We recently sat down with our friend, Chicago area professional makeup artist Martina Sykes. When Frends Beauty come to Chicago for The Makeup Show, Martina is our #1 girl to help us in our booth. You may know her from projects like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Sinister 2, Anguish, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and more. We interviewed her to dig into her career a bit, talk about her experiences, what she has learned, and get some advice for newer artists who may be looking to emulate her career path.
From where would the reader know you?
I’m a Chicago makeup artist for commercial, film and TV. I started my career in early 2008 and worked as a freelancer for years. In fall 2014 I was accepted into my local union (IATSE) and am now a full time artist on the TV show Chicago Fire.
What got you interested in the makeup business?
I studied Fine Art at Columbia College in Chicago, I wanted to be a painter! I’ve always loved drawing and painting, and I always knew that I would be an artist. I just didn’t know exactly how that would come to be, and I accepted the idea that I would always be a “starving artist”. Just a few months before I graduated, I had an epiphany (after a trip to a local makeup store, very appropriate) that being a makeup artist is a way to be a working artist. It’s a true art form, and something that I have always loved personally. It was a natural progression, and everything I learned in art school is very applicable to the makeup world.
Did you attend school for makeup artistry, if so where?
After graduating with my BFA, I went to Makeup First in Chicago. It gave me a solid foundation to build from, I’m a big fan of classes and education. After that, I tested with photographers, practiced on friends, and took any workshop I could find. I go to LA every year for IMATS, mainly to attend classes and lectures. You really do learn the most from just doing, so getting my hands in it and assisting other artists taught me the majority of what I know. I took workshops with Kerry Herta of Colour Box Makeup in 2011 and they were immensely, wonderfully educational, and helped set me in the direction of film and tv.
What would you say is your specialty in this field?
After years of working in different areas of makeup until I landed in film and tv, I would say that my strength is character makeup. I love developing a story, or helping an actor develop the background story for their character’s look. I really like doing subtle things with makeup that may not read strongly on-screen, but they make a difference. For example, just a tiny bit of color under the eye to indicate that a character hasn't gotten much sleep. I love doing research. I enjoy finding references and making a plan ahead of time, so you have lots of options to bring to the table when it comes time to execute a new makeup look. I also love doing out-of-kit makeup effects. I like a good challenge, and playing around with variables of product and technique to get the desired effect.
What area of the makeup industry is your favorite and why?
My favorite area of the industry is TV and film. I love collaboration, and I thrive when I’m busy, challenged, and contributing to something bigger than myself. I think film and TV give you this interesting narrative to be a part of, and an opportunity to work with great people over an extended period of time, while still getting new things thrown at you on a regular basis.
What is some advice and tips you can give someone that is starting out?
Read everything you can get your hands on to familiarize yourself with the industry, the terminology, and the many different types of careers that branch off of makeup. Take as many classes as you can afford, and practice whenever you get the chance. A lot of what we do can be learned, and you just need the repetition of practicing, and muscle memory. Good technique will become habit as long as you’re dedicated. When you start to feel comfortable, competent with something – try it a different way. Try to do it faster next time, try to keep your station cleaner and more organized while you work. There is always room for improvement.
Specializing in beauty/character/FX what are some products that you can’t live without in your kit? Why?
I cannot live without my illustrator palettes! For minor FX, they are indispensable. Sometimes you need to cover a tattoo on set, or the director asks for a character to be dirty, sooty, bruised, etc. You can’t beat the convenience and staying power of a good alcohol palette. Some of my other favorite products are my Ben Nye foundation palettes, Jurlique Rosewater mist, Koh Gen Do Moisture Foundations, Armani Luminous Silk, Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms, OCC lip tars, good old Loreal Voluminous mascara, and Laura Mercier Secret Concealer palettes. I have a very serious problem with buying brushes and I own way too many, most of my favorites are Hakuhodo or Crown. This list could go on and on, but these are a few that I reach for over and over.
Have you been able to travel as a result of your career? Tell us about your favorite set location.
Before joining the union, most of my travel was local, within a couple hundred miles of Chicago. I would do indie films, commercials, corporate videos, and even politicals. I always get a kick out of traveling for work. Now I work on a show that is set in, and shoots in Chicago. I was born and raised here, I love Chicago and I feel very lucky to have steady work in my home city.
In terms of traveling, what is some advice you can give someone that is about to travel with their kit?
If you travel a lot, invest in a Pelican case, or a really nice, sturdy suitcase. I love using a suitcase to carry my kit even on local jobs. Condense, condense, condense. Before you travel, research the local beauty supply or makeup shops to see what will be available when you arrive, and the things that you’ll need to bring or have shipped to you. Pack smart, and make sure everything is contained or bagged in a way that won’t ruin your kit if something explodes.
What would you say is the most challenging part of this business?
There are a lot of practical challenges in this business; the hours, inclement weather, being away from friends and family, negative people on the job. The physical challenges are rough, so I try to keep up with exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating well. But I think all of those issues are manageable if you’ve got a great support system. If your department is full of good people, then you can make it through the other stuff together.
Tell the reader either the funniest, or craziest story based on your experience as a makeup artist.
The first thing that pops into my head is the time that my assistant and I laid and entire chest and back of fake hair on a stunt double. He was doubling a guy who was playing a Mexican wrestler and had to fly onto a (breakaway) coffee table. The actor was extremely hairy, so the stunt guy had to match. It was ridiculous, fun, and labor intensive.
If you can give your fans and viewers some advice, what would you say?
Be supportive. Be kind. Be patient. This is a career you should only undertake if you have passion, determination, and patience. Be consistent with your work, and your good habits. It takes a lot to keep going sometimes, but I really think it’s worth it.
You can follow Martina online at: