This week we chatted with Aisling Kelly (@aislingkellymakeup), all about her role as a high-profile Dublin-based makeup artist and character designer. Her impressive work ranges from beauty, fashion and editorial looks to designing characters for productions in opera, theatre, television and film.
How did you first get into the industry?
I started an art portfolio when I was around 16 and would message photographers I liked in the hopes that they would let me do makeup on shoots with them so I could get some experience and photos to use in my portfolio. I didn’t always get a reply but I just kept trying as I didn’t really have anything to lose! It started off slowly, especially considering I was still in secondary school, but I worked really hard at bettering myself and began to make contacts through each job I did. Word started to spread and I was lucky enough to be given the chance to work with some well-known brands and publications at a young age. I took every opportunity I could and learnt from my mistakes and experiences along the way. My career is still a work in progress, but it’s definitely picked up in the past year!
Can you describe a typical work day?
The nature of working as a makeup artist means that no working day is the same as the last – which I love! If I’m shooting, my work day usually begins around 9am when I’ll start makeup on the model/actor. Some makeup looks take 15 minutes, most take around an hour, but some can take up to five or six hours for a full bodypaint or multiple-prosthetic application. The length of the work day varies depending on what I’m doing, but an editorial shoot usually takes around four-six hours in total. That said, I’ve been on shoots that last up to 12 hours. To work in this industry, you need to be flexible with time and be ready to be on your feet all day. Some days, I work from my own makeup studio doing makeovers on clients for weddings or other events. Other days are spent in meetings with film crews, photographers, actors, models or brand representatives to plan for different projects. In between all that, I try to keep my ‘work’ social media accounts updated. This means posting new work on Instagram and Facebook and making sure my website looks fresh. As well as this, I tend to get around 10-20 emails about bookings and other work-related things every day – so keeping on top of those are a priority too. On top of that, I’m in my final year of a design course – so right now I’m spending a lot of time in the studio doing character design work for my major project. This involves a massive amount of research work as well as sketching, painting and 3D work before any final piece is created. As I said, every day is totally different, but that’s part of the reason I love doing what I do.
What motivates you?
Seeing the difference in my work over time is something that drives me forward. Being able to spot an improvement in a certain skill, as well as noticing things I’d like to get better at, keeps me going. Mostly, I’m just naturally drawn towards a lot of different disciplines and am an ambitious person. I get bored easily unless I’m doing something creatively stimulating and I also don’t ever limit myself to just one creative outlet. I think my generation is lucky in that a lot of us have the opportunity to do things that previous generations couldn’t do. We’re living in a progressive time where women can achieve whatever they want – and we’re lucky to have so many examples of multi-skilled and multi-talented people to look up to. I’d find it almost insulting to older generations if I wasn’t constantly pushing myself, because if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have half as many opportunities as we do now. Experimenting with different working roles is something I consider both important and extremely exciting. I also love learning and consider each working day a new opportunity to get better at something or achieve a new goal. My main aim is just to be happy doing what I do, so I guess I strive for that in my work and when it pays off it becomes more motivating to keep going.
How do you integrate social media into your career as a makeup artist/character designer?
Honestly, if it wasn’t for social media I’m not sure I’d be where I am now – or if I was, it would have taken me a lot longer to get to this point. Utilising social media effectively has seriously pushed my career forward. I think some people have a tendency to treat social media as a frivolous part of life – and in some senses, of course, it can be – but for creative people it can be invaluable, especially when starting out in the industry. In this day and age, the creative and fashion industry is jam-packed with newcomers who want to make their own mark. Integrating social media with your work is a great way to present yourself as an individual with your own style. I don’t take it for granted that the majority of the opportunities I’ve had thus far have come from social networking. It’s become essential for me to update my Instagram and Facebook page as often as possible in order to keep getting jobs so it’d be ignorant for me not to acknowledge its importance in my career. Social media also means that your work can be seen by anyone around the globe which means that like-minded people end up coming across your stuff. This often leads to new contacts, as well as the potential for your heroes in the industry to see your work – which is always exciting!
