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Rae Morris Talks About Going Pro and What It Takes to Overcome Your Fears.

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Rae Morris working backstage, photo courtesy of L'Oreal Paris. Model: Barbara Palvin.

Makeup Artist Rae Morris is one of those women whose passion and enthusiasm are infectious. As a makeup artist, mother, author, educator (and more), this entrepreneur has managed to make a unique place for herself on the international makeup stage. She was L'Oreal Paris's longest serving Makeup Director (2003-2013), has 3 best-selling books as well as an eponymous makeup brush line that is coveted by all. Rae is truly a legend—a legend I am lucky enough to have as a mentor, colleague and friend.

I was excited to sit down with Rae to find out how she got where she is today, what keeps her going and how she somehow always finds time to inspire the makeup artists that look up to her.

James Vincent: When did you know that makeup was something you were interested in?

Rae Morris: I was a model in the 80’s (for a minute), but it was totally the wrong “era” for me. It was when Elle Macpherson and all those super tall and tanned beauties where hot, and I was short and anemically white. As a model in the 80’s, your face was completely transformed with makeup to the point where you didn’t even recognize yourself. Seeing how makeup could make that much of a difference blew me away and always stayed with me.

Makeup by Rae Morris, using YSL for VogueBEAUTY.
Photo: Steven Chee.

JV: Did you go to makeup school?

RM: I was trained as a hairdresser prior to my makeup career. Once I switched to makeup, I had a total of 24 hours of “training” with the late Richard Sharah. He picked me to be his student and advised me to move to Sydney. I was his last student. I still believe he was one of the greatest makeup artists that ever lived. He designed all those awesome faces for Ziggy Stardust (even though he was color blind). I was his last student before he passed away. I also assisted the amazing Dotti, who is now based in NYC (and killing it!) Beyond that, everyday life is training for me. There is not a day that passes where I don’t learn something.

JV: What was the most difficult obstacle to overcome on your path to professional artistry?

RM: Being dyslexic and writing makeup books was the most difficult. Now I record everything and get someone to type it.

I also used to struggle with a lack of confidence. I always said yes to huge creative jobs I thought I couldn’t do, then spent the days prior not sleeping, stressing out, and practicing face after face. So now I tell all my students if you’re not confident, awesome! It will push you harder, and this industry is for you!

JV: Was there a point when you thought you wanted to quit? What drove you to that moment?

RM: I never wanted to quit, but there are a few celebs I’ll happily never work with again. I thank God for all the kind, creative, talented, and supportive peeps in this industry, there are more of those than the “nightmares.” So whenever I’m losing it, I just call a colleague and download my frustrations. It’s funny how many of us have days like that! Plus I have nothing to fall back on—I didn’t do well at school, I definitely can’t sing or dance, so it’s makeup or nothing!

JV: Did you make the money you hoped to when you started? Talk about the expectations vs. the reality.

RM: I never thought I’d be good enough at makeup to make money out of it! If it paid my food and rent I was happy, and if not (and in my case, it took years) I worked part time as a hairdresser to pay the bills and to support my love for makeup.

Nothing infuriates me more with young, new, up-and coming-artists than the ones who are all about the money. This industry is not about that. It’s similar to the music industry. How many musicians are only in it to make money? For most, it is about making amazing music.

I love seeing students’ faces when I tell them that I don’t get paid for over 60% of what I do today. Magazines will rarely pay you to do over-the-top creative stuff (it scares most of them). You, in your own time, need to show the industry what you’re capable of!

Brushes, books and face chart from Rae Morris's studio. Photo: Adam Flip.

JV: Was it difficult for you to get the respect from your friends and family you thought you deserved as an artist?

RM: Not at all, they are all so proud. They were all so surprised by my dedication, moving to various cities, sleeping on friends’ floors, using them as models to practice. Makeup didn’t come naturally to me, I never drew or painted (because I didn’t have the confidence) so I had to make up for it with practice practice practice!

My parents only went to grade 7 (primary school). I stopped looking for their approval many years ago. Today, the approval I seek is from the client who has booked me!

Makeup by Rae Morris. Model: Rose Smith, Photographer: Ivan Depetrovski.

JV: When did you land your first agency? How important is it for artists to have agency representation?

RM: I think having an agent is essential in this industry, and getting an agent is the number one hardest thing to do. I get super annoyed when I hear youngsters saying, “oh I’ll just get an agent.” Well good luck, ‘cause you’re up against thousands, and your book has to compete with people already represented.

