ARTIST TIP | Aspiring Make-up Artists: So You Wanna Be a Make-up Artist?

I have never been so transparent about the steps I’ve taken to be the make-up artist I am today probably because:

i). I likely wanted to give off a more professional vibe. Doing make-up is something more than just earning extra money on the side. It’s a full-time passion, but the truth is although many weeks doing freelance works approaches full-time hours, I still work a full-time office job. I insert doing make-up whenever I can – I’m talking lunchtime, weeknights, weekends. Basically 7 days a week, I’m ‘working’…not so glamourous, right? Well, when you love it, it truly doesn’t feel like work….and you’ll keep working for it until you get to where you want to be.

ii). Fear that competition is everywhere…well, it is! So why reveal my ‘secrets’? With more experience, I’m a bit more comfortable in letting my work speak for itself.

iii). I’m still figuring it out myself! I can look back at the 7 years or so I have been freelancing seriously, and think of all the things I have done…but I know there is still lots more to learn and lots more to go.

Here are some tips that have helped me along the way and if you’re an aspiring artist, hopefully it can help you on your journey too (warning:  grab a coffee or a snack – long post ahead!):

1. Focus on customer service.
At the end of the day, we have to remember that the job of a make-up artist is firstly customer-service based. Having a big ego and acting like a know-it-all will hinder a career in make-up (and in any field, really), so check your attitude at the door. There is always something to be learned from each experience and from each client that sits in your chair. Make-up is a collaborative effort – between you and the client (your client can be a bride, a fashion editor or a television producer). You have to give the client what they want (as long as it’s within reason, of course!) and depending on the gig, the collaboration balance may be less on your side. Yes, you are an ‘artist’, but remember that artistic vision is not all your own when collaborating with others. Want more gigs? Then listen, collaborate, be personable and do the job right and efficiently. If you do happen to feel strongly against something your client might prefer, do your best song and dance around it and constructively state why you think something else might work.

2. Practice, practice, practice…and when you’re done that diversify your skill set and practice, practice, practice again.
The only way to get better and to really get a leg-up on the competition is to practice, practice, practice (yep, just like mama said). When you’re first starting out in make-up, it’s key to practice on anyone that will let you. Yes, that’s nice that everyone compliments you on your own great make-up, but can you do proper make-up on other faces? Therein lies the challenge that you’ll be better equipped to face with more practice under your belt. When I first started out, I was guilty of doing the same make-up – using the same colours and techniques – on my very trusting and supportive sister and my Mom. We’re talking bronze eyeshadow and cat liner applied in the same manner I would apply to my face (yes, even on my Mom…J-Lo was the ‘it’ girl of that time, k!)
So now, where to practice? Ask family, friends or take a make-up class, meet-up with other beauty bloggers who share the same interests and practice on each other, volunteer at shows, assist other make-up artists. The options are endless, but really, as it is with anything make-up or pursuing anything you love, it’s all what you make of it.

Once you’re done getting better at make-up, consider throwing into your repertoire of offerings:  hairstyling, hair cutting, grooming, doing nails, skin treatments, eyebrow threading, eyelash extensions, etc., etc.  The more you know, the more indispensable and the more hire-able you are!

3. Build your portfolio. (Or fake it).
When I first started out I needed an easy way to display what I could do with make-up to the masses. I recruited my family and friends to participate in a make-over session that spanned a couple of days. I bought my Rebel xTi (which I still use today for photos) and started taking before and after pics of my friends and family as my ‘clients’. Those first few before and afters helped me land my first couple of wedding gigs. We live in a obviously visual society (if we didn’t, our job as a make-up artist would not exist!), and potential clients need visual examples of what you can possibly do, even though the photos of said ‘clients’ may be fictional. Some of the best advice in starting my portfolio was from my make-up school teacher who used to encourage us to do make-up on and take pictures of our friends in veils and use these as ‘bridal make-up’ examples!

4. Product knowledge.  Knowledge is power.
I’ll be the first to admit that as much I love make-up, even I get overwhelmed by the amount of beauty products and treatments out there.  (I bow down to all you glorious beauty bloggers that are totally in the know about the latest and greatest products!)  When I say product knowledge is essential, I don’t necessarily mean knowing every little bit about the beauty world, but knowing what works best for what your client needs, i.e. long-lasting products for a bride, trends from the runway or best products for studio lighting when on set, etc.  Fortunately, with the advent of this thing called the Internet, information is totally accessible – on beauty company sites, discussion forums, Youtube and beauty blogs.  No excuses!  The better-versed you are when it comes to products and trends also gives an impression of competence, and that leads to your clients being confident in you and your ability.

