Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interview with Jessica Padilla: On going Freelance

Jessica Padilla
Film and Beauty Makeup Artist/​
Burlesque Performer
Brooklyn, NY

Age: 32

Current years working in the industry?
​I've been in makeup for 6 years. I worked for MAC Cosmetics for 4 years, followed by 2 1/2 years of freelance​.

Are you married?
Yes, for 6 1/2 years.

Do you have kids or plans to have kids?
No not currently, but yes, someday we plan to have kids.

How did you get started in the industry, and what inspired you?
I started in the industry as a performer.  I am a Screen Actors Guild member and did a lot of work in theater, TV, and film as an actor.  I was always interested in makeup as a hobby and started using it for myself and friends for headshots, weddings, and indie films when the need came up.  I took a few PRO classes at MAC very early on, but I didn't realize it was a skill that I could earn a living from until I turned 25. I was unemployed and totally tired of waiting tables, walking dogs, and nannying.  My best friend recommended that I pursue work in makeup since I already had such an affinity for it, and instead of looking for yet another dead end job I started thinking of it as a career. Once I realized that something I had always loved could also make money, it was a definitive turning point in my life.

Where did you start working as a MUA, and what was your last position
​in retail?​
My first job was at the Bloomingdale’s SOHO MAC counter. I was hired as holiday contingent, which basically means employed through the Christmas holiday.  It was all that was open and lucky for me, someone quit after New Years and I took her vacant spot, an 18 hour​ part time position.  I then went on to be part of the team hand picked to open the Grand Central location and I left my career at MAC as a Third Key (Assistant/Assistant Manager) at that store three years later.

What made you want to/need to leave to go freelance?
I walked into retail makeup from day one, knowing I wanted to leave to have my own freelance career someday.  My original plan was to soak up as much education as possible, build a kit at a discount, and then get the hell out.  It wasn't exactly that easy once I got involved, and it took a lot longer than I had anticipated, but I always had my eye on the prize of freelance.  I started to do jobs on my days off and network within the company and get close to the educators and artists higher up who I could learn from.  I took as many in-company classes as I could get my hands on and modeled for classes that were being taught, just so I could learn as much as I could as fast as I could.  My one or two freelance jobs every few months started to be one or two jobs every month and snowballed from there.  I made the final decision that it was time to leave when I went away on vacation and fielded 8 phone calls for freelance jobs.  I couldn't take them because I was out of the country, but it made me realize that I had been turning down quite a bit of work because MAC work was getting in the way.  My day job had finally begun to interfere with the job I was working so hard to make happen.  It was a now or never moment, since every job you say ‘yes’ to, usually leads to more jobs down the road.  I was tired of saying ‘no’ or lying and calling in sick all the time to make great opportunities happen.  I was also running out of sick days….lol.

What was the biggest support for you both in your growth, and in leaving your steady job?: 

 As far as support, I definitely had emotional support from my husband and family. They were 100% behind me every step of the way and very encouraging of me following my dream. My husband tells me regularly how proud he is of me because he doesn't know anyone else who has made a lucrative career that they love out of nothing but passion, talent, and drive. It was definitely not handed to me and I did not have a mentor, as many freelancers do to help get started with connections. I started not knowing anyone and I had to carve my own path one job at a time. As I started freelancing on the side, I very quickly began to meet and develop relationships with other makeup artists and photographers who supported me with their knowledge and kindness. I have been very lucky to work with other makeup artists, at the counter and abroad, who were very talented and taught me how to be a better artist myself.  I made coffee dates with freelance artist’s I met on jobs to talk to them about their work and how they maintained the freelance lifestyle or how they got insurance. Without the generosity of the people who I met in the beginning, I wouldn't have grown at all or known some of the possibilities available.     

What have been the biggest struggles in the past year going freelance?

Some struggles that have come since going freelance are navigating freelance health insurance, learning to budget properly, and trying to avoid the pitfalls of “feast or famine.”  When you go from earning a regular weekly paycheck, it can be hard to work a bunch only to reali​z​e many jobs have a 30 day turnaround.  Waiting a month for a paycheck is no joke if you don’t plan properly.  Sometimes when you do without money for awhile, when the checks start to come in, you just want to buy shoes or go eat out extravagantly. You have to remember that there are other things that have to be taken care of first and that you could be about to encounter a slow period. The rhythm of pay periods takes awhile to get used to, but it does start to make sense once you do it for awhile and feel somewhat consistent. I used to worry a lot in the beginning about “what if I don’t get enough work.” I was uncomfortable not knowing where the jobs would come from. I’m not particularly religious, but there is A LOT of faith in freelance. You just have to know that is always works out and the jobs do come and that you don’t necessarily know how all the time. The worrying can drive you crazy and it’s not productive. It took awhile to maintain zen about it and I solved this problem by doing two things :One, I always try to get really productive during slow times so that I don’t get depressed or worry. I use this time to build new web content, test with photographers old and new, or polish my portfolio, etc. Two, I intentionally work a lot of different kinds of makeup jobs that pay in a lot of different ways.  Some jobs are corporate which have a regular pay period that is dependable, some are cash on site jobs for photo shoots, weddings or private clients, and some are editorial that pay whenever the mood hits. That way, I have a mix of money coming in immediately and some that I wait to arrive. Lastly, It is soooo important (and I can’t stress this enough) to give yourself time off. I learned this the hard way. When you are constantly hustling, it is so difficult to step away and miss out on work. The truth is that you will always miss work every time you plan a vacation, unless it is on Christmas Day or New Years.  It’s okay. There will be more when you get home. You have to be good to yourself and keep the machine running and in good shape. You are your only employee, so you have to maintain your health and sanity. I’m still working on all of these things that I just listed as well.  It is a constant struggle.

