Liz Fuller: “Don’t compare yourself to other artists”

Your weekends are often spent working. I guess I didn’t realize this when I started. People usually get married on the weekends. Weddings were my bread and butter when I started out, so I had to be prepared to work almost every weekend. Having to be away from my family or to say no to […]

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Your weekends are often spent working. I guess I didn’t realize this when I started. People usually get married on the weekends. Weddings were my bread and butter when I started out, so I had to be prepared to work almost every weekend. Having to be away from my family or to say no to a party or event because I am working was difficult at the beginning. But I am managing it better now and can pick and choose what jobs I want to do on the weekends.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Fuller, freelance makeup artist and owner of Liz Fuller Makeup Artist. Liz began her journey into makeup artistry in 2010, when she was at a crossroads about her career in public relations. Liz had always loved makeup, but never thought she could have an actual job in the beauty industry. But she soon discovered that makeup artists were in high demand and she decided to take a risk.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Liz! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Wakefield, MA with my older brother and sister. I had always been creative, but not with traditional art. I loved reading and writing, and oftentimes wrote my own stories and plays. I was also quite dramatic (and a bit funny, if I say so myself!), so I loved to act and dance. I had always loved makeup. Every since I was about 4 or 5 years old, I was fascinated with makeup. My mother loved makeup as well, so she had a good amount on hand that I would play around with. Mind you, I wasn’t supposed to be getting into her makeup and I definitely destroyed some palettes and lipsticks! But I adored all of the colors and textures. I spent all of my money as a teen on drugstore makeup and fashion and beauty magazines. I always wanted to see what the newest looks were and try to learn how to do them. However, we weren’t encouraged to be performers or artists as kids, so I took the traditional route and went to college. I got a Bachelor’s Degree in English.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

A mutual friend had introduced me to a local makeup artist, and I was able to assist her on a few jobs. At this point I hadn’t considered being a professional makeup artist. I had no plans to look for my own work. I was completely happy to just help out here and there for fun. But a couple of jobs in, the clients were raving about my work and I could tell this worried the other artist. Soon she didn’t ask me to help anymore. I didn’t understand why she stopped contacting me. I liked her a lot and enjoyed helping out. But in talking to friends and family to try to determine what went wrong, it occurred to me that perhaps she felt a bit threatened. I am not the type to swoop in and take over, but I guess she may have felt that way. It was then that I realized that I had talent for makeup artistry. If someone was actually worried about me taking work away from them, I figured I had to be pretty good. That is when I decided to take this passion I had for makeup and make it my job.

There are no shortages of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I did a lot of research before I committed to trying this. I knew there was a need for makeup artists; bridal makeup, business head-shots, makeup for events. I started from the bottom. I sought out photographers, stylists, and hairdressers to let them know I was available for their clients’ makeup needs. I donated my services to charities, worked for free. I have an attorney friend who helped me draw up a contract for clients. I believe that if there is a will, there is a way.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

I think people worry that they won’t be successful, that a hobby is just something you do in your spare time. People are scared to give up a secure job with a real salary and benefits to pursue a passion. I worried if I could actually make a living being a makeup artist. Could I actually make enough money to pay my bills? But I was determined to make it work. After having a taste of what it could be like, I wanted to do more of it. I went full throttle. I told everyone I knew that I was embarking on this new career. I did a lot of research and networking. I educated myself on the industry at that time to determine how I could do it. All I can say is that if you really want to do something, it is up to you to do it. Nobody is going to knock on your door and ask you to do it.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

I feel like the beauty industry is ever-changing. Especially these days, where information is so immediate. To me, that is a good thing, because I can educate myself from the comfort of my own home any time I want. I can do research on current trends or watch a video to learn a new technique. I am always learning and evolving as an artist. I think that is a very exciting thing. I take a lot of classes and attend makeup workshops and forums to learn how other artists do what they do. Everyone does the job differently. It is always enlightening to watch another artist at work, because I get to see the different styles of each individual. Then I am able to incorporate some of their tricks and techniques in my own work. I also subscribe to trade magazines to learn about different courses or makeup shows I can attend and read about other makeup artists’ styles. So I don’t ever get bored or dread my job. I try to learn as much as I can and then use that knowledge to take my artistry to the next level.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I enjoy being my own boss; I don’t have to answer to anyone. I like that I have flexibility in my job and I am able to pick and choose the jobs that are most meaningful to me. The downsides are that I am doing it all alone. I don’t have a staff helping me out. I don’t like having to deal with the financial aspects, like keeping track of deposits, balances that are due, or determining what to charge for my services etc. (I don’t care for math, that is why I was an English major!) Trying to sort through contracts and scheduling can also be quite challenging. I make sure that I am always connecting with other people in my industry who are in a similar situation. I like to meet up with them for coffee or lunch so that I don’t feel so alone. We discuss our challenges and try to help each other come up with solutions.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wouldn’t be doing celebrities’ makeup in the beginning. I knew that I wouldn’t be working on a movie or television set or doing runway shows at first. I didn’t want to idealize my job because I didn’t want to be disappointed. One thing I didn’t know and was surprised to learn was that good, supportive footwear is necessary! Sometimes I am on my feet for eight hours straight and my feet and back really take a beating. I also didn’t realize that there is a lot of waiting when on set sometimes; waiting for the talent to arrive, or waiting to do touch-ups, and even waiting to go to the bathroom or eat. But then again, sometimes things are lighting fast and I feel kind of crazed trying to make sure a client or the talent is ready on time. These are situations I didn’t even consider prior to getting into the industry.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

