Shenelle Mays-Smith: On What it Takes to Succeed as a Makeup Artist—from the Red Carpet to Film Sets
Updated: Nov 20
Shenelle Mays-Smith knows that beauty has always been a destination for her. Not necessarily because she dreamed about it as a child, but because others saw her talent as early as high school.
I don't know if I was necessarily thinking about the beauty industry as a child. But I do recognize that a lot of other people saw something in me that kind of told them that beauty was going to be a destination for me. And through that, they just kind of continuously reinforced it in me. I know when I graduated high school, I received a book from my theater department teacher that said "Keep reading, writing, and doing makeup."And the book was Sam Fine's "Fine Beauty". And I don't remember doing makeup in high school. I don't remember expressing an interest in makeup. But clearly it was something that was for me!
Yet, she initially set her sights on theater and it wasn't until her classmates in college were applying to graduate programs that she realized that wasn't the path for her.
I know when I graduating from college, I remember the exact moment I spoke with one of my professors. Everyone was auditioning for graduate school, preparing for thier auditions in the theater department. And I stepped outside with my professor and we had a real talk and she said, "What do you want to do?"I said, "I don't want to go to graduate school right now." She said, "I think you should go back to New York and do makeup." And literally, that's exactly what I did!
She discusses how she got her start, the value of relationships, why developing a thick skin is essential, and. why your talent alone is not enough.
OK. My first job, it was wasn't anything big, but it was for me about relationship. The job became something that I did for years to come. Every year in New York, up by Grant's Tomb, there is something called Harlem Fashion Week...
And I was chosen to be one of the makeup artists in that job, then set me up for working with them for the next four or five years, as well as working with one of the people that ran the Fashion Week and her clothing company.
I think my first job working with a celebrity might have been working with Danity Kane. I had a mentor who was a very strong makeup artist, and she would set up a team of other makeup artists to come in and assist her with the group of girls and getting them ready. And that was really exciting for me because at the time I was working with industry talent that was my age.
She also explains why for her, makeup needed to go hand-in-hand with getting her aesthetician's license.
I knew I wanted to add being an aesthetician to my skill set because I knew that being a makeup artist was just not enough. That it's great to have a love for beauty, but I think it's essential to have a love for the skin and how the skin works, because if you don't take care of the skin that you have, there is not a product that you can put on that will make it make it better.
Retail is interesting. Retail is not my favorite, but I feel that retail is a great start for any makeup artist just because as a makeup artist, you need to be able to understand a host of different products, what they do and how they work on different skin types. And I feel like retail is the best playground for that. You never know what you're going to get.
When she is looking to add makeup artists to her team, she looks for one thing besides talent. efficiency.
I look at efficiency. Look at how fast you can work. I look at mannerisms. I look at are you going to be all in the talent face? Are you going to be talking too much? We have a job to do and we can do it if we are not paying attention. If we are not focused. If we are not quiet. If we are not listening.
Another thing that is important is to develop a thick skin.
I think no one actually gave me the best career advice. I think it's what I've just learned from being in the industry, and that is to have thick skin. Nothing is personal. It's all business because you can be in this industry and you can be working every single day. And then you can stop. You could be working with one person for four or five years and then it can stop. But it didn't necessarily stop because of who you are or something you do, it's just business. And I think that those kind of shifts can often, you know, provide blows to the ego and make you doubt yourself.
Pick up these gems and so much more when you listen to all of Episode 8!