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Being A Makeup Artist

Using makeup for most of us is a lifelong journey filled with experimentation and discovery… In addition to this, being a professional in the field requires you not only to further delve into the art and the science, but also the psychology of working with people on such a personal level in a variety of settings and environments.

On this episode we talk to Kayleigh Keen who talks to us about her journey as a makeup artist.

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at Being A Makeup Artist.

Muaz

On this episode of Blazon. I’m talking to Kayleigh Keen, who is a London-based makeup artist. Over the last 10 years, Kayleigh has gone from working at the Mac counter in Harrods, to starting her own business, working as a professional makeup artist in the Fashion, Music, Bridal and TV industries.

Kayleigh

So I am a makeup artist based here in London. I have been doing this for about 10 years, five years for myself and five years in retail, which is kind of where all makeup artists begin. We always do a bit of a stint on a counter somewhere, you know, and yes, alongside that. I also own an Etsy company called By Kaylee Designs, which is where I kind of create tools and branding for newer makeup artists.

So they kind of go hand in hand, really. I mentor newer makeup artists, kind of set them up because makeup school doesn’t really teach you the business side of things. It teaches you how to be great at makeup, but it doesn’t teach you the tools for actually becoming a successful working makeup artist.

Muaz

Absolutely. And you’d find this in a lot of creative industries when it comes to how education of the artist actually occurs at that, that’s quite a poignant point. 

Kayleigh

Yeah, definitely, definitely. I think it’s everywhere. Photography, they teach you how to take a great photograph, but you’re left kind of on your own at the end. It’s like, how do I actually find work?

KayleighKeen

Muaz

Absolutely. That it is really interesting that you say that because we find that quite a bit as well. So you’ve been in the industry for about 10 years now. Could you tell us a bit about what kind of projects you usually work on and, you know, the themes that they involve. 

Kayleigh

Yeah, of course.

So I started out, every makeup artist kind of starts out doing bridal. That’s kind of what we naturally fall into. And I absolutely love bridal. It’s a great day to be a part of because it’s a very happy love filled day. It’s not sometimes terribly creative. It is kind of the Pinterest looks that you just get everywhere.

I slowly started to edge more into the creative editorial, fashion editorial, that kind of thing. So I do a bit of everything really. Now I do TV commercials. I actually did a TV, national TV ad for last week, which was really exciting. Yeah. It was really fun. Music videos are really fun. I used to do a bit of red carpet.

That is kind of not happening anymore with COVID, very sad. Cause red carpet was my favourite thing to be a part of, uh, photo shoots. Just everything. Really the things that I don’t tend to do are film and TV. That’s not really an area that I do too much of. I dabbled in it, but I think in any creative industry, you find your niche and you just kind of, you sit in that niche.

Muaz

Right. So when you approach a new commission, whether it’s a TV advert or a music video or something like that, what is your process and what are the stages involved in approaching a new commission? 

Kayleigh

Yeah, so it all starts with an email. Everything starts with an email and it will be a production company or an agent. And they will email me through my website. Presuming they’ve liked my work, liked what they’ve seen. And they’ll tell me a little bit about the project. So, um, I just kind of approach different things differently really. I’m sure it’s the same in any creative industry. If it’s a music video or a musician or an actor, you kind of approach them really differently.

The client, to how you would approach say a bride. So you go to brides with a lot more excitement than you do with say an actor, with an actor, you kind of have to gauge it on their mood. Makeup is more psychological than I think people think it is. You’re like a mini therapist. When they sit in your chair, you really have to gauge each project by the person that’s in your chair. Um, if they’re quiet and they’re reading a script, you just kind of want to let them get on with it. If they are a bride, you kind of want to put some music on for them to enjoy themselves. It’s a really fun, exciting day. So you kind of adapt for the client that’s in your chair. 

Muaz

For an ad or any particular commission, what sort of pre-work is involved when you’re working with a particular party? 

