How I became a makeup artist
Tuesday 30th June 2020
10 minute read
How did I get here?
I always get asked how I got into makeup and prosthetics.
For many creative people, it’s the familiar story of:
“I’ve always wanted to be a photographer”
“I could dance before I could walk”.
For me, it didn’t really materialise that way, but I guess you could say my journey is similar - it just happened in an unusual manner.
Or maybe it is usual?
Achieving your goals is never truly linear in how we expect it to be - unless you’re a wealthy white kid - so I’m sure many can relate to my story.
Once upon a time, there was a 5 year old girl called Amrita.
Way too cheesy - let’s start again.
I’m sure I started drawing well before this particular anecdote, but I can recall it as the first time I realised I was good at something.
I remember it so vividly; walking out of the school gates with my sister and my cousin, a drawing of My Little Pony in my bag - I pulled it out, chest puffed, so proud of my creation!
However, I received a less than gratifying reaction - they both told me I was lying, and that I’d gotten my mum to draw it for me.
I kept telling them over and over again - no! I did it! It was me!!
They laughed at me (my sister is fully supportive, please remember I was 5 and she was 7 at the time), and I was completely baffled that they didn’t believe me.
Then, I had a sudden thought - if they don’t believe me, it must be… good?
Over the years, I carried on drawing.
For some reason, I never noticed it myself - I was always drawing people.
Sometimes animals, sometimes bodies, but almost always a face. Portraiture was (and still is) my jam.
The photos below shows my progress between ages 11 and 13.
At 13, I reallyyyy found my love for it. The photos below are between the ages of 13 and 17 (If you'd like to see more, I have a 2D section on my site).
Coincidentally, my love for TV and film had increased tenfold by the time I'd reached my early teens.
I’ve always been obsessed with moving image - I remember watching The Phantom Menace at the cinema with my family when I was 4 years old. Totally confused of course, but I LOVED it. The highlight was Jar Jar Binks (don't judge me), as it would be for any child. Star Wars is one of my earliest memories of experiencing the magic of the big screen; presumably when my neekiness started to develop.
Of course, there are the typical shows and films that most children consumed - every Disney film on VHS, classic cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, Cow and Chicken, Ed Edd n Eddy, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo - I can go on. You know the drill.
By the time I was 7 years old (a wild guess, but I’m pretty sure it was then), I branched out of cartoons and started watching Trouble.
Now, if you know… you know.
Saved by the Bell, Fresh Prince, One on One, My Wife and Kids, That 70s Show, Moesha, Eve, Girlfriends, All of Us, The Hughley’s.
God bless Trouble, honestly.
I’m so glad I was exposed to these shows whilst growing up as a confused brown kid in a white town.
The love for film simply grew and grew and grew.
I have to thank my dad for it - our DVD collection is a madness. I combed my way through it over the years, watching films like The Shawshank Redemption, American Psycho and Goodfellas by the age of 12.
When I was 15, I went through a rough patch at school, if you could call it that. I won’t go into detail but I was depressed, had no friends; therefore, had no after school plans other than homework - so I was watching a lot more than usual.
I spoke about this briefly in my first blogpost, but this was really one of the biggest turning points for me.
“Around the time I turned 15, I got so into Lord of the Rings, I would watch the trilogy every week. Extended edition - 11.2 hours.
Over and over and over again. My family was SICK of me looool. I just had to! Every time it finished I would think 'damn, I miss it', so I would just… put it on again.
This obsession extended to the behind the scenes footage, which changed my life.
On one particular DVD, they showed the making of Gollum. How they sculpted different designs, how they hand painted his skin - all the different layers of blue, green, red, the veining, everything down to the last detail, before it was digitally added to the computers to animate. It was unbelievable - I couldn’t fathom that this was a real job. For some reason it didn't occur to me that there are thousands of people creating the magic we soak up on screen, but of course there were! Who else was doing it?
Another DVD showed the making of the orcs and hobbit feet - how extensive the prosthetics were, and how long it took from concept, to final design, to sculpt, to makeup tests, to painting, to hair punching - everything! It was mesmerising, I would watch 5 hours straight of the behind the scenes footage and not get bored for one second.”
