Forums > Hair, Makeup & Styling > Self taught mua input wanted


Vi Synster

Posts: 301

Jesup, Georgia, US

*longer post, the cliff notes: I give some brief insight to my own history with spfx makeup and getting university professors to take the art form seriously, and I ask if self taught or mostly self taught artists feel theor skills are on par with those with work in beauty salons who offer their clients makeovers, and if they get frustrated on being judged by clients (clueless or otherwise) to the question they ask you self taught artists "are you certified?" And how they write you off if your self taught or mostly self taught, even though your portfolio looks great* I'm not trying to cause tension between self taught and cosmetology degrees here, I was just curious what other self taught artists thought

For those who are self taught and/or have had minimal "professional training" by a mentor/teacher for makeup skills (so no cosmetology school or anything official like that), do you feel almost cocky with your makeup skills when it comes to looking at your portfolio and comparing it to say people who work in salons (who had to formally apprentice or go to cosmetology school to be able to legally work in a salon that offers makeovers to clients)?

I've been doing makeup and spfx based work (mostly horror and fantasy/scifi type concepts, but I've done numerous types and genres like aging/making someone younger, red carpet glamor, tribal, etc) since I was 16 (so about 10 years now), and my boyfriend was like "you seriously think your makeup skills are on par with the people working in the makeup salon?" And I just flat out told him yes due to what strangers/friends/family have told me about the makeup ive done and the fact that I'm like 95% self taught (I learned through many trial and error on myself and YouTube videos to give basic tips when I was new to makeup about casting illusions with shadows and light).

I mean, shit, I went to my senior art show in my drag king persona (some of my art professors at the show whom I've had a few classes with didn't even recognize me or it took them a few minutes to recognize me). I've fooled a cop with injury based makeup (funny story, it was injury day in stage makeup class, I went to eat food at cafeteria after, a cop was grabbing lunch and he saw what he thought was a horrible gash on my arm and it took him a second to realize it was spfx work), I've fooled strangers into thinking I was a "regular dude" with my casual drag makeup in public (and/or confused the hell out of my fellow students when I was getting my undergraduate degree in studio art). People have told me they wanted to see my work on that competitive Spfx show, face off. I told them only reason I'm not is that I don't know how to mold/cast body parts and that's the only reason why I haven't auditioned (molding/casting is very expensive hobby too, as well as being unpredictable).

I'm often typecast as a horror artist even though my portfolio shows I can do many different styles and genres (aging someone/making them look younger, red carpet glamor, tribal, etc). I only buy ben Nye and kryolan products because I love the professional quality of their goods and they last a long time. I'm also not allergic to most of their products (insurance won't cover an allergy test for common ingredients in makeup, I know I'm allergic to nickel so no metallic products or colors, I've learned through expensive trial and error I'm allergic to something in the ben Nye products).

Due to my states laws where I live, I can freelance my skills to individuals and groups as long as I have a comprehensive contract for clients to sign, and I can't for a pro company (makeup companies, work on TV set, etc). Every mua that I've talked to has said cosmetology school is a giant waste of time/money for those just interested in the makeup aspect (they put heavy emphasis on cleaning products like sponges and brushes , that's about it beyond basic color theory, if that, and basic skills and knowing how to do "trendy" young adult fem celebrities makeup styles, so I've been told by literally every makeup artist I've talked to that got a cosmetology degree.

For my senior art show (big final senior project for the studio art majors) I had to fight verbally tooth and nail to convince my professors that my spfx makeup was "real art" and not a "whim Halloween trick from a YouTube tutorial". I was the first student ever to use spfx makeup as my artistic medium, so I basically told my professors"your usual canvas is a flat canvas, clay, or textile. You need to learn the tools used and how color shows up on your canvas or art medium, you need to learn how to create the illusion of depth for 2d art and actually dynamic height differences for 3d art projects, like using clay or wire.

