So you’ve finished your makeup artistry course—congrats! Now you get to start booking big-name celebrities and landing jobs on the set of major blockbusters, right?

Well… not quite. The life of a freelance makeup artist doesn’t start out glamorous. Once you’ve begun to make a name for yourself and make some industry connections, you’re well on your way. But how do you get there?

Every makeup artist has their own path to success, but one thing’s for sure: you need to start by gaining experience. Being an assistant makeup artist is one way to do that—so are you cut out for the job?

What does an assistant makeup artist do, exactly?

assistant makeup artist

At its most basic, the role of an assistant makeup artist involves assisting a more experienced makeup artist (duh). Beyond that, though, the job could mean anything, depending on the artist you’re working for. For major gigs, an assistant might apply makeup to a few of the models themselves, following the key artist’s guidelines. In many other cases they’re a second pair of hands, making sure the lead artist always has what they need.

As an assistant makeup artist, you might have to…

  • Help set up the key makeup artist’s workstation
  • Clean brushes and other tools
  • Fix prosthetics
  • Prep skin
  • Run out to buy a last-minute addition to the artist’s kit
  • Hold that makeup lamp with the broken stand to make sure it’s just the right height
  • Bring the lead artist lunch during a long, busy shoot
  • Keep social media updated

Oh, yeah, and sometimes you’ll actually get to apply makeup. But don’t always count on it.

Is it worth it?

celebrity shoot

The life of an assistant makeup artist isn’t always glamorous. Your job is to do whatever the key makeup artist needs you to do, whether that’s applying a full face of makeup yourself or running out to buy an extension cord.

But the experience you get out of your work is invaluable. If you prove yourself to be a reliable assistant, you can easily find yourself working next to big-name makeup artists in jobs you probably couldn’t have landed on your own yet. While you won’t spend all your time applying makeup, you will get an up-close look at how the pros work. You’ll learn their tricks of the trade—and you’ll get to see how they deal with conflicts and last-minute problems during a job.

Mastering the etiquette

makeup assistant

Working as an assistant makeup artist comes along with its own rules of etiquette. And remember—ideally, this isn’t a one-time gig. If you click with the key artist, well, you’ve just landed yourself a valuable industry connection—and probably more work on future jobs. Doing your job well and keeping your attitude on point go a long way towards boosting your own career.

1. No task too small

Yes, we know grabbing the key artist a cup of coffee isn’t the most glamorous job in the world—but if it has to be done, then it has to be done. Remember: that key artist was once an assistant makeup artist themselves, doing exactly the job you’re doing now. If they stuck it out, so can you!

2. Don’t be a know-it-all

You’ve just finished your makeup artistry course and you’re excited to share your knowledge and prove yourself—that’s great! But on-the-job as an assistant isn’t always the right place to do it. Unless the key artist asks for your input, you don’t want to be shouting out suggestions or—even worse—critiquing their methods. It makes the key artist look like they don’t know what they’re doing. Assistants are supposed to work with key makeup artists, not against them.

3. Know what you’re there for

fooling around

As an assistant makeup artist, your number-one priority is the key artist. You’re not there for the client, director, or photographer—you’re there to make sure the key artist has what they need. Sometimes you may end up working with other people on the set or behind the scenes, but keep your focus in mind. That means going to the key artists with any questions about the job, too—going right to the client, director, or photographer makes it look like the key artist can’t communicate properly.

4. Watch your networking

Working as an assistant makeup artist is an awesome chance to make industry connections—but be careful. You don’t want to seem like you’re “competing” with your key artist. Arriving on set and handing out business cards to everyone in sight is a pretty big no-no. If you’re not sure what’s okay and what’s not, ask your key. You may want to wait until you’ve done a few jobs for them and feel a little more comfortable working with them.

5. Know when to be creative


Makeup artists are creative, but there’s a time and a place for showing your stuff. Once again—you’re there to help out the key artist. If you do end up applying makeup yourself, that means sticking to their concept, not trying to show off. Creative problem solving, on the other hand—well, that’s a different story. If you can figure out a way to get that oh-so-important spare lightbulb at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday, your key artist is sure to be impressed.

How can I get started?

Like any other job in the makeup industry, finding work as an assistant makeup artist takes persistence. Start picking up your own freelance work to build experience and create a portfolio. Reach out to artists in your area. Put yourself on the list for agencies that hire assistant makeup artists. Network with photographers, models, and other industry professionals.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and land a job right off the bat—or maybe it’ll take a little more time. Whatever the case, just don’t get discouraged! Once upon a time, those amazing key artists you’d love to work with started out right where you are now.

Want to learn more about your career options as a makeup artist? Check out our career series!

Alicia Haniford

Author Alicia Haniford

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