What have been the benefits and rewards working for yourself? 

SO MANY.  You can take a vacation whenever and however long you want! (Hypothetically at least, refer to above question) You are not working hard to put money in someone else’s pocket. All of your hard work benefits the business of you! Everything I have put into my career, I have reaped the benefits of exponentially. I am free to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to jobs and set my own rates (keeping in mind what the market with bear). I’m not selling anything to anybody. I use what I want, when I want. Someday, when I decide to have children, I can take off for however long I want or schedule my workday in whichever way I choose to some extent. There is a lot of flexibility in what I want my work week to look like; it isn’t a solid 40 hrs on my feet everyday. Sometimes, I work really long days for long periods of time and then have a week off. Sometimes, I work short days and have time to meet friends for lunch or run errands or take a nap. Every day is different, every job is different and I love it. I meet amazing people, and do all kinds of makeup. It never gets repetitive or boring. I get to be outside on beautiful days sometimes shooting in the park and many jobs provide breakfast and lunch. What’s not to love about that? I am the boss of me!  

Describe your biggest learning lessons throughout this process?

I would say you have to be very conscious of the people around you. You never know who you’ll end up working for or with. It’s important to stay professional and not talk trash about anyone, despite personal feelings or grudges. It’s important to be kind and generous and keep negative opinions to yourself on set. I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can. No one likes to be around a negative person. Things often go awry and it’s fine to get upset and fight for what you need, but it’s important to remain professional about it. 9 times out of 10, it isn’t your makeup skill that gets you the job. It’s personality and the ease of how you work. There are a lot of jobs that I have done where the conditions were less than desirable, but if you roll up your sleeves and figure it out, people will most likely have you back for being able to roll with the punches and find workable solutions. My personal biggest lesson is the most humbling and still hard for me to master at times: When doing a job, my way or opinion is not the most important or right one, ​even if “my idea” looks better than what the client or director is asking for, ​and ​even if I’m certain that “my way” makes the most sense.  It is really hard to let go of control sometimes and give someone what they are asking for if it goes against your sense of right and wrong. It is important to remember that we are being hired to do a job. If we disagree about the specifics, we are free to make suggestions, but ultimately it is the person who is hiring you’s final call that counts. For example, I once fought with an actress about winged liner that she was certain she wanted. Her eyes were two very different shapes and it only made it that much more noticeable on camera. I fought with her and begrudgingly gave in but very unhappily. No one really noticed or cared but me and I just ended up looking difficult to work with. Luckily, it was a small job and it didn’t cost me other work but it could have. I went home and realized that no one benefitted from my being stubborn about a silly thing like winged liner. If it made her feel good, so what? That was the last time I fought that hard to be right. It’s not about being right.  It’s about doing the job and making the client happy.

What are ​the fears and challenges you see ahead?:

I worry about how I will navigate being a mom and maintaining a career that I love. It’s a few years off, but I am trying to build the groundwork that will allow me to be valued as an artist and more importantly, as a person, so that when I have to take time off people will understand and hire ME when I am ready to come back. I am always pushing to get to the next level and I do worry about how I will get there or if I am making the right decisions on a daily basis to lead me towards those opportunities. I worry about becoming disconnected from the artistry or phoning in my makeup because I know what works. I constantly try to do things in a new way or use new products to keep the creative flow, but it’s hard because i’m tending to pack lighter and lighter as I get tired of hauling around my entire kit. I wonder if I’ll ever get to the point of real abundance, where I really don’t have to worry about money coming in or not coming in as it were. I have so many makeup goals, that I hope one lifetime is enough to achieve them all!

What are you excited about, and what’s next for you? 

I can’t wait for the next big thing!  I have no idea what it is and I love that.  I have been so lucky to have been blessed with amazing work since leaving the retail world.  In the last two years alone, I worked on 6 feature films, an elizabethan punk event for BBC America, Kanye West’s tour in Atlantic City, countless commercials and many, many other jobs.  I also learned airbrush makeup, hairstyling, and SFX.  Who knows where the next two years will take me?!  I know it will just keep getting bigger and better!

Would you ever go back to working retail or at a company for someone else?:

NOPE.  NEVER. EVER. Unless, I own it!  I would however, love to be a brand consultant or help develop new things or be the artistic director/spokesperson.  That would be cool…..

What would you say to people out there who want to make the leap, but are nervous about this step? Any advice?  

DO IT!  Do it smart. Make a plan. Build your savings so that you have a cushion. Don’t wait till you have “enough” because there will never be enough to make the leap of faith, but you’ll know when the timing is right. Trust your gut. Freelance as much as you can, as often as you can, to start the ball rolling. Learn as much as you can, wherever you can, and create the opportunities you are hoping for if you can’t find them! Use your network of artists, friends, and family for support or advice or to find jobs. Someone always needs a makeup artist for something. Talk about it to anyone who will listen because sometimes opportunity arises from just talking or asking.  Assist! Assist as much as you can to learn set etiquette and broaden your technique. Be open to the fact that it is possible and though it is “hard” it is also very rewarding. I do not feel as drained doing what I love everyday as I did working at a counter all those hours for all that time. There is a reason why the word “Free” is in freelance
​ -​
  It is a freedom unlike anything else and worth the lumps and bumps along the way. Don’t listen to naysayers or people who tried to freelance but couldn’t make it work. They have their experience and you will have yours. There is a big wide world of makeup on the other side of retail, and there are more jobs than we can all do if we worked everyday. You just have to face the right direction, take the first step, and  and start walking toward it. You can do it!

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