MakeUp Artists: When Should You Work for Free?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
(Photo credit: Jayne Mansfield?)

(Author's Note:  This post is meant to open a discussion forum amongst make up artists/free lancers.  To my macho male readers, this may be quite too gurly, so you may skip reading this post and go straight to the diagram provided below)

This post is for one of the readers, Capri, a make-up artist  who wrote me about a tricky situation where a client wants her to work for free as a favor to the client- in exchange for introduction to her "A-list" friends.  Hmmm... sounds very J-Lo to me.

I can do my own make-up but I am no make-up artist.  So this post is from a point of view of a beauty company client posing as "Dear Aunt Rowena".

I sometimes engage in small chit-chat with my makeup artists during photo shoots and through them I learn things about the make up artistry trade.  So this post is a compilation of little snippets of wisdom (and gossip) gained from those in between takes. 

A beauty shoot, even a minor one (minor model, local photographer, in house stylist/all around gofer, local makeup artist/hairdresser) sets us back at least 10,000€/day.

A beauty shoot has more stringent make up requirements than a fashion shoot so a lot depends on the make up artist.  It is often tricky to photoshop skin so we find other ways where to scrimp and will not try out a newbie make up artist.

My Creative Director books make up artists through agencies, linked or same that handles models.  We only consider make up artists who have already a portfolio of professional published work in beauty. 

I judge a professional artist by what I call the "zero face".  That is, how well she can do a no-make up look that will stand the scrutiny of the extra high resolution camera.  (Imagine magnifying that picture a billion times for a billboard commercial).   

You see, it is fun and easy to be flamboyant and experimental in make up.  I have met a lot of make up artist divas (some of them a pain in the ass) who do work for actresses, tv, events, for fashion but I do not gauge them for the names they do-  as the beauty shoot is a league apart from hollywood.  

The zero face separates the pros from the hobbyists.

Even if you have assembled your portfolio, I need the reassurance of a published work in beauty.  If, worst case scenario, I have to work with a beauty makeup newbie, I would ask for a make up pre-prod trial prior to the shoot.

Skin.  The better her skin, the easier it is for my make up artist to perfect the zero face, the shorter the make up time required.  So if you are a model called for a go-see, save yourself the trouble and do not put on make up, we will ask you to remove it anyway and we will be annoyed especially if we specifically asked you to come bare faced. 

For this reason, I want my models young.  A model more than 19 will already have a great disadvantage in terms of skin quality.  That and the fact that new models are still cheap.  I try to select those who have potential of making it big.  SO I pay them cheap and then ride on their popularity afterwards.  

There are other factors as well- if the focus is eye make up, i need to make sure i have a good lid surface to work on.  A lip campaign needs "Jolie" lips.  

If the campaign is global and I can use only one model, my best bet is a green eyed brunette as she cuts across regional barriers.

Not to forget, the x-factor, and the mood and attitude of the make up which contribute to other aspects.

A model who is undisciplined, would show up with a hangover, dehydrated on a shoot- i do not use again.

Though some of the most successful make-up artists out there went to make-up school, almost all of them agree that this is not necessary.  

One particularly successful make up artist in fact scoffs at the most hyped hip British make-up artist school (the one owned by that model's sister) as she uses fingers to apply foundation in a professional shoot.  According to her, finger application for professional work just would't cut the grade.

I leave my make up artists alone when they do their magic (essential when you are dealing with the real pros) but I get to judge later if the results are crap.  They just call me in to see the end result.  So I couldn't really have a say on technique and I welcome an exchange of opinion here. 

If my photo-shoot is major, spanning days and/or involving more than 1 model, we would have a separate hairstylist and makeup artist.  But for minor campaigns, I normally hire just one to do both hair and make-up.  

So if you are starting out in the business, knowing how to style hair is important as this will screen you out from a good bulk of projects.

For minor shoots, I watch my budget and book someone local to avoid paying for airfare and hotel.
So it is important for you to be well located where most of the jobs are.

As you get to be a bigger make up artist, then this will be less of an issue.

The opinion is resounding.  Start as an assistant to an established make-up artist.  Not necessary to be an expert right away as you will be there basically carrying stuff and cleaning brushes.

A good starting ground, they say, is during the fashion week - Paris, London, Milan, New York as they are normally short of manpower in these events.

Needless to say, networking and a good personality is essential to progress from there.

From what I remember, we pay 1200-1800€/day for a minor shoot for a minor make up artist.
Mariah pays 12,000$/day, J-Lo lets you kiss her feet for free.

I have come across this chart, used for graphic design work which i think is also applicable for make up (just replace "flyer" with "makeover")

(Photo Credit: Jessica Hische)

As I meant this post to be a forum amongst make up artists, I  would like to encourage all the other make-up artists/free lancers out there to comment, contradict and contribute their experience,opinion and help their budding sisters out.