The Life of a Freelance Artist
Updated: Mar 15
For as long as I have been on social media and writing this blog, I never gave a formal background of myself. Yes, I have an instagram bio and an about me section on this site, but those are only snippets of information. Since my interest of becoming a freelancer, I am fascinated by success stories. There is nothing I want to know more than the formula to an exact science on how to start your own business from scratch and making it into a thriving career. If you are a new freelancer, I am sure you are wondering the same thing. You may or may not have crossed the line over to panic and being swallowed by the overwhelming feeling of, "how the hell am I suppose to do this? I have no idea what I am doing". Trust me I have been there and still go there.
I am still new to the game, but from my gatherings there is no exact formula. Every artists story may have similar aspects, but overall very different. This is not like working a 9-5 and climbing the corporate ladder, it adds a whole new meaning to the word hustle. I consider myself to still be very much in the beginning phases of my career. I by no means have it figured out and am still constantly working on every aspect of being self employed everyday. I want to share my experience thus far with you all. Im sure many of you can relate and are in the position I am in or have been there. The number one reason I enjoy reading about peoples careers and how they turned into a success, is because it reassures everything I am doing. Hearing and knowing that someone was in the same position as you, but stayed focus on their goals and kept going is the number one motivator. Things will happen it just takes time, is what I find I say to myself a lot. I want other freelancers to get the same feeling of reassurance from my experience. I want to be a helpful resource to my community and a reminder that there is no reason why we can't achieve the goals we set out on. Things will happen and there is a time and place for everything, our time just hasn't come yet, but it will.
Now let's get into the interesting part and what you came here to read. Where I was and where I am at now.
The move to New York and knowing what I wanted to do with my life.
When I was 18 years old and freshly graduated from high school, I had the opportunity to move to New York City. Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I felt like I out grew the area and had no more advancement or opportunity. Please don't take that sentence the wrong way, Philadelphia is a great city, it just is not the right fit for me at this time. After a brutal high school experience, I was ready to get out and experience something new. I always knew I wasn't a four year university type of person and I never felt like it was something I had to do. My parents are really great in that aspect, they always supported what I wanted to do and never forced anything on me. Like most people from my generation, I came across the beauty world on youtube. I literally became obsessed with watching tutorials and products hauls. Any new product that came out I wanted to try and of course grow my own personal stash of makeup. My grandmother was also a huge enabler with the soon to be makeup obsessed shopping addiction. She will try any new beauty product that comes out on the market and has drawers upon drawers of makeup in her vanity. From there, I started experimenting on myself and not long after that discovered the SFX side of youtube. That really sparked my interest with character makeup and I immediately started experimenting with cheap halloween materials. Definitely very amateur (yes, tissue and q-tips and liquid latex), but I had a lot of fun teaching myself from videos and distracting myself with something creative.
I remember watching an award show while eating dinner one night. A group of makeup artists won a major award for their work on a film ( I don't remember the film unfortunately). Thats when it clicked with me that being a makeup artist was more than working at the MAC counter in the mall (not that there is anything wrong with that). I was finally seeing the bigger picture and saw all the different paths I could pursue as a makeup artist. I felt really fortunate at this time, when you're in high school it can be really overwhelming to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and felt zero hesitation. From there is where the research began for the best schools to attend to make this new found dream into a reality.
Education and the in between jobs.
I got to New York City in August of 2016 and started attending Arrojo Cosmetology School in September. When I was in high school, I was enrolled in a technical school where I studied cosmetology. The program was a nice intro, but I felt like I needed more formal education. Why hair school if I wanted to do makeup? Well, I wanted to be able to do both and have a backup plan just in case I decided the makeup thing wasn't for me. It was also really important to me that I had a physical license saying I was professionally permitted to do something. As you all know, you do not need anything to be a makeup artist. I endured a 7 month long training program at Arrojo where I learned everything from roller sets to cutting fundamentals. While attending school Monday- Friday, I also worked at the Gap any time I wasn't at school. Oh how I do not miss working retail. I graduated from Arrojo in the spring and around that time a salon had reached out to me via instagram asking me if I was interested in assisting. I was HYPE to say the least. For starters, I wanted out of Gap so fucking badly. Apologies for the language, but I was very much ready to move on. I started my first assisting job a couple weeks later and thats where I learned a lot of my technique in hair styling. Another great aspect of assisting in a salon is that it taught me how to be a great assistant and interact with clients, which will come in handy later on for me.
