PROFILE: AGA RHODES

When was the first time you realized you wanted to be a makeup artist?
I have always been creative and attended art school in Poland, my home country. However, makeup back then was not one of my stronger attributes. But, after some life changing events and being in need of a job, I started dabbling in makeup. I figured it was pretty close to art – same colors, brushes, color theory, just like oil paints (which is my favorite medium). Figured it couldn’t be so different. I had no idea what I was doing, but here I am 20 years later still doing makeup. I guess it worked out.

What is your main area of work/artistry?
My main area of work is beauty, everything from red carpet, luxury bridal, editorial, fashion, commercial and advertising. I have done a few movies, and it’s amazing to see your name in the credits on big screen, but I much rather the beauty side of the industry.

What is the best part of living in Chicago as a makeup artist?
My family first moved to Chicago in the 1980s from Poland, because it has the largest Polish community outside of Warsaw. I love that Chicago is such a melting pot of everything, that whatever area of the artistry you choose, there is a market for it. The Midwest in general, has a big bridal industry, that there isn’t a wedding season, but rather it’s year-round.

What was your first memorable work as an artist?
That’s a tough one. For me I operate on a very emotional level when I think back on my work. There are so many, like when I got to do makeup for Joan Jett, one of my idols since I was a teenager and I couldn’t believe I was doing her makeup. Another moment was when I saw my work blown up on a stage for NAHA (North American Hairstylist Awards) and knowing that the printed images that came out of that shoot would be seen worldwide. It’s so humbling.

How did you know that the makeup artist industry was where you wanted to be? 
I know exactly when it happened and again, it’s all about an emotional feeling for me. It was 2013 and I won a trip to The Makeup Show in NYC. Back then I was a comfortable makeup artist with books full of clients at various prestigious salons but, felt like something was missing. So, when I walked into The Makeup Show, I immediately felt an amazing wave of energy, and I saw Michael DeVellis passing out On Makeup Magazine, James Vincent was talking with everyone, I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but it was electrifying, and I wanted to be a part of it!  I signed up for The Powder Group’s TPG Pro Program, and took as many TPG classes as possible, listened to seminars and just absorbed the feeling of community, inspiration, comradery and artistry. I knew I wanted to be involved somehow in this community, so that same year, I flew myself to Berlin for The Makeup Show Europe to assist during the show. My next milestones were attending The Artist Summit in Provincetown, MA and attending the Evolution program, that’s when I decided to freelance fulltime, because I was so inspired by all of the artist there. As a result of these millstones, I have been involved in our artists community, making my mark, being inspired and inspiring others, this is where I knew I wanted to be.

What are some of things that you find most challenging about your career?
In recent years, with our clients (in every area of makeup) having unlimited access to Instagram, Pintrest, YouTube, I feel like they have distorted their expectations of how they would like to or need to look. As a result, I have to be a very diplomatic psychologist and explain that those images are not real, its lighting, photography, retouching etc. Same goes for being an educator and talking to students about learning the basics of color theory and matching EVERY shade of skin tone with foundation before doing contour and highlight. I find it very difficult that in that mass of information, there is so much misinformation.

What types of work and things you find most satisfying working in makeup?
When it comes to working with my clients, it’s the instant gratification, the way their mood changes when I helped them get ready to step in a front of the camera, or the way my brides faces light up when I nail their fairy tale wedding look. I love bringing out my client’s beauty they don’t see, and elevating their confidence, empowering them.  When I’m working on creative projects, I love having creative freedom. I like being an artistic partner and creating a full look, from styling to hair, as well as designing and executing the makeup. I also absolutely love the hustle and bustle of being back stage at any Runway Show, that’s why I try to work NYFW at least once a year. I love seeing images from their wedding printed on pages of magazines, the thank you cards, and holiday cards, all mean so much to me.

