A Radiant Life.
The work, play, and musings of Lucinda Reilly, Makeup Artist
What about the non-makeup jobs?
I have done makeup for print, runway, and events. I have worked in spas as an Aveda-trained esthetician. I have been contracted out by cosmetic lines for years of employment. I have been internationally published in fashion magazines. I also am a pretty successful freelancer who has been running my own studio for a number of years. Seems glam, doesn't it?
However, what captures the imagination of my clients when they sit in my chair is my long history of non-makeup jobs. To lay the groundwork, and to support my art until it could support itself, I would do just about anything to survive, to get a good story, or for a laugh. These three things have defined my job history; I am not afraid to try new things, and I look for the best story. I have also usually held down more than one job at a time, so my work history is pretty packed. Even though I no longer worry about a day job now that makeup has turned into a career, sometimes I will still take a short-term gig for a good story or experience, like when I worked the recent King Tutankhamun exhibit.
I have often run into people who needed work, but didn't want to take anything that wasn't "in their field". I can understand this for some highly-specialized fields. However, in the creative industries, I would argue that variety and flexibility (both on the job-seeker's part and in the job's scheduling) is extremely enriching. It allows you to build a firm and colorful foundation so when you are ready to venture on your own, you can also be a social chameleon, rich in stories and skills. I was recently working with a model and mentioned "I used to catch snakes for a nature center" and she stopped in her impressively high heelless platforms and laughed "what HAVEN'T you done?" So, for the record, I give you my non-makeup jobs, and how they helped me become the makeup artist I am today.
Our story REALLY begins 13 years ago. Outside the place I made perfume.
Hell yes I was rocking glitter and a porkpie hat.
...Bussed tables in a biker bar while my dad cooked.
How it applies today: It keeps me grounded to remember my roots. My dad would bring us to work when had us for the weekend. I grew up around these bikers and bussed the tables for pool, pinball, and jukebox money. They were my first patrons. They gave me art supplies and encouragement as I drew on their walls, and fulfilled requests for designs for tattoos and for images to be painted on the tanks of motorcycles and the hoods of cars.
...Been a nanny.
How it applies today: If I could handle a four year old, a seven year old and a twelve year old that chased each other with knives when I first arrived and turn them into well-behaved kids that would take care of each other and make breakfast...I can handle chaos backstage.
...Worked as a park laborer, twice.
How it applies today: I am not afraid to work hard, get dirty, or lend a hand to the crew. If I can wade into leech-filled waters to fix a pontoon bridge, chop down trees and dig stumps, pull up a patch of poison ivy by hand, drive industrial lawnmowers, or shovel hotly decaying woodchips in full august sun...I'm pretty sure I can roll up my sleeves to help lift a few things and lighten your load. I also wield a mean multi-tool and am prepared for almost anything needing fixing on set.
...Done my fast food time
How it applies today: It gave me humility and the ability to fend off skeezy people in positions of authority. It helped to ensure that I will never be needlessly rude to someone working an entry-level job.
...Bathed animals in a homeopathic pet center.
How it applies today: It helped me to start thinking in a holistic manner when approaching something cosmetic. It wasn't just about prettying up the animals, but doing so in a healthy manner with quality products. This location was also an animal rescue, so it taught me to be firm but gentle, and to work with creatures that have been scared or wounded. It's a little surprising how much working with packs of dogs and working with crews of people can have similarities at times.
...Been a clerk in a metaphysical book shop.
How it applies today: I am open-minded and love to hear what motivates and moves people of all walks of life. I find artistic inspiration in the mythologies, traditions, and stories from people all around the world and throughout history. It also gave me a start in herbalism, which has helped me a great deal when it comes to my cosmetic ingredient knowledge.
...Organized and crafted displays for a boutique.
How it applies today: It helped me to look at a work as a whole picture, not a single element, which helps to ensure that my makeup is part of the whole story that is being created, and not an element that is going to seem out-of-place. It also allowed me to experiment with color and texture and to bring something lovely and intentional out of chaos.
...Been a muralist.
How it applies today: It taught me how to manage commissions, and was my first foray into pricing my own work and timing my pace to match a project deadline. It also taught me how to work in front of an audience and in hustle-and-bustle.
...Been a cocktail waitress in a gay bar.
How it applies today: This was my first brush with being "a name". I had large groups of regulars, who would shout their nickname for me when I'd walk in the door, like I was Norm from the show "Cheers". This was weird for a shy kid. It helped draw me out of my shell and got me to loosen up and play. It introduced me to the club scene.
