From styling blushing brides to primping rockstars, Ashley Riley’s makeup kit doesn’t know how to stop. But despite booking enviable gigs and filling up her calendar, Riley says she doesn’t feel like she actually works a day in her life – how did is dreamscape become a reality? We caught up with Riley to hear about her energetic journey to the top, the importance of the color wheel, and why a Tolkien quote keeps her going.
How long have you been working as a professional Makeup Artist?
I’ve been a professional makeup artist for about four years now.
When and why did you decide that this is what you want to do full-time, for a living?
I decided that I wanted to be a makeup artist full-time after going through a really hard time in my life. I went away to college and I studied business and healthcare for a little while, I had some personal issues going on, and I am actually in recovery now, living a clean life for the past three and half years. I struggled with addiction, and I had gone in and out of different treatment centers for a while, and I was really struggling to get clean and stay clean. At some point, my mom had brought me to a medium and things had happened – like my late father coming through to communicate with me – and things were told to me that have in turn since happened. I see her about once a year now for career guidance, but it was told to me several times that she saw me in hair and makeup, that I should be pursuing hair and makeup. I had always had a love for hair and makeup – like, I could go into a Sephora and spend hours in there, but I never really saw it as a career. Like, I didn’t want to find myself at 45 years-old behind the makeup counter at Macy’s. I had made the decision to go back to school, and I attended Makeup Designory in New York where I studied beauty and special effects makeup. They also taught me hair-styling, which I had always done since I was young, so that came very naturally to me, and that’s kind of how everything took off. I have been freelance makeup artists since I was still in school, and my career just grew from there. It’s a really awesome thing, and I really love it.
Can you tell us a little more about what the early days of your career were like, when you were just starting out? What are some problems you ran into?
When I was just starting out, I remember one of my first freelance jobs was passed to me by one of my professors, and she was definitely a mentor for me while I was in school and we’re still in touch, one of her prior students had reached out to her to pass along that job. On that first freelance job, I was on a set working for a PSA for cookies from the Girl Scouts of America. It was a bunch of little girls and it was so much fun, but I remember I was really nervous because it was my first time on set, and I didn’t really know anything about set etiquette. But it all went really smoothly, and jobs just kept flowing in after that.I’ve built a network with people in the industry, which was really important for me in the beginning. I don’t think I would have gotten some of the jobs that I landed without having had that valuable network of people.
What fascinated you about working in this industry? What makes you want to do it again and again?
I think this industry is just so different! It’s really not like anything else I’ve ever done. I don’t have a boss, so that’s really awesome, and I think it’s really cool that I meet so many different people on set, whether it’s a photoshoot or we’re shooting a film or a commercial – there’s always so many new people to meet and to network with, and I find that the people who this type of work on movies in this area are so interesting – I wouldn’t ever go back to waitressing or working in a cubicle behind a desk. It’s just not something I think I’d ever really be happy or passionate about.
Is there a particular type of look you specialize in creating, or one that clients are currently looking to achieve?
I kind of specialize in it all – I do a lot of natural looks, high-fashion looks, avantgarde, special FX makeup is really big for me, too. That’s really fun – it’s so cool seeing the transformation happen, like dressing up people with injuries or helping them turn into a monster or zombie. I also specialize in bridal looks. I really do it all, and I find that even with hairstyling it’s really important for myself and my career that I stay educated in both the makeup and the hair portions of my craft. A lot of times, directors or producers will pull people that specialize in both crafts, because they don’t’ want to have to hire two people on set. Most of the work that I do, and most work you’ve seen from me, is work where I have done both the hair and makeup. Originally, I did go to school for makeup artistry, so I’m not a licensed cosmetologist, but I really do it all.
What is your favorite part of your job?
With makeup, I enjoy both the beauty and special FX aspects, but it’s very different – for the beauty, it comes naturally, like it’s in my soul. I just love to experiment with different colors, different facial shapes, things of that nature – and making people look and feel beautiful, obviously. But with special FX , it’s just a different type of satisfaction – seeing the transformation come to life, seeing a look come together, after you do it and see how real it looks, that’s the satisfaction in it for me. It’s the best job ever.
What is your most memorable moment in building your career so far?
Within the same week, I worked with Sting and Bono, and it was so awesome. I worked with Bono out of his penthouse suite over on the West side, overlooking Central Park, and then with sting later that week, on a random job that was passed along to me, asking, “hey, do you wanna work with rockstars this week?” I worked with Sting and his wife, Trudi Styler, out of a studio where they were prepping for a concert while shooting a W.B. Yeats documentary produced by Bob Geldof. It was just one of those things where I felt like, people don’t normally get this lucky. I had finished school about a year or two prior, and everything was just sort of falling into my lap, and a lot of the great things I’ve gotten had fallen into my lap this way. When you’re doing something that you’re meant to be doing and you’re on that path, things just flow naturally. It’s definitely a hustle finding work, but I don’t feel like I have to constantly be chasing after it. Things that have blown my mind that have happened, and opportunities I’ve gotten feel like they’re meant to be. I don’t get easily starstruck, which is a good thing in my industry – I’ve been lucky enough to work with some pretty big names and I’m not the type of person to go chasing down celebrities. To me, on set, they’re just another person, but it’s definitely cool working with them.
Do you have a favorite beauty tricks or hack?
Oh, I have a ton of them, but I don’t really like to give my secrets away. Something a lot of clients are really concerned about is concealing flaws – like undereye areas, for example. It’s one of those things where people think you should just go lighter under the eyes in order to brighten, but actually, I have learned along the way how colors best work with each other. So like, if someone has blue undertones under their eyes and they want to conceal it, they should opt for a more orange-y concealer in order to cancel out those heavy blue undertones. A lot of people will go for a yellow-tone concealer, but that’s actually just going to bring out more of the blues and purples in there – don’t do that! One of my tricks when using concealer is to first go in with orange tones in order to neutralize, then use a lighter shade in order to brighten up under the eyes. It really is an art to understand how to work with different colors and skin tones.
What is something you do in the mornings to help prepare you for your day?
I drink a ton of coffee. I’m more of a night-owl, so a lot of times if I have an early morning shoot, I’ll do whatever I can to prepare and lay out all my gear the night before, so I’m ready to just get out of the house quickly in the morning. I also have a one and a half year-old, and he’s a lot of work, so I need time to prep him in the morning before I run out.
What’s your motto in life?
“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.” I feel like that has been a quote that has stood out to me throughout my life, coming intro fruition with where I am now in my career. A lot of times it feels like I’m wandering, because the work is so up and down with freelancing, and sometimes it can be scary, but having faith that things are going to happen the way they’re meant to and that things are going to work out kind of helps me keep my faith when jobs get slow or there aren’t a lot of calls coming in. Some days everyone is trying to book me, and then there’ll be weeks when I don’t hear anything and I really have to do more to chase down work, so I feel that wandering, and I have to remind myself to keep the faith, and that everything is bound to work out.
What is one tip you’d give someone who’s just starting out their career as a MUA?
One tip I’d give someone starting out in the beauty industry is just to hold on – it’s definitely a ride, in that it is not your run-of-the-mill ‘normal’ career. It can get hard sometimes, the industry can beat you down a little bit. But if you keep the faith and you follow your heart, you’ll realize that you’re not really working a day in your life. I don’t. Ever since I started doing what I want to be doing and getting paid for it, it’s like a dream. I’m really happy today and my career doesn’t feel like a job, and I love what I do – it’s a beautiful thing to be able to work in an artistic field and get paid.
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