This month on 'Makeup Artist Chat' we had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin James Bennett. KJ is a globally recognized makeup artist and educator known for his product focus, business sense and passion for cosmetics. He is also a multiple Emmy Award winner with over three decades of makeup artistry and SFX experience in all media formats (print, runway, stage, video and film).
We asked for KJ's thoughts on industry changes, his favorite gigs, and recent collaboration with RCMA on the KJB Complexion Palette. Enjoy!
How old were you when you decided you wanted to become a makeup artist, and what led you to that decision?
I don't remember if deciding to become a makeup artist was Plan C or Plan D, but it didn't happen until I was in my mid-twenties. I was a Performing Arts major in college. Stage actors apply their own makeup, so learning theatrical makeup was part of my curriculum, but it never thrilled me. Fast forward to my (short) career in display design at Bloomingdale's NYC and things changed. I occasionally worked in the fashion windows where mannequins were "painted" with actual makeup to cross-promote clothing and cosmetic brands. Suddenly art and cosmetics became entwined, and my makeup addiction began!
If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
I was happily heading in the direction of a career in interior and display design, when stage performing felt unattainable. My mood is strongly influenced by my surroundings. So a profession where my creativity is challenged to create environments that evoke emotion feels very organic.
What was the most important piece of advice given to you when you were an aspiring makeup artist?
Never be afraid to fail. Failure teaches you to succeed, but only if you're willing to learn from your mistakes.
What type of work do you enjoy the most (TV, film, editorial, etc.) and why?
I still work on set, but my career focus has shifted over the past 3 to 4 years. A significant amount of my time is dedicated to makeup education (globally) and developing curriculum—both are extremely gratifying. I'm also an admitted cosmetics junkie, so consulting on product/brand development has become a dream job.
The makeup industry has changed a lot over the last decade. What aspects of the new makeup culture do you enjoy, and what do you dislike?
I LOVE the real-time conversations and content sharing social media has brought to our community. However, I dislike that anyone with a makeup brush can get in front of a camera and claim to be a "makeup artist.” Makeup artistry is a profession. I have no complaint with people identifying as makeup enthusiasts or beauty influencers. BUT, If you aren't being paid to apply makeup (to other people, not yourself) as one of your primary sources of income, you are NOT a professional makeup artist.
What are the staple items in your makeup kit (recent additions and classic items)?
I'm obsessed with creating beautiful skin. If you haven nailed the complexion part of a makeup application, the rest of your work looks incomplete. So, superior quality, full coverage foundations and color creams are a MUST in my kit.
What items do you keep in your kit that would be considered unexpected or unusual?
I carry basic SFX items (adhesives, molding materials) and alcohol activated palettes (Skin Illustrator) in my beauty kit. The line between beauty makeup and SFX can be blurred very effectively if you know how to manipulate your products.
Your recent RCMA Kevin James Bennett Complexion Palette has been a huge success. Can you tell us how the collaboration got started and how you chose the foundations/correctors included in the palette?
The first time I freelanced at a TV studio (King World in NYC), I was handed a palette of RCMA foundation. I was intimidated by its intensity. I came from a world of consumer products in retail, photo and runway. We had nothing like this. Once I became comfortable using it and realized the possibilities it offered, I became a career-long fan.
I mentioned my obsession with complexion and my role as an educator in a previous question. I teach color theory, and it's important for my students to understand how foundation colors are created. I was making cream color palettes in my kitchen, using RCMA 'Clear' base and the five single pigments used to create every foundation. I finally persuaded RCMA to do the work for me. That's how the five color 'Adjuster' palette was born.
I'm frequently asked, "which foundation colors do you have in your kit?". Because I'm obsessed with condensing my kit to maximum versatility using the least amount of products, most pre-made palettes didn't meet my requirements. I researched and tested until I came up with a tightly edited collection of single colors that offered the most versatility - and created a palette of my own. Unfortunately, an artist wanting to reproduce my custom palette was faced with a cost of almost $300.00 at retail.
When RCMA offered to create a "KJB" palette, I looked at the 18 wells in the compact and realized we could fit ALL my foundation picks, the new adjusters, AND the Clear mixing medium. To make this even more exciting, they let me create a NEW foundation color. I've always felt that the Shinto Series was a bit too dark at the lightest end, so I created Shinto Zero. It's the pale olive shade I always looked for in that series, and now it's been introduced in my signature palette.
I'm crazy excited about my collaboration with RCMA because one single palette now contains EVERYTHING an artist needs to create outstanding complexions.
You have a very impressive portfolio. What was your favorite gig of all time?
My favorite wasn't a single gig.
I spent nine years heading the departments on two network soap operas. I was challenged to create credible beauty makeup and SFX, in an extremely time-sensitive medium. I also worked through the transition from video tape, to digital video, to HD video. They were amazing learning experiences!
What is the most important advice you could give to a young person trying to start their career as a makeup artist?
Be passionate, driven, humble and never stop learning.
If you would like to learn more about KJ Bennett and his outstanding career, visit his website at KJBennett.com, or check out the video below and subscribe to his YouTube channel!