What I Learned Working for an Oscar-winning Makeup Artist

Persistence is a good word and used often in our industry, but good people skills and listening skills are a major requirement. A lot of knowledge is passed on if you are listening. – Lesley Vanderwalt

Nothing in this world is more valuable to a newer makeup artist than the opportunity to assist a seasoned professional. Having mentors around you will give you confidence, improve your mindset and allow you to absorb knowledge. ~But make sure you understand what becoming an artist in the film industry means.

The reality is that you’ll spend a hefty chunk of your early career as an assistant, doing little to no makeup. Making coffees, cleaning makeup rooms, delivering messages, etc. You’ll be doing the jobs that don’t earn any praise but do take the stress away from the person you’re assisting and their team.

If you can’t handle running around after someone else and taking direction, this is not the industry for you.

There’s enough egos in the film industry and no room for you to think that you’re above doing menial tasks. An artist with the right attitude will relish the chances they get and use them to their advantage. Follow their routines, methods and the little quirks that make them unique. Take note of how they treat others, how they organise a team and how they deal with sticky situations.

You will always learn and experience the most when you are shoved into the thick it, so don’t waste that chance!

When one of those opportunities came to me for the first time, I made damn sure I wasn’t going to f*** it up. When I got the call, it was a combination of luck and being in ‘the right place at the right time.’ “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.” That’s the magic phrase here, and one that I genuinely believe is true. A few days of work experience turned into four months alongside Australian makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt.

Not only did I learn everything about how the department ran, but I also made a life-long mentor and friend. I took away a more than a few valuable lessons that will forever shape the kind of artist I want to be.

Learn to listen and listen to learn,
because everyone can teach something.
– Jac Charlton

Stress Gets you Nowhere

Film sets are full of stress, pressure, and adrenaline. Everyone is relying on each other to do their job, and when things don’t go to plan, people panic. Mistakes made can be costly in these situations, so the pressure to deliver is always high. One of the most important things I learned with Lesley is that stress will get you nowhere. If a stressful situation arises, you sure as hell aren’t going to get through it with panic and anger. On our job, schedules changed last minute; actors were brought in when least expected. However, her talent to diffuse a stressful situation astounded me. Learn to be calm and collect your thoughts before taking it out on a blameless victim. Life’s too short, and there’s no point stressing out over something you can’t control.

There’s No Such Thing as Too Organised

All makeup artists are different. Some of your mentors will be extremely organised and some will thrive on chaos, but there’ll be a method to their madness. I’ve met both kinds but nothing runs smoother than an organised department. Lesley is always ahead of the curve. Forever planning, and constantly thinking about the days ahead. No stone left unturned. This is what makes a truly good department head. Being able to predict what might happen and plan for the possibility. Plan your day the night before and allow for changes or unexpected events.

Always Eat Breakfast

Whether it was 5 am or 12 pm; an effort would always be made to have breakfast. In the film industry, it’s insanely hard to find time to eat food. Also, you’ll find that crew meal times are right when you’re in the middle of making up an actor. Missing out isn’t worth rumbly tummies and moody outbursts. I was inspired to get into the habit of bringing in pre-prepared breakfasts each day when I could. In the past, my bad habit was stuffing my face at crew breakfast or going hungry and then gorging myself at craft services later. If you always make sure you’re eating something nutritious first up, that day is likely to go a little better for you.

Respect will Earn Respect

There’s a reason department heads hire the same artists for their main team time and time again. Trust and respect. But it goes both ways, guys. It’s common sense to show respect, but when seeing department heads show respect to their team, they receive it back tenfold. Lesley commands enormous respect from the people around her. They’re always treated equally. It’s not rocket science. Don’t be a jerk. Show consideration to the people you are working alongside. You might be hired again because of it.

After all this though, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. No matter how many artists you get the chance to assist, each one will have different methods, techniques, quirks, and habits. The important lesson is taking what you can to learn from the experience. Good or bad, it is THE BEST way to level up in this industry as a makeup artist. Thank you Lesley, for always sharing your knowledge and spreading the wisdom we all seek.