How to Start a Makeup Career in New York (Or Anywhere!)

People often ask me about the best way to get their makeup career started when they first come to New York City. My answer is always the same. What area of makeup would you like to work in? If your reply is “every area!” I commend your passion, but going for a general goal will not get you to the finish line as fast as a specific goal will.

I am not suggesting that you can only have one specialty, but you really should set your aim on one area of artistry, and then expand from there when you achieve it. By setting a focus and taking action to achieve it, you will make wonderful strides to achieve that goal and you’ll get there faster. I know it seems like common sense, but if you have mastery in one area, people are more likely to hire you at a high level in another area because they trust your body of work. Genius, right?

So let me tell you about some of the popular areas to work in the industry and some tips on diving in.


If you want to work with brides in New York, there are two major options for you: work with an agency or do it on your own. There are several bridal agencies (some like you to do hair and makeup) who will book you for weddings and handle all of the payment and organization. All you have to do is show up and work! Easy, right? Sure it is, but they also take a hefty part of your pay in exchange for doing all the work aside from the artistry. You also often have to pay them to take their classes on how they like makeup done. If this is a route you choose, there is very good money in it and a constant stream of work.

Start New York Makeup Career Bridal

If you opt to go it on your own, you will need to collect a body of work to show brides that you can do a variety of beautiful bridal looks. You’ll have to hit the streets to promote yourself with business cards in bridal shops and trade fairs. You have to build your clientele. You will need a website. The good news is, there are hundreds of women getting married everyday! You just need to set yourself up to be able to connect to them. Instagram and Facebook can be very helpful with that. Have pages dedicated to your business and consider taking local ads out to promote yourself.


The great editorial makeup artists are always booked through an agency, so the first thing you’ll need to do is get your foot in the door. There is a ton of talent in NYC and most agencies have a nearly full roster, so they rarely take on a new talent who does not offer a track record of success with them.

Well, if they won’t represent you, how are you going to get a track record with them? I’ll tell you! You call the agencies that interest you (and please do your research to find the ones that suit you best) and ask to be put on their assistant list. They will ask for samples of your work and possibly want to interview you, but if you have some great stuff to show, they will give you a try. If you are amazing, you will find you are assisting all the time and eventually you’ll be tested on jobs of your own.

Start New York Makeup Career Editorial

Once you make that transition, you have moved from assistant to represented talent and those editorials will be all yours! If they try you out and you don’t get called again, don’t let it get you down. Take a few more classes, practice some more and call them back, or call another agency you have been researching. There are a lot of agencies out there and you want to be with one who wants you as much as you want them!


Start New York Makeup Career Celebrity

Most people take the agency route (please see above). My goal was always to work with celebrities and, being a bit unconventional, I chose to do it without an agency. And I will tell you exactly how I did it. I contacted charity organizations, award shows and any other events that had gatherings with major celebrities. I told them of my experience and training and asked if I could volunteer my services for their events, both for full applications and touch ups. Some said no, but a vast majority said yes. In no time at all, I had major celebrities calling me personally, because they loved what i did at the event. Sometimes you have to create your own doorway!


If you want to work in retail in NYC, it can be cutthroat! This is good and bad. It is bad because the competition is high, but it is good because it will make you an even more amazing artist. The best retail locations in NYC have massive training for their employees. They call in brilliant artists to work with you and the other new hires so that they can make sure your skill is top notch. People are often auditioned for these jobs in the more sought-after stores. It is not just your skill that is important; it is also your personality. If you have a pleasing personality, are a great listener, and possess the ability to sell, you’ll be hired in a second!

Start New York Makeup Career Retail MAC or Sephora


To have the best jobs in film and television you will need to join the union. There are several ways to get into the union. One takes hard work and dedication and the other takes a touch of luck. To get in the traditional way, you will need to work a set number of days on film and TV productions within a set time period (i.e. 120 days within 3 years). Save your call sheets for proof of days worked. Once you have acquired those days and have your call sheets as proof, you can contact the union for an application. If you meet the criteria, you will be interviewed and tested and soon enough you’ll be in.

Start New York Makeup Career Film and Television

Another option is to be working on a production that turns union while you are working on it. See, this is the one that involves luck! If you are on a film or TV project and the producers decide to make it union, you will have the option of joining the union at that point. I would not count on this happening, it is rare! If you also have an uncle who is a tycoon producer of TV and films, they can just write a letter to get you in, but again, the chances of that are slim.


Wherever you set your sights, do it with great determination. It does not take very long to achieve a level of success in any one area. And, once you make a name for yourself in one area, it is relatively easy to make a lateral move to another specialty. Just choose the area you want to expand to, make the plan, and get there! Now you have two specialties! Keep going until you are working in every area you desire.

You can succeed in New York (or anywhere, really), if you choose a focus and take steps to achieve your dream. No matter what area you choose to go into, please remember to keep a positive outlook! You are just as much of an asset as your makeup. If you want some free reminders to keep yourself success driven, please follow me on Instagram: @live_rich_now. The journey is just as important as your destination, so take each step with joy! You can achieve your dreams within every area of makeup, just take the right steps to get there!

Want to get more career advice from celebrity MUA and QC Instructor Nathan Johnson? Check out his post here on how to bounce back from mistakes.

Author Nathan Johnson

More posts by Nathan Johnson

Join the discussion 2 Comments

Leave a Reply