Career, Q+A, Slide Show — February 12, 2012 9:25 pm

All Dolled Up


Self-taught makeup artist Chenese Bean works with models, actresses and brides, proving she has what it takes to survive in the competitive makeup industry.

Chenese Bean works with a client at the Madison Event Center in Covington, Ky. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Makeup brushes, eye shadow palettes, mascara sticks and colorful tubes of lip-gloss spill over the compartments in Chenese Bean’s silver case.  She’s created a makeshift makeup station at the corner of the runway inside the Madison Event Center in Covington, Ky., to prepare for a bridal fashion show.  Her glittering black top and dangling diamond earrings reveal her glam style. A group of models have created a small audience around her as she gives her first makeover for the event. “Chenese, you look like a movie star,” one of them remarks. The 40-year-old Cincinnatian has a natural feel for this line of work, but leaving her old job as an accountant to launch a new career as a professional makeup artist was a risky decision. Luckily, it’s one she hasn’t regretted.

Tools of the trade. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Q: How did you get started with makeup artistry?
A: In ’96 I auditioned to be in a music video as an extra. They said for those who made the cut to come hair and makeup ready. One of the directors really liked my makeup and kept asking me if  [the makeup artist] did [my] face. He took me to the hair and makeup room where all of the models and main characters in the video were getting [ready]. That’s when I thought, “Wow, you could really get paid for this.” Having a degree in accounting, and coming from a business background, I wasn’t thinking about making this full-time. From there, I started freelancing at makeup counters for about five years. I began to really work on my portfolio and focus on the entertainment industry, like [working with] models and fashion shows. And then from there it was really just shopping myself around. I didn’t have an agent at the time, so I made phone calls to companies, art directors, producers. I was my own manager. As time went on, I started getting noticed. In ’97, I started working with brides a lot. It’s a really booming industry; people are always getting married. So the times that I’m not busy working on my project, commercial or photo shoot, I know I have a wedding to do.

Bean took a risk when she left her bank job to work as a makeup artist full-time, but she hasn't regretted the career change. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a makeup artist?
A: The fact that I get to take women out of their box. There’s something in all of our lives that we are in a box in. Certain women always wear the same colors. For Caucasian women, it’s always a taupe shadow and light pink gloss. With black women, it’s golds and browns and clear. So that’s what I really like to do, and then to educate. A lot of women don’t think it’s really necessary to be educated on taking care of their skin. I’m not an esthetician, so I can’t go far like they would, but I still stress the fact that it’s important. It’s like painting. You’re not going to paint on a rough wall and expect it to be nice and pretty without seeing all the dents and ridges in it. Your skin is important too because it makes your makeup look good.

Q: Do you ever get nervous before you do a makeover?
A: It depends. There are times when I get nervous and then there are times when I don’t even see who [the client is]. I’m just focused on their faces. I always try to prepare myself and watch videos, read books, get on the Internet and watch YouTube videos. But if I over-study, I’ll get nervous and start second-guessing myself.

Q: What’s your favorite part of applying face makeup?
A: The eyes are my favorite, but then there’s also gloss. I truly believe gloss changes a makeup look, even if it’s natural. Lips and lashes are the two exclamation points on the face and those are the two areas where I like to play the most. Sometimes I don’t put anything on someone’s eyes; I’ll just add some lashes and a lot of mascara.

Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to advance your career as a makeup artist?
A: I would do ambush makeovers on people off the street. Some of them thought I was crazy, but I had to do what I had to do. That’s when I really started to get comfortable.

Q: Have you ever had anyone dislike the way you did their makeup?
A: Yes. Now I don’t really have that issue, thank goodness. But I’ve had a few bad moments where someone didn’t like what I did. Certain face shapes are easier to work with than others. You have round, you have oblong, you have square; and it’s good to know how to contour them properly. You have to really know what you’re doing. And at that time in the beginning, I was still learning, so of course I made some people ugly. [She laughs.] I’m glad those days are over!

Q: Do you travel a lot in this line of work?
A: I’m mainly just here. The past two years I’ve been here between Cincinnati, Chicago and Cleveland.  I haven’t been able to do a lot of traveling like I used to because I’ve been so busy. My focus is to really get out more, even if it’s not for a makeup job, something that’s related to the industry, like attending a workshop somewhere. I always try to keep myself educated. You have to.

Bean says many women get stuck in a makeup routine, and her job is to help them break out of that box. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Q: What do you consider to be one of your greatest accomplishments?
A: Just to be able to do this full time. I never thought I would, and the day it happened [in 2007] I was scared as hell. Walking away from Corporate America was not an easy decision for me. I had studied business since my sophomore year of high school. [The career change] was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me, and at the same time the scariest. Being a single mother and making that decision…I was just lost. And here I am!

Q: How did you come to that decision?
A: It wasn’t an easy decision. It was one of those things where I had to go or I had to stay. In both industries, I was progressing heavily. I was really in tune with my job, but at the same time, makeup was almost like a light switch. It got to the point where the makeup jobs I was getting interfered with my full-time job. I was taking advantage of my sick time and vacations to do those jobs. My supervisors were asking questions, I was always lying, then one time one of them saw me on TV. It was almost like the two worlds were coming together, and that was something I had never done. People who knew I did makeup didn’t know I had a full-time job. People who worked with me at the bank didn’t know how serious I was with makeup. That’s the way I wanted it. I didn’t want those two worlds to collide and when that happened, I started getting uncomfortable.

Q: Are there any downfalls to being a makeup artist?
A: I wouldn’t consider it a downfall, but you have to stay up on being visible. If not, it can become a downfall because you’ll just get lost in the wind. The busier you get, the more you need to pay attention to that because you get caught up in being busy, and then you’re neglecting your marketing aspect.

Bean educates her clients on good skincare. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Q: Do you have any advice for young women who aspire to be makeup artists?
A: Do your research. If you do your research, you come off better. Don’t go in it thinking you’re going to make a ton of money and don’t go in it thinking you’re going to work with top-notch people. That doesn’t happen right away. The first five years of me being a makeup artist, I did at least 60 or 65 percent of my jobs for free because I knew I wasn’t at that level.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: That’s a good question. It keeps changing. I keep asking myself, “Do I want to still do makeup at that point? Would I rather just have makeup artists and run an agency? Do I want to step away and do something totally different?” I’m still trying to decide exactly what I want to do there. 


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