BY SONIA ROSELLI & OTHER PRO MAKEUP FRIENDS! Dedicated to my gal Alaina Bales.

How to become a real makeup artist.jpg

So. You wanna be a makeup artist. But where do you begin? With the flood gates open and everyone wearing the title, how can you really set yourself apart and cut your teeth into our side of the beauty industry?  And no girl, I’m not talking the Youtube side of things..Fuck that. I mean really helping you develop a body of work you can be proud of, movies, TV, magazines, etc and really earn a living!  

I wanna help you build something that is gonna make you so fanfuckingtasic that people will bow to your very existence (ok well maybe that's a stretch). My goal is to really help you become masterful at the craft and raise the bar of our beloved industry. You do want that right for yourself right?  I mean, you don't wanna blend in with all the rest do you? Expect more from yourself.

I gathered up some of the finest makeup artists I know and wrote you a guide on "How to Become a REAL Makeup Artist." Together we can help you start your career. Come on kitten, your mamma kitten is gonna show you the way……’s ok…we will hold hands together…..


 So Sonia Disclaimer: Listen. I don’t sugar coat things. I will hand you your ass in a brown paper bag. I will challenge you. It’s not becuase I am mean, it's because I want you to SUCCEED! Coddling and sugarcoating is for babies!

You need to learn a skill set that is, what I call, thick skin. The job of makeup artist isn’t about playing in products. It’s so much more than that. Ready?

Before you undertake anything you need a strategy. I don't like rules, cause I think rules are bullshit. I love the word "strategy" because strategies are at the core of all success. So let's get your fabulous Filofaxes out and let's develop your "strategy" for 2015!

how to become a makeup artist

>>#1. PLAN OF ACTION: Decide if being a makeup artist is really something you want to do. Yes makeup is really fun! But it’s also a shit ton of work. Why? Cause it’s not a vanity project, it’s a JOB.

What kind of makeup artist do you WANT to be? Your geographical location does dictate this so think wisely. Do you want to do event makeup and brides? Or do you want to reach higher and do film, magazine or TV? Do you wanna be instafamous? These are all part of your strategy before you begin. You don't know how to get somewhere if you don't know where you're going so write down a few kinds of artistry that appeal to you and start from there.

Some critical things a makeup artist in the making MUST HAVE IS:

  • Be a good listener
  • Learn to be a collaborative art director with your client
  • Learn to be a therapist
  • Learn how to manage time
  • Learn how to manage people
  • Learn the art of business
  • Learn to be ridiculously organized (Shit I won't lie, I could always be better at this)
  • Learn marketing
  • Learn to be a peace keeper
  • Learn be humble
  • Learn how to take direction without getting your fucking feelings hurt.
  • Learn basic web developing
  • Learn to sell yourself
  • Learn sanitation
  • Learn critical communication skills
  • Learn to be kind
  • Learn your boundaries
  • Learn how to return a phone call or email.

THEN and only then you are ready to start learning the ART of Makeup.

I have to tell you, as a matter of fact, doing makeup is really such a little part of my overall job (but only because I have a team of 20 in my studio) so finding that balance is difficult sometimes.

Do you have the tenacity and work ethic to balance all of these things? Yes? HOORAY GIRL, (or boy) Let’s keep going!

how to become a makeup artist

I know it’s hard but don't look to Youtube. Youtube does have really talented makeup artists on there, but they are few and far between. Find the ones that their work truly stands above the rest.  Then look at fashion magazines. Study the looks you see in editorials and even basic advertising flyers for a variety of companies.

I know an ad for AT&T is not very fun but it’s crucial you understand restraint. Not every job or every clients needs 13 colors of eyeshadow on their face. Look at how the experts do it. And train your eye to see how THEY see.

The more you look at the same looks on Instagram the more it trains your eyes to say this look is the norm. It’s not. Not even close to what real artists do most of the time.

Everyone on Instagram looks the same. Same eyes, same fucking brows and same fucking look. And while it's artistsic and thought provoking and some of it downright artful, there is more than one look in your makeup kit. And more than one look sitting in your chair. Train your eye to be above the rest and train your eye to see how you can transform that person into something different. Remember beauty isn’t one size fits all. 

Remember there is more than ONE look when it comes to makeup. Get off instagram if you want to understand how.

