How to Find a Good Makeup School

Our Schools page is the third most popular page on our website, with thousands of hits every month, especially during the spring and fall seasons. The burning question in every student's mind is, where can I find a good school?

Well, that's a question you must answer for yourself. I am unqualified to answer it for two reasons; First, I've never attended any of them and don't know who most of them are, and Second, I'm not you.

In the "real" world we assume that a natural path to success in our career is based on success in our education. In the entertainment industry, which is not the real world, our success is based on our talent. If you don't have any talent it doesn't matter how much education you get, you won't make it. If you do have talent, success depends on a variety of positive factors. Kevyn Aucoin, the master of glamour makeup had no formal education in his trade, but he started by putting makeup on his kid sister when he was very young. He was years ahead of the game before he even graduated from high school. If you want to learn more about career strategies, please read our careers section.

In terms of finding the best education for your situation, let me pass on some observations that people have made since we started in 1993.

Credentuals of the instructor are very important. There are now some wonderful, very seasoned professionals who teach classes in different parts of the world. Look for real, Hollywood motion picture and television credits. Hollywood is very competitive and attracts only the best. You can also see the skill of your instructor on the screen. This does not mean you have to go to Los Angeles for a class.

Classes and one day seminars are OK. Get as much information as you can. Nobody knows it all and nobody teaches it all. A snippet of information here and there that you an put into one big picture is a true education.

Certificates are good, as is anything that will add to your credibility. They don't don't impress anyone who's taken the same class.

Location doesn't matter. Los Angeles is a difficult place in which to live. Often you hear people say that they only stay because of their career and they like the weather. You can find many good schools throughout the USA (and the world) simply because they have found qualified instructor-refugees from L.A. or other areas.

Correspondence is OK too. It really helps to see how others do it, but if you have the self-discipline a correspondence course is OK too, simply because it forces you to be hands on. It also teaches you to be a bit more resourceful.

Go for hands on. Don't pay for demos unless they are inexpensive (or free) and only last a short period of time. It's just too difficult to learn a skill from memory alone.

High Price doesn't matter. Just because you pay more doesn't mean you get more. Sometimes you are paying double to reward the sales department. On the otherhand, be careful of cheap classes, you've got to ask yourself, "Why is this so inexpensive?"

While we are on the subject of pitching. Make sure the school doesn't heavily sell their own products. No makeup is that good. You shouldn't have to pay for a prolonged sales pitch. That's called a demonstration and it should be free. Avoid groups that claim you can't get their products or instruction anywhere else. Don't enter any exclusive deals! If you pay for a class from a private company make sure you don't obligate yourself to buy exclusively from them. This is probably the most common complaint I get. Watch out!

Get the basics. At the very least, the school should teach makeup including formulas and the chemistry of makeup you will use. Other basics in today's world are lifecasting, prosthetics and airbrush technique. Lighting is extremely important, so make sure you will learn variations for stage, film, video and photography. Take a good class in light theory if you can. You should know basic photography including theory on the color of light.

Review the credentials of the school. Little fly-by-night operations pop up all the time. A good place to start is the city office. Call to make sure they have a business license. Also check with the Secretary of State (for that state) to make sure they are who they say they are and that they've been in business as long as they claim. Some states require that all schools be registered and accredited. Call the appropriate state office to make sure your school complies with all state requirements. Sometimes people try to look bigger than they really are. Don't be fooled by a fancy website or fine stationary. If you start to get that "I'm about to get ripped off" feeling, trust your instincts and keep looking. The world if full of opportunities, deals and special offers - don't buy in because you are afraid an opportunity will pass you by.

Study the resume of each instructor. Anyone can take classes (just like you) and flash a certificate around. People who have worked on real shows in the real work environment will help you the most. You need someone who can give you ideas and maybe a referral or two on how to break into the business. Instructors often look for new talent that they want to encourage. These instructors will get you on a show as part of their team - but you've really got to have talent to do that.

Talk to instructors whenever possible not just the front desk. If they have a difficult time explaining their curriculum they will probably have a difficult time teaching the class. Often good instructors will give you a small taste of their skill. It just doesn't take much of a conversation to find out someone is qualified, on-the-ball and intelligent.

Make sure your instructor can teach and make sure they know what they are talking about. Ask questions, especially one or two that you already know the answer to. Make sure you connect. Follow your instincts, small problems will become very large later, after you have paid your tuition.

Ask for student references more than two years old. There is a tendenecy for schools to give you the names of fresh, enthusiastic students, people who are still riding high on their hopes for the future - of course they would have positive things to say. To check out the facts you need to talk to people who have a little reality under their belt. If the school promises a placement make sure their graduates got that, you can't know unless you speak to someone who graduated some time ago. Also make sure the referral isn't a staffer. Sometimes when you get a referral it is just a member of the organization, watch out.

Make sure you are being taught, not pitched. If you get that yucky feeling that you are being sold, follow your instincts. You don't want to sigh up for a course that ends up being an extended sales pitch or self promotion of their products. The industry is full of small people that have to be a big-shot in front of a group. Some people think that their contribution to society is to be the center of attention. You are the student, you are paying for the courses, make sure you will learn! Learn! Learn!

It's difficult to say how much a certificate will help you, it's really your resume and portfolio that will get you work. Personally I'd get all the instruction I could afford from as many sources as possible. Nothing is better than real experience! If I'm interviewing artists for a show I'm going to take the one who's done, not just observed.

Some schools only accept qualified students. Others take anyone and everyone as long as they have money. Schools that take everyone will ultimately have much less credibility than a school that screens out students without talent. Before you sign up make sure the school you will attend has credibility where it counts - the field. Academic credibility means little unless you plan to teach school.

Don't be afraid to buy books, videos and materials to learn on your own. I know that sounds like a pitch for Special Effect Supply Corp. but consider this; If you started playing around with this stuff when you were 10 years old, by the time you graduated from college you would already have 12 years of mistakes and screwups compared to your class-mates who have none. Some of the things you made when you were a kid will look pretty silly when you view them as an adult. Imagine doing stuff for the first time when you are in your early twenties. It will look silly to someone with a more experienced eye. That same someone will decide you are not right for the job. It will take you several years before you have the same experience so that you know what you did wrong. If you don't believe me on this, please look at Dick Smith's book. His kid stuff looks like kid stuff, yet today he is respected around the world as a master artist. We've all got to start some where and some time, it might as well be when you are you

Well, that's all for now.

Thanks for your continued support,

Steve Biggs