How I Became A Professional Makeup & Hair Artist

I haven’t always been a professional makeup and hair artist. In fact, I’ve only been working professionally for 6 years. You might be surprised to hear this, and wonder what I did before my career in beauty started. I do get asked a lot about how I got started and what my story is. So I thought I would share it with you, in case you’re curious. Or in case you’re feeling restless in your career and wanting some inspiration for a change. Because if this is the case I know how you feel!

When you’re young, adults are always asking you what you want to do when you grow up. I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of asking kids I’ve been around this same question because their responses are so cute. But I have a strong memory of my grandma asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I gave her several answers: an artist, a hairstylist, a teacher, a writer, a counselor and a fashion designer. And I think I may have even thrown in doctor because adults always love to hear that. It’s interesting that in my career today I get to include a little of everything I wanted to do as a kid in what I do.

I’ve always loved makeup and hair. When I was young I used to play dress up and give makeovers to my friends and myself. My mom has always done her makeup, and was my first inspiration to playing with makeup. I had my own play makeup and chest of dress up clothes that I would play with daily. And one of my favorite toys was a Barbie head that I taught myself how to braid on.

When I was in 7th grade, my mom took me to the Clinique makeup counter to learn how to apply makeup and bought me my first “quality” makeup to use. Before that, I was obsessed with teal mascara and shadow, and frosty pink lipgloss, courtesy of Wet n’ Wild cosmetics and used to experiment with some crazy looks.

In college, I decided I wanted to be a psychologist. I still loved beauty, but thought I needed to do something more academic or “responsible”. Actually I had no idea that a career in makeup existed outside of the makeup counter or high fashion shoots in New York. But I knew I wanted to serve people, and help them feel good about themselves and their lives.

When I graduated from college, I tried a couple different jobs that fit in the field of psychology: a group home counselor, a group home teacher, and finally, a high school Special Education teacher. None of them felt like a good fit, were extremely stressful, and paid a shitty wage. I decided the most important thing in a job was money, so I set out to find a job that paid well. And was introduced to the world of pharmaceutical sales.

When I got my first sales job, I thought I had hit the jackpot: great salary and commission, travel, company car, expense account, and no office to sit in all day. But after 6 years of the high stress, controlling bosses, unrealistic expectations with sales goals and doctor's office visits, and feeling like I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, I knew I needed to make some changes. I wanted to do something I loved, and could support myself on. I wanted to do something that was meaningful, that made me feel like I was making a difference in someone's life.

For some reason, I kept going back to what I loved as a kid. And makeup and hair kept coming up as the answer.

And then I had a clear sign from the universe. While in Vegas at a company meeting, we were walking through the hotel and saw a fashion photo shoot in progress. I watched the makeup artist touching up the model and it clicked: that’s what I want to do. I remember telling this to my friend and she was like, YES!

So I started making my plan to make this a reality. The short version is I hustled my butt off. I researched everything I could find on how to become a makeup artist. I reached out to other artists to find how they got started. I went to beauty school at night to become an esthetician. And I spent weekends working for free, building my portfolio with other creatives to try to attract paying clients. My first 2 years in business were mostly working for free or for very little pay to build up my portfolio and gain experience. I spent most of everything I earned (and then some) on my makeup and hair kit, and classes to learn new techniques and grow my business.

And it finally paid off. At year 4 I was a full-time artist, with my sole income being my beauty business. I finally feel like an established artist.

It’s taken a long time to get here, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve learned so much on being a creative entrepreneur, the power of community, and making my own path. I’ve worked with some amazing creative partners, and had wonderful clients, and even though I sometimes miss the steady paycheck and benefits, I’m glad that I followed my heart and went after my dreams. I still don't have everything figured out, but I feel much more secure in my business than I did 3 years ago.

And even though I love my job, I still feel there’s more for me to explore, and more for me to do. (More on that in a future post!) But I’m happy to be a working artist and making a living being a creative.

I’d love to hear from you now. Have you left behind a steady paycheck to follow your dreams? Or are you longing to leave your current job to pursue your passion? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

Stay tuned for my next post on the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this journey.

Are you following me on Instagram? I post a lot of behind the scenes and photos from my life as a creative entrepreneur.

Xo,
Melissa