“There will never come a time when makeup artists won’t have work”
Shraddha Bachani lists the many work opportunities for a professional makeup artist today and explains her preference for bridal over celebrity makeup.
When Mumbai-based mass media postgraduate Shraddha Bachani decided to quit her job as a talent manager to pursue makeup, nine years ago, she had to prove to her businessman father and acupuncturist mother that being a makeup artist is a worthy profession. She had to make them realise that a makeup artist’s job is not ‘non-intelligent’ and a lot more than ‘going to people’s houses and putting powder on their faces’.
Shraddha succeeded in her mission in the very first year of entering the industry, when she got an opportunity to work with acclaimed makeup artist Kapil Bhalla’s team for Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW).
Since then, Shraddha has done makeup for Virat Kohli, Karisma Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Madhuri Dixit, Lisa Haydon, Dia Mirza, Manushi Chillar and for fashion designers Manish Malhotra and Kunal Rawal’s showcases. She has also worked extensively for LFW and headed the entire hair and makeup team of MTV India’s popular series Next Top Model. Her work has been featured on the covers of Cine Blitz, Style magazine and Perfect Woman magazine. She is also a makeup expert for AVON.
Let’s talk to her about why she quit her full-time job to become a freelance makeup artist, her preference for bridal makeup, and her experience with celebrities.
When and how did you decide to pursue a career in makeup?
Everyone always knows what they want to do in their life. I didn’t. All I knew was that I wanted to do something in the media field, which is not monotonous. I enrolled in a post-graduation mass media course at WE School (Welingkar) in Mumbai. After it, I bagged a job in a talent management company, to assist Kareena Kapoor’s head manager. And for that, I had to spend a lot of time on film sets.
I got interested in seeing how makeup artists work and found their job fun and creative. For them, every day is different. Also, they get to transform a person completely. I was fascinated. So, one-and-half years into my job, I decided to learn makeup for six months.
Soon after, I was introduced to makeup artist Kapil Bhalla who asked me to join his team for LFW.
Two years later, I did two other courses. The first one, in makeup from Make Up Atelier in London, and the second, in hair from Delmar College of Hair and Esthetics.
How is it to work on a big event like LFW?
At big and busy events such as LFW where you have 10 to 15 people waiting to get their makeup done every 30 minutes, no one has the time to brief you or tell you what to do. You have to figure it out yourself.
I am a friendly, talkative person and that helped. I used to ask a lot of questions like how much time to spend on every model, products, and how it all worked. I also learnt a lot from just observing others.
Such events are a great learning experience because you have to work in real time. In the learning phase, you may get one entire day to do your base, but at fashion week, you will only have 15 minutes to get your model ready. There is no time to try and match different foundation shades. You just have to go with your instinct and be very confident.
Did you make any mistakes?
Yes, I did. While sticking eyelashes, I used to ask models to shut their eyes, but not too tight. If you do so, the glue sticks to your eye and you can’t open it. I was not aware that if the mascara smudges, you don’t have to wipe off it immediately. Once it dries out, you can just touch it lightly and it will come off.
With time and experience, you realise that even the most experienced makeup artists make mistakes. They just calmly correct their errors and so must you. There is no need to panic.
How much were you paid for your first gig at LFW?
In my four years at LFW, my pay increased every year. In the first year, I was paid ₹5,000 a day, which included travel allowance and the cost of products. It was more like a stipend that covered my costs. But the exposure and networking opportunity is priceless. In the field of makeup, your talent is important, but so is networking, meeting, and connecting with the right people to get new clients. At LFW, by the fourth year, I was drawing ₹8,000 to ₹10,000 a day.
Have you ever worked for free and how did you build your portfolio at the onset of your career?
I have done a couple of editorial shoots for which I got credit but no money. At times, it is important to do this kind of collaborative work to build your portfolio.
I have done unpaid work for a few celebrity appearances as well. When an actress or a model gets photographed wearing your makeup, you benefit from the publicity, and that adds heft to your portfolio, which, in turn, will help you command a higher fee for your services.
Also, right at the beginning of my career, I organised a photoshoot by hiring models, a stylist, and a photographer to create a portfolio that I could show people. I had to spend a lot of money in the process.
But newer artists today don’t necessarily have to do that. They can collaborate with a photographer for what is called a test shoot. Nobody gets paid for this shoot, but all those involved, including a stylist and hair and makeup artists, get credit.
Do you charge assistants to work with you?
I sometimes hire assistants to help me pack my stuff. But I have always paid them for it. I don’t hire assistants to help me with makeup application. Makeup is an art. If you have to make a painting, would you give it to someone to do a few strokes? Also, your client won’t be comfortable if an assistant works on him or her instead of you. I have also hired people for big shows and have always paid them for it.
Who was your first celebrity client?
