The Makeup Artist Handbook (Book Review)

The Makeup Artist Handbook

Makeup Artist CoverBook Title: The Makeup Artist Handbook : Makeup Techniques for Film, Television, Photography, and Theatre
Author/Editor: Gretchen Davis and Mindy Hall
Publisher/Distributor: Elsevier Inc./Focal Press
Subject Matter/Genre: Professional Cosmetology
Format: Print & Digital
Available In: Paperback Softcover and Kindle
Copyright License: Traditional
MSRP: $44.95
Expected Release: Available Now
Official Website:  Click Here
Download Chapter Sample: Click Here
Buy:  Click Here
Review Issue: Issue #2 (07/12)
Reviewed By: Amarantha Mortis
Final Score: 7.5

Imagine everything you have ever wanted to know about makeup – this book has it. Now, imagine everything you didn’t want to know about makeup – you guessed it, this book has it. The Makeup Artist Handbook is intended to be a basic, but also very comprehensive, guide for makeup professionals. It is meant to be used as a training tool in order to fully prepare the reader (i.e., the makeup artist) for applying makeup on anyone, in any situation or setting that could arise on a film or TV set, photography shoot or theatre stage – everything from dressing the faces of models for a couture fashion magazine to getting elbow deep in silicone and fake blood for a zombie apocalypse horror flick. This book is not geared toward the amateur, and would certainly scare the uninitiated. There are a number of practical applications within the book that anyone who is into makeup could take away from it, which makes it an overall interesting read regardless of whether you intend to use it for professional, or merely personal, application.

Appropriately, the book begins with a summary of the basic foundational principles of art, specifically: Shapes, Form, Lighting and Color. These are the building blocks of any art form (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) and required training for any individual, professional or not, who respectfully calls themselves “artist.” Before brush is put to canvas, pencil to paper, or hands to clay, an artist must understand proportion, movement, and how shadow play and colors affect their subject matter…makeup, is no exception. These first four chapters are therefore paramount to the reader in understanding the basics of make-up:

  1. Chapter 1: Basic Shapes – This chapter provides a foundational knowledge for understanding proportions, movement, and shadows and how to manipulate them on the human form to create a desired effect.
  2. Chapter 2: Human Anatomy – Having a basic understanding of biology and anatomy is absolutely critical for a makeup artist; they must understand that the canvas on which they work (the human body) is alive, and, as such, presents infinitesimal variations of skin texture, color, and reactions from one human canvas to the other.
  3. Chapter 3: Color Theory – Color: our best friend, or worst enemy. Appropriate color choice can make or break a makeup artist’s desired effect. A basic understanding of primary and secondary colors and how to blend them to achieve a custom color, hue, or tint is explained with the help of color wheels.
  4. Chapter 4: Lighting – The tonality that is incurred by different sources of light (sunlight vs. standard indoor lighting vs. stage lighting vs. lighting filters, etc.) can change the way the color and even texture of makeup looks on skin to both the naked eye and on camera.

While the first four chapters are fairly palatable to any non-professional, Chapter 5, by contrast, is when the book takes a nose dive into the very technical aspects of the professional makeup industry. Not surprisingly, this is where the book becomes somewhat (ok, VERY) difficult to follow by anyone who has minimal or no exposure to the professional makeup industry. This chapter provides a glimpse into the remaining 200+ pages of the book which are significantly bent toward the professional-level reader. Chapter 5 clarifies for the reader (if there was any previous misconception) that the book is meant to be used within the confines of the visual arts.

There is a brief respite from any intensely technical terminology in chapters 6 (Foundations) and 7 (Beauty and Basics) before the reader is once again thrust into the daunting world of professional makeup artistry, head first. Chapter 6, while still peppered with professional terminology and lists of products that us lay persons could only dream of, nonetheless provides very basic guidelines on how to appropriately prepare the skin for applying foundation, gives some insight into the various consistencies of foundations available (creams, powders, etc.) and touches on other key makeup products (eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, lipstick, etc.). Chapter 7, while it begins to again pull the reader back into the professional world, is on the whole, practical enough to apply to any person’s daily makeup regimen. This chapter extols the benefits of using the proper tools and setup (lighting, etc.) for executing precision makeup.

