For freelance makeup artist Nicole Bueno, makeup is about so much more than a dust of highlighter or a well-blushed set of cheeks – it’s about finding beauty, and helping her clients attain their most beautiful selves, inside and out. Moreover, it’s about confidence and attitude. We caught up with Nicole here in NYC, to hear how she decided to become a makeup artist and what pearls of beauty wisdom are worth passing on to the aspiring MUAs out there.

Makeup Artist Nicole Bueno

How long have you been working as a professional makeup artist?

I’ve been working as a makeup artist for just over four years.

When did you decide you were going to pursue beauty professionally, as a career? What guided you towards that decision?

Probably when I was in school, pursuing my business marketing degree, and found myself wondering, “why am I here?” I’m still headed towards graduating next year and completing my degree, but I had decided at that moment that when I get my degree, I’m done for now, and will continue to focus primarily on makeup. When I was in school, it felt a little like I wasn’t really there for myself – I just had a moment in class where I realized I just want to leave and do makeup. I would find myself skipping classes to go do a photoshoot, or I would leave early to go see a client, and so I had to ask myself, why am I not out there doing this fulltime, doing what I actually want and pursuing makeup artistry at the highest level possible?

If you could go back to the early days of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

I think my best piece of advice would be to never stop learning. You don’t know everything, and you will continue to make mistakes along the way, as you’re still learning, and that’s okay. There will always be more opportunities, even if you do mess up.

Is there a particular look or style that has made a lasting impression on you? Why?

There is a makeup artist whose work I find I am drawn to and aspire to be like – Hung Vanngo, he’s my idol and basically a megastar in the makeup world. He works with Selena Gomez a lot. It’s really rare for me to find artists where I like all of their work – it doesn’t matter who Vanngo is working on, I absolutely love his work! He has an amazing way with brows – it’s just stunning – and he achieves glowing, ethereal skin. He totally inspires me.

What do you think helps your clients feel like their most beautiful selves?

I think it’s when they realize they could be taking more time out to pamper themselves. Most of the clients I have – regular, everyday women – they are so busy taking care of other people all the time, that they don’t necessarily have the time to take care of themselves. So when I do get to sit them down and work on them when they come see me, they get to feel relaxed, they get to feel beautiful – like, “oh yeah, I deserve this!” I really love that about my job.

What the proudest or most memorable moment you’ve had in your career so far?

I think my most memorable moment is when I first saw my work in print, credited to my name, in Elegant Magazine. It was like confirmation that yes, this is official, this is real. Even though it was a small magazine, it was soo cool – I was able to show it to my family, get validation for what I’m doing.

Makeup Artist Nicole Bueno

What’s your ultimate professional dream?

I’m still exploring – I’ve done mostly fashion and editorial work, but I do see myself doing red carpet, celebrity work, and commercial campaign work. I’m not opposed to film, either – I’ll be doing makeup for my first-ever student film with an NYU student next month, so we’ll see how that goes and if I like it.

If you could take only one beauty product/tool with you on a quick getaway, what would it be?

That’s hard, since my instinctive response is either “ALL makeup” or “no makeup”! If I had to bring only one product, though, it would probably be concealer, to cover up blemishes and undereye areas.

Do you have a “good mood” song?

Yes! Every time I’m in the car and “California” by Childish Gambino comes on, I’m jamming! That’s my song – it makes me so happy! I could be sad or angry, but no matter how low I’m feeling, when that song comes on my mood is lifted. I love that whole album, actually.

What is one tip you’d give someone who’s just starting out their career as a makeup artist?

To be nice! When people want to work with you, be nice, kind, considerate and respectful. Just that will take you far, since people will want to continue working with you. It’s so important.

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Makeup Artist Nicole Bueno