This Former Flight Attendant Turned Her Love Of Makeup Into a Lucrative Career


Heidi Cheung was suffering from a serious case of jet lag. Working as a flight attendant in Vancouver, Canada for eight years, she was traveling a lot—but still felt lost, like she was headed in the wrong direction. There was something else taking her attention, something she had, oddly enough, discovered a passion for the very first day she started working up in the air: makeup artistry. “As a flight attendant, I had to wear makeup, which I hadn’t done before,” Cheung says. “Being Asian and from a more academic culture, ‘superficial beauty’ was not encouraged.”

So, naturally, she started shopping—a lot—and experimenting. When she noticed that her buying habits were draining her bank account, she decided to go pro. “Getting a professional discount was the only way to make it affordable,” says Cheung. So, in 2008, the aspiring artist went back to school while working full-time, building her creative portfolio with the support of her coworkers. “With their help, I was able to swap flights on days I had classes or photo shoots.” Just this summer, Cheung quit her job and has since embarked on a career as a freelance makeup artist for Illamasqua. She also works for herself, orchestrating her own shoots and creating looks, many of which have found homes on the pages of various art magazines. “I found my passion. Makeup is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “Even if I won the lottery, I’d still do makeup—for free!” Here we get the scoop on how Cheung turned what she loves into a lucrative career.

What type of makeup do you specialize in?

I do a lot, everything from bridal to fashion to creative shoots. I like experimenting, even if it’s something no one would want to wear on a daily basis (or maybe just Halloween!).

Where do you get your style and beauty cues from?

I read a lot of fashion magazines to develop fashion taste, and I watch a lot of YouTube for makeup inspiration. Occasionally I watch fashion-related TV shows like America’s Next Top Model to get tips on how to direct models. I also love design, whether it's interior design or furniture or art pieces. National Geographic also inspires me. I’m a bit nerdy. And nature always provide the most beautiful color palettes.”

You have some great shoots under your belt. Who takes your photos?

The photographer I tend to work with again and again is Nina Pak. She's quite famous in Vancouver, and because I worked with her my shoots have reached a bigger audience.‘Frost Queen’ is my most creative and my best work to date, I feel. I was very nervous that day because I’d never worked with an established photographer of Nina’s caliber, and it was my third shoot—ever.

What are some of your favorite all-time products?

Illamasqua Skin Base Foundation and Gleam Cream in Aurora. I use the latter in nearly all of my shoots. I also love Yves Saint Laurent Volupte Shine lip products, Chanel's loose powder and Illusion D’Ombre cream eye shadows, Revlon Colorstay Foundation, and Geisha Ink Liquid Liner. My hair is low-maintenance, but I do like Goldwell products. For nails, I prefer OPI, Butter London polishes, and my must-have, Séche Vite Top Coat.”

Any tips or tools readers should know about for makeup, especially falsies and glitter (both a specialty of yours)?

“Invest in good tweezers. I use Tweezerman to do everything from glueing on crystals and sequins to applying falsies. Sometimes when I feel fancy, I use my Shu Uemura lash applicator. Another tip for falsies: flex the seam a few times to break it loose, like a warmup exercise. Apply a thin strip of glue and wait until it's tacky. Then apply the lashes at the center and tuck the corners in.

Do you have any creative interests outside makeup?

I love crafty things, but I'm a bit clumsy. I always go to craft stores to look for idea to incorporate into makeup looks, like crystals and feathers. In my premature days, I did a shoot where I glued star-shaped sprinkles (for cake decorating) onto my model's face.

What’s your ultimate goal?

At this point I'm still a bit unsure of my future path. Vancouver is not a fashion city and my passion lies in fashion. My dream is to do backstage. Relocating is a must, but for now I'm planning to work for Illamasqua for some time and get experience, perfect my skill and speed, keep doing photoshoots, and eventually look for opportunities to go backstage in a fashion capital.

Who are some of the beauty insiders or trendsetters you follow online?

Pixiwoo, Lisa EldridgeWayne Goss, Jordan Liberty, Temptalia, Sasaki Asahi and Scott Barnes. I flew to Los Angeles just to attend Barnes’s contour class!