You see their craft and you see their inspiration every day. While they may not physically be present on the television or at an award show, they are there, invisible, ensuring that their brand shines for the entertainment and fashion industry to see.
For aspiring makeup artists, the inspiration and creativity that resides on the makeup palette is infintismal to what it means to “make it” in this space.
One makeup artist in particular, Tim MacKay, is a celebrity makeup artist and groomer, residing in New York City, and is known for his work on figures including Olympians Nastia Liukin and Michelle Kwan, actresses Samira Wiley (OITNB/Handmaid’s Tale), Quincy Brown (Star), Lisa Ramos, and CNN host, Anderson Cooper.
Having attended Hofstra University with MacKay, I was fascinated with the direction he took during our college education, as the film major, turned celebrity makeup artist and groomer living in NYC, found his own calling.
Through the Artistic Fires of Passion
Andrew Rossow: When did you discover your calling for becoming a makeup artist?
Tim MacKay: In 2009, I attended Hofstra University in New York to pursue a degree in film. But, when classes started, I realized it wasn’t something I could feel myself thriving in, and I felt stuck. It wasn’t until the summer between my freshman and sophomore year that everything changed.
AR: What do you mean?
TM: During that summer, I was working as a University Tour Guide, providing campus tours for prospective freshman. One weekend, I went to the Roosevelt Field Mall to shop, and that’s when I saw my first-ever MAC Cosmetics store. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I returned a few hours later with a resume that had no makeup experience on it, but something along the lines of retail and/or fast-food related. The manager there told me I had about a week and a half to return with a model and show them what I was capable of.
Now, you have to understand, there were no YouTube video tutorials back then, so I taught myself the old-fashioned way—I went on MAC’s website and absorbed as many tips as I could from their senior artists.
Somehow, the day of the interview, I made the managers smile! I thought I had “tricked” them in a way to believing I was experienced, but years later, I asked them, and they told me they knew I wasn’t experienced.
I remember one quote from my hiring manager, Gloria Hernandez— “we knew we could teach you how to do better eyeliner, but we can’t teach someone to be a good person.”
Even though they knew I wasn’t experienced, they told me they could see how eager and genuinely happy I was about this field, and they gave me a chance. That moment changed everything. I was hired in July 2010 and worked with the brand for 6 years.
AR: Would you consider this career transition (during your academic curriculum) impulsive or done upon a whim?
TM: Absolutely not. I have always loved the glamor of Hollywood and film. When I was little, I would study my favorite characters, usually female villains. I admired their attributes and features. This encouraged me to then take these characters and create something similar, but on human canvases. Working in the film and entertainment industry now, I’m now able to decide what these characters look like. For example, if a character is to be depicted as a stripper, what would her makeup look like? Her facial attributes? How much time would she need to spend putting into it before she goes to work? Questions like that.
AR: From where you started to where you are now, do you see a change in workload?
TM: Of course. After only three years, I am now fully certified doing makeup for largely broad-casted events, most notably, New York Fashion Week. I am now fully immersed in freelance, working mainly with celebrities and film production. I’ve groomed celebrities including T.I. (rapper), Lais Ribeiro (Victoria Secret angel), Dave East (rapper), Tiki Barber (former NYG player), Ne-Yo (artist), and many more.
“But, at the end of the day, I love working these long hours on set and making connections. Not only do I make clients look their best, but I’m also able to witness them feeling their best.”
AR: What is the most exciting part about what you do?
TM: Seeing my own skills grow and develop. As the workload and complexity of the art increases, I’m able to see the number of bookings I have increase, but most importantly, how I continue to grow as both an artist and an entrepreneur.
Remember, I started this business when I was 18 years old, where I was experiencing college and not taking life as serious as I do now. I had no idea what starting a career meant at that age. But, I had a dream and a vision, and ran with it. Three years in, I was backstage working NYFW under some of my role models. That in turn, transitioned into working with various celebrities, very quickly.