I am fascinated by human anatomy. My canvas is the 3d human body. I need to learn the basic overall shape of my clients anatomy, make color choices based on the color of their canvas (poc vs Caucasian is two totally different ways to get the same color effect both ends of the skin color spectrum), I need to know if my client is allergic to something, how I can use an alternative product that will give a similar effect to the product they're allergic too. I need to know how to keep my client painfree when removing specific spfx products, like keeping hair away from liquid latex.

I have developed my own style. Just like you can tell the difference between a traced real object and someone who draws the same product that was traced, because the freehander typically has more confidence in how they apply their artistic medium (paint, charcoal, grafite, whatever), I can tell the difference between a person who is just starting via YouTube tutorials and makeup tutorial books vs someone who is confident in their skills who did a similar make-up look too the YouTube tutorial watcher.

My canvas is 3d and based on the idea of creating illusions via shadows, highlights, and my clients natural form. This is why what I do isn't a flash in the plan Halloween trick. I needed to practice constantly and through my practice I've created my own natural artistic style (typically realism or plausibly realistic with biology and horror/injuries)." I ended convincing most professors with "why my mostly self taught spfx work must be taken seriously/professionally viewed". My mentor in that school encouraged me to do spfx work for my studio art show medium because I'd be the first student who used spfx makeup in the history of the art program, and id be exposing the faculty of the department to a medium they were NOT familiar with in the slightest (very few knew of big name spfx artists, my art took more convincing with the art history faculty, specifically 😂 head of the art department LOVED what I did).

So this long winded post is basically my way of asking: for you self taught or mostly self taught makeup artists, do you feel like overall your skills are on par with those who went to beauty school/legally with in a salon that does makeup on clients? Also, does any other self taught artist get frustrated when potential clients (say photographers looking to do a photoshoot) judge you based on the fact that you didnt get a degree in cosmetology /makeup (spfx degrees are super rare and often very expensive because they're private schools), rather than your portfolio (I get frustrated because these photographers don't realize general cosmetology school is a giant waste of time and money for those only interested in makeup).

May 17 18 02:06 am Link

Clothing Designer


Posts: 5057

Bakersfield, California, US

I know where I live some cosmetic outfits will not sell to you without a license.  Doesn't matter if you are good or not: "No license. No goods."  Other places don't care.

I have done makeup in the past and I've gotten the "Damn you're picky!" comment from models, but that was in the film era when any skin shown had to be tended to pre-Photoshop and digital makeup.  Now I hire a pro and leave it to them while I sort out the gear part.

Given that you could be the best at what you do, other obstacles like getting a job that requires insurance in case someone's skin has an adverse reaction or acquiring products might require a license.  Might be boring and costly, but it's the entry requirement for some.  Could be worse if it's a union shop job too.  I've shot photos using flash-powder for old-time effects, but to do so now would require a pyrotechnics license and whatever training even though I've done a lot of it prior so it would be a job requirement for Hollywood.

May 17 18 08:50 am Link


Mark Salo

Posts: 10545

Olney, Maryland, US


May 17 18 10:16 am Link



Posts: 851

Burbank, California, US

*Here is my 2 cents on this subject...I have done a lot of make-up and hair for a lot of different one has ever asked if I was certified etc...why...because it's the quality of your shots...that will make people realize your can be the best at what you do...or not.....but it all shows your pictures...that you expose for the world to see...!!...When I have used a muah.....most have gone to school...and/or just do I do think people take you more seriously if they know you have something to back up, what you say you can do, like great shots, schooling etc...some of the best muah I know, have some schooling...and...are self taught...!!...My advice to you....keep working on your skills...and start getting better quality shots in your portfolio...believe me, if you can do the look someone wants, they aren't going to be as picky about the certification...(unless it is for a salon, etc..that require a license, but for many's never been asked or needed) ...they will go by the end result...which are the pictures of your work...(and selfies just aren't as good, as a quality shot)...!!...I think you need to get better photographers to start utilizing your work in shoots...start doing more trade, with photogs who you like their work and you think their shots, will show off your skills..!!...You will be amazed how much, just better shots, will make people appreciate your hard work, which will in turn, hopefully...get you some more opportunities to show off your skills...!!
...*Good Luck*...!!

