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10 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Makeup Artists

Makeup has been around in one form or another since at least Cleopatra. In an age of Instagram, personal branding, and perpetual selfies, it’s more popular than ever, and the same could be said of makeup artists. Mental_floss spoke to a few who ply the trade about their art, their business, and the ongoing appeal of making faces.

1. THEIR WORK REQUIRES SCIENCE AS WELL AS ART.

To the uninformed, makeup artistry may seem to involve little more than applying blush and lip gloss. But there’s much more to it. “I think the misconception is that it’s just putting on makeup,” says Jenn Blum, a beauty and special effects makeup artist in New York.

Blum says that her work requires knowledge of several overlapping disciplines: color theory (for blending and matching foundation); hygiene (for keeping makeup and brushes sanitary); facial anatomy and bone structure (for contouring and special effects creature design); and chemistry (for safety in knowing which products don’t mix, and when working with special effects molding compounds, glues, and removers). It's not advanced chemistry, but it still takes time and study.

2. MAKEUP SCHOOL IS NOT FOR EVERYONE.

While there are a number of great makeup schools out there, many fantastic makeup artists have been self-taught. The late, revered Kevyn Aucoin is one. So is Robert Garcia, a gender-fluid makeup artist and personal beauty adviser at Sephora. Garcia explains that while he received no formal training, his passion, natural ability, and hours spent experimenting provided the skills to get hired at Sephora and launch a career. “Every makeup artist I know has learned more in the industry than by going to school,” he says.

Still, a good makeup school can give artists a solid foundation and help them over inevitable hurdles. Chelsea Paige, a makeup artist specializing in character design for film, says that her education at the Make-up Designory (MUD) in New York was extremely valuable. But according to her, the first four or five years of most makeup careers are typically difficult in terms of making mistakes, gaining skill, building contacts, and getting jobs, and going to MUD “eliminated about three years of that.”

3. PERSISTENCE IS KEY.

As with many creative professions, it takes a tremendous amount of tenacity for a makeup artist to get to the point where they have regular work coming in and a respectable day rate. Hours can be long—often 14 to 16 hours a day for a makeup artist on a film—and newer artists often have to work multiple side jobs while they establish themselves. Paige says that even though she’s fairly established, she still has to hustle, promote herself, and deal with uncertainty between jobs. According to her, the drawbacks are worth it. “I feel truly grateful that I’ve found something so early in my life that I love,” she says.

4. COMPENSATION VARIES FROM GIG TO GIG.

The amount of money that a makeup artist can expect to make for a job varies widely depending on both the scope and nature of the project and the artist’s experience. When first starting out, artists may do a lot of jobs for low or no pay in order to gain experience (though our interviewees advise only working free gigs that provide valuable knowledge, contacts, or exposure). Blum says she has no set rate, instead making decisions about whether to take a job, and what to charge, on a project-to-project basis: “What one of my mentors taught me is [to ask] ‘what is the job worth to you?’”

As for what type of jobs are the most lucrative, opinions vary. New York-based makeup artist Shelley Van Gage says it’s advertising work, while Garcia says that for him it has been weddings. He says his starting rate for a bride is $400, while for some brides he has made as much as $3000.

5. THEIR MATERIALS DON’T COME CHEAP.

It might not seem like a big deal to pick up a CoverGirl compact at the local drug store, but for a professional makeup artist, stocking a complete makeup kit requires considerable financial outlay. This is particularly true because they have to keep abreast of cosmetic trends: “If you want to be an up-to-date makeup artist you have to update your kit,” Garcia says. “Your client wants to see something new and luxurious. Nobody wants to see old Clinique when they know they can get a high-definition foundation from Make Up Forever.”

But there are ways to be smart about cost when starting out. Garcia says skilled new artists can do glamorous work with less expensive brands of similar quality, and build up to premium brands later on.

6. THEY GET UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL QUICKLY.

Makeup artists spend their careers in very close proximity to other people’s faces. Unsurprisingly, it helps to be a people person. But even for the most relaxed extrovert, the leap from being a complete stranger to total intimacy can be startling. This is particularly true on film or theatrical productions, where artists may be called upon to apply body makeup to nearly nude actors or to help those encumbered with prosthetic claws or other hindrances eat and drink.

Paige says that in the course of her job she touches people “in the most intimate and invasive ways.” This, oddly enough, can lead to accelerated friendships. “You have someone touching your face for umpteen hours a day for a month and a half,” she says, “and you develop a relationship.”

7. THEY CHANGE LIVES.

Sometimes a makeup artist’s close relationship with a client comes from helping them in a time of need. Garcia says a big motivator for him is helping women feel beautiful during traumatic times. He describes teaching cancer patients to paint in eyebrows or apply eyelashes, and how to care for chemotherapy-damaged skin. Speaking of a particular client with cancer, he says that “with skin care and makeup I was able to change this woman’s skin, change this woman’s life … It’s these women who need us.”

