So You Want To Be A Make Up Artist?

by Aly Hazlewood on May 22, 2014

Under Glass Pic 6 Make up by Aly Hazlewood

So You Want To Be A Make Up Artist?

I’ve decided to update this post as some of the links are now out of date and recent experiences with wannabe make up artists have prompted me to write more about the importance of being professional.

The two questions I get asked most by people are “Who is the most difficulty celebrity you’ve worked with?” and “My daughter/brother/cousin wants to become a make up artist, how would they go about it?”

The answer I always give to the first question is “discretion is the better part of valour”.

The answer to the second question is a much lengthier one. The life of a freelance make up artist can be exciting at times, varied certainly, and challenging, often. Not everyone is suited to this role. Patience and good social and communication skills are equally as essential as the creative imagination and technical skills needed to translate a brief. One can come up against some very tricky egos in this business, so it is vitally important that you can remain cool, calm and professional at all times. Speaking of egos, try to leave yours at home, because it is your job to listen carefully to a client brief and interpret their vision, not yours.

Hours can be very long, especially in film & TV, but at other times, you may be finished in a few hours and have the rest of the day to yourself. If film and TV is the area you wish to specialise in, invest in BECTU membership (in fact invest it in any way!). BECTU is the union for people working in our industry, not just H&M, but every kind of technicians and specialist needed for film and TV. They fight very hard to keep pay rates in line with inflation and offer really good advice if you are having trouble getting paid. You can also get reliable, discounted kit insurance through BECTU, so it’s worth the joining fee.

One needs nerves of steel at times to weather the inevitable quiet patches that come and go throughout your career. Good business skills, time management and the ability to plan ahead financially are also vital, because essentially you are your own business. In fact we all should all stop referring to ourselves as freelancers and start calling ourselves business owners. If you reach a certain professional level, financial rewards can be very good, and the freedom of working for yourself is extremely fulfilling.

Bear in mind though, it has become an extremely popular career choice over the last decade, the market is literally flooded with hopefuls which has brought down pay rates across the market, so it’s harder than ever to make a living from this industry. Like actors, the majority of graduates from make up school never make it. Few make a living doing hum drum, unspectacular jobs or working a make up counter in a store. Even fewer make it to the level where they are making a living shooting fashion covers or celebrities, so you’ve got to want it really bad. This is the truth the make up schools don’t give you as you shell out your ££’s.

Several renowned artists such as Pat McGrath or Kevin Aucoin achieved success without any formal make up training, others had a background in the fine arts and switched from painting canvas to painting faces, however, most artists build a foundation for their careers by training at one of the many make up schools offering courses from special effects make up to bridal, to editorial fashion. The first step is deciding what field of make up you want to specialise in. There is very little crossover between Film & TV or SFX artists to those working in the theatre or fashion industry.

Do your research well when choosing a make up school to attend. Several colleges such as the London College of Fashion offer 2-year secondary education style courses, while many other private schools hold short introductory courses. These private courses can be very expensive though, so make sure you visit the schools, and talk to the tutors. I made the mistake of enrolling on a short course without doing the research, and found to my disappointment that the tutor was a rather bitter artist whose career had faltered and clearly had no interest in teaching whatsoever.

One piece of advice I would definitely give in the current climate is to choose a course that trains you well in all aspects of hairstyling. It is absolutely vital to be proficient in this difficult art. Many clients these days no longer have the budget to pay a separate hair and make up artist, and if you want the opportunity of working overseas shooting catalogues, hair skills are essential. I do not accept applications from make up assistants if they can’t demonstrate good hairstyling skills.

Possibly the most vital step toward becoming a make up artist is creating a portfolio of work. In the early stages the best way to go about this is by ‘testing’. This is when a photographer, make up artist, stylist and model all collaborate creatively on an unpaid shoot together, specifically for the purpose of portfolio building. There are several useful resources available such as and that can help you with this.