May 18 18 05:28 am Link


Vi Synster

Posts: 301

Jesup, Georgia, US

Mark Salo wrote:

The first paragraph literally says "cliffnotes" aka the summary of the post

May 18 18 02:59 pm Link


Expression Unlimited

Posts: 1390

Oceanside, California, US

Just something for all Self Taught to bear in mind...

Is that you seek out and learn what you think you need, and will have no idea at all what you do not know
or what more others in a program have learned!

May 22 18 01:00 pm Link


Rachel Jay

Posts: 20429

Phoenix, Arizona, US

Once upon a time I worked with a MUA the photographer booked. I learned early on to always bring some basics in case of a no-show and I've never been so glad I did. She showed up, but hooo boy! This MUA's "kit" was 3 or 4 dirty cosmetic bags (think busted powders and freebie Clinque bags) of makeup and brushes you'd expect to find in such. No single-use or disposable applicators, and everything was filthy. And because she was digging around in her little cosmetic bags for things, so were her hands, which never saw a drop of sanitizer in all the time I was with her at our on-location shoot that didn't have a bathroom for washing hands either. She had no brush cleaner, no alcohol... not even baby wipes, paper towels, or makeup remover.

As she was prepping, I went to my car and got my kit. When I got back to where she was, she was digging around in her dirtyass kit for something. What was she looking for? The other half of a set of false lashes. No no, they hadn't fallen out of their packaging. They were used! She was planning on picking off the glue and re-using them after they were floating around in her grungy makeup bag. I insisted lashes weren't necessary for the look and that we use certain products of mine because of sensitivities. I believe we used my base, my eyeliner, my mascara, and my lipstick. Immediately after the shoot I removed all of my makeup (with my own removal wipes). When I got home, I washed my face thoroughly and removed and threw out my contacts. For a week I closely watched to make sure I wasn't going to get an eye infection.

I was fortunate enough to have the experience to know everything about her was wrong wrong wrong, and the balls to ask to use my own stuff. In hindsight, I should have called her out on the disgusting nature of her kit, but my balls were not that big then.

When the photographer asked what I thought of her at the end of the shoot (she left after doing my face), I was honest with him and told him absolutely never to book her again, and why. He was horrified (has he should have been). I learned to check references on MUAs and added a few things to my "in case of emergency" kit.

THAT is why people are concerned about "self-taught" MUAs who aren't licensed. You might have a super clean kit, with properly cleaned brushes and single-use applicators for mascara and lipstick. But no one knows that.

ETA: If you want people to take you seriously as a MUA, stop preaching that you're self-taught. List your credentials, your credits, and let your work do the talking. I make my living as a marketing and graphic design manager. I'm almost fully self-taught in all Adobe programs and most of what I know was learned on the jobs I've had. I assure you I haven't gotten to where I am in my career by saying so on my resume.

May 24 18 06:53 am Link


martin b

Posts: 2725

Manila, National Capital Region, Philippines

Rachel Jay wrote:

I like your story.   My current full time makeup artist is someone I sent to MUD makeup school for the purpose of not just learning makeup but to learn how to do it safely and with sanitary conditions.   Thanks for sharing.

May 24 18 08:57 am Link

Makeup Artist


Posts: 41

s-Hertogenbosch, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands

Tricky one, I think an education is preferred because the client then knows that you have learned how to handle all kinds of situations. That your portfolio looks good does not mean that you are able to preform under different circumstances. For example different types of lightning, skin types and temp differences. Being able to make quick adjustments on set etc.
Also, you don't know what you miss when I did not have an eductions.

For example I thought I was a pretty decent hairstylist - I've been practicing a lot, have a lot of different dummies at home to test on and clients were always happy when I did hairstyling. As I though it might be good for my "brand" to have a real eduction as a hairstylist too, I started with a course at a prestigious academy a few months back. In these few months I figured out pretty quickly that in fact I knew shit about hairstyling. While some of the stuff was pretty basic, I learned that I missed the basics that really made a difference.

