Make Up Artist Job Description

Make up artists apply make up products to clients’ faces in order to achieve a particular look or effect. Make up artists can work in a variety of different fields, such as fashion, theater, or film. In any setting, the make up artist works with clients and creative teams to identify requirements and specifications, developing ideas for make up and applying foundation, shades, and eye and lip products.

Most make up artists attend cosmetology school and tend to hone their skills under the supervision of more experienced make up artists. They then tend to work as independent contractors, where they may be responsible for make up work on a number of ongoing projects.


Make Up Artist Duties and Responsibilities

While make up artists may have different duties depending on their industry, most share several core responsibilities:

Apply Make-Up to Clients’ Faces

The central responsibility of a make up artist is applying make up to clients’ faces. This can range from theatrical make up for a stage show, in which the make up needs to highlight facial features for audiences seated far from the performers, to make up designed for use on camera and under specific lighting conditions. In some cases, make up artists need to create dramatic effects or transform individuals’ faces and features using make up.

Review Client Requests and Expectations

Many make up artists work as independent contractors, and each job features specific client requirements. Because of this, another major duty of the make up artist is to review client requests and specifications to determine which supplies they need and how to best achieve the look or feel that the client wants. In this aspect of the role, the make up artist works closely with their client to discuss options and products and determine methods and techniques.

Prepare Make-Up Sketches

For particularly complex jobs, make up artists also prepare sketches for the client. These sketches typically include a variety of options that meet the client’s specifications but use different approaches. Clients then review these sketches and provide feedback, which the make up artist can then use to revise their sketches or reconfigure their plans. Make up artists then use these sketches as guidelines while applying make up.

Collaborate with Design Team Members

Throughout the production design process, make up artists work closely with other members of the design team. This can include costume designers, who may provide feedback on how the costumes and make up work together to achieve a look or effect, and lighting designers, who determine how to successfully light performers based on the make up they will wear. During these collaborations, make up artists may test several variations of their sketches or make revisions to accommodate other requests.

Maintain Health and Safety Protocols

Because make up artists apply their products directly to individuals’ faces, they need to follow health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of disease and avoid allergic reactions. These protocols include sanitizing items that are used on multiple people and using fresh tools to apply make up. They also need to be familiar with ingredients and ensure that their clients do not have allergies to anything in the products they are using.

Expand Product and Technical Knowledge

Make up artists also ensure that they are familiar with the latest make up products and industry developments. This aspect of the role can involve meeting with sales representatives and distributors to learn about new product offerings, testing out different product configurations, and learning advanced techniques directly from more experienced make up artists.


Make Up Artist Skills and Qualifications

Make up artists apply a wide variety of make up products for clients, often within performance or theatrical settings. Workers in this role have typically completed cosmetology school and possess the following skills:

  • Artistic skills – make up artists use their creativity and knowledge of products to create natural or dramatic effects using make up, so they should possess technical and creative skills
  • Hand-eye coordination – make up artists should also have excellent hand-eye coordination to apply make up to sensitive areas (such as eyes) and ensure that they achieve their intended effect
  • Stamina – in many cases, make up artists spend long shifts on their feet, so they need both physical and mental stamina to ensure that their work is consistent and that they remain focused
  • Client service – make up artists also need strong client service skills to understand client requirements, respond to special requests, and communicate directly with clients and design teams
  • Time management – this role also requires strong organization skills, since make up artists may need to apply make up to many performers or clients within a short span of time


Make Up Artist Education and Training

Make up artists typically need to attend cosmetology school or complete a series of make up classes at a community college or vocational school. In addition, there are many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role as make up artists tend to begin their careers working under the supervision of more experienced make up artists. This allows new make up artists to build their skill level and learn more advanced techniques before working independently.


Make Up Artist Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that make up artists who work in theatrical and performance-related settings earn a median annual salary of $59,300. The highest-paid workers in this role earn more than $127,030 per year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent of make up artists earn less than $21,250 annually.

While the BLS does not provide employment outlook information for theatrical and performance make up artists, O*Net data indicates that employment in this field will grow at a faster-than-average rate of 10 to 14 percent through 2026.


Helpful Resources

If you’d like to learn more about working as a make up artist, we found a number of resources on the web:

American Association of Cosmetology Schools – AACS is an organization focused on training and professional development for beauty professionals. It also provides accreditation for cosmetology schools throughout the country

Making Faces – in this book, accomplished make up artist Kevyn Aucoin discusses techniques and products, using color photographs to illustrate how to use make up to achieve a variety of looks and effects

International Make-Up Association – IMA is a professional organization for make up artists providing opportunities to connect with others in the field and access professional development and training materials

Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual: For Everyone from Beginner to Pro – read this book to learn about make up products and techniques. It includes examples related to a variety of skin tones and detailed instructions for applying make up to eyes and lips


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