Makeup Artist Chat: Mary Erickson
What are some of the biggest changes in the Makeup Artist 's Industry over the years that stand out to you?
Social Media, You Tube and Photoshop have changed the game entirely. Makeup artistry used to be a very small field of people, we knew each other or knew of each other, the playing field was small and the pay was incredible, the average day rate in the 90's in San Diego was $600.00 to $1000.00 a day for the average working artist. Only the most talented made it onto a paid gig. Fixing shoddy makeup in post was next to impossible, it could be done but it took a lot of time and money, so the makeup artist had to be a perfectionist to make it. We actually could not see our work until the photographer showed us a proof sheet through a loop (for anyone under 40, that's like a magnifying glass.) You really couldn't see makeup close up in a loop, so you held your breath and waited for the print, praying that you didn't screw anything up.
As an artist if you did screw something up, nobody could "fix" it for you in post, so one mistake could be a career ending error; this resulted in a small field of very well paid and talented artists. Learning artistry was hard back then, there were only a few schools, out of the price range of the average person; and without the active internet, learning to do makeup properly was a real challenge. Most paid working artists that were on the scene prior to 1999 you can bet were very good.
You are widely known as a mentor to numerous successful artists around the world. What is it that drew you to helping others navigate their careers?
I love seeing people succeed, it brings me so much satisfaction to be a part of that process. What drove me was the mom in me, I see my own grown kids when I see people reaching out for help. What goes through my mind is, "What would I want someone to say and do for this person if this were my child?" I could never turn anyone away, I answered every email and every call.
Tell us how Camera Ready Cosmetics came to fruition and what sparked the idea.
Living and working in the 90's in San Diego California we had our challenges as artists. We had to drive to Los Angeles (about 2 hours away) just to buy professional products. When we needed something fast for a job and called a few of the LA stores, we were not always treated well. The hassle of getting makeup from a pro store that had little competition could not only be challenging but painful. The few stores that were around had poor websites and not the best of customer service. After one particularly unpleasant experience with a pro store I decided they needed a little competition. I saw a need and I decided to fill it. I never set out to have a big supply store or popular website; my goal at the time was to carry a few popular pro products for artists outside of Los Angeles and New York City.
You're very good at recognizing the needs of others in the industry. Is there a current need that catches your attention today?
Yes, there are a few. One is the absence of meaningful comprehensive education. There are schools and workshops, some are good some are not but none that I know of that I can look at and say, "That artist graduated from ABC school, I know they're good." The fact is, you can graduate from any makeup school and not be fit to work as an artist. Anyone with money can get in, I have never heard of anyone not graduating because they weren't good enough. They teach you what they can, they collect the money and everyone hopes for the best. Most artists that graduate never work in the industry because they just don't have the talent and/or they have no idea how to break into the very competitive field of makeup artistry. This makes a "certificate" useless in the real paying industry.
If you have graduated from a makeup school and have never worked on a real set as part of your training, if you have no idea how to pay your taxes as a sole proprietor, if you have no idea how to get work, or if you don't have a portfolio that can at least get you in the door, your chances are slim in any market. In defense of the great artists out there that are running schools, I don't believe they have set out to just take your money, I know most of the larger school’s founders personally and they have good intentions, they hire the best teachers they can, they are passionate about the industry and they do the best they can -they do graduate some artists who have gone on to be successful. I do however see a great need for more comprehensive training; I would like to see a graduation certificate that has real meaning. I want to know for sure that anyone graduating from that particular school has had all the experience they need and all the real training they need to be successful, and most of all, I want to see a school with the guts to turn someone with money away because that someone doesn't have enough talent to ever be successful. Harvard does that, Yale does that.... I would love to see this school in the next few years. It's time.
You have had a very successful career as a Makeup Artist, share with us one of your favorite moments on the job.
My favorite all time moment had to be shooting on the desert flat bed in Vegas at AFA (Allied Fashion Artists) when Mary RC drove onto our shoot, and photo bombed us with a big red beach ball. A naked male model went to chase it down, I was yelling "NO, don't run, you'll get sweaty!" we laughed until we cried watching him run through the desert after that ball. Mary RC knows how to throw an event! My favorite photos came from that event because they remind me of the fun we had and the contagious energy of collaborating with other artists.
Makeup Artists are always seeking your advice. What pointers do you find yourself sharing the most?
I'm full of opinions, even if people don't want them; If I had to narrow it down I would say:
1) Never take out a loan for school, work first, then spend, spend it on your portfolio if you can't afford school and a portfolio, the portfolio will be more likely to get you work
2) Have an awesome portfolio before you put yourself out there as an artist. Your portfolio should consist of real models, pro styling, pro hair, pro photographer, etc. Your team is only as strong as the weakest link, don't work with weak links.
3) Make other artists in the industry your friends and allies, never bad mouth another artist. Be respectful and humble always.
4) Be 20 minutes early to every job, NEVER EVER EVER be late. Look like you appreciate the job because others would probably knock you over to get it.
5) Unless you are required to have it on set, leave your cell phone in the car. It's a sign of respect and you need to give the job your full attention.
I'm guilty of doing a few of these things in the past, but as I matured in business I came to understand that these few things are very important to success.
Camera Ready is seeing amazing success these days. Give us a glimpse of what it was like in the beginning.
I started in my living room in a tiny house selling just RCMA foundation I put makeup in cookie jars, hutches, benches, drawers, you name it, products hidden all over the little living room and kitchen.
I did EVERYTHING myself including handwriting out each packing label and taking packages to the post office daily. I never took out a loan of any kind, I put every penny I made back into buying more products, Eventually I moved to a larger house and took over the living room and garage. I finally moved to a 3000 sf workshop in the back of a family property. I moved to my first actual retail location in La Mesa in November 2011, We outgrew that place and moved to another retail location in La Mesa in 2013, again, we quickly outgrew this location and moved at the end of 2015 to our current 12,000+ sf facility in Dallas TX, 10 employees and their families moved with us.
What do you see in CRC's future?
We currently have about 33 employees and support staff, our own photo studios, an actual employee lounge, health insurance for everyone that wants it and what I believe is the very best team in the industry. I still invest almost every penny back into the business because I believe that to be the best in the industry we have to hire the best people money can buy and this is where my focus is now. My focus now is on assembling the best team—a team that will propel us forward because now I know , it is about the strength of the team. There is a real positive synergy now that you can feel when you walk through our building. I'm like the owner of a great football team, we seek to recruit the best players that will take us to "The Superbowl." It's my job now to focus on making sure we have the right players and making sure those players are taken care of. We are going to expand into other areas of the industry but in a competitive business the element of surprise is important. What I can tell you is that Camera Ready will be around a very long time and will continue to grow and expand its operations.