Stop wasting your money on trending makeup, invest in your education—Advice from celebrity makeup artist and beautypreneur Marietta Carter-Narcisse.
Working on movie sets and meeting celebrities can seem like a dream world, but this career route takes passion, practice and perseverance.
Monique McLaughlin shares her exclusive interview with celebrity makeup artist Marietta Carter-Narcisse who talks about her experience and provides tips for those aspiring to make it in film, television, and print.
Up Close and Personal—
Monique: Back in the early 2000s, I signed up for a makeup class to hone my skills to work with skin tones in every color.
I specifically wanted to focus on the darker skin tones and master the unique issues that arose with sometimes working with African American pigmentation.
It was there, that I was inspired by the instructor Marietta Carter-Narcisse, who was an educator for MAC Cosmetics at the time.
She has since gone on to be a Master Educator of Film and Television for Makeup Forever, at Cite du Cinema in Saint Denis, just outside of Paris. Marietta was also an educator at Joe Blasco, IMATS and The Makeup Show.
Not only had Marietta already had a slew of impressive films and celebrity clients (Samuel L Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett to name a few) under her belt, she was also an educated business woman or beautypreneur, as she calls it .
She was the go to makeup artist for any person of color, with 41 IMDb credits and an Emmy nomination to her name.
Marietta is also a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
I think most artists struggle with makeup for women of color because they create their own mental blocks. You just must be able to identify and match the tones in the skin. Most artists try to put one foundation all over the face instead of matching to the different tones in the face.” —Marietta Carter-Narcisse
The forehead and the peripheral areas are usually darker than the middle of the face. When artists try to use one color all over it might match the middle but then it is too light for the forehead so the client looks grey and ashy.
Artist Tip: Usually when the color looks ashy, it means that the color needs more red hue added to it.
In 1984, Marietta met the late iconic singer Natalie Cole through her youngest brother Ian. Working with Natalie as a wardrobe stylist opened doors for her.
“While watching a movie on my day off, I had an epiphany. As I watched the credits roll, it struck me that I wanted to see my name scroll like that. I came home that evening and searched the telephone book for makeup schools (I couldn’t quite Google it back then).”
She found Joe Blasco’s Makeup School from a huge ad. When she called the next day, they wanted cash upfront for the tuition, which was out of her price range at the time. Years later she would end up teaching there.
Marietta went back to the phone book and found another school, Elegance International Makeup Academy, (now known as EI).
Marietta enrolled in Elegance in 1985 and spent the next 10 months in school where she graduated with completion certificates in Motion Picture & Prosthetics Makeup, Professional Makeup Artistry & Cosmetic Corrections, and Theatrical Makeup Artistry.
Around graduation time, the school recommended her to a nail salon that was about to open, as the owner wanted someone to do makeup. She jumped at the opportunity, which led to her building quite a bridal clientele, as well as a steady custom-blending clientele.
At the same time, the school also recommended her to some grad students at AFI (American Film Institute) who needed a makeup artist and hairstylist for their final project. It was her first student film and the perfect venue to execute many of the things that she had just learned in makeup school.
She started meeting other makeup artists who referred her to different jobs. As her network grew so did her opportunities and she started doing more film. She began to rise up the makeup ranks going from an extra makeup artist to second then key then to department heading.
“Of all the different mediums that I have worked in, nothing revs my engine like film, which is still my all-time favorite. There is something so majestic about seeing what you are working on come to fruition. Looking at the completed project on screen and seeing your name roll in the end credits.”
Marietta credits her longevity to her ability to constantly reinvent herself and stay current.
I have never been afraid to do what I needed to do to stay afloat. Once I stopped being on the set on a regular basis, I pursued many speaking engagements. I have a passion for teaching, which led me to seek more opportunities to instruct such as teaching many master classes as well as teaching regularly at Cosmix School of Makeup Artistry in Fort Lauderdale.”
Her advice to makeup artists who want to pursue the celebrity or high-profile client route is to first make sure they are up to the task. You must be always available, which could sometimes interfere with your personal and family life.
From the outside it looks very glamorous. However, from the inside it can be very demanding and challenging. It means keeping your ego in check and realizing that it is not about you, it is about that client. It means being prepared and professional, at all times.
One of the most poignant and stand-out moments of her career was when she was doing the movie, Tina: What’s Love Got To Do with It.
“I had a chance to meet the amazing living legend, Tina Turner. I spent about eight hours over the course of two days in the presence of Rock ‘n Roll royalty. Her energy, sense of purpose and sense of self were so heightened that it was majestic. We discussed many of the intrinsic nuances that were used to help bring Angela Bassett’s character to life in the movie.
The highlight of our meeting was beyond anything that words can describe, because in order for me to get the full picture, Ms. Turner actually got down on her knees and did my makeup. That’s right, Tina Turner did my makeup. She pulled out her makeup bag from her purse and did half of my face in the 1960’s and the other half in the 1970’s to demonstrate the stage looks she used during those eras. I was in awe.” Tina Turner just said, “I’ve always wanted to do a makeup artist’s makeup.”
Marietta thinks it is very important for those who want to get into this business to look at the entire picture, not just the glamorous side.
Pay close attention to the business aspect of the industry. Being self–taught is okay, but at some point, she thinks artists should take classes at a reputable school.
One of the most important things to remember is that it is not just about doing makeup; it is about doing makeup for the technology, which is ever evolving. She also recommends not to waste money on the next “new eyeshadow palette.”
Invest in your education and take classes from reputable artists in the industry and not the next new trend.