As a make-up artist you would apply make-up and style hair for anyone appearing in front of a camera or a live audience. You may work in film, television, theatre, concerts, photographic sessions or fashion shows.
If you enjoy fashion, hairdressing and cosmetics, and love being creative, this could be a perfect career for you.
You would normally start by taking a specialist course in media make-up, theatrical make-up or a related subject. You would also need to get some practical experience and start making contacts in the industry.
As a make-up artist your job would be to create the look that your client needs. This could include anything from a natural look for TV to using wigs and hairpieces for period dramas. You may also be required to apply special effects or prosthetics such as false noses or bald caps.
You could work alone, as an assistant to a senior colleague, or as part of a larger hair and make-up design team.
Depending on the job, your tasks might include:
- researching and designing make-up and hairstyles to suit the job
- working to production designers' notes and instructions
- tidying and styling hair
- completely changing a person's look with special effects make-up
- taking notes and photos for reference so you can keep the look throughout filming
- standing by on set to redo make-up and hair
- keeping work areas and equipment clean and tidy
- removing make-up and keeping wigs and hairpieces in good condition.
You would work closely with production designers, costume designers, camera and lighting crew, and performers.
See the Creative Choices website to read a theatre make-up artist's story.
Working hours and conditions
You would often work long and irregular hours, depending on the needs of the job. You may begin work in the early morning long before filming begins, or work in the evenings for live TV, theatre or concerts.
You could work in TV or film studios, theatres, or in temporary buildings and vehicles on location. You would be on your feet for several hours a day. Location work could be anywhere in the UK or overseas, so you may need to travel and stay away from home regularly, sometimes for long periods.
You would be expected to build up your own make-up kit and take it to each job.
Make-up artists usually work on a freelance basis and are paid a fee for each contract. Rates can vary and will usually depend on the type of production you are working on. For example, a make-up artist working a 10-hour day on a TV drama could expect to earn around £210.
The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) publishes recommended pay rates on its website. It recommends that trainees are paid at least the minimum wage or the London living wage, if working in the capital.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You would normally start in your career by gaining at least a Level 2 qualification in media make-up or an equivalent qualification. There are a wide range of courses available through colleges and private training providers.
Examples of relevant courses include:
- Level 2 Diploma in Hair, Photographic and Media Make-up
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Hair and Media Make-up
- Level 3 Diploma in Theatrical, Special Effects, Hair and Media Make-up
- Level 3 Diploma in Fashion, Theatre and Media Make-up.
Some universities offer foundation degrees and degrees in media make-up and related subjects. To do a degree you will usually need five GCSEs (A-C) including maths, English and science, plus three A levels. You should check with universities for exact entry requirements as other qualifications may also be accepted.
You can search for degree courses on the UCAS website:
As well as taking a make-up course, getting some practical experience could improve your career prospects. Practical experience will help you to create a portfolio of your work to show to employers. It will also allow you to start getting to know people in the industry and build a network of contacts.
You could get useful experience in various ways, such as:
- amateur theatre
- student film, theatre and photography projects
- charity or student fashion shows
- working with established make-up artists and photographers.
Your first paid work in film or TV may be as a trainee or assistant to the make-up team. You might also find casual work doing make-up and hair for extras in crowd scenes.
You may be able to start in this job through an apprenticeship scheme. The range of apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and types of skills employers need from their workers. To find out more visit the apprenticeship website.
Training and development
You would learn and develop your skills on the job by helping experienced make-up artists.
You may be able to find trainee positions at the start of your career or places on new entrant training schemes. These are sometimes run by:
- regional screen agencies
- media training organisations.
Competition for places on schemes like this is very strong. You will need to show genuine commitment and some relevant work experience. The Creative Skillset website has a trainee placement scheme for those who already have a little experience in the industry. There is eligibility criteria. See the Creative Skillset website for more information.
Some broadcasting companies offer trainee schemes and other ways of getting industry experience. Some schemes only recruit at certain times of the year and competition can be very strong. See their websites for more information, eligibility criteria and availability.
You should keep up to date with new make-up techniques and materials throughout your career. Short courses in specialist and prosthetic make-up are available at private make-up academies, film schools and some universities.
For information on relevant make-up courses, see the Creative Skillset website.
You could also join the National Association of Screen Make-up Artists and Hairdressers (NASMAH) for networking and training opportunities.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a make-up artist, you will need:
- creativity and imagination
- good communication and people skills
- a tactful manner
- stamina, patience and concentration
- the ability to work well under pressure
- excellent attention to detail
- good punctuality and reliability
- a willingness to work long hours when necessary
- good teamwork skills
- an interest in current and historical fashions.
You could work on freelance contracts for a range of employers including TV broadcasters, TV and film production companies, theatre companies, magazines and fashion show producers. Contracts could last from one day to several months, and competition for jobs is strong.
Some jobs may be advertised in the trade press and websites. It is more common to get work through word of mouth or specialist recruitment agencies. You could also advertise in crew directories or with diary services which are similar to booking agents.
You can find more information about marketing yourself as a freelancer on the Creative Skillset website.
With experience or specialist skills, you could progress to chief make-up artist or make-up designer.
You may wish to use your make-up skills by volunteering to help others. Changing Faces is a charity that offers camouflage make-up services to people with conditions, marks or scars that affect their appearance. If you are already working as a make-up artist you may be able to fast-track through their training programme. See their website for more information:
You may find the following useful for general reading, vacancies and making contacts:
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