From helping actors achieve a clean, fresh look for a movie premiere to creating complex faces that can withstand the heat of theater lights, makeup artists create miracles small and large every day. Being successful in this career is all about who you know; in particular, making connections with producers or companies who might be hiring for an upcoming production. Before that though, having a strong background in cosmetology and makeup is going to lend credibility -- not to mention that it's required.
Education and Certification
No matter where you live or work, the first step toward a career as a makeup artist is studying makeup or the broader discipline of cosmetology. Cosmetology training is typically about one year if you go full-time, and you'll gain the basic skills of skin care, hair removal -- often classified as "esthetician" work -- as well as applying makeup. Your school might also have specialty certifications or training in makeup artistry. Every state has different rules, but all require cosmetologists to take a state-sanctioned exam and to have a license to practice.
Go Where the Jobs Are
Another thing to consider when choosing a cosmetology school: Whether you'll be able to practice with that license in the states that actually have jobs. Some states allow you to use certifications from other states; others don't. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California, New York, Nevada, Florida, and Texas have the highest concentration of jobs for makeup artists, with California and New York having the most. That's because those areas are where the majority of motion pictures and theater productions happen. To give yourself the best chance possible of working full-time as a freelancer, consider moving to New York or California.
Networking is key, so work up from volunteering to paid gigs. Contact students at local colleges and offer to do makeup for student films or theater productions. Reach out to photographers and ask to help them with upcoming shoots. Work on your friends and family and get feedback about what they liked and didn't like about your work. By showing up on time and providing professional services, you'll start to spread the word, which can lead to paid gigs. Those starting experiences can also help you develop a niche such as weddings, film or theater makeup. Since film and theater productions only last a certain time, studios often hire makeup artists for the duration of the production -- meaning a great deal of the work is freelance. Contact film and theater companies to offer your services, but also look to TV studios that might be hiring part-time or temporary makeup artists. For weddings, contact wedding planners.
Maintain your Portfolio
To be a successful freelancer, you're going to need to constantly look for your next gig and plan jobs several months in advance, when possible. Part of that involves having a solid portfolio of your work, both as a physical "portfolio" and a website. Makeup can be difficult to photograph accurately, so shooting with good lighting and with a quality camera will help you along. If need be, trade services with a professional photographer so you get good photos. When you find out about an opening -- often through word-of-mouth -- send a link to your web-based portfolio to prospective employers.