Become a celebrity makeup artist (yes, you)

We ask Madonna’s official makeup artist, Aaron Smith Henrikson his top tips on how to catapult your makeup career to superstar status. Yes, you too could be living the high life. Find out how!  


Aaron Smith Henrikson with Madonna backstage at Tears of a Clown in Melbourne
Aaron Smith Henrikson with Madonna backstage at Tears of a Clown in Melbourne


When did you realise that you wanted to be a professional makeup artist?

When I realised it would pay me to be creative, travel the world, meet interesting characters, while making people feel good!

You have a background in painting and photography. How have these skills as an artist helped you as a makeup artist?

I can’t imagine doing a lot of what I do without my art background. It’s like painting on a living three-dimensional canvas that changes every day! I think that it’s all interconnected and a solid understanding of at least basic artistic principles like Chiaroscuro [the treatment of light and dark], Colour Theory, and Proportion help make the difference between just applying makeup and being a “makeup artist.” I see many people now learning strong contouring techniques, but forgetting that an artist has to consider the light source…and that in real life people aren’t always going to be seen in a Youtube video, with professional lighting and a predominantly frontal view.

You also have a degree in linguistics. How has this helped get you to where you are in your career?

My Linguistics degree from Yale University is an official documentation and certification of my lifelong intellectual curiosity for other cultures and languages. My studies have helped me to become more adaptable to changing environments and also to be able to interact better with people from different backgrounds. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be able to think both locally and globally. Being able to be an impromptu translator on set and on location has been an extra bonus!


The opening look for Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour.
The opening look for Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour.


Where do you get your inspiration from?

When I was younger I got a lot of inspiration from comic books, magazines, and cinema. I think it was a natural progression to start finding more inspiration in art. This is even more important once you are already immersed in the fashion world. I’m a very visual person and love people watching. I could find inspiration in a park seeing a particular shade of “grandma” lipstick or envision amazing colour palettes in how different people’s outfits randomly come into contact on public transportation. I find a special satisfaction in finding beauty in something that is neglected, discarded, or forgotten.

You are the official makeup artist for Madonna on her Rebel Heart tour. Pressure must come with a gig like this one, how do you handle the stress of a world tour?

I think that’s why some people on tour become a traveling family and support network. I’ve learned that increased visibility opens up the possibility for increased criticism….good thing I’ve been working with someone who has been at the top for decades no matter what has been thrown her way! Having all of the amazing catering around the world was always a good thing too!!! I travel all the time even when not on tour, so I am fortunate to also have friends all around the world!


Aaron created a beautiful and classic red lip for the third section of Madonna's Rebel Heart look.
Aaron created a beautiful and classic red lip for the third section of Madonna’s Rebel Heart look.


What is your top tip for world travel?

Choose your flights for the best luggage allowance, but memories and experiences are the best souvenirs.

What are your three favourite makeup looks right now?

I’m into matte lip looks…with non-drying formulas…I’ve been having a lot of fun with several matte finishes actually. “No makeup” make up done properly. Women who wear only a few products, but wear them well.

If you could only have six things in your makeup kit, what would they be?

Does that include brushes or do I have to fingerpaint?!! I can do a full makeup using cotton buds if I need to! SPF moisturiser, concealer, neutral contour shadow, brown eye pencil, cream blush/lip colour, and mascara.


Aaron's makeup look for Madonna's finale in the Rebel Hearts tour.
Aaron’s makeup look for Madonna’s finale in the Rebel Hearts tour.


What are your top five tips for makeup artists wanting to get into the fashion and music industries?

#1 Firstly artists should always make sure they have a way to pay the rent. My dad was a public high school teacher when I started to work at age 15. I worked as a dishwasher, security guard, customer service representative and English teacher before I could pay my rent by doing makeup.

#2 Also practice and create with other people starting out; aspiring photographers, stylists, musicians etc. Even if it’s not at the level you wish it were, it’s still good to have something to show when you make a possible job contact. My first portfolio shots were not with professional models (but this was in the days before Photoshop where we used film & prints) and I learned so much from having to try and find ways to make people look better, so it became a lot easier once I got to work with professional models. I think technological advancement has been beneficial, but it has also enabled many people to be lazy without having to learn these important lessons.

#3 Assist anytime you can.

#4 When starting out, I think that five or ten strong images are better than dozens of photos that don’t show your best work. I’d rather see beautiful test shots than mediocre published photos.

#5 Always feel that there is something to learn. Once you’ve mastered initial application techniques, remember that people skills are also a huge benefit.



Follow Aaron Smith Henrikson on Instagram, here.



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