Recently, a colleague interviewed me for research on a story she was coming up with. One of the questions that piqued my interest was “What advice do you have for aspiring hairstylists and makeup artists?”
I had so much to say about it. I think she might have been overwhelmed with all the information I volunteered.
Previously, I talked about some of the “challenges” (a.k.a. opportunities for learning) I encountered at work. I think it would be a great follow-up to share some things to help newbies who want to get into hair and makeup.
I started hair and makeup in November of 2011. My experience then might be a lot different from what is happening now, but here are some things my mentor taught me that helped me start my career.
A lot of people think of hair and makeup as a side job. Something they like to do on weekends or when they have free time. While there is nothing wrong with that, it will eventually come to a point where you have to choose. It is hard to focus on things when you have too much going on.
When I started, I had a day job teaching at a small school. I could only accommodate work and my apprenticeship at night and during weekends. One time, I had to choose between calling in sick and going to a shoot that would somewhat help jumpstart my career. I called in sick.
At some point, you will have to consider which direction you want to go. Where do you see yourself five years into the future?
I saw myself doing hair and makeup. (But of course, I waited for the school year to end before I fully committed.)
I know this is tricky and risky. But part of growing as an artist is to step away from your comfort zone. To me, my profession is not just something I do, it is part of who I am. I could not immerse myself into it fully and learn everything I could from my mentor when I had a day job. Our dynamic as mentor-apprentice meant I had to accompany her to all of her jobs. Experience is built on an everyday basis. If you only give your weekends to the craft, it will take you longer to build on it. Think of it as hours put in.
Generally, I find that something you are passionate about is something you have to take a chance on fully. Only then does it reward you for trusting the path you choose to take. My first tattoo, which says “tiwala,” is a reminder of that.
(Disclaimer: I was a newly-single girl then with no dependents or other baggage apart from her own. This might not work with people who have families relying on them. It’s a very YOLO thing not everyone can manage.)
The hair and makeup industry is very visual. How you present yourself matters. The way you look is the way you market yourself. If you don’t look the part, how will your clients trust you?
At the very start, when you are establishing yourself, your branding has to be clear. Think of yourself as a cartoon character, if you could look the same way for a prolonged period of time, what look would it be? Recall is important when you’re starting out.
We picked out a look that was already representative of who I was so the changes were easier. I was always a little bit librarian, and a little bit rockstar. At the time I was more librarian than rockstar, so we shifted it the other way. I had to keep that look I started with for a while until I gained steady footing in the industry. I got an edgier haircut and started wearing red lipstick. My wardrobe gave way to mostly black and plain clothes. (Black, because it is inevitable that one will get dirty in our line of work. Light colored clothes with makeup stains are not exactly pleasing to look at.)
Nowadays, I can pretty much choose to be whoever I want to be because my work already speaks for itself. But, keep in mind, that it took four or five years of this as my full-time job. Even then, it is still a work in progress.
I started my career as an apprentice. Apprentices do not get paid. I had to shell out money for a lot of my equipment and materials. I ate up all of my savings from my previous jobs. This made me worry because I value financial stability.
I was lucky to have had a mentor who was generous. She lent me some of the things I would need to practice with and start working — hair tools, hair products, a mock head for practicing hairstyles on, makeup, etc. I built my kit little by little with her help. I trusted the products she trusted and worked with those, instead of buying and trying others. After almost a year, I was able to return all the things I borrowed from her because I had my own complete kit.
It will not be easy in the beginning. You might start off being underpaid. You may even start off working for free. Think of it all as marketing. Investing in the future of the career you are building.
Hair and makeup just looks glamorous, but it is just like any other job—you put in the work before you reap its benefits. At times, it may be a bit more taxing than being employed in a company because you have no choice but to start from the bottom.
Be patient. Careers are not built overnight. It takes years and years of input.
There is the other way, of course, which works with who you know. That will speed things up for anyone, but it wasn’t the path I took. And even then, that requires patience, because there is never any assurance that things will blossom for you right away.
Don’t be frustrated if things are not going the way you wanted and keep in mind that everyone in the industry took different paths to reach where they are now. At some point they all had to go through building things up from scratch.
4. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Hair and makeup is an expensive craft, so be practical.
Always consider if you will be able to maximize the use of your product. Will you be able to earn from the purchase? Think of them as investments that also need an ROI to be profitable. From lipstick to (false) eyelashes.
Don’t be overwhelmed by how small your setup might look compared to others. I don’t have a lot of stuff in my setup compared to other makeup artists, but I am able to deliver just as well. It isn’t in how much stuff you have, but how well you know your things.
For example, others have maybe 10 shades of foundation in their kit. I can work with just two. You don’t need 10 shades if you know how to mix the lightest and darkest shades available to achieve all the others in between.
Purchase quality items. Several really good makeup brushes are worth more than a dozen makeup brushes of questionable quality.
When I was starting, I bought an acceptable set of makeup brushes from a local brand. They were good, but after a year of usage they started shedding. It’s embarrassing to have a brush fall apart in the middle of applying powder on a client. I ended up investing in brushes from MAC. Those cost about a little over a thousand pesos per brush, but most of them are still usable and in good condition after five years. Well worth my money. Just pick out what you need to create a full face. You honestly do not need a lot of brushes as long as you’re diligent with cleaning them.
Quality also does not mean expensive. Not all expensive items are of good quality. So, do your research.
Given how many other people are in the industry and aspiring to do hair and makeup, it is important to be versatile. When I was starting out (it) helped me land jobs and sustain myself as a freelancer.
Don’t be too choosy with jobs. At least not when you are just starting out. You need to be diverse and able to deliver and accomplish different kinds of looks because that will help broaden your market base.
Know how to style hair. This was a practical choice for me because I jumped into freelancing full on. I needed to make sure I would be able to make ends meet. I needed to assure my parents that I would be able to make a living out of what I had chosen to do. Think of it as widening your offered services. If you don’t get makeup jobs, you can find hairstyling jobs.
Not all makeup artists know how to do hair so this is an advantage. You don’t have to go through the hassle of finding a hairstylist for jobs booked at the last minute. You don’t have to worry just in case your hairstylist does not show up for work. (This has happened.) If the requirements are basic, you don’t have to pay for someone else to do hair either. Right now, my go-to hairstylist is about to give birth, but I know I’ll be able to manage because I know how to do hair.
Also, it is easier to earn money as a hairstylist because the initial investment is not as high.
Hair and makeup is a complete package. One will affect the other, so you have to consider both and how well they complement each other to create an overall look. You will end up focusing on just one, for sure, but know both and use it to your advantage.
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Starting anything will always be difficult. There will be times when you might question your decision. Listen and assess. This route is not for everyone. The success stories I know of people who quit their day job to go full-time come hand in hand with those who try things out of interest but were not able to continue.
As with all things, experiences and situations vary from person to person. What I mentioned above are just suggestions and tips to help make the transition easier.
Put in the work, and I hope your journey will be favorable. And if it isn’t, then figuring out what does not work for you only brings you closer to the things that do.