So you want to be a Successful Freelance Makeup Artist?

What does it take to become a successful freelance makeup artist?  What does success mean to you?  More clients?  Working full-time (or, at least, earning enough so you can quit your “real job”), Being published?  Whatever your idea of Success, there are steps to take to get there.  Success doesn’t happen overnight, even those “overnight successes” have probably had years of work behind them.  Success is a journey, not a destination, and I’d love to join you on your journey, and perhaps guide you a little on the way…

So, lets’ start out with thinking about what success means to you…

FOCUS – Know where you want to go.

Firstly, you’ll need to determine what area of the industry you really want to work in.  “I want to do it all”  I hear your eager voices saying, and yes, I’ve heard that from many students.  And while it is possible to work across the whole range of the industry, most SUCCESSFUL freelancers will specialise in one or two areas.  The larger the market, the more important it is to find your niche. I started out doing bridal, and when I moved to a bigger city, I THOUGHT I wanted to get into film.  I worked on one independent feature film (a six week shoot, where I was an additional makeup artist for 6 days…  sorry, nights 5pm-5am).  That was enough for me to know that film just isn’t my thing.  I have other friends though who LOVE film, and its pretty much all they do.  I now do mainly commercial and bridal work, with a bit of TV, Events and Editorial thrown in now and then.

bride, bridal makeup, tom hall photography, tom hall, wedding makeup, bridal makeup, bridal makeup artist


Its all very well to say “I want to work in fashion” but if you life in Smalltown, Nowheresville, that probably isn’t going to happen.  Even in capital cities, some have more opportunities for fashion work than others. You may have to set a goal to move to another city, state, even country to do the sort of work you want to do.  If moving isn’t an option for now, learn all you can about your current market.  Who are the top artists in your market, what sort of work are they doing?  Who are the best photographers?  Directors?  Leading wedding suppliers?  *This is not saying go and poach another artist’s clients, definitely not!

Become familiar with what sort of work is available in your area.  When I was teaching I would always ask my students “Who are the top 5 makeup artists in our city?”  I was usually met with blank faces.  Some could suggest one or two names (occasionally someone would say MY name, and go straight to the top of the class LOL).  You need to know this.  Follow them on Social Media (yep, permission to stalk!) and you will get a good idea of what sort of work is available in your area, and who are the people doing all that work. Knowing who is doing what in your market will be helpful when it comes to marketing yourself.

commercial makeup artist, makeup artist, advertising makeup


While your portfolio should obviously display your best work, you should also consider tailoring your portfolio to the type of work you want to do.  There is no point having a portfolio full of Special Effects, severed arms, blood and guts and gunshot wounds if you want to focus on wedding makeup. Similarly, if you want to work in film, you will need to show that you can work on a variety of ages, ethnicities and periods of history (Film artists usually display their work in a Showreel, a collection of short video clips showcasing their work, rather than a portfolio, but if you’re starting out, still images are fine).

Back in the day, makeup artists displayed their work in a beautiful leather bound portfolio, with the photos printed out at 11 x 15 inches.  I still have mine, haven’t updated it in at least 5 years, or shown it to anyone.  Today a lot of makeup artists think a Facebook page and an Instagram account will suffice, but if you are serious about being successful, a website is a must!

One of the biggest mistakes I see with artists starting out, is they think they have to use ALL the makeup, and their portfolio is full of bright colourful makeup and things stuck to the face like feathers and diamantes and who knows what else.  When I was starting out, back in the dark ages before Facebook, Instagram and even blogs, I was an active member of an online chat forum and one of the Golden Nuggets relating to portfolio building I always remember from that group is: “Master clean before you go funky” .

More on portfolio building and review in a future blog…

editorial, beauty, editorial makeup, makeup artist, makeup blog,


Being a makeup artist is being part of a team.  You need to be a good team player, and you need to develop relationships with other people within the industry in order to get jobs in the first place, and perhaps even more importantly, to keep being asked back on further jobs!

There are so many ways to network, from developing an online presence, being active in Facebook groups, developing a following on other Social Media platforms, to good old fashioned things like sending out emails, and getting on the telephone and talking to people.

Go to events like photography exhibitions (even landscape photographers may do weddings for extra income), makeup launches, training days, masterclasses, anything where you will have the opportunity to meet others in the industry.

Important note:  Never neglect networking with other makeup artists. They can be your most valuable source of referrals.  Over the last 15 years, I can confidently say that I have gotten more work referred by other makeup artists than all other sources combined.

fashion, fashion makeup, fashion makeup artist, editorial makeup artist, sue mclaurin makeup artist


Even makeup artists who have been in the industry for 10 or 20 years will be constantly learning. Cosmetic companies are always coming out with new products, fashions and trends change every year and its part of our JOB to keep up to date with the newest trends and products.  Obviously this can be a costly exercise…  I don’t believe you have to rush out and buy every new product the latest YouTube beauty influencer is promoting.  This is a trap a lot of artists fall into when they are starting out.  I’ve had artists tell me “I can’t take any jobs until I’ve built my kit”  and meanwhile their kit weighs more than a small child.  I started out doing weddings with my makeup supplies in a fishing tackle box.  Of course, the mental picture of that kind of horrifies me at the moment (unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence!), but my point is, you don’t need every wonderful product, just a few key staples (and yes, we will cover that in the coming weeks too!)


I hope these tips have been helpful to you.  I’ll be expanding on all of them, and writing more tips in the coming weeks.

Did you like this article?  Please comment below to tell us what you think.  Feel free to share, and don’t forget to subscribe to be notified of the next blog!

All Makeup by Sue McLaurin
Photography Credits:
Image 1. Michael Greves
Image 2. Tom Hall
Image 3. Dylan Evans
Image 4. Elisabeth Willis
Image 5. Verge Girl


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