Maxine Munson on making it in makeup

Photo credits:
Makeup: Maxine Munson
Model: Jessica Fangyi
Photo: Ellyse Anderson
Styling: Candice Ho Lem
Hair: Erin Klassen

Foreword and interview by Helen Anna

Maxine Munson is a freelance make up artist based in Vancouver, Canada. Maxine sat down with us to share her career journey (spoiler alert: it involves Beyonce) and advice for young and aspiring make up artists who want to make it in this highly competitive field.

Maxine, what first drew you to makeup?

As a teenager, I loved fashion magazines, especially the bizarre editorials that strayed away from typical ideas of beauty. I was so curious about who came up with these ideas!

During a working holiday in Australia I happened to check out Vic University in Melbourne. They had a Specialized Makeup Services course that also included a hair styling segment, and instantly I knew it was the right school for me.

It’s so important to research and find a program you think will suit you. Education can be expensive and you can’t be hasty when making such a big investment. In my case, studying abroad forced me to take it more seriously. 

Tell us about your first gig!

This is going to sound crazy, but my first job as a makeup artist was assisting Bek Capan working for Beyonce at the Crown Casino in Melbourne. She was planning a surprise birthday party for Jay-Z while he was touring with U2, and wanted all the staff working the event to be Marie Antoinette themed from head to toe. 

Along with the other artists and party staff, I went to Beyonce’s penthouse suite so she could guide us through her vision. I made up a very kind (and equally star-struck) bartender to look Baroque, powdering his face with white powder, as was customary for the era. Beyonce and her assistant came over and asked me if I thought he looked too pale. We decided that his deep golden skin maybe didn’t suit a white powdered face, so I removed it and gave him bold brows and a heart shaped beauty mark on his cheek instead. I remember being so hard on myself for not getting it right the first time, but Beyonce was so kind and patient with me.

Who are your industry idols?

Isamaya French and Lucy J Bridge are badass. Francois Nars has been a huge inspiration, too, especially his belief that skin should always look like skin. Peter Phillips is an OG beauty guru, and I am always blown away by local artist Paula Lanzador. Her use of colour and texture is really unique and reminiscent of paintings. 

There are so many great make up artists out there, and as much as I love seeing other artists’ work, there are times when seeing others flourishing can be a bit distracting.

It’s important to have inspiration, but try not to compare yourself to other makeup artists. This is something I’m still learning how to do.

Makeup by Maxine Munson on models Isa, Isla and Olive
Photo + Styling: Tianna Franks

What makeup trends have you feeling excited?  

Right now I see a big resurgence of 70’s flair: I love a good eyeshadow blown out to the brow and temple. Putting nothing on the eyes other than some eye cream or concealer is also really nice!

What challenges do makeup artists face?

For a lot of makeup artists, the main challenge is finding work. I live in a city with at least 3 different makeup schools, meaning the odds are stacked against you.

If you want to be a makeup artist, it takes more than just creativity. You have to have good people skills, know how a business works, perform well in high pressure situations, learn set etiquette, take care of the models you’re working with, understand style references, learn how to build a website or Instagram and market yourself… the list goes on!

If you’re having trouble getting makeup work, I’d recommend you find a different job that allows to pay the bills while you build your network, and do makeup on your own time. I did this for 9 years before I went fully freelance.

We believe mentorship is so important. Who are your mentors, and how have they contributed to your success?

One of my biggest mentors is makeup artist and businesswoman Rebecca (Bek) Capan. I first met her in my early twenties when she was here from Australia and we totally bonded over episodes of ‘America’s next top model’!

One time before we were going out, Bek did my makeup and I’ll never forget how shocked I was. I looked like myself, just a better version: she’d really accentuated my own features. This is when my obsession began: I wanted to make other people feel like I did in that moment.

Bek encouraged me to pursue this dream and truly believed in me. I travelled to Australia to work with her, and my confidence grew.

Being away from home forced me to grow up and take my studies seriously, but it wasn’t easy: for two years, I was working two part-time jobs and living in a closet! 

More recently in my career I’ve been working with Jon and Anna through their agency, Nobasura. I learned so much from Jon through assisting him on set, and Nobasura have helped me get into the fashion advertising work I do here in Vancouver. My mentors have definitely helped me take my makeup business to another level.  

Do you have any advice for an aspiring make up artist?

Say yes to projects whenever you can, especially when you’re starting out. I spent years doing makeup work for free because I wanted to network and gain confidence working with faces and products.

I know that it’s really hard when you’re trying to survive as an artist in an expensive city, but load up your days off with makeup jobs. Reach out to photographers and stylists that you like and ask makeup artists that inspire you if you can assist them.

You have to be hungry in this industry. There are so many artists being pumped out of schools and the competition is real, so you have to be reliable, eager, and someone people enjoy working with. 

Connect with Maxine Munson on Instagram or visit her website.

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