Kayleigh

So much pre-work. You have to prep your kit. That is the most important thing. And right now in COVID there is a lot of kit prep involved. Um, got to sanitize everything, wash brushes. I’ve got like 50 brushes next to me right now that I need to wash from my last client this morning. So you just have to make sure everything is super sanitized and you definitely take different makeup products depending on the client. If it’s, um, for example, male grooming, I can often take that in just a backpack. Male grooming has very, very simple skincare based products that don’t take up a lot of room. But if you’re doing, say a red carpet or, um, an editorial, you kind of have to take everything because you don’t know what they’re going to throw at you.

You change at any time. I’m sure that you’ve definitely been a part of that. You’re given a brief and it’s like, oh, it’s going to be super natural skincare based makeup. And then you turn up on the day and they want like grungy black smoky eye. Um, yeah, but with bridal or that, that kind of thing, you’ve done a trial beforehand.

So you can often take everything in one small bag and it’s just super easy. Doing makeup, it definitely breaks your back. Any makeup artists listening will know this is such a backbreaking career. 

Muaz

Absolutely. Once your pre-work is done and you actually come on to like the actual day, the day of the shoot. It’s kind of interesting in previous episodes, we’ve had stylists, we’ve had photographers, so we’re almost like building a 360 image of what happens on the day. So it’d be really interesting to understand from a makeup artist point of view, how does the actual day play out for you when you’re working with a photographer or a stylist or even a designer? If they’re there on the day, basically the various characters that would form part off a shoot. How does that interaction work and where does the makeup artist fit in, in all of this? 

Kayleigh

Yeah, it’s really interesting because depending on what area of makeup you’re in, it works so differently. But you all essentially have to work as a team and you all have to get on. If somebody doesn’t, you can definitely feel it. You can feel the vibe. So it’s just best to try and get on with absolutely everyone. If there’s anyone newer in the industry listening, the best advice I can give is to just be very easy to work with. If you’re easy to work with, then you going to go quite far because people like easy people to get on with.

It’s so important. When a makeup artist turns up, we are often the very first people to turn up. We set out our kit. We make sure it’s super hygienic. In COVID, there’s a lot of COVID guidelines now when it comes to makeup. So you’re often in your own little room with the stylist, for example, and makeup and stylists often tend to be quite a close knit team, especially for red carpet or a shoot, because the, the two styles have to compliment each other. 

One red carpet I did, for example, I really wanted her to try to wear a red lip, but she was wearing a blue dress and those two do not go well together. So you really do have to work together to create the overall look, because if you’re both kind of out for yourselves, out to outdo each other, you’re not going to create the most beautiful thing you can, if that makes sense.

So it’s best to just really be easy to get on with and just go in with the final piece in mind, the final, you know, goal. So makeup and styling, we tend to be very close. Um, the photographer, they’re kind of the spearhead of the shoot. If that makes sense, they kind of guide it along. As I said, it’s just really important to get on with everyone… a photographer. I always try and make a point of introducing myself if I can, to everyone. Um, Just to be, you know, not make a vibe or anything like that, be friendly as possible. And obviously if you’re working on a commercial shoot for a brand or product, then you always have the client there on set with you. And the client is pretty much the one calling the shots. It’s their vision. Um, the main ones that you really want to listen to and almost guide in a way. In the creative industry, you’re the professional, you know, like if I’m hired, I’m hired for that 10 years of experience that I have. And sometimes the client can be kind of the hardest one to work with because they are, they’ve hired everyone, but it is their baby, you know? And sometimes the hardest thing is trying to get them to understand from your 10 years of experience in styling, photography, makeup to try and get them to understand why something sometimes might not work. 

You know, if they want say, I’m trying to think of an example. I haven’t got too many, makeup. Makeup is very easy to change. It’s more things like styling and hair that, that can come sometimes be quite hard to change. But yeah, it’s always good to get the client on board. 