I was really bummed out because I wanted to do my schooling back to back. Unfortunately, The Makeup Designory (MUD) master artistry program I wanted to attend didn't have open spots until January 2018. This was really a blessing in disguise. It gave me the opportunity to work at the salon full time, continue to learn more skills and most importantly save money. I was able to keep my assistant job on weekends while attending school. Oh Makeup Designory, I'm gonna be honest, this program was a struggle for me. I had a hard time adjusting back to a full time school schedule, since I had been in the flow of working for so long. On top of that my class was very young and unfortunately was one of those difficult classes. This was incredible frustrating for me and other classmates as well ( I can do a more in depth review of the program if anyone is interested). Makeup Designory is not cheap, so when you're paying for it and serious about following up that education with a career, you want your moneys worth. Nevertheless, I did learn a lot from Makeup Designory. Prior to taking the program, I had no experience applying makeup on someone. Though at times it was challenging, it did set up a nice foundation for me to take what I learned and perfect those skills in a way that worked best for me.
Taking the Risk.
After I graduated from MUD I felt really burnt out and exhausted from the program. It may sound dumb to some people who haven't attended a technical/trade school. Don't get me wrong any type of education is time consuming and challenging, but the combination of the theory book work and then standing all day to turn that written book work into a physical skill you practice all day is draining. I also think what added to the exhaustion was the stress of trying to be creative and proving to yourself that you are good at this and meant to do it. With that being said, I decided to continue working full time at the salon for 6 months after graduating until I figured out what the next step was. As time progressed, there was a lot of change at the salon. It went from a small, tight knit boutique style salon to this big production. Like any job there are always aspects that could be improved upon, but when the owners decided to triple the size of the salon things went south. Problems that we were having in the smaller space only grew bigger, people were tired and angry and well... It was a hostile environment. A place where I use to enjoy working became absolutely dreadful and on top of that I was taking the brunt of it. When I came back to a full time schedule I took on an assistant management position (on top of assisting stylist) to help out more. The responsibility wasn't too much, it was more so the criticism and bullshit behind it. As one can guess this all came to a boiling point. It got to the point where when I reached my days off I had absolutely no motivation to get off of the couch and enjoy those days, I was tired and angry/sad all the time. I most definitely had some moments where I had to step out of the salon and take a moment to breathe and yes cried on the train ride home. The paycheck didn't matter to me because I hated doing it and it wasn't what I wanted to do. I knew my time there wasn't going to last forever it was just a matter of when. One night, after a lovely mental breakdown, I really had to ask myself is this worth doing anymore and it wasn't. I also said to myself "you didn't come to New York City to be a salon assistant." which was really my reality check and motivator to get started. That night I typed up my letter of resignation and quit the following morning. On my last day of work I simply sent the gif of Ross Gellar from friends giving his version of the middle finger (if you're a fan you know) and left the work group chat. That is the most iconic moment of my life so far and probably the most empowering, because that is the first time I truly took a risk in myself.
Ok so what now?
I took about two weeks to get my life together, prep my kit and reach out to people. MUD has a job board exclusive to its students. Some are paid but a majority of the listings are TFP (trade for print). I worked on a lot student films the first month I started (March 2019). I met a lot of great film students and most importantly started getting experience. Everyone has to do free work in the beginning. It's a great way to learn without making any major mistakes. This is also how you start to build your portfolio. I worked with students from a few different schools in NYC and from there I did start to get referrals for other projects. As I started doing more student films those first few months, I grew to hate it. When I got to the point where I felt I deserved to be paid or at least get a kit fee, I either got ghosted or ask to do an elaborate/expensive amount of work with no budget at all. I am completely aware that on student films its an assignment and they are learning as well, but I felt like I wasn't learning or getting what I needed from it. I also encountered a lot of bad and sometimes unsafe sets. Needless to stay, all that got to me and I started feeling really discouraged. However, I did find two good assistant opportunities from the job board. They led me to on set experience and even job referrals (paid gigs woohoo). Most importantly it started my network of makeup artists who I still currently work with.
A lot of people recommended to me using Facebook groups. There are ton of Facebook groups catered to creatives in New York for film work, finding models and photographers etc.. Let me warn you this is very hit or miss and always be on the look out for scams. Personally, I haven't had many opportunities on Facebook and even if I emailed people on there, they almost never want to pay for a makeup artist. This was my experience, but I still encourage you to take a look and keep your eyes open because your hit may be on there. I did find one good person on Facebook, a photographer reached out to me and ask me to do a test, he seemed legitimate and professional so I went for it. He ended up being the photographer who photographed a majority of my portfolio and we still continue to work together. See I told you, you never know so don't discount anything and give it a try.
When you first start out I highly recommend to just put yourself out there start testing with photographers. I personally test all the time when I can. There are plenty of photographers out there interested in doing collaborations. Collaborations typically aren't paid but its a great opportunity for you to build your portfolio and develop your skills. This is also a great networking opportunity. Even though it isn't paid, if you are working with various models, photographers, wardrobe stylists, set designers etc. those people will remember you if they like your work. Over time as you build your relationship with those people, a paid opportunity will come up. Test shoots are only worth your time as long as you are getting what you need out the shoot. If it isn't beneficial in anyway, do not waste your time unless you're being paid.