...Been a hostess/organizer for a gothic-industrial dance night.
How it applies today: I performed my very first makeup application on a stranger. He was a lovely gay boy who wandered in and wanted to fit in on the dance floor. I did his makeup while perched on the bathroom sink in the men's room (it was years before I even considered makeup as a job, so I didn't know ANYTHING about safety and sanitation). I learned to commit to an ongoing project. I learned to mix and mingle. I learned to keep a crowd moving, talking, and entertained.
...Been a custom-perfumer, "the best nose in the business" according to my coworkers, and a buyer at an indie bath, body and gift boutique.
How it applies today: The buying taught me trendspotting and how to have variety while maintaining a cohesive "feel" for the store. The bath and body care was my introduction to product knowledge and applied ingredient knowledge. It was when I first addressed individual and varied skin and hair needs. It taught me how to let a celebrity know it was good to see them without getting uncomfortably star-struck. The perfuming taught me aromatherapy and managing commissions as well as patience, attention to tiny details, and that work can be very meditative.
...Been a waitress/barista/prep cook/dishwasher/somalier at a restaurant.
How it applies today: I learned to maintain professionalism, boundaries, and a poker face while working with very difficult people. I learned to rise above my station a bit and experience some of the finer things and to explain and sell them to the customers. Again, I learned to make people feel genuinely welcomed, relaxed, and like they were part of an exclusive club. I never let it show that I was working the jobs of four people until I went home, took one shoe off and fell face-first on my bed.
...Been a figure model.
How it applies today: I know and can coach posing to models. I also never take a model for granted and I am always aware of the model's physical and emotional comfort. It taught me to slow down, take a breath, and just BE. As there was nothing to do but listen, I earned a free supplemental art education by walking around the room on my breaks and taking mental pictures of the works in progress. I would then listen to the instructors and picture what they were saying. Thirteen years of this was more valuable than many college courses I paid for.
...Been a public relations lead.
How it applies today: It pummeled my stage fright into something manageable and I could hide it as long as I was on-air. It also taught me how to design and present a message, steer conversations, and hit talking points. It taught me that presentation does matter. It was my introduction to teaching and to appearing in various forms of media. This is why I could look calm while painting a newscaster live on air, transforming her from a pretty princess to a zombie bride. I'm completely nervous before and after an appearance, but pretty mellow once I'm in the swing of it.
...Been a used clothing clerk.
How it applies today: I can spot a deal a mile away. I can pinch a penny until it bleeds. I can create wonderful things on a budget. It also taught me how to inspect things closely for quality, to repair things that only need a little love to be spectacular, and to find diamonds in the rough. It helped me develop an eye for fashion.
...Been a clerk in a mom and pop gift shop.
How it applies today: I like to support the little guy. I learned to maintain equipment from the "pop" half of the equation, who would putter around the store and fix things. I always remember that there are livelihoods and beating hearts behind a business, so if one does right by me, I return the favor. I haven't worked there in years, but my husband and I recently spent a summer afternoon fixing their register.
...Been a promotional model.
How it applies today: I tailor my look, attitude and bearing to fit the company's message. I know that sometimes it is about the message, not about me. I engage in cram study-sessions to become an instant-expert on topics. I have driven VIPs around in little golf-carts. It also taught me to be clear-headed and selective about the jobs I book, no matter the pay.
...Interned in a puppet theater.
How it applies today: I can do a lot more than makeup for a shoot. It taught me fast-paced flexibility. One day I would have to dumpster dive for puppet parts for a show on recycling, the next I would be assisting actors with pogo-stilts. I might assist with taiko-drumming, paint batik, stitch a tiny luchador costume, or help construct a giant jack-in-the-box. When we would open for community workshops, I learned to guide people in the the process of bringing their visions into creation. I also learned tenacity...I did not know how to drive at the time and there was a bus strike. I walked miles and miles on heavily blistered feet to an unpaid internship because I believed in the work I was doing.
...Worked in hand-bindery in a print factory.
How it applies today: Repetitive work by yourself can be almost meditative. It also taught me attention to detail and the ability to spot the smallest flaws in color, pattern, or symmetry.
...Been a pub wench at a Renaissance festival
How it applies today: It taught me not to be afraid of well-timed sass. It taught me to work a crowd, laugh at myself, and to exude confidence and own my space.
...Been a resident girl-geek in a comic store on a troubled block with aggressive shoplifters.