Subscribe to the HARD copies of these following magazines: Vogue, Elle, Harpers Bazaar. Read them every month. Take notes. Study fabulous makeup. See what the artists DID and DIDN'T DO. Train your eye to "SEE". Get the fuck off instagram during this time. It will influence how you see.  If you want to be an Instagram artist then stay the course.


how to become a makeup artist

Oh how I can hear the bitching and moaning here…but keeping your kit small and tight forces you to mix color. Why is this crucial? I don’t know the last time I have ever used pigment right out of the pan (maybe other than eyeshadow). Learning to mix color is one of the most valuable things you can do for your future career.  Keep your foundations simple, with a few light foundations and 1 or 2 dark foundations and learn to mix. Lipsticks the same way. Become a chemist. Become an artist. Find a way to paint that is uniquely you.

Side note: As celebrity makeup artist Michelle Jackson states: Build a professional kit. Using your personal makeup on clients is a NO-NO!

Yes girl, don't take your personal caboodle to test on friends. They could have COOTIES! OMG!

how to become a makeup artist

And when I say read good books I mean read good books. Having your iPad or kindle full of ibooks if fab, but so is having physical copies of books. In my 10 Books For Aspiring Makeup Artists one of the best things an artist can do is physically touching something while you read it. There is something so artistic about turning the pages that I truly believe it awakes the brain to think creatively. Try it!

I’m not saying don’t download some on your electronic device, just try to challenge yourself to learn a different way. I think you will be amazed at how the act of physically touching something can awaken your senses. (Which is why I am on my Filofax kick of the moment..more on that later!)

I have to tell you...I am so happy I learned makeup when I did. Before the internet and before everything became so convoluted. Keep it simple and soak it all in. Makeup is about the art of touch and touching as many things as you can will really allow you to shift your way of thinking.


Now, if you want to be a real makeup artist you gotta get your head out of your ass. Are you in it to win it? Or are you just looking for the title because you love to play in your makeup? 

If you love products so much, there is nothing wrong with working at a makeup counter your whole life. many people enjoy it! Being a pro makeup artist and having an obsession with products are two very different things.

Makeup, as you can see, is so much more than having a shit ton of products in your kit. It’s about getting dirty,  experimenting, playing and making mistakes. Stop dreaming, start doing. Execute.

The only way you are going to understand makeup is to get your hands, wrists, elbows all covered in pigment. You should see me after a play date with my makeup friends. I am covered head to toe because I rolled all over in it! It's actually pretty funny!

Gather your friends, (of all ages and races) and experiment with textures and colors. Find out what works and WRITE IT DOWN in a gorgeous journal that inspires you. Makeup is about beauty and writing this down in something that gives you great joy keeps you going. Then after a year of practicing, go back to your gorgeous notebook and see what worked and what didn’t and see if you would make the same choices today as you did last year. 


how to become a makeup artist

Understanding textures of products, to me, is one of the most crucial things you can learn as an artist. And understanding texture of skin and how to pair it with the right texture of product can be life changing. When you understand that, you will truly become masterful. Color is important yes, but texture is just as important. I can’t put one over the other but I would say they are equally important. That and good color theory and light.

how to become a makeup artist

Ok I know it’s easy to want to throw up a WIX website and call yourself an artist but truth be told you’re probably not ready. Why? Because not being ready can damage your reputation before you’ve even had a chance to earn one!

If you call yourself a pro, showing up unprepared will guarantee you will never get a chance with that someone again. With social media being the biggest influencer, you are your own brand. Manage it. Hold yourself to the highest integrity. There is nothing wrong with passing on work during this year.

As a matter of fact, I could have easily taken a movie job but I passed it on to my friend who has way more experience than me. Why? I haven't done a movie in YEARS! My reputation and the integrity of the film is more important than the money. And you know what? The director had so much respect for me that now he is one becoming such a good friend. Respect the project before you love the money.

When it comes to makeup, I have a personal guideline for myself before I call myself an expert at anything and so should you.. Practice Do as many faces as you can and be ready for anything.

One of my best pieces of advice is to go work at a makeup counter. Why? You get to interact with many different skin tones and ages and it really puts your listening skills to the test.

Recommending product that is appropriate for your client will really help you understand WHY you make the choices you do. Once you have done a year of working behind the counter, you will be amazed at how good you will have become. And you get to earn money while you train yourself. Pretty neat, right?