How do you continue to grow and stay relevant in your career in an ever-changing industry?
Change is inevitable. Progression is a choice, with that said, being in a business for so long, at some point I had to decide what I wanted to do, do I stay in my comfort zone or be challenged by new things that the industry brings? I believe continuing education is extremely important to me personally, artistically and career wise. The importance of watching artists you admire and follow, like Carl Ray, Eugenia Weston, and Matin Maulawizada, in person is priceless. So, I make a calendar as soon The Powder Group announces an educational program and block off those dates on my calendar, then attend as many as I can. That means, traveling to take a class and networking with artists in that area. Picking the right education to grow your career for me, has everything to do with the integrity of the person who is providing it.

Do you think it’s what you know or who you know?
It’s a combination of both, you have to be current with products, the makeup industry has come such a long way, trends, not a big fan of that word, but its relevant, Pantone color of the year, designers will ask you about it and build a look around it, and being well-rounded with what’s happening in beauty industry is also important. However, in this age of social media, interacting with industry friends in person is crucial. I’m the queen of networking, and doing it, did very well for my career, I enjoy it, and I’m good at it. It also prevents me from feeling isolated as a freelance artist. Being visible in my community landed me amazing jobs with referrals from coast to coast.

What are some of the most important qualities that a makeup artist can have?
Have integrity in everything you are doing, it’s a tough business, with more competition than ever, so if you are dishonest in the way you conduct your career it will always bite you in the butt. Be driven, but humble, hardworking, and well rounded, those are the qualities I look for in an artist these days. I hold myself to a very high standards of professionalism and I love when I see that in other artists too.

What inspires you?
So many things! First, other artists who don’t get stuck on one product or one success, rather they continue surprising me and inspiring with more and more. Hearing their stories of struggles, self-doubt, and determination, lights the fire in me. Also, having an art background and very colorful personality, I get mesmerized by the magical paintings of Gustav Klimt, so much so that I made my husband go to Paris for only a day just to see Klimt immersive exhibition, it was mind-blowing. I also love the textures in art and nature, my work definitely reflects that. I also find inspiration in music, art, travels to exotic countries, different cultures, and all the colorful stimulants.

What has changed most about the industry in the time that you’ve been working in makeup?
Definitely technology that is used in makeup, like blurring, pore minimizing etc. and with that the general quality of makeup. And as a result of those technologies, the expectation of that kind of makeup for regular clients. Additionally, another trends I feel is alarming are makeup enthusiasts doing various tutorials online and calling themselves a makeup artist. That part doesn’t affect my Business really as they don’t take any my clients. It just creates lots of noise and misinformation for a client.

What advice do you wish you were given when you were starting out?
Get a proper education, figure out early on what is the esthetic you like, what is the market you like to work in, and all perfected with taking classes, not just doing the makeup. I wish I had taken The Powder Group’s Business Evolution class long before I did. Additionally, just because you finished makeup school, dose not make you a professional makeup artist immediately. Assist! Nothing will prepare you for real life situations than assisting established makeup artists on a set, at a wedding or with a private client. Be ready to do some collaborations, that means non-paid work, some of my best images come from those. Be visible in your community, attend meetups, be active in groups, and use social media to your advantage.

What are a few of your must-have products for your work?
I’m trying to be very conscious human, I eat green, recycle, don’t use plastic straws, adopt animals. So, when it comes to the makeup I use, a few years ago I started to use only product that are designed and produced by small companies. And what is better quality makeup than those designed by working makeup artists. Therefore, I want to support artists that know my name, appreciate my work and my business. So, in my kit you will find, TEMPTU airbrush, Kett Cosmetics Cream Fixx and cream blushes, everything Danessa Myricks, Viseart palettes, Smith Cosmetics, Esum, and Crown brushes, Cozette Beauty Cosmetics, Stilazzi eyeshadow and blush palettes and Rebels and Outlaws brush soap and hand sanitizer. I also have so many more but the internal reward from using those brands is beyond words, because I admire them as artists and business owners.

Photos Courtesy of: Aga Rhodes

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