And when it comes to makeup for film and television, Blum says she loves knowing that she is supporting her clients’ passions. By doing a performer’s head shot makeup or creating a character for a director’s film, she says that she might “open the door so that they become famous and live their dream. I get chills because I might be helping someone’s dream come true.”

8. WORKING AT A SHOP CAN BE AN ADVANTAGE.

While many makeup artists work on a freelance basis, some have steadier jobs, like working at a makeup store. Besides the stability, working in a shop provides other benefits: Garcia says Sephora provided a lot of consistent practice that helped him early in his career. The company also keeps its employees up-to-date on trends and techniques.

Blum works at Alcone, one of the oldest professional makeup stores in NYC, and says landing a job there was “like winning the makeup lottery.” She explains that her constant interaction with new products and clients in all areas of makeup means that her knowledge base far exceeds her number of years in the industry.

9. IT’S NOT ALWAYS GLAMOROUS.

Some people dream of becoming a makeup artist as a means of rubbing shoulders with beautiful people. While that may be true in some cases, Paige says people often overestimate the glamor of film makeup: “It’s not an easy job. It’s not doing smoky eyes and putting on eyeliner. It’s a lot of design, it’s a lot of science, and it’s a lot of roughing it in terms of shooting.” Describing the task of maintaining an actor’s makeup throughout a long day, she says: “My day is mostly waiting around for people to sweat, and then I get to collect the sweat in tissues.”

10. WHAT THEY DO IS POWERFUL.

One thing many makeup artists agree on is that their work, whether in daily life or in the media, is often undervalued. Not only does it require a lot of skill, but it also influences how people see themselves and are seen by others. Whether it’s applying concealer to undereye circles or full werewolf makeup to an actor, makeup artistry is about metamorphosis. “Whether you want to look really scary or dead ... or if you just want to be the best version of yourself,” Blum says, “the fact that you can use makeup to do that is really exciting.”

All photos via iStock.

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Christine Colby
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13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.

1. MILITARY SERVICE IS REQUIRED.

All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.

2. HE LIVES ON-SITE.

The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.

3. BUT HE’S HAD TO MOVE.

Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.

4. THE RAVENS ENJOY SOME UNUSUAL SNACKS.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.

5. THEY GET A LULLABY.

Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.

6. THERE’S A DIVA.

One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.

7. ONE OF THEM HAS EARNED THE NICKNAME “THE BLACK WIDOW.”

Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.

8. THERE IS A SECRET PUB INSIDE THE TOWER.

Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.

9. … AND A SECRET HAND.

The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.

10. HE HAS A SIDE PROJECT.

Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.

11. THE TOWER IS MUPPET-FAMOUS.

2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.

12. IF YOU VISIT, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY.

Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.

13. … AND ON YOUR EYES.

Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.

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11 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of TV Meteorologists
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The first weather forecast to hit national network television was given in 1949 by legendary weatherman Clint Youle. To illustrate weather systems, Youle covered a paper map of the U.S. in plexiglass and drew on it with a marker. A lot has changed in the world of meteorology since then, but every day, millions of families invite their local weatherman or weatherwoman into their living room to hear the forecast. Here are a few things you might not know about being a TV meteorologist.

1. SOME PEOPLE JUST NEVER MASTER THE GREEN SCREEN.

A view of a meteorologist as seen on-screen and in the studio against a green screen
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On-camera meteorologists might look as if they’re standing in front of a moving weather map, but in reality, there’s nothing except a blank green wall behind them. Thanks to the wonders of special effects, a digital map can be superimposed onto the green screen for viewers at home. TV monitors situated just off-camera show the meteorologist what viewers at home are seeing, which is how he or she knows where to stand and point. It’s harder than it looks, and for some rookie meteorologists, the learning curve can be steep.

“Some people never learn it,” says Gary England, legendary weatherman and former chief meteorologist for Oklahoma’s KWTV (England was also the first person to use Doppler radar to warn viewers about incoming systems). “For some it comes easily, but I’ve seen people never get used to it.”

Stephanie Abrams, meteorologist and co-host of The Weather Channel’s AMHQ, credits her green screen skills to long hours spent playing Nintendo and tennis as a kid. “You’ve gotta have good hand-eye coordination,” she says.

2. THEY HAVE A STRICT DRESS CODE.

Green is out of the question for on-air meteorologists, unless they want to blend into the map, but the list of prohibited wardrobe items doesn’t stop there. “Distracting prints are a no-no,” Jennifer Myers, Dallas-based meteorologist for KDFW FOX 4 writes on Reddit. “Cleavage angers viewers over 40 something fierce, so we stay away from that. There's no length rule on skirts/dresses but if you wouldn't wear it to a family event, you probably shouldn't wear it on TV. Nothing reflective. Nothing that makes sound.”