Another great reason to work at a cosmetic counter is this: You learn the art of sales. And while as a pro artist you aren't necessarily selling product, you learn to sell yourself. And girl, that is so valuable.

how to become a makeup artist

Photographing your work in beautiful daylight and keeping a PRIVATE journal of your work is another way to start to gauge your work as an artist.  But remember this!
Don’t let your work out on the net! Why? Because you may think its fantastic but other may say “WTF?” This journal is all privately you. Your own little safe space to call your own.

Use this as a guide to see how far you become. Start an iPhoto gallery of work for the year and do a folder for each month. Then at the end of that year go back and look at how you have grown. I think you will be surprised at how far you have become!

how to become a makeup artist


I hate to break it to you, but most states require that you be a licensed esthetician to be a makeup artist for work outside of commercial/TV/film. What does that mean? Depending on where you live, you MUST have some sort of cosmetology license to practice bridal or other type of event makeup. You don’t, however have to have one to “demonstrate” cosmetics. (Check with your individual state for rules, as they may vary). 

Why is this a good idea? One word and one word only. Sanitation. I can’t even tell you how UNSANITARY most folks are in the world of makeup. Herpes, viruses and all kinds of nasty shit is just a petri dish in a lot of so called “Pro” kits. Understanding sanitation is so important.  I don’t fuck around with this shit and neither should you. And a real artists doesn't either.

The other reason esthetics school is always a good idea is understanding the structure of skin. In my humble opinion, learning skin function will make you one of the most powerful makeup artists on the planet. Skin is the foundation in which you paint and the most difficult thing for most artists to grasp. When you understand the structure of skin, why skin behaves the way it does, you will be truly masterful. Consider taking a 6 month course in esthetics and get your license. I think you will be happy with your choice. 

If you truly want to be masterful, getting a cosmetology license is even better. Knowing how to do hair and makeup and being good at both can carry you a lot farther by allowing you to be able to do jobs that require both. With production companies cutting budgets it's an incredible gift to have (and I say this from experience as I SUCK at doing hair).

Me not knowing how to do hair has cost me some really fun jobs. It really depends on what KIND of makeup artist you want to be so consider cosmetology school.

how to become a makeup artist

My gal pal Chrissie Eden Di Bianco really made a good point on our Facebook group. Learning the art of touch is so critical. She knew of one girl who paid all this money to go to cosmetology school only to find out she doesn’t like to touch people. Well, uh, you gotta touch people and sometimes you gotta touch people with really yucky skin.

If this doesn’t sound like you maybe you can do something else in the beauty industry. This is one of those reasons why I say invest a year in your career before you call yourself a pro….cause even with all this advice it may not be what you had envisioned.

how to become a makeup artist

Kim Porter of our Facebook group has another good tip. Learn how to be calming on set. It doesn’t matter where you are or what job you are on, the vibe you give off on every single job matters.

I know sometimes when I have had a little too much coffee I can get all “Happy Puppy” on folks but generally speaking, be the “light and love” in the room. Don’t be the star of the show, be the one that truly learns how to put people at ease. You are in their personal space after all.

I truly think that is why I have been so successful in my career as a bridal makeup artist. I can walk into any room and take on the vibe of that room and turn it postive. If you can’t do that, learn how. Don’t cause drama and don’t feed into it if it’s already present in the room when you walk in. Center yourself. Go Zen. Learn that while you practice your skill for the year.

how to become a makeup arist

Girl I ain’t talking about taking classes from Youtubers. They are just gonna show you how to do the same damn look they do on everyone. I am saying take a class from folks who are on the front lines of beauty. You can find them EVERYWHERE. INVEST in your career. If you career is to be an instaartist, then follow that path, but if you want to do some serious shit, take a class with a real pro. The difference is night and day. 

There is a great group on Facebook that tells you of all the great of Pro Makeup Classes. Nifty little board and they showcase classes all over the USA (and the world). 
INVEST in your career. Don't try to go alone!  
Editors Note:(Link has been changed. Since the post of this article, the group has been closed. We have now added our very own Glossible Approved Makeup Class and Workshop Group).

Learn from people who have the real world experience. Just because they say they are a pro, do they have the body of work to back it up?

The sad thing nowadays is everyone thinks they are a fucking expert. That isn’t always the case. Learn from the best. I mean I know a lot but I don’t know everything…but the things I do know a about I know I am masterful at.

