A Handy Guide to Being The Best Makeup Assistant You Can Be
As a trainee I was lucky enough to assist a plethora of amazing artists, on jobs that spanned all aspects of the industry. From prosthetics to high fashion, from commercial editorial shoots to music videos and television, every gig imparted its own invaluable experiences, and help scoot my career as a burgeoning makeup artist in the right direction.
At the right hand of any great makeup artist is an assistant they can trust; they will depend on you to keep their products handy, their tools clean, and their coffee hot. A good assistant can help facilitate an artist to do their best work, so here are some top tips to be the best assistant you can be.
A Little Prep Goes a Long Way
The first tip is one you can do before you even step onto the set, and is crucial for getting the relationship with your artist off to a good start; if you're working with an artist you haven’t met before - look them up! It only takes a second to run that name through Google, and having even a vague idea of who you're going to be spending the next few hours, days or even months with is always a good idea. Plus a little research makes for a good ice-breaker.
Pack like a Champion
Once you've assisted an artist a few times, they might depend on you to be able to set up their station. This not only involves familiarizing yourself with their go-to products, but also being able to find those products amongst the vast amounts of makeup your artist will be carrying. Keep your eyes peeled when setting up, and when packing down at the end of the day; this will help you to locate these key products on your next job, and to turn you into an efficient kit-packing machine.
When it comes to kit, every artist is different. Some like a bucket bag, a tote, or an actor bag, and some prefer an apple box, which allows all of the products to be laid out in front of them, making them more accessible. Whichever way they pack their gear, make sure you keep your eyes on it at all times, and offer to carry it so you can see how they like it set up. This also frees up your artist's hands and may also get you brownie points. Double win!
Tidiness is Next to Godliness
Keeping equipment clean and immediately available is crucial to the smooth operation of a makeup job. Use your initiative, and keep on top of things to ensure your workspace is always good to go. The best and quickest way to clean brushes is with some 99% IPA and tissue. I tend to carry a small glass dish (which once contained a GU cake) to clean the brushes in. Although the IPA will evaporate very quickly, it gets the job done. Just make sure the brushes are touch dry once clean; there's no easier way to ruin a makeup - and upset your artist - than their favorite brush not being ready to use when they need it.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
You should always aim to get on location before your artist. Take the time to get yourself acquainted with everyone around you; trust me, this will help a lot. Introduce yourself to the people you'll be working with. That doesn't mean storm right over to the director and announce your arrival - stick to the guys on your level. Get to know the runners, the ADs, the hair department, nail technicians and models/actors. Sometimes your artist will depend on you to remember names, an it's always a lot easier to ask for a favour if you've already been introduced. Personally I can't remember my own Mother's name sometimes, which is why I always have a call sheet to hand in case of a name-blanking emergency.
Bring the Right Tools for the Job
Even if you aren't required to bring a full kit, it helps to always have a few essentials to hand. Whatever type of job you're on, this usually means tissues, baby wipes, cotton buds and small selection of skin care products.
For a Fashion Editorial job, some other useful basics to have include: Makeup Remover, Moisturiser, Lip Balm, Powder, Concealer, Lipstick, Black Track (Eye Liner), Brushes For Each Artist (Brushes for different actors should be kept separated for hygiene reasons), Hair Spray, Pin Tail Comb, Pins.
A Prosthetics set-bag is likely to be more variable than an editorial set-bag, but you can't go wrong with these tools at your disposal: Small Scissors, Metal Palette, FX Palette, Complexion Palette, Silicone Glue (Telesis, Snappy G), Spirit Gum, Bent Glue Brush, Splatter Brush, Stomper Brush, Stipple Sponges, Powder, Anti-Shine.
Finally - one that should be obvious - do not take pictures on set, unless you are asked to. And NEVER PUT ANYTHING ON THE INTERNET. Trust me, it is not worth it. Your career should come before showboating for your Instagram followers.
Make sure your phone is on silent at all times, and only take it out on lunch break, or if you are asked to look anything up; you wouldn't whip your phone out on the job if you worked in a shop or on a hospital ward, so don't do it on set.
That said, it's a good idea to ask your artist's permission to take a picture of their set-up. It can be hard to remember which side your artist prefers their cotton buds on at 5am, so having a snap to refer to can be handy. Photos of your artist's case, and set-bag can also be useful; a wrong-briefcase type calamity in the middle of a job will be significantly less funny than it looks in lighthearted comedy films.
Make the Most of It
A makeup assistant is primarily there to aid the artist, and this will inevitably involve some rubbish jobs like cleaning, lugging bags and making teas, but it can also be a massively worthwhile experience if you go in with the right mindset.
At the end of the day, it is down to you to make the most of the time you spend as an assistant. Make sure you keep your eyes and ears open, take in everything that goes on around you, and learn as much as you possibly can from your artist. Make a note of their application techniques, favourite products, and always keep in mind they are the Big Kahuna for a reason.
Remember, you're there to better yourself as an artist, and the more you make of your time as an assistant, the quicker you'll have one of your own.
Emmy Award-winning makeup artist, monster maker, mad scientist and now author, Steve Johnson is renowned for his contribution to the SFX industry throughout the years. His recent book, Rubberhead: Sex, Drugs, and Special FX was published in 2017 and chronicles his legendary career in film and TV. Johnson’s company, XFX, did make-up effects for more than 200 films, countless TV shows, commercials and music videos. His film credits include The Abyss, Ghostbusters, Bicentennial Man, Species and Spider-Man 2. Steve was kind enough to answer a few burning questions we had for him about the upcoming release of the second instalment of the Rubberhead Books.
If you haven’t already seen the robotic beauty that Birmingham based collective, Father Phantom Studios debuted at IMATs London, where have you been?!
Made up of the super talented Ben and Laura, who specialise in creating SFX makeup and collectables from their studio, in the trendy Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. We were lucky enough to be joined by them and Titanic FX to demo their newest creation. As we are always intrigued to find out more about design and the creation process behind the makeups, we dropped them a few questions. Read all about this stunning creation below!