I first spotted MAC’s Rebecca B (a.k.a. makeup artist Rebecca Butterworth) when I was working backstage alongside the MAC team at Men’s Fashion week, she immediately caught my eye as she happens to be the current owner of the greatest and most vibrant teal coloured hair I’ve ever seen in my life. As one member of the makeup giant’s elite team of Senior Artists, Rebecca has worked for and alongside some of the best in the business, and what she can’t do with an Aquadisiac eyeshadow and a 217 blending brush frankly isn’t worth doing.
MAC’s squad of meticulously selected Senior Artists descend like a SWAT team of black clad makeup ninjas upon Fashion Week each season, but can also be found giving masterclasses, training up the makeup artists of the future, shooting editorial, glamming up celebrities for the red carpet, body painting, you name it they’re there providing some of the most lust-worthy skin and razor sharp lip lines you’ll ever have the priviledge to lay eyes upon. And in amongst all that Rebecca took time out from what sounded like a very creative shoot to sit and have a chat with us about just what goes on inside the life of a MAC Senior Artist.
Hey Rebecca! So first things first, what have you been up to in the last week or so?
Well it’s a good week to ask because January was great! We had the Menswear shows, and then last week the rest of the team and I headed off to Paris to do the Couture collections, which was amazing. Yesterday I was shooting the Bella Freud look book, which was styled by Bay Garnett who styled one of my all-time favourite shoots, that was pretty awesome to work with her, and then today I’m shooting editorial. It’s always so different, that’s what keeps us on our toes and keeps it so exciting. I seem to spend a lot of my life unpacking one case into another case and taking out this product bag adding in this product bag, figuring out what brushes I need to take!
I know that feeling! And between all the shoots and shows do you ever have chance to go onto counter with the makeup artists that are working in the stores?
Oh absolutely, all of the Senior Artists go into store when we can, in fact I was working in Harrods on Monday. I just I love it, because working on counter is it’s where I started y’know, just doing makeup and getting to play around, so essentially what I do these days is I go into store and show off! “…Have you tried this blue eyeshadow? Let me show you the looks we did in Paris…” That’s all I really wanted anyone to do when I was working on counter, to come in and show me a glimpse of a different world, that’s what kept me inspired.
I was all about that creativity in my time at MAC, in fact to be honest one thing I struggled with, is that I was not a sales focussed person, I just wanted to do face charts and do crazy makeup all the time! I know a lot of the readers of Mascara Wars love the creative side of makeup, and many of them work on makeup counters, I was wondering how you balanced the two sides, I’m guessing you have to excel at the sales element as well as the creative to progress to the role you’re in now?
Well I definitely could never tell you I was a natural salesperson, when I first joined MAC I was quite shy, and I didn’t really like talking to people so working as a makeup artist could’ve been the worst job in the world for me! But it meant I got the opportunity to talk to people, I had to do it, and I found that if I got nervous about something I could always fall back on a conversation about makeup. I never really felt comfortable selling things, so I never sold things, instead I said, “This is what I think is going to look great on you!” I was enthusiastic about products, I really liked doing it, I loved sitting people down and doing their makeup.
I think a lot of people get it the wrong way round because they go in there thinking they’ve got to sell these things, they’ve got make this amount of money, and if you start from that standpoint you just end up doing bad work because you’re not focussed on doing really lovely makeup that excites both you and the person you’re doing the makeup on. I also feel like all of those skills have translated into working backstage because essentially what you do, say at a photoshoot, is you sell your idea to the photographer, or the stylist, and if you’re not able to be excited about it and say “This is my idea, this is what I think will look great and these are the reasons why,” then it’s hard to communicate with the rest of your team. I feel like all of those skills are totally interchangeable.
Very true! So what’s been your journey through MAC to get to where you are now?
Well its fifteen years this year, and it’s funny because when I started working for MAC I never thought I could be a makeup artist as a career! Initially I was only there on a six-month contract, but I loved the brand and I stayed on, I worked there part time in Birmingham while I was going through university, then when university finished I went full time. I was always that geek at product update, bugging the trainers, they would ask a question in training and I was always the one desperate to answer, so when the Resident Trainer position came up in Bristol, I applied for that and I got it! I was looking after the South West region which grew from four stores to nine stores in the end, and I’d been doing that for six years when the Senior Artist job came up.
I’d spent a lot of time working with MAC backstage, and building bridges with makeup artists in the industry as well as with our senior team like Terry Barber (MAC’s Director of Makeup Artistry), so I was quite well placed to do the Senior Artist role, and I’ve been doing that for the last three years. Everyone’s journey to Senior Artist is so different though, it’s not a linear journey where I can say “if you do this, then you’ll end up there”. It’s very much as it is in life, the more you put in, the more you show your face, the more you turn up and do a great job as often as you can, the more doors will open for you.
A great lesson for freelance artists as well! So in your three years would you say there have been any standout moments so far?
I think really the standout moments in my career are when I’m able to work with incredible artists and watch them at work, particularly people like the Val Garlands or the Alex Box’s of the world, real makeup artists’ makeup artists. If you get the nod from them and they like your work, you feel like a million dollars. I’ve done quite a few of the Vivienne Westwood shows with Val, where she lets the team create their own individual take on the look she’s created, and that’s a really interesting process. I’ve been doing shows with her for quite a few years, and it takes her a while to kind of get a feel for you and then trust you as part of the team, so it’s a really special day when she’s able to say to you at a Westwood show, “I know you’re going to do a great version of this look, so just go for it.” And then you do and she’s like, “Darling! It’s wonderful! It’s absolutely magic! Fabulous!!”
Ohhh amazing! Also on the subject of shows I wanted to ask about the trends that come through at fashion week, would you say that as a Senior Artist you have a hand in shaping those?
