After graduating from West Thames College in 2004 with a HND in Specialist Hair and Make-up I had to make an important decision about my future career. Did I want to join a make-up company like MAC or try my hand at freelance work? I had to weigh up the options.
If I joined a make-up company I would have regular hours, regular pay, work colleagues, sick pay, holiday pay and no tax returns to deal with at the end of the year. Plus the opportunity to progress within the company over the years ahead.
Working as a freelance make-up and body artist means no regular hours, no regular pay, no sick or holiday pay, and the dreaded tax return and National Insurance to sort out. It can be lonely. You have no colleagues. No surprise birthday cakes, no office Christmas party. Secret Santa doesn’t really work if you have to buy the present for yourself. But the advantages are that you’re your own boss, and don’t have to do regular hours every week with a limited annual holiday allowance. But more importantly the work can be really varied and interesting, and you’re very much be in control of your own career. After giving it a lot of thought I decided to go down the freelance route.
No Regular Income
Starting out in the industry as a freelance body painting or make-up artist isn’t easy. Unfortunately you won’t leave college one month and be doing make-up in the world of rock and pop the next. The reality is that you’re more likely to be sitting in your flat eating beans on toast and wondering if you have enough train fare to get to your next job. But don’t get dis-heartened as it’s the same for most freelancers at the beginning of their career.
Your kit is expensive and there’s a lot of competition for the work that’s out there. Plus with no regular income and no idea when, or where, your next job will come from, it can be very tough. Everyone’s circumstances are different. If you’re lucky enough to live at home with family support and few overheads, or have the security of a partner or husband’s salary, it’s very different to leaving home and renting often very expensive accommodation and completely supporting yourself. Then all the money that you earn has to be saved for living costs, as you could have a quiet month with absolutely no work and you still have to pay your rent etc.
Financially try not to go down the credit card route. I had a simple rule…in fact I still have. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it, book it or cook it! I’ve eaten my fair share of beans on toast and it was several years before I felt secure enough to book a holiday.
My mother used to send me vegetables through the post so that she knew I was eating properly. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home and find an envelope on the doormat containing green beans and baby sweetcorn!!!
I did a lot of low pay and no pay assisting jobs to build up my portfolio and gain experience in the industry. Plus my birthday present from my parents every July was a trip to The World Bodypainting Festival in Austria. As well as a great experience it was a good way of building up my portfolio and also hopefully winning some accolades that might enhance my career. In those early days I never imagined I would win once, let alone twice. But it’s definitely been invaluable in terms of taking my career to the next level. I’ll be covering The World Bodypainting Festival in more detail in another blog.
Unsocial Working Hours
If a model, or models, need to be ready for an early morning press call the painting has to be done before sunrise. I’ve had numerous jobs where I’ve found myself in a cab with the driver navigating a very empty city at 3 am. This is never ideal but it has to be done. You know the feeling when you’re off on holiday and set your alarm for an early flight?? Then you hardly sleep because you’re worried about missing your flight. Well it’s that same feeling only 10 times worse. You toss and turn and then end up getting up before you really have to, simply because you’re awake anyway! You then have to go and paint to a really high standard against the clock to get the models finished, usually after around 3 hours sleep. But I find that once I’m at the location the adrenalin kicks in and I’m off…… painting like a mini ninja!
Building up your Business
There are no short cuts. You have to build up your experience, and your client list, and that only comes with time. If you do a good job the client will be more likely to remember you and use you again, or even recommend you to other clients. But when you’re starting out know your limitations. It’s better to not do the job at all than do it badly. You not only let the client down, but you risk your reputation as well. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll find that it’s almost self- perpetuating. The more work you do the more work comes in.
I’m pleased that I decided on the freelance route, it was the right decision for me. No two days are the same and I love being my own boss. I’ve worked hard to build up my business and now have many repeat clients. I have my Getmadeup team who work with me on larger assignments so my little business also supports several other artists and I actually now have some colleagues. But none of this has happened overnight. I started at the bottom of the ladder and it’s taken me 12 years to get to the point that I’m at today.
So my advice to anyone who has a passion for make-up/body painting and is seriously thinking of a career in the industry would be to get some training. Either a full time college course or one of the shorter courses from the various make-up academies out there. There are some excellent self- taught make-up artists, but just about everyone that I know in the industry has started their career with some professional training.
You must have Public Liability Insurance before starting work in the industry. If you poke your brush in someone’s eye you’ll be in big trouble with no insurance cover. I get mine through Professional Beauty. It’s automatically renewed every 12 months and is around £50 for the year. Anyone who works with me must have their own PLI as mine won’t cover them.
If you’re freelance don’t expect to run before you can walk. Gain as much work experience as you can. Do the low pay jobs to practice your skills and build up contacts.
Don’t get disheartened at the beginning of your career. Realistically it will probably take you a few years to get established.
Finally, I hope that anyone who’s interested in becoming a professional make-up or body painting artist will find this information interesting and useful. I’ve tried to be honest and give you the benefit of my experience. It’s not easy starting out, it’s hard work. Early starts, late finishes, not a lot of spare cash! But if you’re willing to persevere it can be a great career, incredibly good fun at times and very interesting. Good luck!!!!