The Unintentional Artist - Commercial Makeup Artist Tania Russell

Occasionally I'll get an email from a fellow Tweeter or makeup artist to check out anther artist's website that they may be a good a fit for the blog (What? I can't do all the research on my own), sometimes ehh not so much... however, this Image Maker was without a doubt a resounding YES! Her work lept off my screen, surely you'll agree, so -- read the rest to find out how Tania happened upon a career as an MUA and how she's made the best of her "fortunate mishap", in addition to why you might want to consider heading to Europe and not to backpack!

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! How long have you been in the industry?

Tania Russell: I’ve been in the industry… oh… maybe 12 years in total but about 6-7 of those seriously working full time as an artist.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! When did you know you wanted to become a makeup artist?
Tania Russell: I still don’t. LOLOL! No but seriously it was never in the plans. I’m a musician and I come from a family of musicians so most people thought I would do that (and I do, actually) and then I went throughout college with the thought was that I was going to go into law. I got into doing makeup through a random series of fortunate incidences.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! Did you receive any formal education prior to launching your career?

Tania Russell: Formal makeup training? Sort of. My random series of fortunate events is as follows; I was a student at UCLA at which time I had friends in the film dept. They asked me to do makeup for their little student films – which I did – and than as they progressed to getting jobs they referred me, and so I started getting little jobs. I actually started working as an artist in Films and I did go to school for Film makeup (which is quite different). But then when I stopped doing films and went into the Beauty and Print side of the industry, that I did on my own and without any formal training.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about the industry and makeup artists specifically?

Tania Russell: I would have to say the biggest misconception is that it’s Glamorous. I don’t know who came up with that one but they are very incorrect. LOL! Every Hair, Makeup and Wardrobe stylist I know has serious war tales. Is it more fun than sitting behind a desk? Sure. Glamorous? Yeah, no. And then specifically about makeup artists the perception seems to be that we’re all ditzy and all we think about is makeup. Now I do believe that you won’t be successful in this field if you don’t love it, yes. But I’m an intelligent, educated and varied person and makeup is but one thing that I do. Most of my artist friends are the same way.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! When was your first big break, and what was it?

Tania Russell: I wouldn't say I’ve had a Big Break. My career progression has been more on the slow and steady tip like a wave gathering momentum and then crashing up on the shore.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! I was introduced to your website by another Image Maker, Kim Weber when I saw your images I was not only blown away by how gorgeous they were but also what jumped out was your attention to detail and how very “clean" your work is. Would you say that’s kind of your niche?

Tania Russell: Thank you! And yes, clean n’ pretty is definitely my niche. Even if I do “edgier” I stay on the cleaner side. It suits my aesthetic better, firstly; I don’t care for heavy-handed makeup I prefer to see skin. Secondly, it’s the reality of my market out here; commercial clients demand clean. They don’t like a heavily made-up look.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! You’re more of a Commercial Editorial Artist than Fashion Makeup Artist can you explain to the readers what that means?

Tania Russell: The bulk of my work is for commercial and what’s known as “lifestyle” clients. Instead of working on things like Fashion Week or on a edgy fashion editorial or for a fashion advertising client like Gucci I’m more apt to be called for catalog, and for print ads for companies like Oakley, Wal-Mart and the like. The magazines I work for a different as well. The makeup and the overall aesthetic of these types of shoots tends to be more clean, pretty, fun, happy, shiny type work instead of the more gritty, hard and edgy. Also, model-wise, I’m not always working with high-fashion models.

Sometimes I am, but more often I’m working with commercial models who are generally more of the traditionally pretty and handsome type, rarely ever edgy in any way. And then sometimes I am working with “real people”-type models if not straight up real people, and a lot of Kids grooming. I love kids, but needless to say you have to be very patient and like being around kids to handle that detail. Then lastly, I do a fair amount of celebrities (which is a whole ‘nother thing) and TV commercials. Celebs and TV are an inevitable reality of being in the market that I am (California).

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! You’ve also done music videos for such stars as Britney Spears and Christiania Aguilera, how does a day on the set of a video shoot differ from a day on the set of say an editorial campaign?

Tania Russell: OH the difference between night and day. The days on any type of production job (music videos, TV commercials, etc.) are much much longer and much more intense. There are a lot of people and personalities to negotiate, there’s more of a “pecking order’ and – IMO – less of a collaborative team process… It’s different. On the upside, the makeup itself on music videos like those is much more “creative” than what I will generally do on a commercial job and it’s a more fast-paced working environment. For me it was fun while I was doing them but it got grueling after a while and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term. TV commercials are the only production type jobs I’m still interested in doing. Otherwise I prefer the print world, for sure. (it should be noted that I was not the Key on either the Britney or the Christina videos, I was on the makeup team for both).

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! Noted you were in the building. LOL No, seriously you still deserve kudos for that, you must be a pretty great artist to even be on the team. Tania, you also do quite a bit of men's grooming how does working with male models differ from working with female models and did you have to seek out any additional training or education to work with male models?

