A great way to start out whether it be straight from school or even w/out any schooling is to assist or intern w/ a senior artist. Assisting or interning w/ a senior artist is a great way to get your feet wet on set and learn how a proper set works (which is very different then any classroom environment you'll ever be in) plus you learn all sorts of tips & tricks from another artist which is invaluable in itself.
No one should ever think they are above assisting...it's important to remain humble in this biz b/c there is ALWAYS someone better than you that you can learn a thing or two from! I know when you leave finish school you might think you're the shit b/c you were top of your class but trust me...you actually know NOTHING lol...the quicker you realize this the better! I wish I had more assisting experience actually b/c there are SOOO many fab artists that I'm sure I could learn so much from...I'm positive there are a ton of things I could be doing quicker and more efficiently (esp. w/ hair) but I just don't know b/c no one has ever showed me a different way! What's funny is I'll be completely honest...assisting freaks the shit out of me more then keying in a sense lol...I'm always paranoid I'm suddenly going to find out that I don't know how to match foundation or I'm doing something completely wrong lol!
So where to begin...hmmm...I guess first might be how do I become an assistant? Well, research artists in your area that you admire and email them! Ask them if you might be able to take them out for coffee or lunch and pick their brains a bit about the biz, or ask them if they wouldn't mind looking at your book and giving some advice to a new artist. Yes, it might sound scary b/c you might think these BIG, IMPORTANT Makeup Artists might be snobby bitches but the truth is I've found most of the higher up makeup artists to be very humble and very generous w/ their information. Esp. if you write to them in a well thought out and sincere way. Most understand what it's like to start out and how hard it was and therefore like to help new, enthusiastic makeup artists.
Personally, I'm always very flattered anytime anyone asks for my opinion about products or their work so I'm always more then happy to try and help out. Maybe after you've built up a little rapport through email or if you meet for coffee then you can enquire about the possibility of assisting them on a shoot. A lot of big makeup artists get tons of emails of ppl wanting to assist them so sometimes it's nice if they have a little bit of a relationship w/ you first b/c they don't just want to bring any stranger on set b/c that could make them look bad and that's the last thing they want! Plus if you just email them w/ no introduction about yourself or your work and just say "hey can I assist you?" they are going to go next b/c they already have a bunch of other ppl asking. Think of asking to assist a makeup artist like applying for a job. Make a cover letter if you want, send them references of your work or a CV, tell them your goals and why they should bring you for a job w/ them.
If you have no real experience and you're looking to assist an artist you might have a little bit of trouble finding an artist to take you on...at least for paid jobs. This is b/c nowadays an assistant basically has to be an accomplished makeup artist in their own right and often (at least in my experience) the assistant will basically be an assistant hair person...remember how I keep banging into your heads the importance of getting good at hair! If you have no experience or very little experience you might be brought on in more of an unpaid intern sort of level. Again invaluable if you're looking to learn. You might only be doing things like cleaning makeup brushes or powdering noses on set while the Key Artist continues working on other talent but it gets you on set experience and it's a foot in the door and the more the artist begins to trust you the more responsibility they will give you!
So let's say you are being brought on as an assistant for a job - whether it's paid or unpaid there are some very important rules to live by.
1. BE ON TIME!!!! In fact be early...I always try to live by an old actor rule that was burned into my head during theatre school - Early = On Time, On Time = Late, Late = Fired! Of course Life happens but really really try to be on time...or at least call the Key if you are AT ALL going to be late. Hell I call/text photographers when I'm going to be a min or two late...and most of the time I don't even end up being late..but again On Time = Late to me ;) lol! With that being said if you do arrive before the Key wait for them before going into the studio probably. Or call them and let them know you are there and they can give you further instructions.
2. Ask beforehand what the Key expects of you. Different MUAs have different rules. Some want you to carry their bags and set things up for them and bring them a coffee. Some want you to just be on standby in case they need you. Some want you to bring you makeup and hair kit b/c you'll be working right beside them while some will just have you work out of their kit.
3. Save your questions for after the job...or at least when there is some free time. I know there is so much going on and you're so excited to be working w/ this artist that you just want to ask them everything they know about everything and it's great that you're enthusiastic BUT when you're on set as an assistant it's better to just be quiet, keep your head down and work. Things need to be done quickly and you're there to make everything run smoother and more efficiently therefore the Key doesn't want to be distracted trying to answer questions about everything they are doing to the talent and why. If they are free w/ that information while they work great but don't expect them to be a fountain of information in the middle of a job.
