New York-based makeup artist Julie Teel has managed to pivot a foundation in fine arts and fashion into a successful career as a makeup artist to the stars.
Teel’s initial interest in makeup began when a fashion designer friend asked her to handle makeup for his photo shoot while she was in college at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Realizing she had a knack for the work, she started taking regular makeup artist gigs and used the money she earned to help pay for her art supplies while she was attending school. As word spread about Teel’s work, she began to land more and more jobs, and soon realized she could build a career as a makeup artist. Entirely self-taught, Teel picked up tips from working with other artists, paying special attention to what she saw in fashion magazines, and and utilized her knack for color theory and manipulating highlights and shadows to reshape or create different features.
Her natural talent for design enabled her to develop the skills she needed to create a presence in the competitive makeup artist industry. Teel’s ability to make others look and feel beautiful has led to work on some of the most popular movies and TV shows, including Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, The Devil Wears Prada, Across the Universe, and Ugly Betty. Prada and the upcoming The Greatest Showman. She’s also collaborated with numerous well-known artists and celebrities, including America Ferreira and Tina Fey.
Artrepreneur interviewed Teel to gain insight into the daily musings of a celebrity makeup artist. Teel shares her story and advice for being and becoming a prominent makeup artist.
Word-of-Mouth Referrals Launched Teel’s Career as a Makeup Artist
KM: How did you go from doing makeup for a friend to working with major film and television productions?
Julie Teel: I was working seven days a week for many years. You meet other people, who then refer and recommend you to other jobs if they like your working style.
KM: How did you land your first gig?
Julie Teel: All My Children was my first entry into the union world of film and television. Kelly Ripa went onto to do Hope and Faith and I joined that makeup team where I met my partner-in-crime Bosslady Jorge”Jenn”Nelson. I worked as Key on many film and TV projects, and she had respectfully referred to me, on occasion, as her co-head of the department. We have worked together almost my entire union career.
KM: You really built your career through word of mouth. Why do you think so many people recommended you for work? What were those skill sets that really allowed you to shine?
Julie Teel: As a makeup artist it is important to know how to read a person. There are so many different personality types out there, and you want to know if you are dealing with someone that does not want to engage in conversation before 5 AM. It is also vital to have a good personality yourself. People prefer a makeup artist that they can be comfortable and relaxed around.
KM: What is a special skill that you are known for?
Julie Teel: I’ve been complimented on how I finish skin and knowing various techniques on how to do beauty makeup on Asian actresses is a skill not all do well. We all have our strong points.
KM: What type of contract do most makeup artists have with TV shows or films? Why is it important to establish a rapport with the people you work with on set?
Julie Teel: We typically don’t have personal contracts so in that respect we’re considered freelancers or daily hires. However, there are union contracts per production. There may be shows that have personal contracts but I am uncertain. So, basically if production wanted to replace you or a department, they could. The union contracts in place do not protect you from getting fired or replaced so it’s important to do your job to the best of your ability and to be a team player to ensure you stay employed on the current project.
Protect Your Time By Joining a Union and Taking Breaks
KM: I understand you belong to a union. Many young creatives often wonder whether joining a union is the right approach for their career. What are the benefits of being in a union?
Julie Teel: Being a union member has the benefits of insurance and retirement, and of making sure a production doesn’t abuse you by providing guidelines pertaining to hours worked with proper breaks and meals, safety, and rates per contract. Should there be questionable goings-on happening on set, they provide answers and support and enforcement of those rights, which is important. One example is the issue of a “turnaround” which has to do with the hours allotted between wrapping out for the day and your call time for the following day’s work (and/or for the weekend). The union has regulations for the minimum time (if that can’t be met, there is a monetary penalty) while non-union does not. So you may or may not get rest between work days depending on the situation you find yourself in. Knowing that they have your back and provide such benefits pushed me to join.
There is a process to join. It’s not just about talent and skills. On set experience is important. Knowing terminology and on-set etiquette are key … we can all learn new skills and techniques along the way as products and technology are apt to change.
KM: How do you balance working such long hours with your personal life?
Julie Teel: When I was younger and doing fashion, headshot shoots and some TV, working seven days a week, it wasn’t a big deal. The hours and work involved weren’t necessarily shorter or easier then but when I started doing film and TV more exclusively, you have early call times, like waking up at 4a.m. or earlier, and you don’t know when you’re getting home. To me a 12-hour work day is short. I’ve had 16-18hr work days, that doesn’t include commuting. So it adds up. Now, I’ve reeled back how much I work by taking time off between jobs. If I finish one job and it was exhausting, I won’t take another for a few months, and make sure I budget accordingly.
KM: How have you managed your creative business? Do you work with any administrative or accounting professionals? What about an agency?
Julie Teel: I didn’t go the agency route, but I wonder whether that would have made a difference! I do most of my own accounting and administrative work, including managing the products I buy as part of the job. As a makeup artist, you’re responsible for buying your own products. We get a fee for kit rental, which is essentially a fee for renting our kit while on a production. But generally speaking, you’re on your own. I try and keep it simple by making purchases for work on a certain card.
KM: What’s your advice to an aspiring makeup artist?
Julie Teel: Knowing color theory is very important when you are dealing with lighting and how the project may be treated in post-production, as your colors may be thrown off during filming and during final editing. You want to be able to compensate for and correct anything wonky that could happen.
Learn more about Julie Teel by visiting her Orangenius profile.