Elle St. AubYn
Elle St. Aubyn is an experienced makeup artist who has been working in the industry for 20 years. She shares her advice and stories about working as freelancer for various clients including CBC.
How did you get involved in the industry and makeup?
Makeup was a follow up to hair. I went to hair school in the early 90’s, I was on maternity with my son and thought of what can I do when I’m off? I took a beauty course and I went to the makeup school of art, it was on 3 months and it kind of just took off after, hair fell to the back and makeup was what took off and that was 20 years ago now.
How did you get involved in the industry and makeup?
It evolved with how everything else is evolving, so I’ve been able to come into makeup before HD and after HD. A lot of us start out doing retail I was with MAC for 13 years and a few other companies between that time. It then evolved into a place where I could work for myself.
That's just time and experience, networking, staying relevant, keeping up on my skills and staying in the industry, because once you step out of it I find it changes a lot and you miss all of those opportunities. The people change, whether it be in production companies… It is a lot of the same, but also really different. Doing makeup is still kind of the same because there is the art but with Instagram it’s changed and gives people a different view of what making it is in the makeup world.
How was experience at the school? Did you find that they actually educated everyone correctly?
I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that was young enough, but in the industry long enough, almost at the end of her career, where she talked about more of the nature of the business of makeup and being a freelancer and doing makeup. Because makeup is something you practice, and you’d get where you want to be with practice. Yes, she taught us makeup, but also the business of makeup. For example, she told me it might take 15 years to break in the industry to be able to freelance by myself, and knowing that gave me a pace to set myself on. I didn't get frustrated in two years saying I haven’t made it, and it was pretty much around the 15 year mark where I was able to completely freelance with nobody else, all by myself.
Do you work with a lot of women of colour?
do you feel a difference?
I’m in group as a former Mac Artist called mac mates and we talk about different things and a lot of white artists will get offended, “Well I’m a makeup artist too and I can do makeup”. And I have to explain to a lot of them, especially here in Toronto, because a lot of what you see is based on money and if there's not the demographic for it, its not coming here. Lancome has lots of dark skin makeup in the States, but there's not a market for it here in Toronto. A lot of the white makeup artists don't have the experience but feel so offended and I’ll say "They’ve been black longer than you’ve been a makeup artist." You can ’t look at a 60 year old women and tell her about her experiences through makeup just because you feel that you know what you can do. I have met some white makeup artists that could do makeup great. There's some of them that are true artists, then there's some that are still struggling and learning to come along. I do do a lot of black women. I don’t set out to do so, but of course being black, that’s what you're drawn to.
I find black makeup artists have to be able to do all kinds. I just came up from up there (CBC Studios), and everybody that I was working with was white. But, I find the other way around, if you’re white, you might not necessarily know how to do a black person, and that’s cool. You can get away with that. I can’t get away with that. My kit has to be full, but they can show up with no black people makeup in their kit and put stuff on you and ask “Oh do you have your own foundation?” We see it still with models who are calling out the industry and showing up at fashion shows asking why do I have walk with my own kit? Why are you trying to slick down my hair with water? Why don’t you have artists here who know how to work with me and my skin?
We know for fact that some brands Do have a more diverse range but not all the shades transfer over to every market. Why do you think that is?
Usually in a lot of markets, even when I worked at MAC, they don’t look at it as a Toronto market. In the States, they'll have different states as their market, but Canada is one big market. When they're looking at Canadian stuff, they're looking at the whole country not just Toronto. If you’re looking at it at a whole, there's not enough people of colour for them to start sending, even if it's just in Toronto.
What are some of the common mistakes you often see done by makeup artists or clients?
Finding the right colour. People will say,“ I have to mix!”, but now that we’ve moved on to contouring and highlighting, I wish someone would tell darker skinned women that we have naturally occurring contour. When you take a foundation and just put it all over your face, you’ve then taken away all of those things. It’s actually a blessing to have different colours all over, because we have the framework to contour without having to do it. What frustrates me is when people can’t match colours. Brands say they don’t have their right colour because we’re darker on the outside and lighter on the inside. You could just work with that, it doesn't have to be expensive it can be a foundation on the outside and and concealer for the lighter on the inside. That’s where highlight and contour will come from. It’s just frustrating for me to watch so much makeup being put on for everyday walking the street. Less is more.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
Don’t nickel and dime yourself. I find a lot of people are shying away from shadowing with makeup artists, now with Instagram it tells everybody they're great. They no longer have work alongside anybody but I’m all for mentorship, I’m all for going back and finding someone that’s been doing it, see if you can shadow, see if you can be on set, see if you can work for them. You’re forever learning, work on as many people as you can! If you can’t do school, see if you can get in at a makeup counter. Doing is the best way to learn and then networking. Follow up with those people at the beginning— there is free work. I did a lot of music videos, one of Drake’s first music videos I assisted, it was for free, but it was a credit. One thing rolls into the other, you meet people on set, you exchange and follow up with email, the same as any other business.
Have you had any favourite projects?
A lot of them have been volunteer work, I’ve done a lot of work with the homeless shelters those are always great experiences. Working at CBC, getting to see how things work from the inside and out. Diversity or lack there of in makeup or media or the faces that are on TV.