Could I teach you prosthetics and character makeup? Hell no. But I do know who does and who you should learn from. Same thing goes for learning from “experts”. Research them. If they walk the walk, study with them.

how to become a makeup artist

I know dear millennial,you want it all right now. You grew up in a generation of instafame, getting what you want and coddling. But guess what? It doesn’t work like that. (Hell even I wish it did)

Failure is a good thing. It helps you grow as an artist and as a business person!

I recently read an article on CNBC about how this young generation has been so helicoptered to death that they have never had to face failure. Well I am here to tell you that I absolutely love to fail at something! I swear it's true. I mean, I don't love it when it happens and I will feel defeated and let down but then I pick myself up, dust myself off and then kick it's fucking ass.

Why? Failure makes me smarter, tougher and allows me to think about how to grow as an artist and business owner. 

So how does this apply to your makeup career?  Perfect example:  

I have had so many people go off from my team and try to do what I have done in my biz. But guess what? Most didn't succeed. I didn’t learn overnight and I learned by failing at a lot of shit. I also had a substantial client base before I even opened a studio. 

It took me 20 years to get here. Yes young kitten,  you have the luxury of the internet but you haven’t put in the time. And just like me with blogging (which is new to me now) you only get better by learning what works and what doesn’t. That isn’t something you can teach. You gotta learn that shit on your own. 

You will grow quickly if you have your strategy but make mistakes and embrace those mistakes. Even today I still mistakes in my biz even though I have a well oiled machine. Something will always throw you for a loop. Learn from it.



My pro friends are pretty amazing. Here are some fabulous nuggets of knowledge for you to learn from. 

I always suggest that anyone who wants to be a makeup artist or go to makeup school first then go work at a counter.

There they can see if they really like applying makeup to other people when it's not "just for fun" and also being on their feet and dealing with general public everyday.


Understanding personal space and how to work it physically and emotionally. How to touch the client and manipulate their face when necessary without acting like a chiropractor. Understanding how not to do the "death grip" to the head.

Sanitation, sanitation, sanitation. Translating client speak to MUA speak and understand what they *really* want when they show you a picture of Kim. Being able to do a gorgeous makeup on ANYONE, Any Skin, Any Color, Any time.

You will not command the presence, pay or clients of the masters/greats the moment you declare yourself an MUA. Drop the attitude, learn how to be humble and EARN your reputation through hard work and assisting.

Willingness to recognize, leverage, & appreciate that you are, at once, the prima donna and the lowly servant--YOU should have the expertise and knowledge to guide the client but also recognize that you are a working artist providing a service and as such you will be sacrificing personal time to do this job.

Makeup Artistry is not 9-5, & good pay is not guaranteed unless you put the work in, which means that you will be spending weekends, evenings, and holiday time with clients. Assess if this is right for you.



Realistic expectations for understanding the work that will be available to you. What kind of artistry do you want to do? Are you shooting for literally the stars? Want to open your own business? Knowing what your personality is best suited for. There are a lot of assholes parading around as MUAs that can't understand why they can't get work. It's your attitude buddy. And no one wants you on their team and this is why you can't up your skill set.



In addition - know your product! It's stressful enough as it is when you are under time constraints but ' know and understand the product you are using on your client before you use it.' Not all products fit ever person. Not every look looks appropriate for each person. Ie: cut crease does not look good on every eye or red lips is not the best color for every woman (this is somewhat understanding color theory and facial/eye shapes)

And my fav quote from the movie ratatouille ' keep your station clean or I will kill you!’

Liz washer-makeup artist

Liz washer-makeup artist

Develop some business sense before you go and hang a shingle. I started doing makeup later in life but am so grateful to have had a professional background that gave me some basic marketing savvy.

Be a business person. Don't think for a minute that you will succeed on any level of you do not have a business plan, contacts and an accountant.

As mentioned above, only about 20% of what we do had anything to do with paintin' faces or whoopin' hair and you get what you put into it...

Just because it's on Pinterest does not make it a good idea. And there are other lines besides MAC.

Also, the bigger the kit does not make you a better make up artist. Keep your kit tight and clean with all of the essentials, use good, core products. You won't need that fuchsia eye shadow as much as you think.

Calming, put people at ease especially if you do brides! You actually have to put makeup on others and not just do YT videos! (Amen girl, AMEN!)



I just want to remind you that I love you - this group is amazeballs.

Well shit, Whitney, you're amazeballs too! And you're fierce with your too! HA!

What do you think of this massive article? Love it or leave it? Leave me a comment below! I would love love love to hear from you! Leave additional advice below!