Why do I love what I do? On paper, I do makeup. My resume says I am a makeup artist, it lists the various jobs that I’ve done over the past few years, and neatly lays out my education and qualifications. It’s been six years since I had an epiphany about becoming a makeup artist, and in that time I have slowly and steadily practiced, learned, and earned a living as an artist. Clearly, I still love what I do. But I love more than just transforming faces, and applying product to skin, choosing colors and techniques. For me, it is about character.
When I was a little girl, I was a voracious reader. I would stay up late reading under the covers with a flashlight until my Mom would yell at me to go to bed. I devoured fiction more than anything, and I spent a great deal of time reading and re-reading descriptions of the characters. I couldn’t move past those introductions until I had a true, solid picture in my head of what the character looked like. I would take all of the detail the author provided, and mix it with faces I’d seen, until I could clearly see this person as I read their story.
When I started working in the commercial world I was exposed to new characters every time I booked a job. The outline is there, the dialogue, and of course, the product. I work within these parameters to build part of the physical manifestation of that character. Once I started working in film, I was a kid at Christmas. Fleshing out these characters and working with the director and actors was an incredible challenge and a rewarding, albeit exhausting, process. It’s the very best kind of work, for me. No one, single person can make it all make sense on screen, and I thoroughly enjoy my part of the process. Where is this character from? How was she raised, where does she work, is she happy, is her life hard, does she care about her appearance, does she drink or smoke? So many questions, and I take the answers (when I can get them) and turn them into a story on someone’s face. It’s not easy, in fact sometimes it’s extremely hard, but it is always seems to pay off in the end.
In the often discussed tv series True Detective, we watch the two main characters flip back and forth in time, over a seventeen year span. There are no less than eighteen makeup and hair artists listed for the series, all of whom are working under the direction of the Department Head, who has to design looks and come up with a plan to execute them with precision and continuity. The standout is the makeup for the character Detective Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey. Not only has he been aged in an exceptionally realistic way, but there is a subtlety to every stage in which we see him that allows us to fully believe Cohle, without being distracted by the makeup.
I enjoy so much about my job, but it stretches beyond my makeup kit and paying attention to how an actor is holding up on screen. I am a sucker for a beautiful camera move, I am in awe over how things are lit, I will pause a scene to investigate a perfectly set vanity table, pointing out (maybe slightly annoying my husband) and appreciating the character’s “perfect” New Orleans go-cup next to a tube of lipstick, a flyer for a band, and so on and so forth. Someone else had to think about those things, and decide why this character would own these items, and how they would display them. I find it all endlessly fascinating. This world has its own language, and I love learning to read and understand what each department does to tell the story.
Sometimes, I think I need to be reined in. On a film last summer, I had an idea that a waitress character would apply her makeup so badly that she would have a line of demarcation along her jaw, where her cheap foundation didn’t match her skin. It worked, in theory. The character was strange, angry, and certainly not supposed to be attractive. Luckily, my wonderful assistant Kelly made an excellent point. The audience wouldn’t “get” that it was part of the character, it would simply look like BAD MAKEUP. Which led me to think, what are the audience’s visual and subconscious expectations of a character? How far is too far? When is an idea more distracting than helpful in fleshing out a persona? For example, realistic dirt and sweat on an actor is a great thing to do, but you usually aren’t supposed to detract from their beauty if they’re a lead actor. It becomes all about the careful placement of dirt, and the deliberate application of something that is supposed to look haphazard and organic.
On set, I love all the moving parts, and the organized chaos that takes place in order to set up a shot. I love that everyone is under their own stresses, but trying their absolute best to do their best work, and come together seamlessly with all the other departments. I love when the shot is ready, and everyone is ready, and the actors are in place and then it’s STILLNESS and QUIET and it happens. As an introvert, I crave the built in break that comes every time the camera rolls. I love that “you guys, you know this is forever!” as one actress would excitedly / nervously joke before certain takes. I love that it is indeed forever, and then as soon as everyone is satisfied, we move on, and that specific shot and that specific angle and those moments with the actor are over and gone, and then everything starts moving again. The chaos takes over and everything is stripped down, and reset, and cleared out, and we just did something so fleeting, but we grabbed it forever.
As a ten year veteran of bartending, I’d come to realize how valuable those years really were, beyond the monetary gains. It was my job to pay attention to people. Whether or not I loved or hated them is irrelevant, it was all part of a lesson in character. It’s still my job to pay attention to people, now it just happens to be about fictional people as well as actual people. Oh, and there is far less real vomit involved.
Some of the things I most enjoy about my work make so much sense when I think about being a kid, reading way past my bedtime. I’ve always loved the details that make a character real; in books, tv, film, anything. I could go on about this subject ad infinitum, with examples from all of my favorites movies and tv shows, but I think I can stop here for now. One of the best things I’ve heard about finding what you want to do in life is this: Don’t do what you love, do your obsession. I’m pretty sure I am obsessed with character.