Tania Russell: I “lurve” doing men’s grooming. There are some folks who do men’s grooming who are more barbers and deal more with hair work and there are some folks who do men’s grooming who style hair and focus more on makeup, etc. I fall into the latter group. Therefore, I didn’t need any additional training per se but I did have to get good at men’s hairstyling.

The main difference from doing women makeup-wise is that you are most likely not going to do all the color work that you do with women (obviously) but the bigger difference is really temperament. Men don’t like being fussed over and they want to stay feeling like men, particularly if you’re talking about grooming men who aren’t models (actors, musicians, athletes, etc.), which is often the case. They want to look good, but they don’t want to sit in a makeup chair forever and they don’t want to be endlessly fiddled with. They are often pretty particular about how they want to look. It’s really about putting them at ease and gaining their trust that you want them to look their most manly best and you aren’t trying to “girl-a-fy” them in anyway.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! Tania, what’s a typical working day like for you, if there is such thing as typical for you?

Tania Russell: Yeah, there really isn’t a typical day. The reality right now with the economy being the way it is, Advertising is always one of the first and worst hit industries whenever there’s an economic slow down. Everyone is feeling the pinch and everyone has to hustle twice as hard in order to keep going.

My days now days are a mix of working on-set and heavy promotions and meetings to stay in circulation and stay in the game. On-set workdays vary with the type of project I’m working on but let’s say I’m working on a typical (for me) commercial type job. For whatever reason advertisers like to wake up early – lol! – so I’ll be up @ 5:30-6 am, meditate, do some form of exercise and be on set by 8am usually. Most of the time I have multiple models to get ready, therefore I’m focused on my primary task of getting talent on set. I won’t really eat or take any type of break for the first several hours until everyone is camera ready, because I never want the photographer to be held up shooting because models aren’t ready.

Also on commercial jobs there may not be as many makeup/hair changes per se but I may have talent arriving at different times throughout the day so I’m constantly working in that way. Other types of jobs may vary… I could go on. LOL. On non-set days I don’t wake up quite so early, but I’m still working; sending emails, making calls, sending promo materials, setting up and taking meetings, etc. Weekends are also not off limits in my world. I’ll take them off when I can, but his last weekend – for example – I worked straight through on 2 different shoots. One way or another I’m most always working.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! It seems that every up and coming makeup artist wants to work with celebrities or do the Vogue campaigns, what advice do you have for these aspiring artists?

Tania Russell: Well. I tell ya. The United States of America has one Primary fashion market and one Primary fashion market alone that market is New York City. I feel bad whenever I hear of makeup artists who want to do fashion but they’re in Timbuktu because it’s just not going to happen.

There are limited amounts of the fashion in LA, Chicago, Miami, SF, etc. However if an artist TRULY wants a fashion career – such that one day they would end up working with Vogue and keying Fashion Week shows – they need to be in NYC. I mean, really, they should go to Europe for a while and then come back to NYC but if that isn’t an option they at least need to make the commitment to spend time in NYC.

As far as celebrities, it depends. I’ve always done some celebrity, but it’s never been the focus of my career. I would guess that LA is still the primary celebrity market but more than anything, an artist has got to be with the right agencies to really get in the groove of becoming a true Celebrity Artist. PR people, managers, etc. just have their agencies that they know and work with and if an artist isn’t affiliated with those rosters chances are limited that they’ll be getting that work.

Not impossible – as I can attest to – but limited. In the smaller markets be the best artist in that area and you’ll get all the best, larger jobs that come through town. It’s a different type of career than an artist in a Primary or Secondary market, but it’s still a very viable way to have a good career and I know several artists who’ve gone that route and who work regularly.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! Wow that’s some awesome advice Tania, also you mentioned that if it's feasible for an artist it would be advantageous to move to Europe, why Europe and how so?

Tania Russell: I mentioned that because it’s actually very common amongst the very high end, elite artists to have done so. To get to that echelon its very important that your book looks very high end and not at all regional. The Fashion Industry in Europe is always ahead of the US in terms of trends, there's more true fashion shot there, and photographers often go and models are often sent there to develop their books. Hair/Makeup/Wardrobe stylists who are there can often develop a higher-end book including tears more readily than they could here in the States.

BEAUTYSCHOOLED! Do you think Do you hire assistants, do any mentoring for young artists or provide any workshops or training, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?

Tania Russell: Yes to both, I have a side website named Makeup to Go! , where I provide lessons and also services for individuals. I created the site because… well, it’s just kind of a different animal from working in the media industries and I needed to keep those two businesses separate. I’m not a school and my class schedule is crazy erratic due to my work schedule but I try to do two classes a year and I’ll also do private lessons as schedule permits. As far as mentoring goes, I’m listed on Makeup Mentors which I think is a pretty underused resource but I have to say many of the inquiries I’ve gotten off of there have been No Bueno. There’s a lot of incredibly bad and incorrect advice floating around online and a lot of young artists seem to feel that they are entitled to a career. LOL! I don’t know what to tell those folks but good luck with that attitude. Feel free to email me, but please don’t be crazy when you do. LOL!

Thanks to Tania for your candid advice and insightful words to see more of her work be sure to visit her personal website and check her twitter.

Ciao for now...Class is dismissed!

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