What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
I feel a great sense of achievement that I’ve been lucky enough to have my hard work recognised, and to have been given the opportunities to collaborate with forward-thinking brands who have hired me for my individual style and craft. It’s an amazing feeling seeing your work in print or in shop windows, knowing that you were chosen over potentially thousands of other people to do the job. That said, I’m aware that makeup is a transitory craft. Obviously, it takes years of continual practice to achieve a high standard and skill set, but at the end of the day – it can be wiped away. I’ve always loved the transformative powers that makeup has but I try not to take it too seriously. This means I enjoy it more but it also means I don’t tend feel a massive sense of personal achievement from a lot of makeup jobs either. Of course, there have been moments in my career as a makeup artist that have given me a major feeling of pride. In my academic and design work, however, a sense of real achievement is often more tangible. I’ve always been interested in visual culture, particularly in the area of subcultures, and I recently completed an extended thesis on the topic of Teddy Boys in 1950’s Ireland. I felt a massive sense of achievement having completed work that essentially involved having to pioneer research into an aspect of Irish culture that had seldom been looked into previously, and, to date, it’s the proudest I’ve ever felt about my abilities.
Have you any advice for people thinking of entering the industry?
Be ready to sometimes feel massively overwhelmed. Nothing can really prepare you for the effort it takes to continuously work hard at what you do and to constantly prove yourself in a vast sea of many other talented people. Take as many opportunities as you can, and practice your craft whenever you get a chance – you won’t get better by looking to other people. Don’t feel bad if something goes wrong – everyone starts somewhere and it only gets better. Have you ever seen photos of Ryan Seacrest as a child? Look at him now! Anything is possible. Develop your own style by working loosely. Understand the history of your craft and learn from mistakes and triumphs of the pioneers in your practice. Take inspiration from other fields, but never EVER copy work. Someone, somewhere, will notice and think you’re an idiot. Also, understand the value of social media but don’t confuse it with placing ‘value’ on followers. Don’t take yourself too seriously, at all, and be kind and polite to everyone you meet – regardless of how they treat you. Take chances and take risks – it will pay off!
Is there anyone that influenced you to take this career path?
From a ridiculously young age, my parents were unconditionally supportive of me being whoever I wanted to be (besides, like, a serial killer). They’ve always encouraged me to experiment and figure out what I enjoy doing through trial and error. As well as this, I had a serendipitous encounter during my fourth year in secondary school with an art teacher at my school who happened to ask me if I’d be interested in starting an art portfolio. Before this – I had never really considered art or makeup as something you could study in third level education or as something you could make a career out of. She encouraged me to purse the course I’m currently completing, and played a major role in my development as a conceptual thinker and creative makeup artist. Shout out to Dee, thanks again! In terms of going into makeup specifically, it was 100% in the moment I first saw the work of Pat McGrath in Elle Magazine when I was 14 years old. It was her makeup designs for John Galliano’s S/S 2010 RTW show and it blew me away – and they still do. Funnily enough, I recently realised that part of her inspiration for the look was Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’, a film I happened to redesign for my most recent completed character design project. It’s fate!
Where do you hope to see yourself / your business in 5 years?
In five years I just want to be in a place that I’m comfortable and happy. I’d love to get a chance to do some more design work on a bigger scale. It’d be a dream to design makeup looks for runway shows for designers who push the boundaries and create narrative costumes rather than everyday clothing. Additionally, I’d relish the opportunity to work as creative director for a brand or magazine. I’d also love to do some more film work and work as a character designer or art director on feature films. As well as all that, a part of me wants to jump into a masters or doctorate for a few of years – or even to publish a book based on my findings during my thesis research. Basically, I hope to be making a better living for myself through combining all my interests and skills.
What is your pet peeve about working in the industry?
Being dismissed as just a ‘mua’ – an initialism I’ve grown to despise. The lack of creative respect afforded to makeup artists is a major pet peeve of mine. Some people, in the industry or otherwise, look down on makeup artists or consider their craft unimportant or that makeup artists lack intelligence or thought. A good makeup artist is so much more than just somebody who can paint a sugar-skull-like ‘contour’ mess on your face. Respect, obviously, has to be earned. That said, there is no reason a makeup artist can’t contribute the same (or better) creative input to a project as another team-member. I hope to play a part in changing this attitude by continuing to push myself as a conceptual thinker and open-minded worker.
What do you do to relax and unwind after a long days work?
Chocolate. Cheese. Couch. Need I say more?
Check out Aisling's Website, Instagram, and Facebook to see more of her work.