I landed my first agent through assisting Richard. It would have taken a few more years to have a book good enough to get in the door by cold calling. The agency is important because it’s essential for clients to see you purely as an artist, not someone who carries an invoice book and has to chase money.

In Paris most artists are not allowed to put their advertising shoots in their books. When I asked why, my agent said "you should want celebrities and fashion magazines to think you starve for your art and don’t ever think about money. That will get you respect from the designers and photographers."

JV: How important is it for artists to know both hair and makeup?

RM: Depends on which country you live in. In Australia, you need to do both if you want to work. In Europe it’s about doing one and not the other, and being a master at it (well, in Paris it’s like that). However to “get there” you need to do both, and as you climb the ladder, you can do one more than the other. 90% now for me is makeup only. All the “makeup only” artists that are starting out just get a lot less work. So I say do hair!

Makeup by Rae Morris, Bazaar Beauty. Model: Miranda Kerr, Photo: Justin Cooper.

JV: How do you navigate your social media presence?

RM: I’m super careful with what I post. If I find something hilarious and think it may offend even one person I try to resist the urge and keep it positive. If you are new in the industry, only put your best images up there because you’re competing with the world!

JV: Instagram and Youtube have become a major platform for up-and-coming artists. What are your thoughts on social media? How do you promote your work?

RM: Before social media, we would just do our work, wait for it to be published, and feedback would come from the team. Or you would get feedback from the friends and family you show your images to. Now everything you do is commented on, pulled apart, criticized by everybody.

So just ignore it, keep your focus, and be grateful that now this all exists, so if you do something awesome, millions can see an image you’ve created, overnight.

JV: You are a working mother and manage to have an international career. What advice do you have for others who want to follow the same path?

RM: Be prepared to make many sacrifices, and get help if you can. I don’t do this all on my own—so if there is support out there then take it. This is the area where agents earn their keep.

I don’t really have a social life so I’m lucky that my job is very social. With makeup, you need to ask yourself: would you be doing it if no one was watching and you weren’t being paid? If that’s the passion you have, then you will make it.

Instead of worrying how many Instagram followers you have, just become the best makeup artist you can be. Just make women look like they’re about to walk the red carpet at the Academy Awards, because that kind of makeup is what Vogue and all the A grade celebs want, and it will make you a super star.

As for being a mother, well, nothing has really prepared me. It’s honestly harder than I thought, but now is the time for me to choose my jobs more wisely—my daughter won’t be young forever.

Dita von Teese and Rae Morris, photo courtesy of L'Oreal Paris.

JV: What do you look for in a makeup assistant?

RM: Someone with great work ethic. They just find something to do. They are not on their phone, and they have the fire inside. It’s easy to spot—I can tell in 5 minutes if they are made for it!

I love anyone who has awareness, who can just can see everything that is going on. I think awareness can’t really be taught. You either have it or don’t.

JV: This industry can be brutal sometimes. What advice do you have for finding balance?

RM: Know that if someone is being super nasty, it’s because “THEY” are not in a happy place—even so, those people are important for your growth. They teach you about yourself. Are you able to stay calm professionally and have integrity?

Also, respect the industry. There have been times at fashion week where I’ve thought “seriously, it’s just an eyeliner we are fighting over.” But to those design houses who spend millions and millions of dollars with the world waiting and watching to see the next big thing, well, they take everything seriously. I mean everything! Some fashion peeps have more to lose than I do, so I need to understand there is more at risk for some people.

JV: How important is integrity and honesty for an artist?

RM: You will not last a second without it.

JV: How do you learn to become comfortable around celebrities?

RM: I’m not comfortable until I know they love their makeup. I try and calm down my excitement if I’m working on someone I’m awestruck by. So basically I just fake it, focus, and say to myself “OMG this face has had the best ever artists work on it, so make it great Morris!”

JV: What is the best advice you were ever given? What was the worst?

RM: The best makeup artist knows when to put the brush DOWN. Another excellent piece of advice: have one thing missing, and it will be more beautiful! Eugene Souleman told me that. For example, if you take away the brow, or have a nude lip, it will be more beautiful—and to me he is so right.

The worst is: you must go to every event/party you see on Facebook and network…Complete CRAP!

JV: What is next for Rae Morris?

RM: More and more. More brushes, more makeup, and trying to be the best mother ever!

The Rae Morris Signature Kabuki Set