4. Going along w/ that...just be quiet and don't give out too much information or talk to much and don't GOSSIP. This is something that I have actually struggled w/ b/c naturally I sometimes just start talking esp. if someone is talking about something that interests me...it's a bit of the former bartender in me lol plus I have a sort of bold sense of humor (if you didn't gather from the blog already ;) ) and it can be misinterpreted w/ strangers sometimes. This has actually gotten me in trouble in a couple of situations...esp. when you don't know someone and they don't know you you never know WHAT is going to OFFEND them. Trust me I've said things that you would think nothing of and somehow it offended someone and then I got in shit for it :S
5. You are there to be a second pair of hands to the Key NOT to mingle and network w/ everyone on set. Of course it's polite to meet ppl and get their names and say hi and everything. If your Key is nice she/he will probably introduce you to everyone. However, you are not there to try and network w/ the client or photographer. You are there to make the Key look BETTER! This might sound stupid but suprisingly it has happened - NEVER HAND OUT YOUR BUSINESS CARDS ON SET WHEN YOU'RE ASSISTING! It makes you look BAD and unprofessional and it makes the other MUA look BAD and remember your job is to make them look GOOD! One thing that is not tolerated in this biz...and it's a very tiny biz is backstabbing and trying to steal clients or contacts from another artist...easiest way to get blacklisted and no one wants that right at the start of their career lol! If someone does inquire about your information refer them to the Key or talk to the Key about the situation. I've tried to set my assistants up w/ the photographer's assistants on things. I figure they are both starting out so that's a good networking relationship to have.
6. If the Key wants you to do something and you don't know how or you are unsure about what exactly they are asking don't be afraid to let them know or get clarification. I'd rather someone ask me a couple of questions or have me explain something again then have to redo all their work b/c they didn't know what they were doing or I didn't make myself clear enough the first time. After another explanation if you still don't think you can do it let the Key know you don't feel comfortable. Personally, I'd rather know something was beyond your skill set then have you screw it up completely.
7. Don't text or call ppl while you're working. Again I know it sounds like an obvious one but hey it's got to be said.
8. Also, don't look bored or impatient like you are dying to leave. Yes sometimes being on set is boring...we've all been there. Hell chances are if you're bored the Key is bored BUT you have to remain professional and that means not complaining. You're there to get experience and guess what being bored on set is actually a real experience so get use to it lol! Also don't ask if you can leave early or anything like that. Unless you have arranged ahead of time w/ the Key that you have to leave at a certain time b/c of prior obligations understand that you are there until they tell you that you are done.
9. Wear comfortable clothes, shoes and clean but professional makeup. You might be standing for long periods of time and the last thing you want to do is be crying inside b/c your feet are killing you or constantly pulling on that really cute mini skirt you're wearing. Also, I know newbies think that makeup artists must all look really glamorous and "MACed" out on set but the truth is from my experience we're not! I'm their to watch over the talents makeup NOT to be preoccupied checking myself out in the mirror making sure my black eyeliner is still on my waterline. Of course I wear makeup on set, I need to look professional afterall but I keep it pretty clean and basic...I'm not the focus - the TALENT is!
10. Remember you are basically an extension of the Key for that day meaning your hands and the work you do is pretty much the property of the Key. I know this might be a hard one to comprehend but basically you're carrying out their vision. They have instructed you on what to do so even if YOU execute THEIR vision the final work is still THEIRS. So even if you assist an artist and do hair prep usually the final styling is still theirs and they give the final yay/nay before it goes on set therefore any pictures produced from that shoot are theirs and not yours and no you can't use them in your portfolio so probably don't ask unless they say you can...but they probably won't. Remember you're assisting to get EXPERIENCE not pics for your book. A photographer's assistant sets up lights the way the photographer tells them to...yes the assistant did the labour but the concept and final product is still the photographer's b/c it was their vision and their final execution that created the finished picture. If you're lucky the MUA will try to get you an assisting credit or they will write you a letter of reference or something but don't expect these things b/c it all goes back to you're their to make the Key look BETTER and you're their to learn and it's the EXPERIENCE that is INVALUABLE!
So I hope this helps you guys out and give you some useful information. Great things can come from assisting beyond just all the great tips & tricks you'll learn. Once the MUA knows and trusts your work they'll pass along work to you that they can't do or that is below their budget. You'll get to meet new ppl and get tons of on set experience on jobs that you would have had NO WAY of working on otherwise.
Any amazing and talented MUAs reading this - YES I'M AVAILABLE & WILLING TO ASSIST :)