Talking to… ASTRID KEARNEY |

6 mins


The creative director and international make-up artist tells Lollie Hancock about her passion for project-led briefs, and how she’s helping to shape the MUAs of the future

For Astrid Kearney, “connection to others as a make-up artist is of the utmost importance”, highlighting her understanding that the role goes far beyond just applying products and basic colour theory.

Throughout her career, Kearney has tried it all, from working backstage at fashion weeks to prepping celebrities for events, spending time on film sets to moulding the next generation of make-up artists by writing education programmes for academies worldwide.

“I do everything from fashion, editorial, catwalk, education and celebrity,” she shares. “I think my main area of passion now is projectled briefs when I’m directing a team and working seamlessly with producers, directors, celebrities and an agency. I love being part of a team where we create some amazing work together.”

Working up to being a creative director – the role Kearney now tends to be offered on shoots – involves a lot of time and talent, the latter of which Kearney is definitely not short of.

Kearney and her team
Final Checks open day look

"Through CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM we gain true knowledge about ourselves, which assists you the artist being able to FURTHER IMPROVE and WORK ON YOUR CRAFT"

By age 20, she had left her native Ireland behind, training in make-up and prosthetics under Julia Cruttenden at Greasepaint in London, heading up the make-up department in the theatre of a Miami high school’s art department, and spending time in Paris to learn the language and figure out her career goals.

However, her return to London is where Kearney’s knowledge really grew, as she shares, “I worked for a make-up agency at every store for every brand. This was incredible as I was sent to training schools for each brand, and I learned so much – not just about the brands, but the psychology of humans, their desires, and how they want to look and feel, through the thousands of customers who came to my counter and beauty rooms for treatments.

“Training gave me the tools and discipline to hone my talents, but out in the world of TV, fashion and film is where I sharpened my techniques and became inspired to keep on improving my craft.”

Career chameleon

Due to her varied career, Kearney has developed a diverse skillset. When it comes to the main differences between working on fashion shows, editorial shoots, and in TV and film, Kearney puts it down to one word: “mood”.

“This refers to the team, the stars [models, actors or musicians], the kit, and the approach as a make-up artist,” she explains.

Whether it be working on a film site for months, or a one-day editorial shoot, a good kit is key to a job well done, and putting it together is one of Kearney’s favourite parts of the job. “This is where I’m really in my element and where my passion lies,” she says.

“I love to liaise with the designer, client, photographer, agency or talent, and work on the brief. It’s very important to be able to read minds and see between the lines to what people desire. I like to feed back the information given with mood boards, plans and ideas and bring a model into the studio to test looks.”

Kearney’s ability to be in the right place at the right time, and to be one step ahead of everyone around her, is one that she has learnt over time, as she shares: “You’ve got to know when to be present, and when to step back and just be silent, and be OK with that. Working on a project is like music, it’s like an orchestra. It’s all about understanding when you step in and when you move back.”

The skill is one that she tries to pass down to her assistants, or, as she likes to call them, “mini-mes”, giving them roles within the team to push them to become the best MUAs they can be. “The artists who have a strong voice, but maybe don’t know how yet to work on that, I give a strong role within the group to help push them forward because I see their potential.

“I want them to see their potential – they need a little bit of corralling and guidance, but they’ve been seen. I see them. I recognise them. I recognise their power.”

Educating the next generation

Kearney’s career has led to some amazing opportunities to educate the next generation of make-up artists, as she now designs bespoke creative, fashion and photographic make-up courses at prestigious beauty schools throughout the UK, Europe and Asia.

“Over a decade ago, I went to directors of different academies with ideas and they were readily excited at what I could bring to the table to excite and inspire new students,” she says. “I first started at London College of Fashion, where I was an external accessor. 15 years later I interviewed to be the head of the department there, which was a great honour at the time.

Kearney starts as an in-store MUA for leading brand across London

Begins lecturing on make-up courses at London College of Fashion

Joins her first agency, Carol Hayes Management

First film junket in Venice with Steven Spielberg for "The Terminal"

First masterclass for international pro artists at London School of Make-up

Kearney is named creative director for Final Checks Academy

“I had met the crew of London School of Makeup, whom I love, and London School of Beauty and Makeup under George Hammer, and lectured and created masterclasses.

I had also met the fabulous family-run Delamar Academy team, and that was where I started creating and developing courses over four years. I began writing for LA College of Creative Arts in Dublin, and would travel there to deliver the course, masterclasses, and more.

“I also wrote courses for London College of Style, and I am currently creative director and course writer for Final Checks, a fabulous academy in Essex.”

Writing courses for such a range of schools, Kearney likes to add specialised elements for each location. “You’d imagine that when you write one or two courses you cover everything, but as the requests and slants are all so different, each one has a different vibe,” she explains. “Each is tailored specifically to the needs and desires of the director of the academy. When a director needs help with framing the course, I love to aid in direction.”

For Kearney, understanding lecturers and how they work is vital, as she adds, “The most important thing is the person who’s standing at the top of the class, who’s delivering, who’s passionate, who is showing through action and showing the excitement of what it can be to be a make-up artist and working towards your future to have that.”

Backstage at Ada Zanditon’s SS19 LFW show
Kearney often creates avant-garde looks

In a time where make-up skills are so accessible online, and so many artists are now self-taught, Kearney stresses the importance of skills you gain from an academy that you can’t learn from a YouTube video, sharing, “An academy teaches you discipline, and great selfdevelopment. It refines your skills and gives you the ability to hone your craft.

“The biggest area you really learn also is accepting criticism, and this can be very challenging for many. Through constructive criticism we gain true knowledge about ourselves, which assists you, the artist, being able to further improve and work on your craft.”

Words of wisdom

When it comes to selecting a team, with so many talented young MUAs looking for work, there’s one non-negotiable for Kearney: a good attitude.

“You can be the most creative, talented artist in the world, but if you have inability to be tactful and read the room, I cannot work with you. You get a feel for an artist when you lecture them. Many of my assistants I use I have lectured. When I see the power in someone, I want to show them how to harness that so they can move into the industry with pride, ownership, and great leadership skills.”

For those looking to break into professional make-up work, Kearney recommends trying all areas of the industry while building up your portfolio. “If you are lucky enough to attend an academy, make sure you shoot and document your work well. Dip into every area from film and TV to fashion, to gain experience in the different moods of each area and discover which you wish to pursue. Join a make-up agency for department stores and get in on their training. Once you start the ball rolling with action and intention, the magic with happen.”

This article appears in September 2023

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September 2023
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