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  • Writer's pictureKatina Stephens

My Journey as a Makeup Artist

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

I don't know if I could properly count the number of times someone has asked me: "So how did you end up as a makeup artist?" So, I figured I would write down my journey to where I am today!

I started to get really into makeup when I was in high school. My mom had purchased me my first makeup set while I was in junior high, and I started to discover YouTube makeup tutorials the summer before my first year of high school. Some of my favorites from my early YouTube days were: Kandee Johnson, Michelle Phan, and probably still my #1 favorite - MakeupbyTiffanyD - this lady is my jam! I've been watching her since she was filming in her little dark closet, and she's one of those genuine people who you really want to just be friends with <3 These ladies, and many more YouTubers who I discovered in the early 2010's still inspire me to hopefully start my own channel one day!

While I was in high school, I recognized that I really, really enjoyed the world of makeup, but I don't think I had any kind of direction as to which way I wanted to go. I thought for a while I might go into cosmetology school after graduation, so I looked into schools in my free time, but never felt like pulling the trigger. I went through a phase where I wanted to be a model (see awkward self-produced "modeling session", which was also my first Facebook profile all the way back in 2008). I believe I signed up for a new YouTube channel with plans to make my own videos, but that never went anywhere. All the while, through my many phases of trying to find a direction in my life, I kept doing makeup for myself. One year, my dad gave me a nice digital camera for a birthday, and I spent many weekends taking low-quality, low-light photos of my makeup in my bedroom. What a time it was!

During my senior year of high school, I was approached by a neighbor who was a church leader of mine for a few years prior, whose wife was the director of the local community scholarship pageant. He told me to try out for the pageant, and while I was passionate about makeup, that was something that felt way out of my league. I decided to try out for the pageant for the opportunity to win some substantial scholarship money for school, and to gain some interview and confidence skills - which I was severely lacking at that point in my life. I was able to meet and work with a lot of really skilled professionals and coaches, who really helped me gain a lot of skills I needed in my life. While I had grown so much in that year, I still had a long way to go, and I was blessed to be crowned as an attendant.

One year later, after moving out to attend college, I felt the urge to compete again. After signing up for the pageant, contestants were invited to take a tour of one of the pageant's sponsors, an esthetician school a few cities away. After touring the facility, they had several of their educators come in and talk about becoming an esthetician. Right before we were supposed to be done, the educator for the makeup course had stopped by the facility, and was asked to make an impromptu presentation about the part-time makeup course the school offered. While sitting and listening to the educator's presentation, it started to feel like this program was the direction I had been looking for all those years in high school. I had decided that this program was the something I had been looking for.

A few weeks later, I won the pageant, a substantial scholarship to use towards my collegiate goals, and a scholarship to the esthetician school.

I was able to combine the scholarship provided by the esthetician school and the scholarship I received from the city for being an attendant the year prior, and only had to pay a few hundred dollars for the course and the provided makeup kit. I made sure to sign up for the semester that would have me finished before I competed at the state scholarship pageant, so I could be sure to make myself look stage ready the following year. For the months of September through December of 2013, I spent many evenings, and every other weekend in class, learning how to be a makeup artist.

I went to class to learn how to apply makeup for myself, but through all those days applying makeup to other students, and our occasional models, I started to realize that I really enjoyed doing makeup on other people. I started to see that makeup was really something I could do, not only for myself, but for others. At the end of December, I had completed my makeup final, to fully complete three different looks with no direction, and was passed as a certified makeup artist through both the school, and through MAC cosmetics as well.

After graduating, I promoted myself as a professional makeup artist, but in a small way. I made a Facebook page, and after getting my first smartphone for Christmas that same year, I made a personal Instagram, and maybe made a handful of posts, but nothing that really could have gotten me started. I did makeup for my brother's date and a cousin for prom, another cousin for a local Jr. Miss pageant, and maybe a few other small-time jobs for friends or family members.

Seven months after I completed my training, I competed at the state scholarship pageant. I spent days creating my own look, and packed my personal kit accordingly. Once at the week-long pageant, I found myself as the designated "eyelash girl" and "de-shiner" for many of the girls in my same dressing room. It was again at the state pageant that I realized how much I enjoyed helping other people with their makeup. It felt like a great honor to be able to help out my sister queens - and competitors - backstage at the pageant.

After coming home from the state pageant, my county was getting it's first ULTA Beauty store. I submitted my application, and was hired as a Prestige Beauty Advisor. I spent nearly a year working behind the registers, and around the store, familiarizing myself with various brands, formulations, and products - all the while practicing techniques on customers every chance I could.

During that same summer I started working at ULTA, I began competing in open scholarship pageants (non-locals that are open to any eligible women around the state) for a chance to compete again at the state pageant. My chance came months later than I expected, when I was offered a title I was originally 1st-runner up to, which meant I would be competing for the state title once again. That same year, one of my sister queens who I met competing for the same title, asked me to do her makeup for her official state headshots and tribute page photos. When it felt like an honor to just apply eyelashes and anti-shine powder to my sister queens backstage the year prior, being trusted with a competitor's headshot was something more than an honor.

