Interview with Celebrity Makeup Artist Kendra Richards

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If you scroll through celebrity makeup artist Kendra Richards’ online portfolio and client list, the breadth of her experience is staggering. She’s worked with talent including Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone and Kerry Washington; her work has been featured in top fashion publications such as Vogue, Allure, Elle and Glamour; and she’s beautified people for major ad campaigns for companies like Macy’s, Lancôme and Neiman Marcus. Oh, and did I mention that she somehow also found the time to create her own cosmetics brand, Heir Atelier?

I just had to talk to her to figure out how she became such a successful makeup artist. Be sure to take out a notebook and pencil, boys and girls, because Richards’ provided a TON of advice for those of you who want to make it big in the makeup industry! It’s time to take some notes.

Chantel Fernow: Where are you from?

Kendra Richards: I grew up in Los Angeles.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: What made you want to become a makeup artist?

KR: I transitioned into becoming a makeup artist after an initial start in the business as a costume designer and stylist. I decided that I would rather do makeup, and I haven’t looked back since. To this day I still look at the makeup first in any fashion magazine—it was meant to be.

CF: How did you get your start in the industry? Also, how did you learn the trade?

KR: After working as a costumer and stylist for low-budget films, I took a three-week makeup course on the Sunset Gower Studios lot.  Then I got out and started testing and working with a great headshot photographer to hone my makeup skills. Six months later I was fortunate enough to get picked up by one of the top agencies for hair and makeup in L.A. From there it all took off; that was possible in those days, but really wouldn’t happen today.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: What do you love most about being a makeup artist?

KR: I love the collaborative creative process, the interesting people and places I get to travel to and see.  I have experiences that I just would never have had if it weren’t for being a makeup artist. I believe that we as makeup artists have a powerful privilege in that we help set the tone for how someone feels when they walk the red carpet or step in front of the camera. There is a confidence that we help create for the models and actors that we work with.

CF: What do you still struggle with when it comes to your artistry?

KR: I wouldn’t call it a struggle, but I think as an artist it’s so important to be mindful of continuing to grow as artists and to keep your work fresh. We can get locked into doing faces a certain way and it’s rare to find an artist who really approaches each face as a blank canvas and creates a fresh look. This is what I aspire to do.

CF: When it comes to other makeup artists currently working, who do you admire most?

KR: Well, Pat McGrath is always an inspiration. There are artists like Matthew VanLeeuwen who is so skilled at bringing out the individual beauty and personality of each woman he works with; I love his work. Gregory Arlt and Brett Freedman are friends of mine and amazing artists and generous people whose work I completely admire. Honestly, there are so many of my colleagues that I admire both as artists and people, it would fill up too many pages.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: Tell us about the brand you started, and offer advice for those looking to start a brand.

KR: My brand, Heir Atelier is a niche brand dedicated to makeup primers and the idea that skin is the canvas for makeup. Well-prepped skin helps create not just longer-wearing makeup but better-looking makeup, which is why I am focusing on primers for the face, eyes and lips. My advice to anyone interested in starting a brand is be sure to get mentors and network as much as possible. Also, learn as much as you can before you start and continue to learn always. Know that you are going to have to work harder than you ever thought possible and spend almost all of your time launching your business and helping give it wings. You need to do something that you really love and that excites you. Know if you really are an entrepreneur because it’s a different skill set and set of muscles that you use as a business person than you do as an artist. You have to be confident and stick with it even when it doesn’t look like anything is happening. You have to consider the financial aspects of it and know how you will pay for everything from business taxes and business insurance to production of product and hiring as your business grows. Be open to change, flexible and have fun! It’s creating on a different kind of level.

CF: What was your first major magazine credit, and how did you get the job?

KR: First major magazine credit was Vogue shooting with Mary Ellen Mark, and I got it through my first agency.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: What are the major differences between working in editorial vs. working for yourself and your brand? Pros and cons?

KR: Working on an editorial shoot is very collaborative. It takes everyone on a shoot to create the images that are finally used. Working for yourself and your brand, at least initially, can be a very solitary process. It can get lonely and you can be working in a vacuum if you aren’t careful.  It’s helpful to have mentors and get trusted input. It does test you on many levels, but that is what I love about it.

