On-Screen Makeup Tips and Insights from a Professional Makeup Artist

Here are a few tips from Matthew Burke, a makeup artist based in Brooklyn, NY, on how to grasp the basics of film and TV makeup, so you can do for yourself when working with a small crew:

On big-budget TV and film sets, you’ll usually find entire teams devoted to makeup: the look for each character is carefully thought out, and filming doesn’t begin until each of those looks is perfectly executed. 

On smaller sets, however, where the budget is a bit tighter—the kind of set you’ll probably find yourself on at the beginner of your career—you may not find entire teams devoted to makeup. In fact, very often, you’ll find no makeup artist at all! 

That’s why learning to do your own makeup can be a tremendous asset, especially when you first start out, and find yourself working on independent sets where there’s no makeup artist available. You can frame your character and enhance the scene—and even mask some skin imperfections while you’re at it! 

Here are a few tips from Matthew Burke, a makeup artist based in Brooklyn, NY, on how to grasp the basics of film and TV makeup, so you can do for yourself when working with a small crew:

Learn to Color Match

You have to be prepared for last minute calls in this industry- luckily I was

Find a matching foundation can be tough (even for professionals!) so learning how to find the correct foundation or concealer shade for yourself will help you whether you’re doing your own makeup or having it done by a professional. The main thing that will help with this process is knowing whether your undertone is warm, which is more yellow with veins that look a little green, cool, which is more pink with veins that look purple, or neutral, which is more of a beige tone with veins that look blue. 

The key with color matching is to test the foundation shade against the part of the face where it won’t be applied. In other words, if you will only apply foundation to your face, the color should match your neck, whereas if you like to blend your foundation all the way down your neck then it should match your chest. 

Understand the Basics of Highlight and Contour

Highlight and contour is the most important technique for on-screen makeup, since it relies on light and shadow to change the depth of the face. On film, especially if the lighting is very bright, the features can end up getting washed out so adding dimension with light and shadow can counter that. Highlight should be applied to the high points of the face, while contour goes along the perimeter of the face and just below the cheekbones. A more expert hand can also utilize the technique to totally change the features, so don’t be afraid to practice and experiment. 

Master the “No Makeup Makeup” Look 

The default look for the majority of on-screen roles is the “no makeup” makeup look, and it is also the best makeup look for headshots and auditions. It’s a natural-looking way of applying makeup to make you look like the healthiest and freshest version of yourself. If you usually like to wear more glamorous makeup, learning to scale back will be very useful, while if you normally prefer a dewy look it’s important to learn to switch to something a little more matte. 

Achieving this look will be a different process from person to person, so check out different techniques on Youtube to see what works for you. Male actors don’t have to apply as much makeup as women, but it’s still necessary — especially powder to take away shine. 

Take Care of Your Skin 

One of the first thing professional makeup artists figure out when they start in the industry is that good skincare saves half the battle. It’s not just about actors having clear and blemish-free skin, (which can help but it’s not mandatory) — what really makes a difference is when an actor’s skin is well-moisturized. Even professional-grade foundation will emphasize areas of dryness, and it is much more likely to look visible on camera, which is a big industry faux pas. This is why adopting a basic skincare routine of cleansing and moisturizing every day is so important for actors of all genders, as it can ensure that foundation will go on smoothly and will be undetectable on camera.  

Build Your Makeup Bag with High Quality Products

Most actors should have their own little collection of makeup, so they can look camera ready no matter what. Male actors can get away with owning just a foundation or concealer, but a mattifying powder, and contour and brow products can also come in handy. Actresses will likely require enough makeup products to apply a full face, with the bare minimum being foundation, mattifying powder, brow filler, mascara, eyeliner, a palette of neutral eyeshadows, an appropriate contour shade, a natural-looking blush, and a natural-looking lipstick. 

You can always go above and beyond with additional makeup types and different shades, but the key is to choose well-reviewed products from reputable brands. High-quality makeup doesn’t have to be expensive, but it shouldn’t be dirt cheap either, and you should choose products carefully to make sure they suit your colouring and skin type. 

Go Deeper

This final tip is for the overachievers in the lot! Historical and special effects makeup feels a little bit different than typical “beauty” makeup and it requires different materials and techniques, so knowing a bit about it will prepare you for what you might have in store in your future. The chances that you’ll have to do your own period or special effects makeup are quite low, but they are not non-existent and they might give you an edge in some instances. 

There are a lot of resources online for learning how to do basic special effects makeup, but these YouTube channels are a great place to start, while the best way to learn about historical makeup is to look at photos from the last century and see how styles changed from era to era. 

Matthew Burke is a makeup artist based in Brooklyn, NY

On-Screen Makeup Tips and Insights from a Professional Makeup Artist

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