I feel like I want to say we do an awful lot in the shaping of the trends, and it starts in head office quite a long time before the shows happen, with all the trend forecasting sites and so on. When you’re backstage at the shows and the makeup tests you might say for instance “I feel like its blue this season, let’s use Electric Eel”. And then you get to the end of the season and look back at the shows and you realise that you’ve managed to mould and shape a lot of where those trends end up going. So it’s much more of a predictive process than just seeing what the trends are and creating products around that, we’re kind of guiding it.
And now, on a totally different note, I wanted to ask about your interest in special effects! I know you’re about to start on a bald cap course at Pinewood Studios, and a while back I remember seeing some photos of a workshop you were at with Neill Gorton…
Oh my god, I can’t believe I didn’t mention that as a standout moment! Well, I’m such a geek and have always been really fascinated with special effects, not necessarily gore and blood but I really like to know how the effects get done. Whenever I get a DVD the first thing that I do is go and watch the extras to find all the behind the scenes hair and makeup! And so last year, I went and did a two-day Introduction to Special Effects course with Stuart Bray (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead…) which was just amazing. Later in the year, Neill Gorton (BAFTA winning prosthetics artist of Saving Private Ryan and Dr Who…) was booked to do a masterclass for MAC Pro members and because of my interest in SFX, I had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with Neill in designing this masterclass.
We came up with this great concept where he would do special effects and I would do fashion makeup on top, so we could show how much scope special effects and prosthetic make up has beyond what you ordinarily see on TV or Film. To get that started the rest of the UK Senior Artist Team and I went to see Neill at his workshop in Aylesbury and we did two days with him, the first day was zombie makeup, and the second day was using the cheek pieces that he’d crafted for Lady Gaga for the Born This Way album cover. That was an amazing learning process, him just saying, “These are the pieces, I’ll show you how to stick them on, but then just use your products to create and do whatever you want.” I didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t know where I was going to start, but this kind of half black half purple alien came out of that!
I was so in love with that makeup when I saw it, I thought it was genius! So would you say you’re encouraged as artists at MAC to have your own individual styles?
Yeah, we’re all our own makeup artists, we all have different interests and we can all bring something different to the role. I think as a makeup artist often you don’t really know what your own style is, but other people might be able to pinpoint it better for you? You have to follow your interests, and you have to go with what excites you, but at the same time as a MAC Senior Artist and I’m sure you experience this in your freelance work, you do have to know how to do pretty much anything! You might not be an expert in it and you might not know how to do it perfectly, but you need to know that if you turn up on a shoot and someone says “Hey we’re thinking about doing such-and-such, what do you reckon?”, you can kind of cobble something together, even if you’ve never done it before.
Absolutely, the more strings you have to your bow the better. So on your shoots, I loved the beauty shoots you did for Elle and L’Officiel for example, is that your own freelance work, or are you brought in there as a MAC artist?
There’s just quite a lot of blend and overlap, I do try to do a lot of stuff in my free time although my role at MAC is a full time job so it’s five days a week. MAC are really great in that as part of my job for the company I need to be out in the industry, making contacts and bringing in different angles for us to work with as a brand, so we get a little bit of leeway, to do work that is for our book but is also making contacts in my role at MAC. I spend a lot of time juggling around trying to fit in shoots wherever and whenever I can!
And finally, a pretty big question, what do you think it is about MAC Cosmetics that just seems to grab people and not let go? Both consumers and makeup artists seem to get excited by it like no other makeup brand, what do you think that success comes down to?
It’s such a hard question to answer, I’ve literally been asking myself this question for the last fifteen years! The brand that I joined all those years ago was so much smaller then, and now it’s absolutely enormous, but to me it still feels like this place where the misfits and the weirdos could go and paint peoples’ faces and take refuge. And while it’s become something really big I still think a lot of the products we put out, and the artists that come and work for us have got that same mentality, and I think that translates to customers as well, to the excitement that you feel when you come into a store, and there’s all this colour and there’s all these cool things that you can go and see. Really I don’t know though, it’s this thing that’s undefinable, and I’m really glad that no one can define it because I think as soon as you define it you lose it, someone else can come along and try to copy and take it away from you. But I think if you consciously went out there and tried to replicate that magic somewhere else… you could never do it.
Time For The Quick-fire Round… GO!
Favourite recent MAC campaign?
Dark Desires was just so sexy and well, desirable! I wanted to wear the make up and be those girls.
Discontinued MAC product you’d love to see return?
HYPER REAL FOUNDATION!! I was obsessed with it. It was unlike anything else – a full coverage matte liquid but with reflective pink or gold pigments running through it. It made your skin look amazing! I wish I’d bulk bought it before it was discontinued.
Favourite MAC nude?
I’m rather partial to Viva Glam 5 if I’m feeling pretty or Siss (1. both £15.50…) if I’m feeling like I want something slightly ‘wrong’. (I’m a sucker for colours that look wrong – tobacco browns or sickly oranges)
Favourite MAC brush?
I’m rather in love with the Oval 6 Masterclass Brush (2. £34.50…). It makes doing flawless skin and concealer, especially on bodies so easy. And it looks so unusual, it always gets comments.
Favourite MAC highlighter?
I try and use Pearl Cream Colour Base (3. £16…) in every single make up I do. It makes everything look luxury.
Favourite MAC lashes?
#33 (£10.50…) because they’re fine and feathery and undetectable.
Most underrated MAC product?
Lash curlers (£16…). I can never get my head around people that don’t use them or think they’re unimportant. If you don’t fully curl your lashes with a pair of good (not cheap) curlers, you’ll never get the full potential of your mascara.
And with that our time is up and she’s off to continue shooting, I can’t say what as yet but from the images she sent me later on that day I can safely say its unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Just another day in the life of a MAC Senior Artist then.