CF: You have worked with a TON of celebrities! Who were some of your favorites to work with and why?

KR: I have been so fortunate to have worked with so many amazing people, it’s a difficult question to answer. At this moment I would say that some of my favorites are Cindy Crawford; besides being beautiful she is so smart and I learn from her all the time. And Cindy is one of the few people who sits in the chair without being on her phone and gives you her full attention—it makes my job so much easier and is really an act of respect and grace on her part. Tilda Swinton because she is such a chameleon and is so adventurous. Tom Ford, who is one of the classiest people I have ever worked with. Sharon Lawrence, again a beautiful, talented and generous actress; watching how gracious she is with everyone is inspiring. In my career I have had the opportunity to work with so many people whose work I love—it’s amazing to me when I think about it and there are just too many examples to name.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: What advice would you offer to new makeup artists about thriving in today’s competitive market (both in the blogosphere and editorial world)?

KR: [1.] I would say be sure to look at agency websites to see what their artists are doing; this will become your competition for jobs and the level of work that you need to strive for.

[2.] Have a variety of work to show your range and give you the best chance at being hired for a variety of jobs.

[3.] Create a website and keep testing and growing as an artist.

[4.] Consider the model, clothes and other talent that you are working with on a shoot because if one aspect is not right your final images might not be something you can use.

[5.] Be sure that you know how to do clean beauty makeup as well as all of the more elaborate makeup you see on Instagram. Remember that there are always people out there who are hungry for this kind of work and you have to really want it and work for it to make it.

[6.] Also, on a different note, I will say be sure to be a very clean artist: have clean brushes and a clean kit. It shows the person in your chair that you are a true pro and that you respect them.

[7.] Spend money on your kit products—it will make you look better.

[8.] Be very careful about social media and be sure that whatever you are posting regarding a job is OK to post; when in doubt, check first. You don’t want to lose a connection because you posted something and the client didn’t want anything posted.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: Tell me about a makeup job that stands out in particular, either because it was funny, informative or highly unusual.

KR: Again, there are so many experiences that it’s difficult, but here goes one of the most unusual jobs ever: One year I was picked up in a limo and driven to the airport to pick up Sir Ian McKellan [who was] arriving on an international flight and going straight to the Golden Globes, for which he was nominated. I was to do hair and makeup on him in the limo and we would drop him off. He was lovely (I ended up working with him through the entire awards season, as he was nominated for every award show that year). It wasn’t a long drive and it was a lot more difficult than I had thought it would be in a moving limo. When we dropped him off at the red carpet and the limo door opened I wasn’t prepared for the rush of energy that I felt—it felt like I had just had 10 espressos. The collective energy on that red carpet is something that I will never forget.

CF: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?

KR: My biggest accomplishment is being able to earn a great living being an artist, and starting my company, Heir Atelier.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Richards

CF: Do you have any big career dreams for the future?

KR: My career dreams now are all about growing Heir Atelier into a cult favorite global brand!  I love helping others and finding a way to mix doing what I love and helping others at the same time is my dream.

Are you feeling inspired by Richards’ story? Check out Trendimi’s accredited Makeup Artist course, which will teach you everything you need to make it as a professional in today’s competitive industry!

Chantel Fernow is a writer, editor and make-up artist who resides on the Oregon Coast, USA. She is a former beauty editor of the international trade publication Make-Up Artist magazine (, where she wrote and edited beauty stories and produced high-fashion make-up pictorials with some of the world’s top make-up artists.

During her time spent as education director of the magazine’s International Make-Up Artist Trade Shows (IMATS), held annually in Los Angeles, New York, London, Vancouver, Sydney and Toronto, she recruited speakers (including Oscar and BAFTA winners), built the class schedules and oversaw the program on site.

She has presented her fiction and literary articles at a national level, and with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing, English literature and philosophy from Colorado Mesa University, her creative works have appeared in such publications as MiPOesias, Tusk and Portland Review, among others. She continues to contribute copy to Make-Up Artist magazine, where she regularly interviews beauty and film artists from around the world.

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