How it applies today: I got used to being stared at. I was masterful at letting trouble know I was not allowing any shenanigans and steering it away without question or escalation. I learned to be assertive and to watch out for my coworkers (as one of my interview questions actually asked if I was willing to physically throw people out of the store if they got violent). I collected a ton of stories, enough that even though I now run my own business, I would probably have kept on there part time for the entertainment value. It also let me further study art, color, and texture through the comics, and fashion through the Vogue Italia magazines that my manager and I would descend on like ravenous hounds when it came time to discard them.
...Been an esthetician at spas.
How it applies today: This is where I learned my safety and sanitation procedure and kicked it up a notch. This is where I started doing makeup for weddings and events. It is also where I developed a reputation as a "brow artist". It taught me to maintain client relationships, to promote my own business, and to create opportunity. It also taught me to read subtle cues. I could tell through touch alone if someone was left or right handed, which side they would hold their cell-phone on, and if they were using certain skincare products. I could look and diagnose different skin conditions and hormonal states. I read the tiniest shift in body language to tell if I was massaging a tender spot, or if I needed to adjust my technique. I learned to comfort and soothe, or to listen if someone needed to talk. I learned that when someone is cocooned in blankets in front of me, with their eyes covered, they are vulnerable and their trust is a sacred gift. I am not going to betray that trust by putting a client at risk, which is why my kit is one of the cleanest and freshest you will find in the industry. That is also how I learned that I would choose integrity over money, as when I was asked to do things that were dangerous for my clients, I struck out on my own and started my makeup career.
...Been a dresser for theater for disabled artists
How it applies today: Many of our actors had issues with mobility, mood, or developmental disorders. I would help people change backstage during shows, especially the people with limited mobility or who needed a little help moving fast enough between scenes. It taught me to stick to timing of the play even if someone is having a rough moment, to coach them through it and get them ready for the cue. It taught me patience and compassion and to take things in stride with humor. Backstage at a theater can be fast-paced and challenging enough. When you add disabilities and emotional disorders, when you puzzle out sentences from a few seemingly random words from a stroke victim, when you lunge forward to catch a blind gentleman before he tumbles from stage and sprain your shoulder, when someone has a loud outburst about your "ghetto booty" during a quiet part of the show...it becomes a whole new ballgame.
...Been a bellydancer, performing 6 times a day on weekends.
How it applies today: It taught me how to treat fans, respectfully, thankfully, with boundaries. It taught me to push past what I though my physical limits were. It taught me costume design and fine embellishment work. It provided the name for this blog when I had some very ardent fans and was told, "Lucinda, fanboys are an occupational hazard of being fab."
...Been a bodygaurd.
How it applies today: I spent a week in a hotel room with a model to make sure she was safe while traveling. My models trust me to look out for their safety when I am backstage. Even if other designers are having trouble, that trouble instinctively knows to leave my crew alone. We are the safe and calm eye of the storm.
...Worked door at a nightclub.
How it applies today: I brook no BS. I know a line when I hear one. I am not easily intimidated. I polish up well. This was another job where I worked alongside some of the very wealthy and blended in even though I was living in a tiny studio apartment with a shared bathroom at the time. I learned to carry myself well and walk in circles that I would have though beyond my reach as a kid. It also taught me to handle the unexpected with poise, including the night I had to ask myself "there are free drinks, no electric lights, women in nothing but body paint, candles, and a petting zoo..what could possibly go wrong?"
...been a clerk in an adult novelty boutique.
How it applies today: Discretion. I know the kinks of local celebrities and I will never tell. Humor. When you realize we all come naked and screaming into this world, and you've seen all of the ridiculous ways that seed gets planted, it's hard to take yourself too seriously. I also went into this job in this post here.
...Been a substitute teacher at a center for disabled artists.
How it applies today: I am constantly inspired by the artists. I see such deep acts of compassion and far-reaching founts of creativity. I see miracles happen through art and determination. I am reminded to play and to experiment with my art. I constantly learn new techniques so that I can help someone achieve a goal. They teach me as much as I teach them.
Each and every one of these jobs had something to offer that I use in my career today. You never know what will come in handy. Supplementing my arts with interesting jobs did not diminish me or blow my focus. It just meant that when the art was ready to support itself, I had a richer background for it. That depth and "something different" makes people want to work with me and keep working with me. It made me more skilled and adaptable. Lessons and opportunity are not always on a clear-cut path, and an interesting life rarely is. Don't be afraid to explore what you can do or to seek out your own collection of stories.