During this eye opening discovery, I had my heart set on being a dentist.
Loooooool. Yeah, you read that right.
And that’s no shade towards anyone in the medical profession! But imagining myself in that role is just… unimaginable.
I always had doubts, but I’d been convinced, by both my dad and myself, that it was meant for me.
I was getting A*s in science, and the salary was the driving motivation. Lol.
The day I changed my mind, loool, it still makes me laugh.
My dad said something along the lines of,
“Dentistry is artistic! There’s sculpting with the teeth moulds and stuff when you get crowns and braces!”
The magnitude of this embellished lie was the biggest wake up call.
I don’t want to be a dentist, I’ll be miserable for the rest of my life.
I want to be an artist.
So the complicated search began.
Soon after I had abandoned the idea that I should be spending my life working on teeth, I watched a documentary called the The Pixar Story. It greatly inspired me, so I started looking into character animation. I began telling everyone I knew that I wanted to be a character animator - it was exciting having a fresh outlook and new goal for my life.
Now, I mentioned earlier about that rough patch in school…
Bear with me. This all connects I promise!
Because of the depression, lack of friends and social life, stress of being at school, plus all of that combined on top of my upcoming GCSE’s, my skin started to break out.
I started watching a YouTuber called Annie Jaffrey, who had the most gorgeous skin and posted a variety of makeup, skincare and lifestyle videos. I asked my mum if I could buy the products (been repping Aztec Indian Healing Clay since 2011) and my skin cleared up in time for prom.
I loved Annie, so I would binge all of her makeup videos, and eventually started watching other beauty Youtubers - Carli Bybel, Pixiwoo, Michelle Phan, Tanya Burr, Lauren Curtis, Kandee Johnson, Wayne Goss, Nicole Guerriero, BeautyCrush - plenty more I’ve definitely forgotten, but this is when my love for makeup began.
Which is surprising for many to hear, and probably for you reading this - I barely cared about makeup before the age of 16. See photo below of my entire makeup collection in 2012 looool.
Okay - back to the career hunt - this will all make sense at the end, I swear!
So as I mentioned earlier, I was stuck on this character animator idea.
One day, I don’t know how or when it came up, but I suddenly realised - I never draw cartoons or animated characters. I always draw and paint in realism. So why am I trying to become an animator? I quickly dropped that idea and began searching again.
I still wasn’t sure, right up until I’d turned 18.
After researching online, I found a course that seemed like it covered all bases of what I was interested in - an undergraduate degree in technical arts and special effects. They taught anatomical drawing, construction in wood and metal, puppet fabrication, 3D prop making, sculpting from life, film animation, CGI, miniature model making and an introduction to prosthetic makeup - the latter being the aspect that intrigued me the most.
I told my parents about the course and my mum was all for it, but my dad was hesitant.
Not that he didn’t believe in my ability. It was due to the stereotype surrounding art degrees, a fear of lack of financial and job security.
I completely understood the apprehension, particularly from a first generation immigrant, and tried my best to convince him.
Soon after, I stayed with my cousin up north who is a successful barrister. My dad suggested doing work experience with him - he’s always told me I’d make a great lawyer. I really didn’t want to, but I tried it out to give him peace of mind.
I hated it. Oh my God. So boring.
It’s nothing like Suits.
The last night before I left my cousin’s house, he interrogated me about the degree I wanted to apply for.
Boy, did he come with the heat.
Firing questions at me left, right and centre.
It didn’t phase me, I fired right back with answers to every single one.
He could tell I was serious about this, and believed in me. So, he told my dad to let me do what I want to do.
It’s a little frustrating that it took that to convince him, but it worked, so I’m not mad about it.
(Incase it comes across any other way, I'd like to clarify - my dad is fully supportive. He recognises my talent and has supported me the entire way, my whole family has.
I’m extremely blessed to have them and wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without them. <3)
Once I had the parents convinced, I looked at entry requirements and stats - only 7% of applicants received offers. Which is ridiculously low, but it didn't phase me - I knew I had to do everything I possibly could to get a place on the course.
I made an appointment with my personal tutor and told her about it.
This is how the conversation went:
Amrita: Yeah, 7% of applicants get offers.