There are so many different areas of makeup artistry where you can end up. Such as; TV/film, print, fashion, celebrity, e-commerce, weddings etc.. I try to do a little bit of everything to see what I enjoy the most and find the most fulfilling. When I was first going to school I had my heart set on being an SFX artist and I never do any SFX work. To be honest, I still haven't figured it out yet.
What the actual fuck.
Just as I thought as I was getting the hang of things and making some traction as I hit the one year mark, the pandemic took over. I am going to sound like a complete idiot saying this, but the Covid-19 pandemic really took me off guard (feel free to laugh at me). Yes, I saw the memes online, I even have one friend months before the fact tell that she was afraid of the rumored corona virus and had a gut feeling. What did I say to all that, "nothing is going to happen, it's fine.". Let me tell you something it is not fine and this pandemic threw the biggest fucking wrench possible in to everyones lives. The panic and overwhelming feeling I felt before trying to navigate through this new endeavor does not compare to the panic and uncertainty this past year has made me feel. Career wise the first 6 months of the pandemic, I didn't take much action. I of course kept in touch with my existing network to check in on everyone and make sure they were doing ok. But other than that, I felt like there wasn't much I could do but wait it out. I found social media to be very overwhelming at this time with artists throwing around so much information on how to proceed with work. I took the entire summer to gather PPE supplies and figure out my system on how to return to work and make sure everything was as safe and clean as possible.
As the summer came to a close I made it out untouched by covid, had 4 less wisdom teeth and the anxiety of getting sick subsided. New York State did a great job at "flattening the curve" and had a really low infection rate at the time. However, with the impending doom of covid, the election and current state of the country, I knew the worst was yet to come. I went into September eager and ready to dive right back in. My main goal was to test as much as I possibly could. I wanted to have really strong portfolio prepared to present to future employers when this was all said and done. Pre- lockdown I was chatting with a few clients and followed up with them but, I unfortunately haven't gotten the opportunity to work with them yet. I also assisted a few different artists and with covid restrictions on set, those opportunities are non existent for me at the moment. Between testing and a few paid jobs here and there it filled the time. That lead me into the holiday season, where I decided to take another break. Covid cases were on the rise and the anxiety and fear of getting sick started to return. I also wanted to see my grandparents for Christmas and quarantined for 14 days before taking the drive to Philadelphia. The new year came and went and well we are right back to where we started, the pandemic is still thriving and its really does feel like time is standing still.
Present Day, Where am I now.
To be completely transparent, I am currently not pursuing any new work at the moment. I am just maintaining what I have now, which isn't much. I am absolutely terrified of getting sick and the constant stress and anxiety of worrying about it wasn't doing me any favors. So technically I decided to put the "out in the field" freelancing on hold. To some that may sound like a dumb move, but I think at this time it's really important to take care of yourself first. I am by no means giving up on makeup, I am actually still actively working on pushing my career along just in a different way. I have been focusing a lot of my time on this blog and my social media in general. Prior to the pandemic, I was never a big fan of social media and didn't put much effort into it. After a lot of research and re-thinking my mind set towards it, I am now putting in a lot more effort into it. If this pandemic taught me one thing as a freelancer it was to one, have a savings account and two, have multiple income streams.
Much of my daily routine is put into my online presence, but I am still constantly thinking about the future and my next move. Being a working freelance makeup artist is my ultimate goal. There are a list of things that I think about and work on weekly such as; strategies for getting new clients, socializing with artists online and networking, analyzing my past work for skills I need to work on, gathering inspiration from other artists, my rates and negotiation tactics, organizing my kit and so much more. Surprisingly there is a lot you can do from home to prep for future opportunities and even open the door to new ones.
Now that you made it to the end, you can see that I don't have some crazy success story... yet. I really wanted to share my journey so far because, I feel like the artists who do online are already way ahead in their career and make it seems a little far out of reach when you're just beginning. I know mine is by no means exciting but I think it shows a realistic perspective on what your first year may look like. Of course the pandemic is an unexpected obstacle, but putting that aside, I can't deny the progress I did make. I have way more knowledge now, had some great opportunities, built my kit, started a blog and most importantly doing what I came to New York City for.
As I mentioned in the beginning I want this blog and my social media to be an asset to the artist community. I truly believe in collaboration over competition. I want this blog to be helpful and informative to artists and fellow beauty lovers. I also want it to be a positive place that is honest and reassuring for anyone in need. I plan to share more of journey as a freelancer and provide more beauty related material. I have a lot already planned, but if there is anything specific you are interested in hearing about or have questions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to me directly.
See you in the next post!
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