Muaz

Right. It’d be interesting to dig a bit more into some of these other relationships that you mentioned. So for example, you mentioned that the relationship between the stylist and a makeup artist is quite close. So how does that communication work on the actual day? Say for example, let’s make this situation where in this particular instance, it’s a stylist that you’re not familiar with. So the client has brought in the stylist rather than you being familiar with the stylist’s work. And it’s been a stylist that you’ve been working with over a long period of time, because in those kinds of situations, it’s almost like they become an extension of you because you’re so used to working with them. If it’s someone brand new, I almost feel that sometimes a creative finding their feet on the day can be quite challenging, especially if it’s with people you’re not familiar with. So how do you handle those kinds of situations when it would be a stylist that you’re not familiar with? 

Kayleigh

I think one thing that we all have in common is the industry we work in and I, I never, I always try and go in and think they’re doing the same as me. It’s just a different, a different tool that, you know, they could be, uh, worried or you know about meeting me sometimes.

So you just go in and almost try and make a friend out of everyone. That’s what I say is go in there, introduce yourself and kind of stand back and observe the way other people work. And I think that’s a really good piece of advice that I always carry with me. If you’ve got a stylist, a photographer, anyone who is kind of quiet and really just kind of getting on with it, then sometimes it’s best to stand back, let them get on with it, but maybe go up to them and say, Hey, I’m just over there. You know, if you need anything or if, if I can do anything. Just kind of understanding how they do their job is really crucial. It’s the same with the photographer. If you’ve got a really outgoing, bouncy photographer, who’s the life of the party, you know, you can sometimes be a bit more outgoing with that photographer.

So it’s just about gauging who you with and how best to work with them. But I always go up to people and introduce myself and just try and suss out how they like to work. If they like you to be involved with what they’re doing. And obviously you both have a mood board that you’re working off of. So you do have to communicate about the overall look. But normally you’re both on the same page with it. 

Sometimes, you know, with the, the example I gave earlier with the blue dress and red lipstick, um, you can’t let ego get in the way. So I had to take a step back and think right. The red carpet is about the dress. So I’m going to put my red lipstick away and not let my ego get in the way of things. Does that make sense? 

Muaz

Yeah. Absolutely. So with some of this come out in the pre-work that you mentioned, because you refer to a mood board, which absolutely, depending on the event, they can actually be structured pretty differently, you know? So even the activities of the day can sometimes be speced out, you know, weeks in advance.

So when it comes to things like makeup artists and defining the mood board, how does the makeup artist play into defining the final mood board? If that makes sense.

Kayleigh

Often it’s really interesting that you say this because often, when you’re given a moodboard, unless it’s a beauty editorial, you’re not really given a makeup moodboard. You’re given like a styling moodboard. And that’s where you take your professional opinion to create a look based on that. So sometimes I’ll turn up to jobs with my own moodboard or a couple of mood boards to show the client that will go alongside the styling. But very often you’re not really given a makeup moodboard.

I mean, I love it when I am given one, because it’s super specific and it helps me know what to pack, but it’s just about creating almost the look yourself, which is the fun part of the job. And it’s why we’re hired, you know, it’s why you’re trusting a makeup artist essentially. 

Muaz

Absolutely. So you might’ve alluded to this already, but when you’re approaching different types of projects. So for example, an editorial versus a commercial project, or even a beauty focused project versus, you know, a fashion project, could you give an example of a, or a couple of examples with regards to the differences when approaching such projects? 

Kayleigh

Yeah. When you approach a beauty editorial, the focus is the makeup. So you approach it. I approach it personally with quite a lot of excitement because you can’t mess up, you know, things can be retouched, but you kind of approach it and you have to put your game face on for beauty editorials, because it’s, it’s using like a macro lens and there’s not really room for messing up. Whereas, a fashion moodboard, a fashion editorial, you approach it kind of differently because you do have a little bit more leeway with it. You, you’re looking at makeup that compliments the clothes, almost holds hands with the clothes you’ve always got to think… I think I need to create a look for the hair and the makeup that is going to sell the garment. If that makes sense.

The way I approach music videos and things like that, is, is different. Like, uh, cause you’re selling a concept. So the, the hair and the makeup have to fit the concept of the music video. So you’re always just adapting and trying to think of the story kind of behind the makeup, I guess.

