Make-up artist

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Jane, mid 30s

What kind of work does a make-up artist do?

From the first time you meet Jane, you can tell she's a professional make-up artist - from her perfectly rock-star tousled hair to the tips of her expertly manicured nails. She's been doing make-up for music videos, film and theatre for over 15 years, including celebrity jobs.

"I did Marianne Faithfull. She was one of the highlights. One of the lowlights was not being asked to do Placebo, because someone forgot. I got asked to do the Black Eyed Peas, but didn't because I don't like their records."

It's not all about defining the cheekbones of celebrities and Jane has applied make-up to a variety of faces. There's a large "domestic market - weddings, graduations, formal occasions - just for your average people on the street".

The fashion industry is another good source of work, but film is the most challenging. "The special effects stuff is more technical and you really need thorough training, because it can potentially be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. You use some pretty hard-core products on people that could damage their skin."

How did you become a make-up artist?

When Jane was 15 she first saw the drag performer Divine and knew that make-up was what she wanted to do. "I thought he/she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I thought that would be a glamorous job to have." She started with a short course in make-up one afternoon a week for three months "to see if it was what I wanted to do", before getting a more comprehensive qualification.

"I did a 12-month course in make-up for stage, film and TV, and that covered everything from the history of make-up and the effects of different light on make-up, and continuity and even kabuki [traditional Japanese theatre] make-up." An interest in make-up, fashion and film are all useful introductions to the industry, but qualifications, including hairdressing, are essential for make-up professionals.

Since getting qualified, Jane has matched her freelance work with teaching make-up and a stint managing Backstage, an industry make-up store. To build her career she has worked hard to develop her technique. "You have to practice, practice, practice. It's got to be like second nature to have those brushes in your hand. You rope anyone in to practice on, you read books and magazines, you go round to all the counters and sample products - you've really got to immerse yourself in it."

What kind of equipment do you need?

Working make-up artists need a kit of various specialised industry products, which is the most expensive part of the job. Jane has several kits that she customises for a fashion shoot or special effects job, the total value of which she estimates to be around $10,000.

"Just a starter kit doing fashion, could cost a grand, but that would be bare bones, because you do need to know your product," Jane suggests. Plus make-up artists need to know their kits intimately. "You have to work really quickly so I have to know that my pencils are in that drawer and my brush is in that draw, rouges are there."

What are the pros and cons of the job?

What Jane enjoys about the job compensates for the late nights and early starts. "You're part of the creative process," Jane smiles. "Your interpretation of characters comes through, so you've got some creative input and it's working with beauty and I like beautiful things."

On the downside, freelance make-up artists have to have lifestyles flexible enough to work on various shoots. "There's no average hours," Jane says. "It's insane. Film, for example, is hard work, because you're on a very tight schedule and you have to be one of the first ones there and you have to get all the actors ready. But doing a wedding, on the other hand, can be easy because even though it's often an early start, you're generally done by lunchtime."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).