Edwina Kelly has been a professional make-up artist for the last 18 years; working in Film, TV and Commercials. A specialist in prosthetic’s and special effects make up, her credits include Ripper Street, Penny Dreadful and making Mario Rosenstock look like Miriam O’Callaghan. How did she get such a cool job? Lets ask her…
Growing up in the 80’s I would have never have conceived of being a Make-up Artist, I didn’t know that existed as a career. All I knew from a young age is that I wanted to do something creative. I was always happiest when I was drawing and painting, I still am, my mother always said the crayons were never out of my hands. I had no interest in dolls or anything girlie, I was more interested in my brothers Stars Wars men!
The first film I remember that captured my imagination was ‘Labryinth’, I was only 8 years old, it opened up a whole new world of fantasy for me. To this day, it is still my favourite film, then came the movie Aliens, I was just mesmerised by it, not scared. The fantasy of these different worlds sparked something in me from an early age and maybe the budding make-up artist in me started there but I didn’t know it yet…
In school I was an average student, I did well but the academic side never really did it for me, Geography and art class was really all I was interested in, I always suffered terribly from shyness, still do to a certain degree, so drawing was a nice escape, I could go off into my own world and not have to deal with interacting and talking to people, (irony is I’ve chosen a career which is constantly dealing with new people so it forced me to confront my shyness as I wouldn’t have survived the industry otherwise) I was always a very last minute crammer for exams and even when it came to my leaving cert all my time went into getting my portfolio ready to apply to IADT as opposed to studying.
By the time I had got to Leaving Cert I still had not heard about the job of a make – up artist all I knew is that I wanted to do something art based, but after reading so many fine art prospective’s from various colleges none of them really sat with me, I didn’t feel I was creative enough for fine art. I went through a few creative ‘wobbles’ and was starting to lean away from art, I started looking at totally different career paths, I remember one day I was trying to do a portrait of a family member which really didn’t work out, it knocked my already waning confidence and I decided there and then that was it, I was going to look at doing something else completely, so I took all my drawings off the wall, broke my pencils, put all my art supply’s away and thought that’s it, no more. I announced to my Mam that I was giving up art and that I was going to follow another path. My Mam gave me a serious talking to, she gave me the push I needed and she encouraged me not to give up, that got me back on track, I knew myself she was right although it was hard to hear at the time.
So I went back to looking at art colleges, that then like magic I saw the Make-up for TV and Film and Theatre course in IADT and straight away I was ‘that’s it, that’s what I want to do’, it felt right, it clicked, I was so excited, then my heart sank when I saw they only accepted 20 student’s every second year. With my confidence still not good I was thinking what’s the point? But I went for it anyway, I gave the portfolio preparation my all, which included putting all my other subjects on the back burner, maybe I shouldn’t have but it was the only thing I wanted to do . Eventually the results came back, I had been accepted, I was so excited. I had battled my fears and worries, I gave it everything I had and in the end had beaten hundreds of other applicants I couldn’t believe it.
The course was 2 years long, it was a tough but because I was so interested in it I worked and worked and worked. There was not that much academic work in the course it was very practical so that suited me. I graduated with a distinction and then pretty naively sat back and expected the work to roll in, not realising what a tough industry I had chosen to get into.
Pretty soon after I started on a big budget feature film which scared the life out of me, the shyness in me put me off film for years, I wasn’t able for it so I went into retail and fashion and teaching for almost 10 years but although I enjoyed it, it never really got my true passions going, I never really felt challenged, I just got used to my regular pay cheques and the thoughts of freelancing was far too scary. Then everything changed, I was offered a job as a make-up artist on a short film, teaching work was drying up and I didn’t want to go back to retail, so it was really the last area for me to try in make-up, if that didn’t work out I faced changing career altogether, I was nervous about doing it but I decided to go for it and now 7 years on, I think it’s the best move of my career since. I love film now, maybe it’s because I’m a bit older, the shyness is not as bad, I did feel it did hold me back to a certain degree but things work out for a reason, I just wasn’t ready for film/freelancing at 20.
It’s a great career but I can’t sugar coat it, it’s a tough tough industry, you have to love it too survive in it. Its random paycheques, very early mornings, long days, out in all sorts of weather conditions; it’s not glamorous at all, quite the opposite! I am essentially running my own business which takes a lot of dedication and time and sacrifices. But I’m so lucky to be on a job that I love, I love getting to know the actors, all the crew go on a journey together to create the finished piece, you make great friends along the way, get to locations you never could as a member of the public not to mention the constant challenges of different make-up and techniques, every day is different so my practical skills are constantly been tested and pushed, it can be nerve-wracking and a lot of pressure and having to work quickly but the rewards are great with a sense of achieving after I’m like’ phew that worked!’ It’s always fun to go and see the film or TV show when its finished.
Being a makeup artist is not all about film and TV, it’s a broad industry, some make-up artists are much more fashion based and work on editorials, fashion shows and weddings and others in the theatre world where, to them, standing in field at 7am in the morning putting dirt on actors would be a nightmare! While that’s where I am happiest, it’s not for everybody. If the passion is there and you enjoy it I think you will naturally find your own path, mine was very bumpy from not knowing it at all, to finding it and not thinking I would get the course to taking almost 10 years to coming full circle back into film, but better late than never. Always try and follow your heart, you may have other people telling you otherwise but asking ‘what if’ will always be at the back of mind, if you go for it and it doesn’t work out you know you tried and maybe a different path was really for you or maybe you just go and try again!!