Right now, I’m primarily focused on film production and working with these individuals every day. You can say it’s become my “norm.”
“Ten years ago, I would never have had the confidence to believe I’d ever make a significant in another person’s life. Today that has changed, and I thank my parents for always keeping me grounded and reminding me how proud of me they were.”
AR: What is the most challenging part about what you do?
TM: I wouldn’t consider it challenging so much as I would say seriously invested. I love what I do and I don’t see it as a “job.” I take very limited vacations, because my gigs always change and am constantly placed into new environments where first impressions are everything. I would consider myself to be a workaholic, to the point of where I am almost afraid of taking time off at the cost of missing a new opportunity that would help broaden the horizon of my own personal goals.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about the money; I have participated and signed up for many opportunities and gigs for little to no money.
“What people have to understand is sometimes that’s a sacrifice you need to be willing to make, because in my space, it’s all about the first impression you make and the longevity of how far that impression is able to take you.”
Lessons to Aspiring
AR: What lessons have you learned along the way (good/bad) that you can pass to others who want to follow in your footsteps?
#1 –Always Say “YES”
TM: Throughout my career, I’ve learned to always say “yes” to as many opportunities you can, especially within the first ten years of career. It is never a good mindset to believe you are “too good” for any opportunity. If you are not booked one day and have nothing to do, and you’re asked to test with a great photographer and a gorgeous mode, why not say yes?
When I’m presented with such a question, I always ask myself what else I have going on that would be more important than that. Would I rather sit at home and watch TV? Hell no, I’d rather be on set for a couple of hours, making that great impression, and utilizing my skills in new, interesting ways. I’ve approached every project like this, and because of which, I’ve been able to sign various celebrity clients and booked large paying gigs. Why? Because those photographers remembered me and wanted to work with me again.
#2 –Always Keep A Positive Energy About You
TM: My second biggest piece of advice to aspiring artists is to keep a positive energy about you, always. Whether you are nervous, anxious, or afraid, don’t be an introvert. I say this from personal experience, because I grew up extremely introverted and shy, but knew if I ever wanted to sell myself, I needed to be the most outspoken, friendliest, and best version of myself possible.
#3 –Schedule and Write Everything Down
TM: For those who are reluctant to utilize a calendar (physical or mobile), break that habit. In the beginning, I assumed I’d just remember everything, and once in awhile, I would forget about a client or show up late. Remember, that was the 18 year-old who thought he could do whatever he wanted, when he wanted.
Almost 10 years later, I recognize the importance of responsibility and proper time management. I now go so far as to set reminders in my phone’s calendar days before the gig, just so that it is fresh on my mind. Therefore, I am always prepared.
#4 –College Isn’t For Everyone
Society has this expectation that you cannot achieve anything without obtaining a degree of some sort. But, in reality, many of society’s greatest minds did not have degrees or even finish school.
TM: Ultimately, I want to become a positive public figure and role model to those who never thought they had potential just because they didn’t take the traditional route of obtaining a degree. For many careers, you do need a degree, so don’t confuse this with knocking a college education.
“But, some people just don’t have the same opportunities or ability to attend college or finish their degree, and that does not make you a failure. It makes no sense to settle and limit yourself to a job you’re not happy with. For me, I wanted to work in cosmetics and makeup, so I went into this with passion, positive energy, and a genuine sense of who I was, and what I had to offer.”
Look to see what you’re passionate about and find a way to capitalize off that.
#5 –Don’t Take Things Personally
TM: My last piece of advice is also the hardest to follow. In the entertainment space, especially in fashion, not everyone is going to be nice to you. But, you can’t take it personally. As I have talked about being the best version of yourself everywhere you go, socially or professionally, that doesn’t mean everyone else will be that way to you.
“There is still a way for you to be respectful and nice, but not someone’s doormat. Know your self-worth and never let anyone intimidate you.”