I did think this once. Maybe about two years ago. I was feeling like I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career and didn’t know how to get where I wanted to go. But then I thought about how I didn’t want to go back to Corporate America. I couldn’t imagine giving up on something I had worked so hard to achieve. I decided to set goals for myself at that time, focusing on the type of work I wanted to do. I was able to get out of that funk by thinking positively and really forcing myself to spend more time focusing on what I wanted out of my career. I recently attended a makeup forum in Washington D.C. called I Artist (sponsored by The Makeup Show) and a majority of the forum focused on taking our careers to the next level. It was an incredible experience for all of the attendees, because a lot of us were in that place of being discouraged and not knowing how to get where we wanted to go. The forum was like a road map for us all; giving us the tools and resources to take our careers from where we currently are to where we want to go. After attending that forum, I thought back to when I wanted to quit and realized that I just couldn’t. I put into practice all that I learned at I Artist and I have been actively seeking out people that can lead me in the direction I want to go. I am networking a lot more, working on my craft daily, and I am really working hard for everything I want to achieve.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if I can call this a “mistake”, because as I was doing it I knew it was wrong, but continued to do it. I had a woman come to me for a bridal trial. It was her second wedding and she was on the mature side. I believe she was in her early 50’s. She brought one of her bridesmaids with her to the trial, and asked for her to have a trial as well. She told me that the first wedding was the wedding her mother wanted her to have, so the second wedding was going to be the wedding she wanted to have. She said she wanted a smokey eye look. I knew that giving her the full-on smokey eye look was not a good idea, because she had wrinkles and fine lines around her eyes, as well as dark circles. She said she wanted her whole bridal party to have the same look. Her friend that came with her was fair-skinned, had lots of freckles, and was a redhead. She also had wrinkles and fine lines. I voiced my concerns to her about what she wanted, telling her that I didn’t think doing a smokey eye with dark shadows would be flattering to her or anyone in her bridal party. She insisted I do it, despite me repeatedly telling her I didn’t agree. So I went to work, creating the smokey eye look she wanted on both of them. At the end I was horrified! They left and within about 2 hours I received emails from both of them telling me how horrible the eye makeup was. The bridesmaid told me that her family said she looked like she had been punched! I cried laughing because I knew that would be the case! I told the bride that she should have trusted my professional opinion. In the end, she allowed me to do what I felt would best suit her and her bridal party, and the bride actually ended up looking 20 years younger!

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

You know, up until last month, I didn’t have anyone specific that I looked to for inspiration. But again, the I Artist makeup forum really gave me some clarity and hope for what I can achieve. Makeup artists James Vincent and Danessa Myricks lead the forum and told us all about their journeys and all of the ups and downs they went through to achieve success. There were so many guest speakers and presenters that shared their stories as well and it really lit a fire in me. So I am looking to all of them for inspiration and guidance. They are so knowledgeable about the beauty industry and I am just trying to absorb every bit of advice they are so kindly willing to give.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

This is something I am currently working on and it was another topic that was discussed at I Artist: giving back to our communities. I have always wanted to work with women who have been out of the workforce for many years, whether it is because of being a stay-at-home mother, or someone who is recently divorced, or women in shelters who need to find a job, whatever the case, I have always wanted to help them with finding the right job-appropriate makeup look/products that can help them feel confident and look polished. I want to teach them how to apply makeup so that they look and feel their best. I would love to be able to supply them with a small makeup starter kit to help get them started. After attending this forum I realized that I need to do the legwork and research and connect with people who can help me take this idea to fruition.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Makeup is very expensive! I already knew this, but to have a complete makeup kit is very expensive. There are always new, better formulas that are being created and I tend to overbuy so that I am on top of the trends and styles. I am in the process of minimizing my kit, but it is very hard for me to “downsize”!
  2. Your weekends are often spent working. I guess I didn’t realize this when I started. People usually get married on the weekends. Weddings were my bread and butter when I started out, so I had to be prepared to work almost every weekend. Having to be away from my family or to say no to a party or event because I am working was difficult at the beginning. But I am managing it better now and can pick and choose what jobs I want to do on the weekends.
  3. Know about lighting. I have had to really educate myself on lighting because it is so important when it comes to makeup and photography. Knowing how to highlight the skin so that the light catches it in a certain way is important. Lighting can affect the way makeup looks on the skin, so being able to know what to expect in certain lighting conditions is imperative to makeup artistry.
  4. People want to pay you less than you deserve. I have certain pricing for my services. I never thought about people trying to negotiate prices with me. People will ask me to reduce my prices significantly and I am just floored by that. I have told some people this: If your boss came to you and said, “I need you to do your job, but I am going to pay you 30% less, ok?” how would that make you feel? Would you accept that?
  5. Don’t compare yourself to other artists. This is a very difficult concept to grasp, because we live in this digital world where information and images are so readily available. It is hard to not compare my work to someone else’s. But I have learned that every artist is different. We all have different styles and aesthetics. So I am focusing on my own style and look to other artists for inspiration.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