If you want to continue as a pro mua I would take a course, even if it was merely an investment so that clients will hire you more easily. But I can image quiet well that when your work is good enough, and clients tend to be happy with everything you do that it might feel like a waste of time/money. But investing a few thousand euro's to get clients more easily? Might not be bad

May 26 18 06:20 am Link


Worlds Of Water

Posts: 37732

Rancho Cucamonga, California, US

Vi Synster wrote:
I need to know if my client is allergic to something... I need to know how to keep my client painfree

This is PARAMOUNT!... as a photographer who has seen 'almost everything' in the world of special effects... a MUA and special effects team can do what they consider to be EVERYTHING possible to insure that their model subject is both physically and mentally prepared for a lengthy application of cosmetics, prosthetic applications, airbrushed makeup, line art, stencil work, wardrobe attachments, multiple color eye contacts, hair treatments... keeping their models (art applied subjects) properly hydrated, nourished and mentally prepared for this endeavor... and STILL THINGS CAN GO WRONG!... yikes

Look up these two terms and try to visualize how they may apply to these two models who fell SEVERELY ILL and had LIFE THREATENING reactions during their sessions.

CLAUSTROPHOBIA!  (she passed out several times and no one could figure out why, not even her)

ACROPHOBIA (at 7000 feet elevation and near some sheer cliffs, she didn't see this reaction coming)

Here's a complete folder of Special Effects! … l#/A338959

May 28 18 08:01 am Link



Posts: 8

Huntington Beach, California, US

Hello Lovely,

As a former MUA I'd say you GO GIRL!!!

You are in every right to believe that your craft is as good or better than someone who had propper training. After all it is up to each one of us to decide how much we want to work in our craft and how would you like to go about learning and continuing your education.

Schools all around are a lucrative Business, and sadly their is only so much they can do.

I personally feel that Makeup School it's a big expense and not always necessary.

Keeping up with what is the latest thing in Makeup it's not easy, now add the many other things a teacher focuses on such as: materials, curriculum, attendance, and on teaching ofcourse. How can we solely rely on "propper education" to teach all of this?

My recommendations are:
- Practice Practice Practice!
- And for those thinking about becoming a Makeup Artist I'd say shadow a working Artist first
- & check with your State Laws to see if you need to be Licensed in order to become a Makeup Artist, this is not always the case.

Here is a more detailed Article on the Qualifications needed to become a Great Artist: … eauty-Guru

Keep your passion going,

Sep 12 18 01:49 pm Link

Makeup Artist

Megan Calfo

Posts: 9

Portland, Oregon, US

I have been a makeup artist for over 5 years, I was self-taught in the beginning, then I went to Makeup Designory in Los Angeles, and later The Val Garland School of Makeup. I have also worked at Sephora for the past 3 years. I have had just about all avenues of education, and I always recommend that artists attend a professional makeup school.

For you, being interested in special fx I would highly recommend attending a makeup school with an fx program. In my personal opinion, the best makeup schools in the US are in Los Angeles, either Makeup Designory or Cinema Makeup School, both have exceptional special fx programs. When it comes to FX it is incredibly important to get professional training, especially if you want to work in film and television. Fx shops do not often take in artists unless they have attended an fx school program or have been professionally trained. It depends on what industry you want to go into.

As for your concerns about cosmetology school course material, I completely understand, which is why I’d tell any makeup artist to go to a school that is solely dedicated to makeup artistry education, which you’ll likely find in larger cities.
Please follow your state laws, and obtain the proper licenses, permits, and/or certificates. If you haven't already, I’d recommend calling your state board of cosmetology and asking them what those are for makeup artists.

I’m in the process of obtaining my esthetics license, as it is part of my state law. I know it’s annoying, but for now it’s the way it is, and sometimes you just have to jump through the hoops. Education is incredibly valuable. Going to school is only going to benefit you, and it’s for you, not something to prove to anyone. You'll also have a lot of fun, I miss my school, it was an amazing experience.

Also, art is something that comes naturally, which is why this whole “self-taught” thing is about, of course people can be naturally gifted. But I have also seen many artists improve impeccably on their skills overtime.

