How to Become a Make-Up Artist

Learn the steps to become a make-up artist. Find out about education requirements, training information and experience required for beginning a career in the field of make-up artistry.

Should I Become a Make-Up Artist?

Theatrical and performance make-up artists apply make-up and create hairstyles for actors, singers, musicians, models and other entertainers. Make-up artists, cosmetologists and estheticians, or skincare specialists, create looks for weddings, special events and private clients. Make-up artists spend many hours standing and must maintain tact and patience when dealing with demanding or difficult customers.

Career Requirements

Training Required Certificate, diploma or associate degree in make-up artistry, skincare or cosmetology; drama or theater degrees are also an option
Certification/Licensure Cosmetology and/or esthetician licensure required by all states
Key Skills Creativity, time management, cleanliness; ability to handle various client personalities, respond to client needs, stand for long periods of time
Salary (2014) $60,830 per year (Mean annual wage for theatrical and performance make-up artists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Obtain a High School Diploma

Completing a high school diploma or GED provides the basic skills to understand the field of make-up and prepare for college. In some states, a high school diploma or equivalent is also needed to get a cosmetologist's license. Helpful classes include drama, art, design and English.

Step 2: Get Postsecondary Training and a License

One training option for this career path is earning a diploma or certificate from a cosmetology school. These programs can last anywhere from nine months to one year. Some offer concentrations in special effects make-up for film with courses in life casting, body-parts casting, mold sculpturing, using foam-rubber silicone, design and drawing. Other concentrations may focus on bridal make-up or techniques geared specifically to theater, television, film and fashion photography. These programs provide preparation for cosmetology licensure.

Prospective make-up artists may also obtain associate's degrees in drama or theater from a community college. Such programs typically offer courses in stage make-up, lighting, stagecraft and production. An associate's degree can provide a solid foundation for future education, training and advancement.

Upon completion of either program, individuals are eligible to take state cosmetology licensing exams that typically include a written exam and practical portion.

Step 3: Gain Experience and Network

Students in cosmetology programs gain hands-on experience working in school salons. Make-up artists can also earn early experience by volunteering services for independent films, student films or local theater performances. This provides both credited work and the chance to meet other artists in the film and theater fields, which can lead to further job opportunities.

Step 4: Create a Portfolio

Taking photographs of completed work can help build a portfolio that demonstrates skills and techniques for future employers and clients to review. Ideally, a portfolio should highlight the variety of styles and looks the artist can create. Make-up artists can collaborate with photographers to create pieces that can be used in both artists' portfolios.

Step 5: Find Work

Theatrical and performance make-up artists may work for theaters, television stations or production companies. They make work as employees or contract as freelancers. Employment opportunities are typically strongest in areas with numerous film production companies, theater groups and other media and performance companies.

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