The rest of the book (Chapters 8 – 12) really only requires a skimming for any non-professional reader. Chapter 8 trains the reader on how to develop a makeup design plan to bring their canvases to life based on the characteristics of the role being played (e.g., adding nicotine stains on the teeth to portray the character as a chain smoker, applying age spots and bulbous veins on skin to portray the actor as an elderly person, painting on a tinted foundation and eye bags to portray the sallow complexion of a drug addict, etc.). While these facets of the professional makeup artist’s role are interesting, they do not even remotely apply to the average, everyday makeup application. Chapter 9 (Hair) and Chapter 10 (Airbrush) get even deeper into the logistics of professional makeup for the visual arts such as how to apply a bald cap or apply false facial hair, and the deeply mechanical aspects of airbrushing. Chapter 11 and 12 are the pièce de résistance of the handbook, culminating in a very technical and complex training on how to make and apply prosthetics (e.g., silicone compounds, gelatins, latex, foam) and perform complex painting methods to achieve any effects that might be needed for a TV or Film set (external manifestations of medical issues and illnesses such as rosacea or measles, traumatic wounds, fake tattoos, etc.), and how to find and prepare for makeup jobs to propel yourself into the professional makeup industry.


Overall, each chapter of this book, even the more technical ones, is intriguing from an artistry perspective. Anyone who is interested in the visual arts, especially its application on the human form, would find this book interesting. And, any makeup connoisseur will find this book valuable since the basics are there to refer to over and over. While the content of the book can be difficult to get through at times, due to the technical aspects, the writing style is very straightforward and clear (like a true textbook should be) and each chapter is concluded appropriately in textbook style with helpful tips and quizzes.

Depth of Information

The amount of information outlined in the Makeup Artists Handbook is, in many ways, mind-boggling. Nonetheless, a fair amount of its content is basic enough that anyone who is interested in make-up can absorb something from reading this book, and apply it to their personal make-up methods. Whether it’s starting at the bottom, honing your skills, or trying to be at the top of your game professionally, this book has something for you.


If your head isn’t spinning by now, it certainly will be once you finish this book. As far as comprehension of the material provided, the ratio is likely to be 80-100% for the professional, 30-70% for the amateur and about 0-30% for the novice, depending on where the reader is in the spectrum of overall makeup application experience. Overall, one cannot walk away from this book without thinking, “this must be a sequel.” The prequel, I gather, is either a cosmetology degree, or technical school courses which culminate in a professional certification (Certified International Makeup Professional™ (CIMP™)). Unfortunately, anyone who is not a professional will have a handicap when it comes to the industry specific terminology – but again, do not let that be a deterrent to your reading this book. There is something for everyone, at every level.

Greatness Over Time

The Makeup Artists handbook is in many ways intended to be a bible for all makeup artists, great and small. It could be referred to repeatedly whenever the reader wants to achieve a certain look (e.g., tricks for enlarging the eyes or lips), and as a refresher training on color, technique, and supplies.


Clearly, this book is tto universal to be geared toward just the gothic subculture, but it can be directly applied to beauty techniques of any goth, male or female, in order to best understand how to execute gothic makeup correctly (yes, there most definitely is a right, and wrong way).

Bang for your Buck

If anything, the Makeup Artist Handbook gives too much information to its readers rather than too little. This does affect the value but its reusability over time more than makes up for initial the cost of the book.

Overall Conclusion

Overall, the book is a worthy investment for anyone who enjoys doing makeup either for themselves or others for personal enjoyment, and for anyone who is considering entering the professional makeup industry or wants an update to current professional makeup methods.


Style: 8
Depth of Information: 10
Understandability: 7
Greatness Over Time: 7
Gothicness: 5
Bang For Your Buck: 7

Total Score: 7.5

Author: Amarantha Mortis

Amarantha Mortis was the 2012 fashion and beauty writer for Darkest Goth magazine.

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