Where were you born?
Long Beach, CA.
Where do you live now?
What’s your sign?
I am a Leo. We are very proud and loyal which are great attributes to have as a makeup artist. We also tend to be sensitive and get our feelings hurt quite easily so we have to be careful in this business.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a movie star. I worshiped old Hollywood and movie stars as a kid. I still do. Growing up not knowing anything about the film business I had no idea there were great options behind the camera too. I studied acting in my late teens. I was the youngest one in a class of twenty and thirty somethings. I think that experience really gives me insight today for working with actors and understanding their processes of developing and getting into character.
How did that transpose into a working in makeup?
My fascination with makeup started as a child. I used to watch in awe as my mom made herself up for work everyday. I used to draw faces and put makeup on them. When I was in high school I would go to the library and pour over makeup and monster books — anything that had to do with transformation. Two of my favorite books were by famed fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo — Scavullo Beauty and Scavullo Women.
What was your first memorable work as an artist?
It’s all been pretty memorable. I guess working with Barbra Streisand for the first time was the most surreal experience for a kid from Orange County who worshipped her. I was entranced by her look and style, and of course blown away by her talent. It all came about when Kate Bisco, who was department head on Meet the Fockers, wanted a personal makeup artist for Barbra. Kate knew I was a huge fan and graciously put my name in the ring. I was hired and the rest is history. Barbra was amazing and was very patient and I think amused by this crazy star struck makeup guy. She was actually my first personal client. Why not start at the top!
How did you know that the makeup industry was where you wanted to be?
I knew it was a creative career that would check many boxes from the very start. Being a makeup artist is one of those careers where the sky really is the limit. I started my professional career in salons and the theater and branched out into film and editorial. I love that I’m constantly challenged to come up to an artistic standard every day. I love meeting and working with other talented and creative people from actors and directors to photographers, editors and models.
What are the things about your work that makes it the most interesting to you?
I think one of the most interesting things is every job, and even every day, is a new challenge and flexes different creative muscles. Every job is a new set of expectations. You have to have the knowledge and skills to create on the fly. You also have to work well with others and be able to collaborate with fellow artists like hairdressers and designers.
Do you have a signature style?
Hopefully my signature style is just well executed makeup. I think as you grow as an artist your style keeps evolving. I really think my artistry gets better as I get older. As a makeup artist you have to stay on top of trends but you must also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the past, so your style and obsessions are constantly evolving.
What are the challenges you face as a freelance artist?
The punishing hours and securing future work. Makeup careers can last for decades, so learning the art of self preservation is key. The hours and emotional toll can be brutal. It’s not just the paint and powders and brushes that are your tools but also your mind and body. They have to be healthy in order to thrive. A healthy diet and regular exercise are key, so is your mental and spiritual health whatever that means to you. I don’t drink or take any recreational drugs. I try and get as much sleep as possible and I eat a very healthy diet. I spend as much of my off time with family and friends as I can. The trade off is that I get to do what I love and feel great while doing it. As far as securing future work goes, that’s just the curse of the freelance lifestyle. If you do this for as long as I have been doing it you eventually learn to relax about the future and have hopefully made enough friends and contacts to keep you employed.
What should someone who is looking to develop a career in makeup know before getting into the business?
I think people should know that it can be a career that can last 30 to 50 years. You never know it all. When you think you do, you should probably consider hanging it up. There’s a lot to learn and you never learn it all. Stay curious and professional.
What’s coming next in makeup?
I think that is a matter of the project and the artist. makeup can be as simple or intense as the artist applying it. I tend to just touch on trends and try to lead with my heart and imagination. And ensure that the work suits the project.
What type of work do you find most satisfying?
I’ve been very fortunate to work in all facets of makeup – from prosthetics to editorial beauty — and I love it all. I really approach every job in the same way. How do I achieve the results that the people that hired me are expecting and how do I exceed my own artistic standards? I find beauty makeup to be just as complex as a prosthetic makeup. But it all comes from the same artistic well. So in essence to me it’s all one thing. I’ve been nominated for nine Emmys and did the cover of Vogue. Both artistic realms inform the other.
How do you continue to grow your career as an artist?
