirements
  • reading scripts to ascertain the materials and look required, budget implications and identifying areas where research is required
  • producing and sketching design ideas for hairstyles and make-up
  • ensuring continuity in hair and make-up and liaising with other members of the design team to ensure the overall look/effect is consistent and coherent
  • demonstrating and implementing a practical understanding of lighting, the photographic process, colours and the impact of special effects/make-up processes on the skin
  • ensuring that appropriate action is taken to minimise unpleasant side effects from the use of specialist make-up/hairdressing techniques
  • maintaining awareness of health and safety issues and legislation
  • casting facial and body moulds and sculpting latex foam, known as prosthetics
  • fitting and maintaining wigs, hairpieces and prosthetics
  • hairdressing
  • keeping up to date with available make-up and beauty products
  • sourcing, budgeting and ordering materials and equipment from specialist suppliers
  • time management - knowing how long a client will take to be made up
  • working quickly and accurately in time-pressured conditions
  • taking detailed notes and photographs of work to maintain an up-to-date portfolio of work.

Salary

  • Trainees should receive no less than the national minimum wage or the London living wage.
  • A head make-up artist can earn £170 to £320 for a ten-hour day of editorial work (depending on the type of work - rates vary between mainstream magazines, catalogues and campaigns).
  • For fashion shows, lead make-up artists can earn £450 a day for an event like London Fashion Week, but around £275 for other events.

The recommended industry minimum rates for film and television work are set by the PACT and BECTU - the media and entertainment union.

Many make-up artists initially work for free or 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 pre-requisite 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.

Working hours

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.

Qualifications

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 a number of 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 Bachelors, 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
  • hairdressing
  • media and theatrical make-up.

Regional arts councils provide useful links to media organisations and their websites. These include:

Skills

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.

Work experience

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.

Employers

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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Many people working in the media obtain work by advertising through media directories such as:

Diary services and agencies are a popular method of linking with employers, but they often only include individuals with experience.

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.

Professional development

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.

Given the predominance of freelance work, training is often on the job, with individuals taking responsibility for 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.

For information on training and funding opportunities see Creative Skillset: The Sector Skills Council for the Creative Industries.

Career prospects

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.