5. Be enthusiastic.
You may be assigned the most menial of tasks, but remember your goals and do whatever you’re assigned with a smile. It’s simply always more pleasant to have someone around that has a smile on his/her face. Case in point, two stories that have stuck with me and made me realize this is what I truly love to do:
i).  one of my first retail jobs at a make-up counter didn’t start off with doing actual make-up. It was the busy Christmas season working as a “Seasonal Cosmetics Associate” for a major department store, and the cosmetics/fragrance department was fully manned with Beauty Advisors and fragrance product demonstrators (you know it’s Christmas or some other major Hallmark holiday when that pungent fragrance cloud is in the department store air!).  So, being that there were so many people on the floor, I was assigned a spot outside the front of the store with a Santa Claus hat, telling Christmas shoppers of the amazing ‘spend $75 dollars today, and receive $25 dollars off your next purchase of or over $50’ deal!  True story…not even a simple ‘scratch and save’ spiel!  Needless to say, I endured many blows to the ego, when people would just walk by me or ignore me, but I kept at it….and from what I could remember tried to keep smiling and not think about how I really just wanted to cry!
ii).  If you think things change, you still encounter some of the same old as you try to work your way towards your goals.  At a recent gig where I was assisting senior artists at a fashion show, I was realistically prepared to do all the brush washing in the world (and be the best brush washer possible!) just so I could watch them in action and hopefully be remembered for future gigs.  When you’re an assistant you could basically be asked to do anything to make the artist’s life easier, and I was fully aware and accepting of this.  You could be asked to wash brushes, pick up some coffee, etc.   In this case, it was for me to run out to the store and find some nail glue!  It obviously wouldn’t have been my initial choice to leave the show, but I did the task fast and returned with the nail glue…and a smile. :)

6. Be fair to yourself.
Know the difference between gaining good experience and being taken advantage of.  If you feel like you’ve put in the hours and deserve more responsibility or more pay, then do less jobs for free and start working towards other jobs that are more rewarding.  Remember when you’re evaluating the value of something, the real value can’t always be measured in dollars and how much you’re getting paid – think also of experience you’re gaining, new skills you may be learning, photos you can use for your portfolio, relationships you also may be building and future opportunities that may arise out of doing a gig.

7. Enable the power of your network. Or simply, Network.
Most of my first freelance gigs were landed through networking – recommendations from family and friends.  That cycle continues today, but I think with age and experience, my network has grown.  Networking should never end if you want to keep getting gigs.

8. Get an online presence.
Nowadays, it’s easy to get an online presence – you can do it through a blog (Blogger, WordPress), use a free template online (Wix, Carbonmade) or buy a site with built-in templates (Dripbook, Viewbook, Fluidgalleries).  You don’t need to be a computer genius to do so either (although that would save you money!).  If even a technical illiterate like me can do it, then anyone can.  The key is to get your work out there.  Think also of a catchy and easy-to-spell domain name that best details what you love to do.

9. Choose your battles.
It’s a given that not everyone is going to love you….or they may ‘love’ your work, but don’t want to pay for it.  Don’t compromise yourself (or your rates) because ‘so-and-so will do it for a lower price’.  Rates aside, remember to also evaluate the value of a gig on its non-monetary aspects to see if it’s worth your time and effort.

10. Work, work, work.
Results never came without hard work being put into it first.   I’m not going to lie – the admin stuff, the waking up at 4AM, the super long days, the menial tasks while assisting, the hustling to land gigs – that all can easily feel like ‘work’.  But once I’m doing make-up, it never feels like ‘work’…and that’s really all the motivation I need.

Got any tips/stories to share?  Would love to hear what you think!

Welcome to my journal and journey as a make-up and hair artist with all the beautiful people and products I encounter along the way.


  • November 22, 2011

    Rosie Amio

    Awesome job outlining each tip! I love your writing. I wish there was something similar online for my line of work.

  • November 22, 2011

    Keisha White

    I’ve been in business as a makeup artist for a little over 2 years. And I find that everything you just posted here is absolutely on point. I want to say THANK YOU for this posting.

  • November 23, 2011

    rhia amio, make-up artist

    awww i love you! wouldn’t be here without your support :) xo

  • November 23, 2011

    rhia amio, make-up artist

    thanks for the feedback, Keisha! i do hope it helps!

  • November 24, 2011

    Julie Vicencio

    Hi Rhia,

    Just recently followed your blog and wanted to tell you your stuff is just inspiring!!

    This post really speaks to me and I thought I’d drop you a line to say “thank you”.

    I’m currently a full time registered nurse practicing in Toronto. Becoming a make-up artist was something I’ve always wanted to do, but because of parental influences I became a nurse to give the sense of security all Asian parents wanted.

    For a long time, I came to accept my career as a nurse and always thought it was too late to start over again with a new career. I went on to do other aspects of nursing and came to later realize it was the wrong decision. What I thought was a high school dream/phase, was in actuality an undying passion to become a make-up artist.

    I recently invested my money and basically started building my kit, as per the suggestions from one of your previous posts. Even prior to me reading this post, I had rounded up friends and co-workers who were and are willing to participate in helping me build my portfolio. My husband, who is nurse by trade, is also a freelance photographer, has helped me build my portfolio. My website is quite bare at this time and I’m still in the process of building it…so please don’t laugh!! :)

    Anyway, thanks again for being a great inspiration and look forward to reading more posts!


  • November 24, 2011

    rhia amio, make-up artist

    this is amazing. I think it’s never too late to do what you love. You can never go wrong with just trying! Thing is…it’s hardly an overnight success when doing make-up, but there are plenty of victories along the way if you just keep at it. Glad you had the courage to pursue your dream! I’m Filipino- Canadian myself so I can completely relate to the appeasing Asian parents thing. Just checked out your site and loving the lay-out/colour scheme! Your pic is gorgeous too. Keep in touch and feel free to ask me any questions. I really appreciate your comment and am glad that this post could be of help!!

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