Muaz

Right. Absolutely. That is interesting. So I guess it’s almost the focus of the actual editorial, because if, for example, it is a beauty based editorial, then I assume you’d probably need to get very comfortable with the product ahead of time as well, because there’s, there’s a very specific set of products you can actually use.

Kayleigh

With my beauty editorials. Cause I do beauty editorials almost every week, whether I’m test shooting or doing a paid one, I try and do beauty every week just because I enjoy it so much. And I have literally an army of beauty products that I only use for close-up beauty editorials, that are the tried and tested products.

And it’s so funny. They never change. If you look at my, um, my Instagram posts, I always list the products that I’ve used and the core products never changed. Cause I’ve just tested them and trust them completely. I know, I know they’re gonna work. It’s really interesting. And it takes a lot for me to add something new to that.

You know, I get sent products sometimes for, if I’m working with celebrities, sometimes brands will send me products to use on them. And it really does take a lot for me to actually add that to my arsenal because I’ve very thoroughly tested it on myself and then I’ll use it on a test shoot before I ever used it on like a paid shoot, let alone a red carpet. It has to go through the, has to go through the motions. 

Muaz

As a makeup artist, what do you tell yourself now if you were starting out? So is there anything in particular that a person entering the industry might not think is important, but based on a 10 year history, you know, at that 10 year experience in the industry, you’re like, actually, you know, this is something you need to figure out sooner rather than later.

Kayleigh

That is like my favourite question. I think about this regularly. I always think about what would I tell my younger self? And, um, there’s obviously so many things we all make like colossal mistakes sometimes. I think the main thing I would tell myself, is just never stop learning. Always continue to test, like test, test, test. Because that’s really how you elevate yourself as an artist. That’s how you meet new people and how you kind of find confidence. I don’t know about you or anyone listening, but when you first start a career, it’s quite scary. You overthink every little thing. You overthink every eyeliner flick. And when you overthink it. You don’t do a good job. I remember being so scared of doing eyeliner back in my Mac days. I was so terrible because I was thinking, oh my God, like I was just thinking too much about doing it. And I just think we all need to relax, have fun with it. It’s makeup, it can be taken off, it can be removed. And if you just continue to learn, continue to practice and never, ever stop, never think that you’ve made it. If that makes sense, because if you start to think that way, you really limit what you can learn and who you can meet and where you can go, essentially, you know. 

Muaz

Absolutely. It is really interesting. Someone told me this a few years ago that, you know, whenever you’re starting whether it’s in a new job or a new industry, or, you know, just starting fresh. You really need to get over yourself because you will inevitably make mistakes. You just need to learn off the back of those mistakes.  

Kayleigh

Yes, definitely. That’s a famous quote. I can’t think of it, but the quote says something along the lines of, you know, it’s the mistakes that make you, you know, it’s the jobs that I didn’t get that made me who I am as an artist, you know?

Muaz

Absolutely. And we had someone on the podcast a few months ago, and she mentioned that sometimes her mistakes were some of the best things that happened to her cause she, like, he would never have thought that a product would have worked out in the way it did, unless you actually made that particular mistake. So I thought that was really cool.

Kayleigh

Yeah. I listened to a podcast the other day. It was about a graphic designer and she a profound thing that she said was that she loves her competitors. She loves when people copy her and copy her work because it makes her elevate to a higher level, it makes her learn more, it makes her strive to be better. And I thought, oh my God, what an amazing way of thinking of something, you know, like sometimes you get a bit stressed out if you think somebody’s copying you. And that is just such a profound mindset change. Because they do make you better. People that are copying and, and, uh, and you know, haters or whatever you want to call them, they do make you better. 

Muaz

Absolutely. And if you think about it, they’re validating your idea, you know, that you are actually right.

Kayleigh

Exactly. Exactly. 

You can find Kayleigh online at:

  • Website: www.kayleighkmua.com
  • Instagram: @kayleighkmua
  • Instagram: @bykayleighdesigns

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at Being A Makeup Artist.

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