Tutor: 70%? Hmm, okay, I think we could manage that.
Amrita: No no, 7%.
Tutor: Ohhhh, 17%?
Amrita: No… 7. SEVEN.
Tutor: Ah, I see. I don’t think that’s achievable. I think you should look at other options.
So… I ignored her. What kind of tutor?
My art teacher John was my number one hype man at sixth form.
He waffled a lot - once I asked him how to make a thumb pot, and he spent an hour telling me about the history of thumb pots in Ancient Mesopotamia.
He was a tad crazy and intense, but always incredibly supportive.
I told him about the course and he suggested doing a foundation art degree first.
I figured, if I apply to the foundation course at the same university of the technical arts and special effects degree, I have a better chance of getting in.
I applied to Leamington college as a backup and was offered a place immediately after my interview (insert smug face emoji).
I then had my interview for the foundation degree at Camberwell College of Arts and received my offer a few weeks later.
The way John reacted, looooool, I’ll never forget it!
He stood up at the front of the class;
“One of our fantastic students Amrita has been offered a place at the OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE of art foundations!”
I wanted to crawl inside my own body and die of embarrassment, but I'll always appreciate how he had my back. <3 Love u John.
So boom, fast forward to my foundation degree - the first two months you cover all specialisms and then pick your favourite one.
Naturally, I chose Theatre and Screen.
We did a variety of projects throughout the academic year, and everyone’s outcomes were so unique, weird, and wonderful.
I still had technical arts and special effects set in my mind - that was the end goal.
Below are some of the projects I did during my foundation.
Notice a recurring theme? Faces.
During this period, I was getting better at makeup and it had become another one of my obsessions. Every day, my girls at uni would compliment me on my complexion or the new lipstick I’d added to my collection.
Yet, I still hadn’t put two and two together.
The months and projects rolled past, and soon arrived the time to start applying to our undergraduate courses.
I applied to a couple of courses outside of UAL, but as you know, my number one choice was technical arts, and my back up was hair makeup and prosthetics for performance.
The interviews at the time were a little different compared to the typical university interview.
It was set up like an exhibition - we were assigned a table in a large theatre space, and given the choice of one sketchbook and one of our project outcomes.
The heads of courses then came in with a list of applicants, and you were allocated 5 minutes with them. They’d make notes next to your name, then move on to the next person. It was brutal, honestly.
I had my 5 minutes with the course leader of technical arts - I was so nervous, I’m pretty sure I fumbled it immediately.
Soon after, I had my interview for my back up course - hair, makeup and prosthetics.
She flicked through my sketchbook, and asked me about my work and my interests.
This is how our conversation went:
HMUP course leader: So what’s your first choice?
Amrita: Technical arts and special effects.
HMUP course leader: Oh. I’m surprised.
Amrita: Really? Why?
HMUP course leader: Well, all I see in your work are faces. I feel like you should be on my course.
Amrita: *awkward silence and contemplation whilst smiling and trying to think of something to say*
HMUP course leader: Do you want to work in a workshop on a prop for a month, or do you want to work with people on a set?
Amrita: I want to work with people on a set.
HMUP course leader: Well, you should be doing my course then.
I had a sudden epiphany in that moment, and we chatted a little more. She then left with a wink, and moved on to the next student on her list.
As soon as she walked away, my friends ran over asking me to spill the tea. They told me she’d been with me for 15 minutes, and that she hadn’t spent that much time on anyone else. (!) It was both shocking and gratifying to know that not only did she spend more time on me, and like my work, she was trying to convince me to pick her course instead!
I told my friends what she said, and they looked at me in absolute confusion;
“Wait, we thought makeup was your first choice anyway? You never shut up about it!”
Suddenly, it clicked.
I checked the stats for hair makeup and prosthetics - 7% of applicants get offers.
Spoiler alert: I got the offer.
Graduated in 2018 with a 2:1 and I’ve been working as a makeup artist ever since. :)
Not sure how to end this, but I think the beauty of my story is that you can be 5 years old, 19 years old, or 50 years old - it doesn’t matter where you are in life, if you discover your passion - run with it.
We only have one life.
Why spend it doing something you don’t love?