Saying that Bridie Coughlan knows her way around a face isn’t nearly as odd as it sounds. As a makeup artist, she is up close and personal with faces all day long. And as the resident artist at Rex Lott Photography, she’s a total pro when it comes to how you want to (and how you should) look for a headshot session. To get the inside scoop on all things beauty, Backstage chatted with Coughlan about her work, her number one headshot trick, and the item actors should always carry with them.
Tell us a little about what you do.
I work primarily for a headshot photographer in New York. I also freelance and do events and stuff like that. I also work for a woman who runs a school for crossdressers, which is really cool and really fun, but my main job is doing [hair and makeup for] headshots for actors.
How did you get into makeup?
My parents are both artists, so I grew up always drawing and painting. My mom is a doll artist; she repaints faces on dolls. I always joke that I do the same thing she does, except I have bigger dolls. I went to school for theater...but always loved doing makeup. After college, I started taking makeup jobs and started to realize that I felt more passionate about behind the scenes and doing makeup than acting.
How important is makeup in a headshot session?
I think it’s really important. First of all, you really want to get the right look for your headshots, and it’s important to look like yourself to capture the kind of type you want to go out for. When you have a good makeup artist who can really work with you on that, I think it’s the best case scenario.
What’s the trick to perfect headshot makeup?
[The trick] to doing headshot makeup versus a wedding or an event is that you really want to have a makeup artist who is going to listen and is really going to try hard to make you look like yourself. I always say you should look like you on your best day. You want to make sure it’s not something super glamorous or something you wouldn’t normally wear because when you go to auditions, you have to look like your headshots.
What are essential tools that every actor should have in their makeup kit?
I would say concealer is a good one to have on hand for men and women. It’s always helpful to cover up any blemishes or scars. I always like to dab a little bit of concealer under the eyes. For women, a little mascara goes a long way. And lip gloss. I think lip gloss is a lot easier to use than lipstick just because it’s going to be [sheerer]. It’s going to still give your lips a nice pop, but you don’t have to worry about getting the line so precise.
What tips do you have for men taking headshots who are unfamiliar with makeup?
The thing for your headshots is powder to make sure you’re not shiny. With men, it’s tricky because you don’t want to look like you’re wearing makeup—that will just be a distraction. So [hopefully] you will have a good photographer who can use a little Photoshop on any blemishes you have. It’s a little bit harder for a photographer to just wipe away a whole shiny face, though, so definitely [use] powder.
What do you mean by seeing makeup as “wearable art”?
I think there are so many times where I’m doing someone’s makeup, and my client will say, “Oh, you look like you’re painting,” and I say, “Well, I am!” I’m creating art on someone’s face. I always say being a makeup artist is a little bit like working with a coloring book: the outlines are already there, I’m just shading in.
What are your tips for natural-looking makeup?
You really just want to stay away from any harsh lines. If you’re wearing eyeliner, make sure it’s a soft, kind of smudged line. You don’t want to go into your headshots with a super striking makeup look because that’s what they’re going to be looking at instead of you in the headshot. And use blush. It always helps to brighten up your cheeks a bit and give yourself a nicer complexion.
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