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Name: Mia Jones
Location: New York, New York
Profession: Makeup artist for more than 20 years
PEOPLE: Where are you originally from and how old were you when you started working with makeup?
I grew up in Northern California and I started really young, working with my dad when I was 15. My parents launched a wedding photography business so I would help him on jobs.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue makeup as a career?
Since I was little, I had this random hobby of sketching women's faces, which evolved into wanting to do makeup. There are so many childhood pictures of me with crazy makeup on, and so, I think I always had it in me to want to do it.
Did you have a formal makeup education or are you all self-taught?
I am self-taught, although at 18 I went to esthetician school. I'm very passionate about skin.
Is it normal for makeup artists to be just as well versed in skincare as they are with makeup?
There's definitely, especially with the YouTube generation, a lack of education with skin, but I wouldn't hold that against anyone. Makeup is fun and there shouldn't be strict rules around it, but it's important to remember that skin is your largest organ and you should be aware of different skin conditions and reactions. You can apply a product and have a breakout or a flare-up, and some people might move right past it and not even think about it. I'd say I'm more holistic in my approach because I started in skin. For me, I'm focused on the inside out and not just what you put on top.
What was it like when you were first starting out in your career?
I started in 2003 when there was no social media or YouTube. I taught myself as a teenager through Kevyn Aucoin books. That's really all I had. I would learn techniques and try things I saw in magazines. Eventually, I started working at Sephora and went to esthetician school, while also working weddings with my dad. Later on, I worked at a MAC counter, which was a huge opportunity. This was back during MAC's heyday, and the application process was the most rigorous thing I'd ever been through. I'm not a super emotional person unless it comes to my work but once I was offered the job, I remember bursting into tears and slightly tapping the car in front of me. I remember getting out and saying, "I'm so sorry! I was just offered my dream job!" I was 18 or 19 by then.
Years later, I went to the University of Arts London for fashion journalism. It was mainly to learn about the fashion business because with no connections and no financial backing, you have to find ways to hone your skills and work your way up. It was surreal for me at the time, standing in London with only a little bit of money to my name but at the best college for me and with a job on the MAC Pro Team, which gave me the opportunity to work during Fashion Week. Every little bit I've done has led me to where I am today.
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How much money do you have to spend on buying your own makeup and tools when you're first starting out?
A lot. Between starting a basic kit to getting tools — brushes, sponges, anything that helps you apply the makeup — and sanitation, it can be expensive. One of the benefits of working at MAC was that they gave a phenomenal discount. There are brushes that cost upwards of $50. Back then, any extra money I had went into building my kit but now, I have over a thousand brushes.
Who was your first celebrity client?
I can't remember my very first, but I worked with Eve in L.A. through my MAC Pro days. When I was there, MAC had an artist relations department that was run by an incredible person. It was there I got to build relationships and work with Eve for the Oscars.
Having to work on a huge star like Eve as your first celebrity client, what's something you wish you knew back then that you apply to your job now?
Believe in yourself and your self-worth. Eve was so kind and so amazing, but I was so intimidated by her presence. I was shaky and I drank a lot of coffee thinking I would need extra energy to do a great job, which didn't help because I had so much of my own natural adrenaline going at the point. I wish I would've felt more confident in myself because I ended up doing well. She hired me for two more jobs after that.
So from there, were you booking more celebrity clients through word of mouth?
Definitely. When you don't have representation, then it's only through word of mouth. But once you do, it gets easier. Regardless of if you are signed or not, the two key things that all clients want are privacy and professionalism. I call it a "vault." When I show up to work, it's like keeping a verbal NDA, although in most cases, you actually do have to sign a legal one. Depending on the client, you can either show up and work or you might have a 20-page NDA waiting for you before you can even get into the building.
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You work with so many famous and successful people who must be incredibly busy, so I'd assume that they're not always going to be in a good mood. What do you do if a client isn't having a good day?
Energy is everything. I always make sure that my energy is on point for the client because you have to believe energy is real and most clients are so overworked and tired. You have to show up with good energy. You also have to collaborate well with the hairstylist and stylist on set, so all of your client's needs are met and they can leave happy. Communication and confidence are a must.
What if the client is falling asleep?
I have had a client fall asleep. We just made her cozy and propped up her head. Those are some of the best sessions. I mean, it's hard to do bottom eyeliner when they're asleep, but I'll do it when they wake up because sometimes, they really do need sleep. If they start crying because — well, human beings cry for many reasons: stress, heartbreak, hearing really good news or even exhaustion — that's where being a pro at skincare comes in. Crying through my makeup can be fixed but it's harder if they sob. I had one client who sobbed through their makeup, but that's where my years of experience kicked in because I had to speed through the same look in 25 minutes. Everything was fine in the end.
Have you ever had to deal with a client having an allergic reaction to makeup?
Yes, I did and it's honestly a makeup artist's worst fear. Always, always sanitize your stuff. No client deserves to have used products applied on them. Also, make sure you ask if the client is allergic to anything. One of the benefits to having representation is that the client's team communicates to my team if they have any severe allergies. Say someone has a deadly nut allergy. You can guarantee I won't be using any product with almond oil in it.
I had a client who had a seven-page list of allergies. Luckily, I'm an ingredient nerd when it comes to food and products, but I had to go through every single product and redo my kit to make sure it was all safe and ready for the client.
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When you're working for a client for an award show like the Emmys, how far in advance do you have to prepare?
You would find out three months in advance.
Once you find out, what happens first? Do you have to wait until they choose their look to think up concepts for makeup?
Yes, totally. It also depends on the client. Sometimes the stylist will take the lead and sometimes it's the client. You just never know but regardless, I'm always sketching out ideas and going over color combinations early.
Do you get to do a trial run before the actual event, or is it always day-of?
For something like the Met Gala, you definitely have to go through trial runs because there's always a specific theme and a costume element. But for awards shows, you usually do it the day of, so you have to be prepared.
How long does it all take from start to finish?
For Emmys? I need at least two hours.
Have you done makeup for celebrities for Zoom calls or do they take care of that themselves?
We still do preps for Zoom calls. Glam teams are still essential because our job is to provide the client with the comfort of not having to think about what they look like, if that makes sense. I recently had a client that had a 12-hour press day on Zoom, and that's exhausting. The last thing they want to worry about is what color eye shadow to put on.
Can you talk about the most surreal moment in your career?
The most surreal moment definitely was working with Chelsea Handler. I had looked up to her for so many years because she's a woman filled with such conviction. She's always advocating for us, and she's always been ahead of her time. It's still to this day so surreal that I get to work with her.
What's the best advice you can give a young makeup artist today?
Learn the importance of integrity and privacy, and practice every day.