Nikole Morrow-Pettus is a makeup artist that works in three of the busiest realms of makeup design: celebrity, editorial, and bridal, so you wouldn’t think she had time for anything. But between gigs, the 20-year veteran of the industry makes time to give—which makes her a shining example of positivity and philanthropy for the Beautylish community.
With editorials featured in hotspots like Allure, Southern Living, and Jezebel, along with work with high-profile celebrities including Zoe Saldana, Liam Hemsworth, Viola Davis, and Tom Hanks, the Atlanta-based artist is a prime example of success in our diverse, modern makeup industry. Discerning opinions teach us to pick a niche and specialize, but Nikole works in print, salon, red carpet, bridal, and thrives in her flexibility. Plus she is known for being generous and open with her knowledge on personal presentation and etiquette, which makes her nice to be around.
We talked to the makeup artist about how she got here, how she gives back, and how young creatives can use makeup artistry for social change.
B: You work on a wide variety of makeup disciplines within the industry, but do you believe it takes a special kind of person to master each?
I am incredibly fortunate to have been trained in the '80s. Back then I worked at the Estée Lauder counter—picture mature women with stiff, frosty-tipped hair. Estée Lauder and many other makeup brands sent their new hires to a four-week class called ‘Faces Forward.’ This class taught basic beauty techniques and color theory. What I value most about that class was the way the company taught women to feel empowered. I have taken that lesson with me throughout my career. It makes me very comfortable with a bride and her bridal party, and even with celebrities! I always remember to put myself in the client’s shoes because they are always anxious that we as makeup artists don’t know or understand their personal style and preferences. The experience at the makeup counter taught me to respond quickly to body language. As for salon experience, my leadership skills kick in there as well. I continue to groom and shape newer artists and maintain a 500-person client book. It’s about building trust while staying honest.
B: How do you approach each different kind of makeup job?
Fashion runway makeup is pretty harsh and creative, while I keep print and editorial natural—lighting is the key to great editorial makeup. Makeup for media needs to be clean and concise—HDTV cameras see every flaw. I enjoy every one of them and never tire of the variety.
B: What about working with celebrities? Is it a different experience for a makeup artist?
Yes! I have to do a lot of research when I work with a client in the entertainment industry. Most celebrities have found a makeup artist along their journey to stardom that they like and trust. I usually search for their red carpet looks online and find the ones that I think made them look the best. I then save and present this at our consultation before I do the makeup. I’m always open and receptive to suggestions that they may have, and ditch my ego of trying to prove my abilities. It’s always about them feeling their best!
B: What is the makeup industry like in the south?
I feel we appreciate a hefty dose of makeup in the south. I can bank on a woman wanting at least a bold lipstick color. We dress up a lot more than most regions in the nation, and many of my clients go to luncheons or garden parties at the country club. I do the makeup on many socialites and surprisingly they are far more generous than a celebrity would ever be—I’ve even gone on private planes to do their makeup for special events! You have to have a certain demure characteristic to be hired and brought around this circle of people. Also, I use high-end makeup such as Tom Ford, YSL, Dior, and Chanel for this clientele. They want the best!
B: What advice can you give young creatives from your 19 years of experience?
I think this is a wonderful time to be a makeup artist because there are so many complex ways to make money in the industry. I first started by volunteering and assisting on fashion shows, photo shoots, and wedding parties: cleaning brushes, carrying kits, and setting up the makeup table before the artist gets on set. I wanted to soak up all the knowledge I could. I have always been inquisitive but respectful to my mentors, so never be afraid to ask questions!
B: What’s your favorite part of being in this industry?
I really love when I can help a person discover their beauty! When I cover what my clients deem ‘imperfections,’ I help them reveal their true self. Sometimes, I nearly cry because I can’t believe that I get to do this for a living. When you touch a person you are exchanging energy. When my energy is aligned and balanced, the person feels my positive force of genuine love to make them feel beautiful. I don’t take this honor lightly and never forget to give thanks.
B: How do you use your profession to give back to the community?
I volunteer by speaking to a few organizations like GABWA—Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys. I speak about personal presentation and etiquette at their Professional Development Academy. I also volunteer at New Hope Enterprises, a non-profit which replaces hopelessness with opportunity by giving underprivileged individuals job training, job readiness, and the tools to make it on their own. I also work with Clayton County Schools at their job fairs, introducing an alternative career choice that doesn’t require a four-year degree. I try to set an example to my industry peers and colleagues. We can make a deeper change, not just a change in lipstick color.
B: Do you have any greater plans for your career ahead?
I would love to form a non-profit for young girls—instilling positive self-esteem, self-reliance, and social graces. When you are from an underprivileged environment, you are taught social basics. I want to introduce people to art, fashion, and culture that isn’t part of their everyday lives. I want to prepare them to sit with kings.