Another thing, when living in LA having freshly graduated from Makeup Designory, I have had a big-wig artist basically tell me that my education (makeup school diploma) meant absolutely nothing, and that my experience is what truly mattered. They even told us while we were in school, that having attended a school does not help you get jobs. But, going to school prepared us professionally for the real world and helped exponentially in my confidence as an artist.

Sep 16 18 11:19 pm Link

Hair Stylist

rick lesser

Posts: 984

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

Interesting question? Times are changing. I've been doing this since well probably before your parents were born. I have a cosmetology license in Florida yet you does not need a makeup artist license here. When people ask where did I go to school for makeup I always tell them what you like the truth? Yes.  I worked at Sassoon by day the strip clubs at night doing hair and makeup on the strippers. I was young and cute and didn't know what the hell I was doing with makeup but the girls took me under their wing and a makeup artist was born. Remember, cosmetology license which still holds clout. Currently I am doing micropigmentation and microneedling which I learned via YouTube Remember cosmetology license and now tattoo license. The idea that spending $4,600 could have taught me how to do micropigmentation seemed a waste when I looked into it. Now the big takeaway for you, I always took classes. I taught I learned my knowledge grew and I brought all that experience to learning micro.  Now one thing I can say for certain, the breed of new hairdressers I'm guessing makeup artists as well not what it used to be. Work ethics do not seem to be in place any longer. Lose the cockiness lose your attitude be humble always be willing to learn be gracious and grateful and you'll do fine.

Apr 03 19 12:00 am Link


Ken Marcus Studios

Posts: 9034

Las Vegas, Nevada, US

Nobody can teach you talent . . . that you either have or you don't. Only you can be the judge of that.

However . . . Qualified professionals can teach you how to not poison or infect your clients. You must know proper techniques for sterilizing brushes, keeping your cosmetics safe and what can go wrong on the job, before any professional photographer will hire you for a job for a client.

I've worked with dozens of makeup artists over the years and have seen how the best behave on a set and what they do, as well as amateurs trying to fake it and getting sent home. It's not just about talent . . . it's also about professionalism. Professionalism is not something that you can just pick up on your own. It comes from observing and working with professionals and learning what they do and how they relate to not only the models they are working on, but also the other key people on the set:  photographers, art-directors, clients, assistants, etc.

Do not underestimate the value of an education. The more classes you take, the more you learn. The more seminars you attend, the more perspective you gain about the real world of makeup. Hands-on workshops are a great way to pick the brains of working professionals. If you only learn one thing from each instructor, you've still learned something that you didn't know before. Never stop learning . . . !

Apr 03 19 03:44 pm Link



Posts: 2

New York, New York, US

Thats why I learn to do everything myself, Just in case! its part of being freelance model, at lest in my case.
I will work only with people I see their work first. I will ask questions before the shoot, and definitely say no if I am no okay with what I see, like her stuff..

many times I walked away from runway shows, from a shoot where the photographer only had a small digital camera, like very old and basic, one day I was suppose to shoot lingerie, and this photographer gave a dirty underwear that another model used before, that was disgusting! and I said No! I am not wearing this because its dirty! and yes, I did have a diva attitude but I got disgusted by it.

I am very clean and responsable and consider myself a fair person and professional, I have no patience for nonsense anymore and I prefer to be honest with myself and others. Models can talk and speak up, this is no 1950 anymore..
I don't care if they don't like what I said, after all, I do modeling because I love it and if someday I feel pressure and feel like I am not treated right I will quite.

Then this idiots go and put you on a black list and stuff like that, like it was my fault for "complaining" for not wanting to shoot long hours and not getting paid, or using their dirty stuff hahah what a joke!
Now that I am thinking about this, I had so many stories.. like this photographer from Vogue, in 2015 when I shot for the accessories section of the magazine.. this photographer was giving me direction of doing a pose that was really hard, and he yielded at me and I yielded him back! hahahahah I don't care who you are..

If you feel like its not right, its because it is not! trust your instincts smile

Jun 16 19 07:24 pm Link