Curiosity and professionalism will take you the distance. I think you have to stay curious about people and stay dedicated to learning the artistry of what we do. You also have to develop a business sense and view your career as a business. Save your money, keep up with your contacts and relationships in the industry and stay focused on the big picture.
Any pitfalls to reaching longevity in this career?
I’ve seen many artists “difficult” themselves out of a successful career by being inflexible and hard headed when it comes to compromise. Your goal is always to do great work but sometimes you have to temper the brilliance and just get the job done quickly and efficiently. There will be other days and opportunities for greatness.
Do you have a project that you are especially proud of?
I just shot the cover of British Vogue with Jane Fonda which is a massive milestone for me. If you asked me when I first started what were my goals I would have said to win an Emmy an Oscar and to do the cover of Vogue. I have been pouring over the pages of Vogue from the age of fifteen! Vogue represents the pinnacle of the editorial world. I still love all those gorgeous covers from the seventies and eighties with photographers like Scavullo and Avedon and makeup artists Sandy Linter, Way Bandy and Kevyn Aucoin. I’ve spent the majority of my career in television and film but with all these legendary ladies that I’ve worked with I’ve been given the opportunity to do their red carpet and editorial looks too. For this shoot it was a cover and ten page spread for British Vogue with Jane Fonda. The photographer was Brigitte Lacombe, the stylist was Simon Robins the hairdresser was Jonathan Hanousek and the makeup artist was me! Talk about a childhood dream fulfilled.
What are some of the most important qualities that a bodypainter or makeup artist can have?
Attitude, aptitude and artistry. Your attitude is what you make your first and last impression with. Again always like to think in terms of big picture. Every job is an opportunity to land another one. Your attitude will determine if people will want to work with you again, recommend you for another job, or lose your number. Aptitude because it is so important to be well versed and well trained in this business. You’ve got to be able to interpret other people’s visions and understand their references. Submerge yourself in the history of Hollywood, fashion, film — whatever your area of focus is — and learn who the players were and are. Artistry is what we do. We are painters and sculptors working on a living canvas. Learn as much technique as you can. Practice on yourself and your friends. You’ll never learn it all. It’s a lifetime pursuit.
What makes you a good makeup artist?
I think I was born with a natural talent and have built on that with education and application over the years. And I truly love my work. I still get excited to do what I do every day!
What project did you have the most fun working on?
I got to do a really fun makeup on Jane for the season five finale of Grace and Frankie. It was a dream/alternate universe where Grace and Frankie had never become friends. What would their lives be like without each other’s love and influence? Marta Kauffman who is the creator of the show wanted Grace to look like she’d had extreme plastic surgery. A lot of people think it was a prosthetic makeup but in reality it was all lifts and paint. Jane’s hairdresser Jonathan Hanousek and I brainstormed on how and where to hide the lifts under the wig. Poor Jane had to endure having her face pulled mercilessly tight by the lifts but she was an absolute trooper. I over drew her lips with pencils and lipstick and highlighted and shaded them to look enormous. The rest was a standard glam makeup with huge lashes. It was a blast to do and I’m so glad it’s been captured on film forever.
Whose work do you admire?
Dick Smith, because he was a genius character and prosthetic makeup artist. He created the makeups for The Exorcist, Altered States, Amadeus, The Godfather and countless other brilliant films. His work was peerless. Kevyn Aucoin, because he was a master of beauty. He was the go to artist for almost every star of the eighties, nineties and early two thousands. He was the first makeup artist superstar that the general public was aware of. Pat McGrath, because she is a brilliant fashion visionary. She can do everything from clean beauty to fashion space aliens. She also has a wildly successful makeup line and is an inspirational entrepreneur.
Is there someone you have always wanted to work on who you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
Sophia Loren, Grace Jones and Catherine Deneuve. They each represent a strong presence in my young adulthood and are still in the public eye today.
How has social media affected your career or work?
I love using social media to keep everyone up to date on my work and what I’m up to. Everyone from potential employers to the general public get to share in my journey. A lot of times we get hired because someone saw our work on Instagram or Facebook. I recently booked a job making up a client for the Oscars because her husband followed me on Instagram and loved my work. It’s the future baby!
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos courtesy of David De Leon