During the school year, I was in class one morning, when I received a message from a photographer I had worked with for my own senior and pageant photos. He had a photographer buddy coming into the state to shoot a campaign photos for an athletic headphone company. I guess their makeup artist bailed last minute, and they were looking for someone to drive up and be on location. I skipped my remaining class for that day, drove to the local theater makeup store, drove home to get my kit, the drove close to an hour to make it to the shoot location. I arrived just in the knick of time, but was horribly nervous, and probably severely underprepared. I remember feeling so awkward, not knowing where to stand, not knowing if I should wait for the photographer to say something - or if I should just jump in if I see something that needed fixing. It was amazing to be on my first "real" gig, and especially to get paid for it, but it sure made me feel like a little baby makeup artist who still needed a lot of coaching and experience. (Below are some of the photos taken that day)

During the state pageant my second year, I was able to help out some of my sister queens with more than just eyelashes and anti-shine powder. I started helping some of them out with eyeshadow, contouring, and body makeup. It was also there at the state pageant that year that I started talking to my sister queens about my desire to do this - being a makeup artist - for real. Those women who I talked to lifted me up, encouraged me, and I knew they would be supporting me behind the scenes.

After competing at the state pageant for a second time, I gave up pageant Miss titles, for a new Mrs. title. I married my sweetheart in August of 2015, and it became a turning point for my career. I remember being in the car driving home from our honeymoon, and my husband asking me what I needed to start this budding business of mine, and what he could do to help me. He was the one who pushed me to open up a business Instagram page, one where I could actively promote my business, and show potential clients what I could do for them. He was the one who pushed me to start a website, and helped me register and pay for my own domain name. He was the one who encouraged me and helped me from day one.

Clients started rolling in slowly. Mostly more friends and family, but I also got a few referrals from contacts in either the beauty or the pageant world. My brother helped me photoshop an advertisement that I could put in local and open pageant books, and while I don't think I got any clients out of any of my ads, it felt like a big step for me! I spent time looking up tips for increasing reach and followers on Instagram, and started researching what I could purchase for my business (makeup & equipment) to provide a better experience for my clients. As 2015 closed and 2016 rolled around, it felt like things were on the up and up.

I've worked hard to keep good relationships with as many people as possible, because you never know where your next big break will come from! In 2016, a friend who I had originally met during my early pageant days, who went on to become a photographer, asked me to join in a collaboration with her (collaboration = what Utah wedding vendors call a stylized shoot, or a testing shoot). This shoot with my friend, ended up being published on the website of a big time local bridal magazine, and I was able to be credited for the first time! You can see it here.

2017, was really the year where I felt like I was finally making it. My husband was super ultra-supportive, and encouraged me to quit my day job as a nanny and really try my hand at this makeup thing. He kept me honest about posting consistently, and offering specials and promotions to get more people aware of what I could offer them. I joined a group of local makeup artists who supported each other online, and off line. I found a graphic designer from the UK who helped me create a logo, and take my website to the next level. I created better makeup packages, and started getting bookings of not only brides, but their bridal parties or family members as well. I made goals to post on social media, and reach out to former clients to get reviews and feedback, to hopefully appeal to more and more potential clients.

I had set a goal for myself for the year of 2017, and through a lot of hustling, and probably more in tears shed than I could ever count, I was exceedingly grateful to not only meet my overall goal, but to more than double my original goal for the year.

But I wasn't satisfied.

While meeting and beating my original goals for 2017 felt AWESOME, I knew there was more I could be doing, I knew I could be bigger and better, and I new I could turn my business into just that, a business. Not only did I recognize the need to gain new business knowledge, but I recognized an ache that I had to gain more makeup and application knowledge. The education I received was enough to get me started, but I am serious about makeup, and I want to master my craft.

During 2017, one of my artist friends attended a training in California, and was raving about the instructor, Donna Mee. My friend added me to Donna's Facebook page, and after being involved on the group for just a few months, I knew I had again found my direction. In November of 2017, I signed up for a year of business mentorship with Donna, and 60+ artists from around the world, to learn all about how we can run our businesses to the best of our abilities, and at the beginning of 2018 I spent a week with Donna and 19 other artists in California so we can learn how to provide the best of experiences and services for our bridal clients. I am very much looking forward to continuing my education when it comes to my business and my craft. I'm currently saving up all my pennies so I can go back to California and get more training with Master Donna herself, thankfully, that task has been made easier thanks to the training I've been able to receive! As I'm writing this now, at the end of May 2018, I've already surpassed the number of clients I had last year, and am on track to once again double my earnings.

I would definitely not be anywhere close to where I am today without the never ending support of my family, friends, and especially my husband. There have been many people who have helped me along the way, from the simple "likes" on social media, to supporting me financially - especially in the beginning. I do this to support my family, I do this to provide professional and customized services to clients all throughout Utah, and I do this because it makes my soul happy.

I am looking forward to what the rest of 2018 brings, and beyond. Come and join my journey with me!


Katina Stephens

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