PROFILE VIVIAN BAKER

Where were you born?
Atlanta, Georgia

Where do you live now?
Los Angeles, California

What’s your sign?
Taurus

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The answer really is a makeup artist! Except I did not know that this job existed. Literally, no one in my city knew if there was such a job where you got paid to apply makeup.

What was your first memorable work as an artist?
That is hard. You know, thinking of my career as a stair step; each level of work is a new memory. So I have many, but in the early days, when I was doing fashion, I had an experience that would be paramount to the concept that all humans are gorgeous and what could makeup possible do to make them beautiful. I learned from that experience that I show others what we want them to see. But first, I must see.

How did you know that the makeup industry was where you wanted to be?
Well, I did not know. I would find them all: fashion, commercials, theatre, TV and film. I preferred the character development of TV and film. It was much more interesting to me because there was more to do. At the time, fashion was relegated to making pretty women pretty to our society. Today, fashion has a much broader acceptance of beauty and creative arts.

What are the things about work in makeup that you love?
Where do I begin? It might be easier to say what I do not like. I do not like to work around a possessive atmosphere. I like ownership, meaning being responsible for yourself. I find that creativity has a hard time flowing in a closed mindset like jealousy, fear, self-ambition, doubt.

Whether we are working a film, TV or print shoot, we are painting on the same image. The hair, costume, character, performance, set and lighting all weigh in on how we paint. It’s a creative collaboration. When I go into my studio to do the makeups I
want to do, I find I must give myself an assignment. There are too many choices.

What are the things about your work that makes it the most interesting to you?
Again, there are few things that are not interesting. Fear is not interesting, because it inhibits creativity. It’s a force to be battled. Not just about others but in yourself as well.

What are the challenges you face as a makeup artist?
The thought, “Will I ever work again?”

What should someone who is looking to develop a career in makeup know before getting into the business?
A career in makeup is about your character as a person. The creative work must be able to flow in an intense environment. I find that most people in makeup artistry are very ego-driven. While I love a good compliment about my makeup, it cannot be the driving factor. No matter what the genre, many people are painting on the same image. Since film is where I have the most experience, I am creating a character, but I am only one aspect of the painting of each frame. Important, yes, but I must respect the other painters, like the acting, directing, costume design, editing, music and so forth.

How do you continue to grow your career as an artist?
Anguish and prayer

Would you say you have a signature style?
I do not have a fingerprint of my work. Well, maybe a little. Since I create characters and they range from beautiful, fashionable, broken down to completely different people, it’s all about finding what is right for the project you are on. I personally believe that
there is what is right per project, there may be many ways to do something but the parameters of the individual project will define the method.

Do you have a project that you’ve done that you are especially proud of?
I am of course proud of the projects that have honored me with an Emmy, Oscar and BAFTA. But a win does not mean it’s the hardest you have worked. Sometimes you have prepared your whole life to be ready for a project.

What are some of the most important qualities that a makeup artist can have?
Integrity, communication and honor. I have had many teams and have been a part of many teams, even witnessed many when I have been a personal. Even as a personal, where the department does not weigh in on what I am doing, it is still important to be a part of the team. I have had department heads who wanted me isolated, and I have learned to be good with that. Actually, probably when I am at my best. As a member
of a team, you have to be happy with your position in that team. Maybe you want to be the leader, but that day will come. You must respect the position of everyone so when it’s your turn, they respect you. Keep the work first, after victories then enjoy the celebration of the team. Do not let your team isolate anyone else.

What project did you have the most fun working on?
Fun? Still waiting on that one. In all honesty, there is always an element of fun on every film for me. Even the ones that were the most challenging for no reason. You know what that is like. We have to learn how to be happy in all circumstances. I like that my business has forced me to think this way.

What project was the most challenging?
The film that refused to give me a team. I was a personal and department head, and the producers refused to give me a fulltime key artist, and it was a 200 million dollar budget. You are so limited in what you can do when it is just you. I cannot be at more than one place at the same time. I did fight for and did get day players, but no one could know all without me telling then since they were not there. From this experience, I did determine that I will make a huge amount of noise or turn down a picture if I ever encounter this situation again.

What type of work do you find the most satisfying?
Any project where you are appreciated for the work you’re doing.

Whose work do you admire?
Kazu Hiro, Roshar.

What inspires you?
God

What has changed most about the industry in the time that you’ve been working in makeup?
The biggest change is that there is actual training and schools, and that everyone knows about this career. It’s now a career that many seek. That was not the case when I began. I’m not sure what I think about it.

How has social media effected your work or career?
I think it has propelled the advancement of makeup because people are posting their work. That is good because we see a standard and now we know what that is.  Therefore, we can copy that standard. Also with brands posting; technology is given to the beginners. This has opened up the flow of information and allowing many who would never have a chance to show their abilities to do so. That being said, most new makeup artists have no idea that many of the great tools and makeups they use are
from makeup artists still on the set. These artists developed alcohol paints, and pros-aide transfers and so on. It’s quite a young industry in a way.

I think the bad part of it is we are taking what would normally be considered above average work, and in seconds it becomes average work, as others use that template as their inspiration. The ability to copy, altered the starting point. I am not so sure this is good. Maybe? But how has it affected me… it’s challenged me, screwed with my head. I hope to be retired before it messed with my career.

Your husband Michael Astolos is the owner of The Makeup Light and Cases for Visual Arts. How involved are you in the companies?
I am not a part of any of Michael’s companies. I am his muse so to speak; he hears my complaints, and sets out to find a solution. This is drawn out of love. Michael Astalos created lighting that I needed and they became a business because I wasn’t the only
one who needed it. Rick Baker and Ve Neil were among the first to tell production to rent Michael’s (CVA) lights. They knew immediately the need for real lighting. Artists needed it and the demand for the lighting created the businesses. After 20 years of experiencing the hardships that small businesses have to deal with, I am certain that if making money were his sole agenda, he would have long given up and we — makeup artists, hairstylists, FX artists and production — would be suffering under poor lighting.

Even if someone did it for a business, they would not have gone to the lengths to pioneer the technology that Michael has, that gives up full spectrum, bright light that projects all the way to our clients without killing their eyes and our eyes. And TML giving us options so that we are not forced to deal with bad trailers because no one cares. I am so proud of what he has done. Of all the makeup that I have and all the great artists that I have had on my team, and ones I have worked with, the ability to see clearly is the difference from work that is sufficient to work that is great. When being on a set is no longer the lifestyle I desire, I will be proud to help my husband daily to bring LIGHT and the TRUTH that light brings to our world. I long to create so many things that will help make the work I do better, but none compare to being able to see.

What’s next for Vivian Baker?
Let’s find out…stay tuned.

Words Michael DeVellis
Photos courtesy of Vivian Baker