Elizabeth Fox has been a working Special FX Makeup Artist for fifteen years. Since 2001, she has studio credit on over 25 feature films, primarily horror and indie. When she’s not throwing fake blood around on set, she’s making people beautiful for commercials, television and for their big day down the aisle. This doesn’t begin to count the hours of work, hundreds of trial-runs and years of training Elizabeth has been involved in to establish her reputation in the field.
This time of the year especially, many people are interested in Special FX makeup, perhaps to match with a certain costume or party theme, but to her it’s a way of life. Elizabeth is here to share the behind-the -scenes reality of this artistic passion.
Elizabeth, you have a crazy cool job as an FX makeup artist. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
EF: I am from Northern California and recently moved back into the house I grew up in in the Bay Area after having lived in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. I loved living in all three cities and love the different makeup work in each place. I have a super amazing kid I named Ramona for three reasons: the children books by Beverly Cleary, a song my grandfather used to sing to my grandmother, and my deep love for the band the Ramones.
I consider myself a Special FX Makeup Artist, although now that I’m back in the Bay Area, I primarily do commercial, beauty, and bridal makeup as well as teach. Every few months I’ll take on an FX job that may not pay the bills the way commercial work does, but it feeds my soul.
Is this career something you always dreamed of doing, or did you happen upon it later on? What was the path of training/education?
EF: I never thought I’d be a makeup artist: It seemed to go against everything I believed in as a young feminist. I didn’t read fashion magazines; I didn’t give in to society’s beliefs that women need to adorn themselves; I don’t support companies that prey on insecurities while objectifying their customers. I like wearing makeup, but I don’t need makeup. I completely misunderstood the industry and what makeup has the power to do.
I always assumed I’d be an actress, doing serious and powerful work. I choose makeup artistry after having graduated from college with a theater degree and running a barely surviving theater company for ten years. I found myself loving the ways makeup could transform someone and create character. I thought it would be a good way to continue to work collaboratively, to be creative, and still be surrounded by creative people. Because I understood what actors go through, I felt I could be a good partner in their character building.
Are there any misconceptions about your work that you hear from other people? Set the record straight.
The successful, working MUAs I know are some of the smartest, intuitive, and kind people I know.
EF: There are many misconceptions about the beauty industry. I think being a makeup or hair artist or someone “in the industry” has been thought of as an easy path that doesn’t require a strong skill set and is often viewed as a backup plan for people who aren’t succeeding in traditional workplaces. That saddens me because it couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes a huge amount of hard work and drive to be successful.
We are artists, confidantes, therapists, bookkeepers, schedulers. We have to be social-media savvy, networkers, and marketing and financial managers. And being a freelance makeup artist (rather than working for a cosmetics line, for example) requires courage and strength of character. The successful, working MUAs I know are some of the smartest, intuitive, and kind people I know.
What is the hardest part of the job, and what is the most enjoyable part of it?
EF: The hardest part of the job is translating what people want into what is actually possible, whether it’s a director trying to explain how they want blood to splatter on a wall, or a bridesmaid asking for natural makeup. Different things have different meanings to people. Blood splatter is very different for Quentin Tarantino than it is for Jane Campion (full disclosure, I have not worked with either director).
The most enjoyable part of the job is difficult to pin down. I love so many things about what I do. With Beauty makeup, I love helping someone feel beautiful and confident. There is nothing to match what it feels like to watch when someone looks into a mirror and loves what they see. With Special FX makeup, the creation of the monster or wound or what it is you’re doing is amazingly rewarding on so many levels. But watching the character come to life, seeing how an actor is transformed because of what you did-that’s my favorite part.
Makeup can be such a fun way of expressing yourself, and feeling confident. What or who was your inspiration to do this as a career?
The key to beauty makeup is it’s fun and can make you feel wonderful by bringing out who you are, not by concealing.
EF: Once I chose makeup artistry, I sought out the innovators and those who pushed the boundaries of both beauty and Special FX Makeup. The people I consider my FX heroes are Dick Smith, Ve Neill, and Tom Savini. Beauty wise, I’m always looking for the subtlety of a creative mind. Alex Box and Roshar are two incredibly talented and creative artists I admire. But I am inspired by genuineness; people and things that are uniquely their own.
Do you have any advice for young women who are interested in makeup, specifically FX as a career?
EF: My advice is to assist as many different makeup artists as you can. Classes and workshops are a great way to meet other artists and learn some basics, but you need to see how different artists work, what their kits are filled with, how they interact on set—it’s all invaluable. Send emails to artists you follow on IG or whose work inspires you and offer your assistance.
Don’t expect to make a lot of money when you first start out. It’s a tough road to get your name out there and you have to be professional and take it and yourself seriously.
Often the message of inner vs. outer beauty ever comes up between artists and clients. Do you find that happening?
EF: The issue of inner beauty versus outer beauty comes up all the time, though not as much with actors and models as when I work with private clients such as female CEOs. I love discussing the role of makeup within the professional world for women. It’s so loaded when you talk about the need for makeup in order to be taken seriously.
I’m lucky in that I get to work with some brilliant women who are interested in the discussion, know who they are and don’t need makeup, but like what it can do. That’s the key to beauty makeup, in my opinion: it’s fun and can make you feel wonderful about yourself by bringing out who you are, not by concealing yourself.