This has nothing to do with makeup, but one thing that I would really like to get involved in is America’s school lunch programs and physical education. I feel like kids are eating foods that aren’t healthy for them. I feel like our country has let our kids down in this area. There needs to be less processed foods, less sugar in the school lunches. There needs to be more whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits. Food is our fuel and just like a car, if you put low quality gas into a car, that car isn’t going to perform very well. It might sputter and break down. Food is the same for people. We need the best quality food to perform our best. We have one body for our entire lives and we need to nurture it and care for it through a healthy diet and consistent exercise. I feel that kids are more sedentary than ever now; with phones and video games taking over their lives, kids are not getting outside for fresh air and playtime. It is something I feel so strongly about and wish I could spearhead some sort of program to educate kids on how important their health is.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I read a quote a long time ago that said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” I remember reading that and I felt this incredible power. I thought about how if I could demonstrate how good my work was, I would be remembered. And I also thought about my character and personality and how when people meet me they are instantly put at ease, because I am someone who really wants to get to know someone. I am genuinely interested in speaking to people and learning about them and their experiences. I feel like this quote is one that helps to light a fire under you, to propel you forward.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Oh goodness! I have so many people that I admire for so many different reasons. I’d love to be able to pick their brains about their careers, their successes and failures, what they learned from everything they’ve done and what else they would like to do. Can I say more than one? Five women come to mind immediately: Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Bobbi Brown, Linda Wells, and Madonna. Each of these women personify power, but in very different ways. Oprah has always radiated positivity. She always strives to help people see the best in themselves, to always learn and grow and educate themselves, and to, in turn, educate others. She has encouraged people to read, to step out of their comfort zones, and realize the power of community and how that can help others to be strong and brave, no matter what their situation might be. Michelle Obama is so inspirational to me because, not only is she married to one of the most powerful men in the world, but she is so powerful in her own right. She encouraged our nation to be aware of our health, especially the health of our children. She focused on eating whole foods and exercise, in a country that is growing more obese by the day. Plus, she is a very intelligent woman who is an attorney and doesn’t need to live in the shadow of her husband. She was always on the front lines of so many issues, never staying silent about how she felt. And she also helped to raise two daughters who grew up in the spotlight and make sure they were grounded, humble, and grateful. Bobbi Brown started the whole “no makeup makeup” revolution back in the 1990s. I feel like my aesthetic is very similar to hers, because I don’t believe we need to wear a mask of makeup. We don’t need to cover every single little flaw on our faces, despite what Instagram might tell you. Makeup should be used to enhance what is already beautiful about ourselves, and Bobbi emphasized this when she created her own makeup line and showed the world how she envisioned what makeup should do for a woman. I definitely go back to articles and photoshoots that she has done to remind myself that women, and people in general, are beautiful without makeup, and that just the tiniest bit of makeup can really make a huge impact on our confidence. I admire Linda Wells so much. She started out reporting for the New York Times and eventually became their beauty editor. She then went on and founded Allure Magazine and was the editor-in-chief for almost 25 years. When Allure first came out, I tore through the pages, digesting every single morsel of information. The copy, the photos, everything was just amazing. I had thought that maybe I could be a beauty editor for Allure back then. With my writing and research skills, along with my love for makeup and skincare, I thought maybe that was something I could do. I never really knew how to do it, though. But I have read every issue of Allure since, and have followed Linda’s career. She founded her own beauty brand last year, called Flesh, which, as a makeup artist, I am very impressed with the products and line overall. And finally, Madonna. Madonna has built her career on shock-value. She did astonishing, eye-popping things to gain attention for herself. I am guessing it was all very calculated, since she must have felt that even bad press is still press. She wanted people to talk about her and her wild antics made people aware of her. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, her music and style were considered quite provocative, something that the world hadn’t seen before. I admire her drive and passion to succeed. She knew exactly what to do to make people notice her. Perhaps her way was a bit unconventional, but it worked for her. She also brought awareness to the gay community, and really helped so many people feel comfortable to express themselves authentically. Now, I won’t be crawling across a stage in a wedding dress anytime soon, but man, she knew how to get the attention she wanted and, ultimately, deserved.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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