Testing, testing, 1,2,3...a day in the life of an MUA...


When I was a young girl I hated taking tests in school. I wasn’t very good at memorizing facts or figures and I got so nervous because I knew that I was going to fail.

Little did I know that I would grow up to become a professional makeup artist constantly “testing” my abilities and products and being paid for creating beauty (or ugliness) in the television and film industry.

Testing prior to working on set is crucial. I can’t stress this enough to those of you who are students of makeup artistry and have yet to work in the fast paced environment called the makeup room!

Testing builds your speed as an artist, your confidence and you could develop a way to produce effects that no one else has discovered. The original techniques of the makeup artists that I was taught by at makeup school, honed their skills through trial and error or “testing!”

Dick Smith, creator of many characters in films such as The Exorcist, The Godfather, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Taxi Driver to name just a few, always lectured our class on the art of being prepared for “anything!”

Making sure that our kits were stocked with strange accoutrement such as thin balloons, Knox Gelatin, denture adhesive and Alka-Seltzer. It wasn’t because those things were needed for us to lighten up late night deadlines in the lab or to treat upset stomachs from all the craft service food we would inhale. It was because those particular items could rescue a makeup artist in a hurry when an unforeseen change is made and the entire crew is waiting for the makeup artist to create an effect.

For example, if a gun shot was added to a scene, an actor could easily “pop” a blood filled thin balloon secured to his/her wardrobe or fresh burn wounds could be created quickly by heating up Knox Gelatin and applying it to the skin. Denture adhesive is safe to use to stick fake teeth to real teeth and wounds that had to look infected could ooze with the help of Alka-Seltzer.

I recall one particular class where Mr. Smith taught us how to create gross teeth in a hurry. All of the students rushed off to the grocery store armed with a list that instructed us to purchase Hubba Bubba bubble gum, peanuts, and a nail file and to make a quick pit stop at the craft store for some non-toxic black paint.

The next day we sat in class looking at the “tools” we were going to use and per Mr. Smith’s instruction we spread a piece of the bubble gum inside our mouths, across our upper teeth and thinned it out slightly.

Prior to that, he had asked us to cut the peanuts in half and file them down into points or jagged sharp shapes and paint them black. Then we stuck the peanuts onto the bubble gum and finished our makeup look. At the end of the class we all took pictures of our rotten, zombie creations! How’s that for innovation?

Sometimes I have to test my skill level as an artist because I need to recreate a period of time in the past. Makeup was worn different out in the old west or during the roaring 20’s. Other times, I have to product test because I need to create a fictional character like a zombie that has peeling skin and open wounds.

It is important to find a model that will sit for you during the testing process, but I have had many people turn me down especially when it is special effects trials. They either have sensitive skin or don’t want to sit for a long period of time while I poke and prod their faces with adhesives that smell gross and products that feel funny on the face. So, I have had to be my own model many times!

Below are a few photos from a recent photo shoot that required zombie type makeup and I have included my test photos as well. Because I tested all product prior to the shoot I was able to design and recreate the look on set very quickly. Enjoy!