My all-time favourite Karisma Kapoor. Her makeup person had taken ill and I was asked to do her makeup for an appearance at the LFW. I was very excited and nervous at the same time. I was not sure if she would like my style and the products I used. The next morning, I rushed to a MAC store and bought as many cosmetics as I could afford back then.
When I met her, she must have realised that I was nervous. She asked me to work on her just like I would work on any other person. She was very cooperative and sweet. That put me at ease and made my first makeup gig with a celebrity a memorable one.
You have worked with several celebrities, why did you then get into bridal makeup?
Initially, I went all out doing shoots, but in the last three years, I have focused more on bridal makeup.
Shoots go on forever, for 14 hours, sometimes even 18 hours. Even if you are told that it will end in 8 hours, it hardly ever does. Neither can you leave, nor can you ask for more money. Also, on shoots, you have to deal with a lot of people’s moods and tantrums. If a director or an actor is having a bad day, you could be shouted at, but you have to learn to take that in your stride.
There are also times when you end up missing lunch or dinner because during the break you are busy working and no one on such a big set will remember whether the makeup artist has eaten or not.
It was, nevertheless, a great experience. I did it for five years and met and worked with a lot of interesting people and big names.
Over the last three years, however, I have become more selective about the kind of shoot and celebrity work I do. If something doesn’t feel worth the effort, I don’t do it.
Also, I enjoy bridal assignments a lot more. It is not very hectic and you get to work one on one with a bride who respects you and treats you well as she knows that you are the one helping her look her best on her special day.
Yes, it’s not as glitzy and glamorous as celebrity makeup. People may not be as impressed with your bridal work and it may not get you fame, but it is a more comfortable setting to work in, which also gives you better returns on investment. Today, not just brides, even grooms opt for makeup. They also even out their skin tone, hide under-eye dark circles, and fill the gaps in their beard.
Also, money-wise, bridal makeup can be more lucrative per assignment but it’s seasonal work, whereas shoots are consistent work. If you are doing a film, you are locked in for three months and assured of the amount of money you will earn. You need to be mentally prepared that for half the year you won’t be in town or would be coming home just to sleep.
For me, money is important but so is work-life balance. If I don’t have the time to live or enjoy the money I am making, what’s the point?
What are the challenges faced by a freelance makeup artist?
As a freelancer, you have to learn to live with uncertainty and deal with anxiety. For some months, we have a lot of work and then on other days, there isn’t that much. Covid-19 lockdowns were tough for most makeup artists. We didn’t know if the wedding business would ever pick up and whether people would want to pay us.
During the lockdown, people lost a lot of money because of which weddings today have become smaller. People are opting for junior makeup artists as they want to pay less. And, of course, after nine years in the industry, you don’t want to cut down your prices. You have to refuse a lot of work and your earnings can come down to ₹60,000 a month from ₹2 lakh.
People believe that it gets easier with experience. But that may not always be true. It’s very situational.
Also, in today’s world, it is important to have a great following on social media. But earlier, who you worked with mattered. I have worked with, say, 20 celebs, and there are others who may have never gone on a shoot but that doesn’t matter because they have more social media followers. It’s tricky to understand what makes you credible – your work, people you have worked with or your social media standing? It’s all of it, I guess.
What are the different job prospects available to a freelancer today?
There is a lot of work in the industry. Some makeup artists only work for ad films, others only for TV or films. Even in films, some do makeup only for background actors and dancers. TV channels also hire makeup artists for their news anchors. A few others specialise in party looks or work at a salon or just teach.
A lot of makeup artists today are just creating online content or work only for influencers, while others are focused on male makeup.
I don’t think there will ever come a time when there will be no work for makeup artists.
What are the high and low points of your career?
It always feels great when you are appreciated and get to work with big celebrities like cricketers Virat Kohli, AB de Villers, or Madhuri Dixit. Just being part of such a huge project makes you happy.
What also makes me very happy is when an older client’s cousin or younger sister calls me to do makeup for them at their wedding. That kind of appreciation and recall is very important for me.
The low points have to be the financial consistency. If I had taken up a job at Nykaa or Bobbi Brown, the money would have been consistent, but I wouldn’t have gotten that kind of work satisfaction I enjoy today.
What is the difference between learning from a live online class viz-a-viz a recorded video?
Makeup is not theoretical. You can’t just see; you have to do it. Recorded video sessions are very generic. They can’t give you any specifications because the instructor won’t know what his student’s skin type is because he has not seen her.
But when I can see you in a live class, I can tell you what kind of eye makeup would suit you depending on your face structure. Not everything looks good on everyone. You can copy the exact same makeup look, but it may or may not look good on you.
In a recorded class, how would you know what areas of a face to highlight? If you have a tiny face, you can’t go all out contouring it. If you are heavy on your cheeks, you can’t highlight it.
Also, if there is something that you don’t understand, how would you clarify your doubts?