Makeup Artist

  • Makeup Artist Live

It is a makeup artist’s responsibility to execute the makeup designer’s looks on each cast member as assigned. For every performance, the artist works from illustrated templates—and eventually from memory—to transform the actor’s face and create the first visual impression of the character.


The work begins during pre-production; while the cast rehearses, the makeup artists consult with the designer to learn the process of how to achieve each character’s look. Stage makeup, even for a straight play that doesn’t require a fancy face, is not like getting made up at home. Instead, artists use techniques to hide or emphasize age, and exaggerate features so they’re visible even to those sitting farthest from the stage. Where necessary, stage makeup artists will also apply basic special effects like cuts, wounds, or tattoos. When the artists first meet their performers for a trial run, they will select color shades that best complement individual skin tones and assign each person a care kit of application sponges and accessories like fake lashes, beauty marks, or other adornments. Stage actors typically wear base foundation that is two shades darker than their natural tone to counter stage lighting’s capacity to wash out faces. Often the makeup artist will instruct performers on the proper way to prepare their skin for the heavy grease-based products, and the appropriate procedures for removing makeup at the end of the show. Each night of performance, the artists are backstage at dressing-room stations and rarely have time for a break; they simply move from one face to the next until the stage manager calls “places!”

Skills & Education

A keen understanding of color theory, artistic talent, and a steady hand are all necessary for a career as a makeup artist. A college degree in theatrical design with a concentration in makeup is recommended, but a degree in fine art or training at a cosmetology school is also acceptable. Carefully research any training program, as there are a few bad seeds lingering amongst the more respected institutions. You must develop specific skills in theatrical makeup application, including special effects techniques, and become familiar with the chemical properties of industry standard products like Ben Nye, Mehron, and Kryolan. Training in airbrush application and latex prosthetics is also valuable.

What to Expect

Seasoned performers are accustomed to allowing production staff to invade their personal space and see them in various stages of undress, but it is natural for people to be a bit skittish when someone is wielding a grease pencil millimeters from their eye. A delicate hand and comforting demeanor will make you a favorite among your cast and crew. That doesn’t mean that you should take your time and chat up the actors—speed is important. In the best-case scenario, you will have a half-hour to prep one or two people; in the most demanding scenarios, you may be packed into a dressing room with four or five other artists dealing with a hundred cast members one by one. You must be able to work quickly and accurately, maintain close attention to detail, and remain oblivious to pressure. One other tip: An ounce of mouthwash helps ensure a pleasant experience for the person sitting in your makeup chair, but never chew gum or suck on a mint while getting up close and personal with an actor’s cheekbones.


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