the mercenary makeup artist



I just recently had the pleasure of reading a book by Kaylin Johnson, called ‘The Mercenary Makeup Artist: Breaking Into The Business With Style‘.  First of all, I have to say that I wish I had had this book to read as I was emerging into this business twenty years ago. Realistically, the competition can be fierce.  There are bills to be paid, and it is good to know what a blossoming makeup artist is up against. Kaylin lays this out in a clear, no-nonsense sort of way. She touches on all aspects from choosing the right education to building a kit and portfolio, as well as setting up the business itself. It contains tips and tricks  as far as the application process as well as a guide to starting out specifically as a bridal makeup artist (Chapter 9). Like any business you must know how to market yourself and how to deal with different personalities of people.

In this book I really appreciate the time she takes in shedding some light on the ethical part of being a makeup artist. She raises awareness about animal testing in an industry where the largest companies are still testing on animals.  She lists cruelty-free brands  and also which brands offer discounts for makeup artists. After reading this book, I am not only inspired as a makeup artist to share it with the world, I also want to offer a professional discount to makeup artists in the industry. After reading this book I had a few questions, one makeup artist to another:


J: When did your passion for makeup begin?

K: I never intended to work in makeup. I was the girl in high school with the frizzy hair and the gnome socks. But I started getting into chic lit and soon developed delusions of grandeur, so I thought it was a good idea to move to L.A. I kept thinking that I was seeing famous people because everyone was so beautiful. I felt rather sloppy by comparison. At one point I was spending half an hour curling my hair each morning, as if a perfect coif would serve as armor against the judgmental stares of the rich and gorgeous. I’ve scaled it back a bit now, but L.A. taught me one very important lesson: people do treat you differently if you present yourself well. Style is almost like a superpower that you can call upon in times of great need, and the best part is that no one has to know you dress like a slob when you’re alone.

J: When did you become aware of the harmful and cruel ingredients in skincare and makeup products?

K: My sister had this vegan friend in high school, back when I still ate meat. This girl seemed pretty radical to me, with her safety-pinned shirts, dyed black hair, and tofu cheesecakes. One day she brought over this video about animal testing and meat processing plants, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I think it scarred me for life. I vaguely remember stumbling into the bathroom in a zombified trance, determined to toss out every product that had been tested on animals. I went vegetarian that day, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been a vegan for several years now, but I don’t have the heart to subject my friends and family to the shocking images that I’m still trying to erase.

J:  What is the biggest makeup artist challenge for you (creating thick brows from sparse etc)?
K: I have almost a physical aversion to using makeup to make people look bad. Makeup artists are asked to do it on film sets all the time. There’s the tame, like making people look sickly for hospital scenes or giving them a bruise, but it’s the hard-core blood and guts stuff that gets me. Maybe I’ve watched too many rom-coms, but I like to imagine my makeup applications as a scene from a montage with peppy pop music. Applying a bullet wound just doesn’t work as well with an upbeat soundtrack.

J:  Can you give us a hint at the new book in the works?

K: It’s about makeup. And there are pictures! Other than that, it’s top secret. If I said any more, this interview would self-destruct.

J: What is your favorite Haut product?

K: I’m rather fond of the Smooth Things Over brush. Not only is it great for foundations, but it also has black-tipped vegan taklon fibers. Which totally remind me of an ermine’s tail. And ermines are super cute.
The BB cream is also great, too–especially if you need something waterproof for spontaneous downpours.

J: In a short phrase what advice would you have for the makeup artist fresh out of school?

K: It doesn’t matter if you’re morally opposed to foundations, if you don’t know a blush from a bronzer, or if you only have two eye shadows in your kit. If you can show up early, you’ll be chosen every time over an amazing artist who flakes. Dependability and passion are gold in this business. The rest you can figure out as you go.

J: How has your journey changed since you came out of makeup school?

K: I’m rather unqualified to answer this question, as my “school” was the public library and my hours were logged on pro bono photo shoots. But during my years as a self-taught artist, my role has shifted from onsite jobs (bridal, photo shoots, films) to a beauty writer and consultant. My cats are thrilled to have me home more often, and I lost my swearing habit since I’m no longer stuck in rush hour traffic going to jobs.

J: Do you see a change in the makeup industry when it comes to makeup in the film and model industry? Does the model, actor or actress have a say in what goes on their face? Do you find them asking what brands of makeup you use and if they are cruelty free?

K: I’m often shocked at how trusting my clients are. It seems like an extreme tactical disadvantage to sit blind and vulnerable while a complete stranger slathers potions and powders all over your face. I mean, what if I was replaced by a gnome who was dusting their face with powdered sugar and vegan cream cheese? Most people would never know the difference–until it was too late.

Most of my clients just want a spa experience where they can zone out or have a nice chat, and they don’t care what I put on their face. Only a handful of my clients seem to care that I have a cruelty-free kit. It’s only after I hand them the mirror that the real magic happens. When a client likes what she sees, she wants to buy the products I use. I like to imagine cruelty-free makeup artists are a guerrilla army. We convert people to cruelty-free products covertly, getting them to buy products so great that they won’t know the difference.

J: Do you have a current favorite vegan food?

K: It’s kind of embarrassing, but I love vegan dark-chocolate covered raisins. They don’t have them at my local grocery stores, so I always get really excited to buy them on vacations. But I always wonder what people think when they see my carrying around bulk bags filled to the brim with what appear to be rabbit droppings.

J: This book is a wonderful holiday gift for any aspiring makeup artist or even someone just curious about this career path. What are the options to purchase this book?

K: Yes, I like to imagine the look on Grandma’s face when sees that gun-toting heroine peeking out of her Christmas stocking. To make this a reality, check out (or your local version, such as It’s currently available on Kindle or in a sleek matte paperback.

the mercenary makeup artist