It is crucial to be able to show prospective clients what you are made of, so, when you have a body of work that you feel is of a high enough quality (and bear in mind that your book is only as good as your weakest image so be ruthless with yourself), invest in your career and get a website. In our digital age, you will not be taken seriously without one. In fact these days, I rarely get asked to show my physical portfolio, 95% of clients now ask to see my website, or find me through my website. There are several very affordable and design-led template websites such as and

Most graduates start their careers by assisting established artists. Assisting is the best way of learning not just technique, but how the industry works, and is invaluable for making contacts. This is likely to be unpaid work for at least a year as you learn the ropes; then as you prove yourself paid work increases. I regularly get emails from people requesting the opportunity to assist. A word of advice, use the spell check function before you hit send and DON’T use abbreviated or text speak, it is highly unprofessional and elicits an immediate ‘delete’ response from me. Show that you have knowledge of the artist that you are contacting rather than sending out blanket emails to scores of people, and always attach your CV and images of your work. This is the only way you are likely to get a reply. If you are finding it hard to get a response directly from artists, approach their agents and request that you be put on their assistant’s directory.

Most of all, persevere and practice constantly on whoever will let you. Keep yourself abreast of fashion and make up trends, educate yourself about period make up, photography and lighting. Clients will expect you to be able to create a specific look from the 20′s, 50′s, 70′s or any other period in history, so do your research. Find your own style. Be aware that when promoting yourself, everything you do, or don’t do, communicates your value as an artist, from your image, how clean your nails are, to your phone conversations and emails, to your timekeeping. Keep your kit scrupulously clean and your nails short. Years ago, one of my clients told me that did not want a particular assistant of mine on set because she had such long fingernails.

The following example of what NOT to do is one of the reasons I decide to update this post. I was recently involved in a very heated Facebook exchange with a couple of inexperienced wannabe make up artists who replied to a post I’d written about looking for an assistant for an unpaid editorial job. I will be writing a separate blog about this experience because it needs explaining in detail, but suffice to say, the ‘artists’ involved were unforgivably rude in a public forum and have seriously affected their prospects of working with professionals artists as a result. As I said in the post, BE MINDFUL of how you communicate with others on social media because you never know who is reading what you write.

One more No No. Never, EVER, steal another artist’s image and try to pass it off as your own! You WILL get caught. Everyone knows everyone in this game and word gets around fast. In fact just recently, a make up artist was prosecuted and convicted for fraud because she stole many other artists work, not to mention claiming a celebrity client base that she’d never even set foot in the same room with. Do not lie on your CV, and when assisting other artists, do not claim the job as yours. I’m deadly serious about this.

Offer your services at graduate fashion shows, or on short films. Earn money on the side by doing weddings, proms, working on make up counters or whatever else you need to do in order to survive until you make it. In the early years of my career, I often worked evenings and weekends doing mundane jobs in order to keep my week days free for testing and shooting. Do not be under any illusions, it is bloody hard work when you are starting out and your morale will take a constant beating as you wonder whether you will ever get anywhere. Practice self-belief.

The third thing I’m most asked about is advice on rates. This is a very tricky subject. BECTU are working very hard at the moment to try to standardise rates across the industry, but I’m not convinced they will have much success in the fashion sector to be honest. Editorial rates of pay have not increased for at least 10 years, they are pitifully low, sometime as low as £75 per day depending on the publishing house. This barely covers petrol, parking and kit expenses! And since the recession, commercial rates have also dropped dramatically, sometimes by as much as 50%.

The big problem here is that these clients now know that artists are prepared to work for these dreadful rates, so they have no incentive to raise them again as we slowly creep out of the recession. I implore you to stick to your guns when it comes to rates. Know your worth and don’t be browbeaten into dropping your rates because it affects everyone in the industry in the long run.

To make matters considerably worse, there are now more young make up artists flooding the market than ever before, and frankly, not enough work for everyone. Rates have been negatively affected by newbies willing to work for £50 a day, and clients do not realise until it’s too late, that you get what you pay for. All I can say is that I’m very glad I’m not trying to build a career in 2014, because it’s a hard slog.

