So you’re got the very best make-up and hair training at Brushstroke and you’re flying solo. Now, how do you go about getting work as a make-up artist? We’ve got 5 top tips to help you get established in whichever field you choose to work – be it film, TV, stage or fashion.

Be open to every opportunity

You may eventually specialise in fashion make-up or work exclusively in TV. But, in the early days getting work as a make-up artist will depend upon you being prepared to accept every job that comes your way.

“No-one knows what you’re capable of, or what really suits your skills and personality until you’ve tried different work – including you!” says Cheraine Bell, principal of Brushstroke. We tell all our students to be open-minded to the kind of work they want to do, otherwise they’re limiting themselves, particularly in the early days.”
Work leads to other work. For example, doing the make-up on a music video for an up-and-coming rock band might put you in touch with a photographer, which in turn could lead to offers of work in the fashion industry. Also, be prepared to travel when you’re starting out – it doesn’t all happen in London! There are lots of opportunities in the rest of Britain let alone other parts of the world.

Remember, you need the practice, you need the contacts and your need to pay the bills.

Be prepared – do your homework

If you manage to get yourself an interview (however informal), think about the job – show an interest! Don’t make getting work as a make-up artist any harder for yourself.

Elizabeth Armistead, is head of make-up for ITV’s Coronation Street. Apart from good make-up skills, she needs people who will fit into her team, so personality matters. She can receive 250+ applications for one trainee post and is astounded that people make it to the shortlist, get invited for interview, but don’t come prepared: “The candidates know that the interview includes a practical, yet some don’t bring any brushes! Common sense and a willingness to work is really important.”

Elizabeth also advises trainees and juniors to do their research. “If your interest in TV is limited to Love Island or TOWIE, don’t let on! At least have some knowledge of the most talked-about dramas and be able to join in conversations about productions such as The Crown.”

If you really do want to work in a certain area, say film or TV, whose work do you admire – who can you enthuse about? From make-up designers to directors and producers – who’s on your radar? If someone looked at your social media accounts, would they find trivia or a serious interest in being a make-up artist?

Get in front of the right people

First of all, where does the work come from? Who makes the decisions? Getting work as a make-up artist means looking in the right place. Understand who needs a make-up artist then get searching. Your list should include: film and TV production companies (usually on the credits list), agents (for actors and make-up artists), photographers, theatre companies, performing arts schools, wedding planners (and venues) and industry directories, such as imDb.

Network like crazy. Who do you know working in the industry – other make-up artists, people in front of the camera and behind the scenes? Tutors, family, friends, fellow students – talk to them all.

Being in the right place at the right time is critical so keep your ear to the ground about new productions so you can put yourself forward for a job before they’ve made their choice. Some people get agents or join networks and job sites. You might pay a fee but then you also have someone with contacts trying to get you work.

Once you know who to contact, how you get their attention is another matter. Email, text, social media, mobile – they all work just not in the same way for each person. Some never read their emails but do use social media. Others ignore social media but will return calls. Judge carefully how to contact people – especially if you’ve met or worked with them before. Don’t be a nuisance but don’t be a secret either.

Ask a make-up artist (such as past student Dani Haigh) how they got a particular piece of work and they often answer “I worked with So-And-So and they recommended me to a friend looking for a make-up artist…” So, always ask for recommendations when you’ve finished a job (including work opportunities while you’re a student at Brushstroke).

Get asked back

Making a really good impression is probably the single most important way of getting work as a make-up artist. It’s important to realise that people who are putting make-up and hair teams together, or desperately seeking to fill a vacancy, just want to find the best artists – quickly and without any fuss. These people have a huge number of things to tick off their list. They want reassurance that you’ll do a great job. So:

  1. Be confident but not pushy: use your initiative but follow instructions to the letter.
  2. Be helpful: timing is everything on-set so offer to help rather than wait to be asked.
  3. Learn when to be sociable: good conversation and a ready smile are important but there’s a time to stay back and keep quiet.
  4. Use your mobile wisely: it can be a great help at work (taking pictures, using apps). Otherwise keep it on mute and use it only in emergencies or in your own time.
  5. Behave appropriately: be punctual, dress for comfort not to get noticed.
  6. Don’t assume you know everything: look and learn – other people will have some very clever hacks that will save you time.
  7. Top up your training: at Brushstroke, we offer life-long career support for past students – come back and refresh your skills at no extra charge.

Keep your portfolio up to date

In the early days your CV isn’t going to show much real work experience. Your portfolio, however, is always going to be a good indication of what you can do. This is how you showcase your best work online (your own website and social media) or in a physical portfolio – maybe go for digital and a real folder. Work experience as a student, make-up and hair for family and friends – they are all important examples of your work to go in your portfolio until you can demonstrate more high-profile and relevant work.

Keep on top of your portfolio otherwise you’ll forget the important points – name of production, who you worked for and with, your role and what you actually did. With every job you get, do your best to to take some good pictures – your work, on set with the cast, crew and your colleagues. However, remember to get permission to use these pictures (there’s an app for that).

Then make sure your social media profiles are an accurate reflection of what you do and, if you feature in any directories (eg IMDb), keep them up to date.

Practise your newly-learnt skills

Keep practising – on your friends, your family, anyone who’ll let you – even if you are getting work and running about like a mad thing with seemingly no time to spare. Your skills are new and not yet second-nature to you. Just like a foreign language, you can get rusty.

Getting work as a make-up artist takes patience and time but, if you’re serious about it as a career, you’ll find a way to succeed.

Good luck!

Links to directories

The following is a short, but by no means exhaustive, list of directories. There are many for film, TV, stage and fashion – you just need to keep a track of the ones that matter to you:

imDb / imDb (to register)

Creative Skill Set

Crimson UK

The Knowledge