A state of mind for success: always learning.

June 7, 2019

If you really want to do make-up as a living, you can start learning wherever you are, wherever you have money or not. Don't let money or distance prevent you to start working on your craft. But be careful with Youtube gurus and the way you get feedback. You could get burnt. Here's a comprehensive post full of tips, do's and don't's to start the right way.

In Facebook groups, I see a pattern coming back, again and again.

Imagine someone that's keen to make a career in film make-up (yes, make-up sorry, it's been my department for 20years, so that's where I hang out the most but bear with me, there's something for everyone in what's coming).

They want to learn the craft but have no money to spend or any related school around.

They try something at home, usually something gruesome after watching videos on Youtube. Plenty of people congratulates them. They are friends and family, or gore fans.
Fair enough, you want to support your loved ones. They sometimes create a Facebook page and can even  have a fairly good following. They keep posting things that create reactions, lots of blood, big dramatic make-ups. Most of the time, it's not realistic, it's sensational, it's good to get likes from their people. Because natural clean make-up doesn't create a sensation, even though it's what will pay your first bills.

But the problem is that it creates a false sense of standard and quality. Just because a friend find a make-up good doesn't mean it is absolutely good. Sure, it's good for a Halloween party, good considering they have not been taught, good for a first try. It's RELATIVELY good.

It's not going to be good for a film set. AND IT'S FINE.

Nobody's ever been good right at the beginning. That shouldn't get them upset.

People get used to celebrations, the ego is boosted by the number of likes. It has been said that the new generation's mental health is so linked to the number of likes on social that even apps like Instagram are feeling they need to do something about it.

So they post pics in groups of pros, get slammed for posting something that is unsafe, or badly done, or just "can be better" and given feedback about what's not right or what they should focus on if they want to make a career. They were expecting the same support they get from family and friends. That's not how it works in the industry.

They get real industry feedback and it hurts, because they were not in a learning state of mind, but in a showcasing state of mind, a craving for appreciation and affirmation.

It doesn't mean they don't want to learn, just that they didn't enter the space prepared for learning.

Unless you're in a safe space, where you are invited to practice to show up proud, as I do in my Facebook group to practice selling yourself, when you show up, you need to remember WHERE you show up and WHY.

Feeling down when you've been told you made a mistake or something doesn't work is normal. You are human for feeling down. The key to your success in this career though is how you react to it.

Being a good artist is to observe and replicate, and being critical of your own work, in healthy proportion.

  • If you are not, you can't see how to progress.
  • If you are so harsh on yourself you want to quit, well, you can't have a career if you quit 😉

It takes time to get good, it takes commitment to a regular practice. It's trying and embracing failures, as failure is only discovering one way that didn't work.

- If you don't have an eye yet to spot something that is wrong and can face criticism,

Brace yourself, post your work in a pro forum, introducing yourself briefly first, ask for feedback but be ready to take it while not letting it take you down.

Breathe. Take notes. Thank the people who take time to answer.

Don't get defensive. Dig deeper if there's something you don't get, or ask for tips on going round your limitation. Don't get upset, don't get things personal. If you're not sure you can do that, don't do that just yet.

Remember that anyone can be watching. Your future boss on your dream project can be there watching. The way you handle these situations shows a lot about you, more than any cover letter ever will. 

- If you feel unsure you can face criticism, take the introvert way.

Observe, practice, put next to each other the two pics. Your inspiration and your work.

Check off various points: is the volume similar? are the colours similar? Do I feel the same way looking at the two wounds for example.

Same for Hair. Period hair is about the volume around the head first. If you have that right it's half the job done.

Celebrate with yourself what's good, take notes of what's not. Not in a "gaaaah I'm so crap, I'll never make it" kind of way, just like a scientist: "Ok, that didn't work out so well. ok carry on".

Ask questions in a group, explaining you tried to do X or Z but "this" was off and you can't find what you did differently. When you start by acknowledging you're learning and struggling, people will answer differently. You have shown you tried on your own and it's last resort to bother them.

There are plenty of ways to start learning today.


Observe nature & people.

Try to break down what makes you feel or think the way you do when you see something.

  • Oh she looks knackered >> Why?
  • Oh she looks like she cried all night.   >> Why? red eyes, puffy eyes, red nose...write it all down.
  • Why do I feel this is cold? >> there's a blue undertone.

Etc. You get the gist.

Build yourself a references treasure trove.

Look at magazines, borrow books from the library.

Learn about aging, skin illnesses, wounds, allergies, eras...

Practice the basics

Sculpt with clay, even if it's only kids one. Forget the creature and Fantasy characters to start with.

If you can't compare, you can't learn. Try simple shapes that are around you, make it harder as you go.

Nose, ears, fingers... these are tough to do right. Less spectacular maybe to you, but done right it will get noticed by people who are in the industry.

Practice depth and volume with paint. Special effects are not entirely about prosthetics. It’s about the illusion. It starts with coloring.

Take pictures of your progress. You're on a journey, it's fun to look back.

Play with 5 tubes of theatre foundations in primary colors. The most important week at makeup school was the 1st week mixing these colours and creating new out of them, including flesh tones. I was screaming inside at the time, because "I WANTED TO DO MAKEUP, NOT THIS". But that was the week where I learn my craft.

Trust people who are ahead of you when they invite you to practice something, there may be a reason you can't even imagine. You may spend decades mentally thanking them once you realize why they were asking you to do that..

Build yourself a little portfolio / progress diary so you can show mentors what you have been doing.

Go to trade shows when you can, meet people, chat and exchange with people from all range of the industry.


Hang out in pro forums, read comments on other posts, learn from the massive vaults of experience and knowledge that are residents around there.

Do your research. 

Find the name of people who are doing the work you like.

Follow make-up shops on Instagram (or whatever department you want to get into), they often share tips and show off accounts of people who are great artists and even head of departments.

Find if they are on Youtube sharing tips. (You want to listen to people who actually work in film. Not people who like make-up and throw a video about anything that could get them viral. It's a slippery slope and can take you in dangerous territories).

Follow people you find motivating. Write down in a notebook nice things people have said about you or your work.

Work on the side and save money and invest in courses when you can. 

There are amazing courses to do online. and some schools offer grants or loan to let you enroll in their course.

Ask in pro forums or use the SEARCH function in them and see what people say about these schools.

These tips can translate into plenty of other departments.

What other tips would you give people who want to start but are too far away from a school, or do not have the money to start just yet?

Once you get out of school or are ready to send CV, it's another part of the journey that's starting and there's help for that too.

I am regularly creating online masterclasses and courses to help you with the freelance and business side of the industry.

I'd love to hear from you. Seasoned pro or enthusiast only starting, I would love to know your thoughts.

I'm @onsetandbeyond everywhere.

As always, grateful for your time reading.



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