I was 21 years old, had just landed in New York City and was laser-focused on accomplishing one goal—becoming a well-known, well-respected TV and film actress. After five years of hearing casting directors tell me I didn’t “look ethnic enough” or my skills weren’t “good enough,” I decided I needed a plan B. I went to a temp agency, and they placed me with a small cosmetics company looking for a receptionist. The company’s owner was also a well-known “eyebrow guru,” as they liked to call him.
A few months into working with the guru, he trained me to do eyebrows by tweezing and trimming, and I eventually worked my way up to become an associate brow shaper at his company. I soon realized I was darn good at not only makeup but eyebrow shaping as well. This came as a surprise for me because throughout all the years I studied acting, makeup artistry was never on my radar.
After two and a half years as a brow shaper, I wanted more. I had reached a plateau and realized it was time to move on to bigger and better things. With the support of family and close friends and a little tugging from “my inner voice,” I decided to follow my gut and step out on my own as a freelance makeup artist. This was and still is one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done in my life, but it also turned out to be the most rewarding moments of my early career.
Today, I am grateful. I love my career and could not picture myself doing anything else. I’ve been blessed to provide grooming and makeup for Russell Simmons, Selita Ebanks, Kanye West, Amanada Seyfried and Cuba Gooding Jr., just to name a few. Bookings for celeb appearances are where I get a lot of my work, and I also do makeup for fashion shoots, look books, online catalogs, TV commercials and print ads. For the past two years, I’ve also served as the lead makeup artist for shows at New York Fashion Week.
If you have a passion for makeup artistry, go for it! I advise aspiring makeup artists to start out at a cosmetic counter if possible. That will give you lots of experience on everyday women with many different skin types. It’s also imperative that you network, network, network! Get business cards made and let everyone know you are a makeup artist. You also have to be flexible and always stay prepared. Some of my best jobs have come up at the last minute.
If your story sounds similar to mine, please know anything is possible. This journey has not been a walk in the park and being my own boss is not easy, but there is beauty (literally and figuratively!) in what I get to do everyday.
Raedawn Johnson is a professional makeup artist and is the founder of Orglamic Beauty, an organization that brings together beauty industry and entertainment leaders to encourage and uplift women in our community. You can follow her on Twitter @RaedawnMUA.
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