There are approximately 3,140 theatrical and performance makeup artists employed in the United States. Most makeup artists are self-employed and work on a freelance basis. Although makeup artists work in a wide variety of circumstances, from theater to television to movies, they usually are self-employed, contracting individual jobs. Theater troupes, touring shows, and amusement parks may hire makeup artists on to their staffs, but in the film industry, makeup artists work on a freelance basis. Large cities and metropolitan areas will provide the majority of jobs for makeup artists, particularly those cities associated with thriving theaters, movie or television studios, fashion photography, and modeling/talent agencies. Although there may be some jobs in smaller towns, they probably will be mostly along the lines of industrial films, corporate videos, and photographic shoots—not very promising for those who wish to make a living in this line of work. Those who aspire to work exclusively as makeup artists gravitate toward the big cities.
You should keep a photographic record of all the work you do for theater and film productions, including photos of any drawings or sculptures you have done for art classes. It's important to have a portfolio to send along with your resume to effects shops, makeup departments, and producers. To build up a portfolio of photographs, experiment in art classes and at home with makeup and special effects, and photograph the results. Check with local TV studios about work in their makeup departments. Locally produced newscasts, children's programming, documentaries, and commercials offer opportunities for makeup artists. Commercials are often quick productions (between one and three days) with small casts, and they pay well. Department stores hire makeup artists to demonstrate and sell cosmetic products in department stores, which may be a starting position for those who want to earn a salary while getting on-the-job training and practice.
The freelance nature of the makeup business means makeup artists work from project to project. This requires them to constantly seek out work. Read industry trade magazines like Variety, and don't be shy about submitting your portfolio to producers and studios. Self-promotion will be an important part of your success as a makeup artist.
Many makeup artists start as assistants or volunteers on a production, making contacts and connections. They eventually take on projects for which they are in charge of makeup departments and designing makeup effects. They may also establish their own production companies and make their own films or stage their own plays.
Successful, experienced makeup artists can pick and choose their projects and work as much as they like. In the early years, makeup artists must frequently take on a variety of different projects just for the money; however, as they become established in the field and develop a solid reputation, they can concentrate on projects specific to their interests.
Land an entry-level job as an assistant to a makeup artist to build your skills and make valuable industry contacts.
Be willing to relocate. It may open more job opportunities.
Join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories, and Canada to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.