All that said, you need to be realistic about your rates if you are a recently qualified make up artist. You cannot expect to earn top dollar if you have entry-level experience, and your location will also play a big factor. London rates are obviously higher than elsewhere. For a more detailed look at rates, Lucy McKeown has written a great post about this on her blog.

In part 2 I’ll be giving a thorough run down of what it takes to be a good assistant.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Tasha February 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm

This was really useful, thanks! Really good advice especially the practising self-belief part! x

Rosa February 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Wise words Aly – This has made me remember the hard work element and taken my head out of the clouds about it! Looking forward to part 2! x

Pasquale May 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Very helpful article, thanks!

sarah May 21, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Thank you. I’m really struggling to make it as a make up artist and have been thinking about quitting, but then I look at the success that brilliant artists like you have had and I get fired up again. Getting good models to test with is so hard!
If you ever need an assistant I’d love to help!

Amanda Green May 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Great write-up Aly, very well put. We advise our students in a simular way and include a visit from BECTU before graduation.
Amanda Green.

Smart Makeup Artist May 30, 2014 at 12:56 pm

This is one of the best posts on “How to become a Makeup Artist” I read so far.

Aly Hazlewood May 30, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Thank you. Feel free to repost if you feel it’s useful

Smart Makeup Artist July 21, 2014 at 11:52 pm
Rabya Imaan December 20, 2014 at 10:52 pm

So I want to become a make up artist but not as my career choice. I want to become a lawyer but I also want to become a make up artist as a side hobbie. How would I be able to do this?
It was recommended to me that I could take a short course but I’m not entirely sure…
I want to go into bride and bridal make up as in my culture our weddings happen almost all the time and the brides at all the weddings always have their make up done to perfection.
I’m currently in Year 10 and our tutor has been telling us to start thinking about our work experience now.

Zoe March 27, 2015 at 12:10 pm


Have you tried LSMM? This is professional make-up school that trains for Fashion, Film and TV industry. The founder is Jeanne Richmond she is a BAFTA winner.
Here is their website: londonmediamakeup

I know that they have a special payment plan for their April course right now, so it may be worth checking. I know one of the director and they are super nice so don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you want.

Basma shahin January 25, 2016 at 6:48 pm

I decided to take make-up courses at london college of fashion and then found out about the london school of make-up and now I can’t decide which one I should choose, I feel like LCF is an established place with a great reputation while london school of make-up is a bit newer but both have great reviews, if you can help that would be great, thanks

Aly Hazlewood February 3, 2016 at 4:20 am

I’m afraid that I can’t advise you, I don’t know much about current make up courses, I studied 15 years ago. My advice is to go and spend a few hours at each place and see if you like the teaching style. Good luck!

Rachael Thomas February 28, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Thanks Aly for such a helpful post, I’m half way along the road to having regular assisting work and it’s really great to come across your advice, it’s really appreciated. x

indian makeup artist March 16, 2016 at 8:12 am

really nice post for all makeup artists..

Crystal White May 11, 2016 at 11:07 pm


I really like this post its just so honest and I just wanted to add that I recently graduated from the London School of Makeup and my status is International MUA. I have been doing make up at shoots and friends and family to build my portfolio but to be honest besides from the 50/50 chance of receiving MUA discount in various make up stores I can now see there is not much to the qualification which is sad, after spending all that money. I say that because its experience everyone wants now not qualifications if your self taught and great at what you do that excuses a international MUA qualification, hence youtubers are getting very far with that. I am in the criminal justice sector and decided to do makeup on the side but I would say you dont need a MUA Qualification just practice loads and put yourself out there unless the course offers something more and something you couldn’t achieve otherwise. Wish everyone the best other than that please follow my instagram/Facebook page @laukmakeup website coming soon. x

rohit sharma October 26, 2017 at 5:56 pm

great article and thanks for giving this information.

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