Myers says she has enough dresses to go five weeks without having to wear a dress twice. But all the limitations can make it difficult to find work attire that’s fashionable, looks good on-screen, and affordable. This is especially true for women, which is why when they find a garment that works, word spreads quickly. For example, this dress, which sold for $23 on Amazon, was shared in a private Facebook group for female meteorologists and quickly sold out in every color but green.

3. BUT IT’S CASUAL BELOW THE KNEE.

Since their feet rarely appear on camera, some meteorologists take to wearing casual, comfortable footwear, especially on long days. For example, England told the New York Times that during storm season, he was often on his feet for 12 straight hours. So, “he wears Mizuno running shoes, which look ridiculous with his suit and tie but provide a bit of extra cushioning,” Sam Anderson writes.

And occasionally female meteorologists will strap their mic pack to their calves or thighs rather than the more unpleasant option of stuffing it into their waistband or strapping it onto their bra.

4. THERE ARE TRICKS TO STAYING WARM IN A SNOWSTORM.

A young TV weatherperson in a snowy scene
iStock

“In the field when I’m covering snow storms, I go to any pharmacy and get those back patches people wear, those heat wraps, and stick them all over my body,” explains Abrams. “Then I put on a wet suit. When you’re out for as long as we are, that helps you stay dry. I have to be really hot when I go out for winter storms.”

5. THERE’S NO SCRIPT.

Your local TV weather forecaster is ad-libbing from start to finish. “Our scripts are the graphics we create,” says Jacob Wycoff, a meteorologist with Western Mass News. “Generally speaking we’re using the graphics to talk through our stories, but everything we say is ad-libbed. Sometimes you can fumble the words you want to say, and sometimes you may miss a beat, but I think what that allows you to do is have a little off-the-cuff moment, which I think the viewers enjoy.”

6. MOM’S THE AUDIENCE.

Part of a meteorologist’s job is to break down very complicated scientific terminology and phenomena into something the general public can not only stomach, but crave. “The trick is … to approach the weather as if you're telling a story: Who are the main actors? Where is the conflict? What happens next?” explains Bob Henson, a Weather Underground meteorologist. “Along the way, you have the opportunity to do a bit of teaching. Weathercasters are often the only scientists that a member of the public will encounter on a regular basis on TV.”

Wycoff’s method for keeping it simple is to pretend like he’s having a conversation with his mom. “I’d pretend like I was giving her the forecast,” he says. “If my mom could understand it, I felt confident the general audience could as well. Part of that is also not using completely science-y terms that go over your audience’s head.”

7. SOCIAL MEDIA HAS MADE THEIR JOBS MORE DIFFICULT.

Professional meteorologists spend a lot of time debunking bogus forecasts spreading like wildfire across Twitter. “We have a lot of social media meteorologists that don’t have necessarily the background or training to create great forecasts,” Wycoff says. “We have to educate our viewers that they should know the source they’re getting information from.”

“People think it’s as easy as reading a chart,” says Scott Sistek, a meteorologist and weather blogger for KOMO TV in Seattle. “A lot of armchair meteorologists at home can look at a chart and go ok, half an inch of rain. But we take the public front when it’s wrong.”

8. THEY MAKE LIFE-OR-DEATH DECISIONS.

A meteorologist forecasting a hurricane
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People plan their lives around the weather forecast, and when a storm rolls in, locals look to their meteorologist for guidance on what to do. If he or she gets the path of a tornado wrong, or downplays its severity, people’s lives are in danger. “If you miss a severe weather forecast and someone’s out on the ball field and gets stuck, someone could get injured,” says Wycoff. “It is a great responsibility that we have.”

Conversely, England says when things get dangerous, some people are reluctant to listen to a forecaster’s advice because they don’t like being told what to do. He relies on a little bit of psychological maneuvering to get people to take cover. “You suggest, you don’t tell,” he says. “You issue instructions but in a way where they feel like they’re making up their own minds.”

9. DON’T BANK ON THOSE SEVEN-DAY FORECASTS.

“I would say that within three days, meteorologists are about 90 percent accurate,” Wycoff says. “Then at five days we’re at about 60 percent to 75 percent and then after seven days it becomes a bit more wishy-washy.”

10. THEY’RE FRENEMIES.

The competition for viewers is fierce, and local meteorologists are all rivals in the same race. “When you’re in TV, all meteorologists at other competitors are the enemy,” England says. “You’re not good friends with them. They try to steal the shoes off your children and food off your plate. If they get higher ratings, they get more money.”

11. THEY’RE TIRED OF HEARING THE SAME JOKE OVER AND OVER.

“There’s always the running joke: ‘I wish I could be paid a million dollars to be wrong 80 percent of the time,’” Sistek says. “I wanted to have a contest for who can come up with the best weatherman insult, because we need something new! Let’s get creative here.”

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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