Christina Spina graduated from CMU’s Comprehensive Makeup Artist Program in 2010. Trading in a sculpting brush for a makeup brush, Christina talks about how her extensive knowledge of art history and theory led to her makeup career. Having worked on a variety of projects ranging from the 2020 music video “DMT” by Stacey to the 2017 film “Octavio Is Dead” by renowned director Sook-Yin Lee, Christina shares with us some first hand insight on how to thrive in the competitive but welcoming makeup industry. Keep reading to know more about her journey into the industry and her advice and takeaways as a professional makeup artist.
When did you become interested in makeup artistry?
I became interested in makeup artistry when I was a teenager. I was enchanted by film and music video magic at an early age. It was clear to me that makeup is a tool for transformative visual creations, and is revealed in various movie characters. Remember The Witches?! Wow!
(Girl’s Life Magazine cover and Image from Game Boy Music Video featuring Jayden Bartels)
Why did you choose CMU? What program did you enroll in and why?
I chose to attend CMU (at the time Complections School of Makeup) because it was the best option in Toronto to study a wide range of makeup disciplines, including special effects makeup. I was fortunate to have graduated from OCAD, majoring in their “Sculpture/Installation” program. I made the decision to pursue my studies in makeup during my time studying art history for a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I realized that I wanted to bring together the practical building skills, art theory and art history knowledge I had acquired and streamline in the direction of makeup and special effects. At that time, I was already very aware that my work would exist in a three dimensional realm!
What was your experience like attending CMU?
My experience while attending CMU was excellent. I learned so much! My instructors were all so generous with sharing their knowledge and advice. It was such a supportive environment for learning, making mistakes and growing from my own and my peers’ discoveries.
(Images from De Su Mente with Sandra Morlett by Director Stewart Maclennan)
What’s the most important piece of advice or thing you learned at CMU?
I learned so much! Here are some takeaways that stuck with me over the years and helped me along the way, along with some advice that I learned through experience:
– Practice makes perfect — or at least close to it. If you don’t know how to do something, research it. There are so many resources available now that were not available ten years ago. Run makeup tests, this will help your method, your knowledge of products, and your timing. No matter what kind of job you are working on, you will always need to work fast. Practice helps cut down the processing time, reduce stress, and makes you look like a real professional.
– Arrive early. If you are on time, you are already late! If you are late, I feel sorry for you… Good luck! One major lesson I didn’t expect to learn at CMU was discipline in good attendance. The rigid schedule was an adjustment for me and was a lesson in itself. You must be able to adjust to an undesirable schedule. Never missing a day takes discipline, which I believe is a valuable lesson that is necessary to enter the professional work environment following graduation.
– Your classmates are your peers and future colleagues. Do not compete with them in a negative way; treat them with respect and support one another. In the future, they will be the ones recommending you for jobs, and vice versa. Some day when you are unavailable to take a job with a regular client, you want to be able to recommend someone who will be able to do a great job in your absence, this requires trusting your fellow artists. The professional industry is small, you need to build your team of reliable confidants, you are not an island.
– When you walk into a job where you are working with, and/or for other makeup artists, leave your ego (and drama) at the door. This also applies when working with clients, actors, performers, etc., it is all about them, not you. If they don’t like their makeup, it’s only makeup and can be changed. Don’t get upset, do not get stressed out. Your ease and adaptability is a measure of your professionalism and maturity, and will determine whether or not they continue to hire you in the future.
(Images from Octavio is Dead by Director Sook-Yin Lee)
After graduating, how did you get started working in the industry?
After graduating, I would take on free makeup jobs to begin my freelancing work education. I did that while working a full time job to support myself as I was building my portfolio and experience. I then landed a job at MAC and found that working at a makeup counter was valuable to continue my learning journey. It was there where I really learned about products, how to use them on all skin types; skin tones, genders, ages, etc. Eventually, after working full time in a TV production related office, I took the plunge and accepted a job on my first film set. This began my journey as a freelance makeup artist.
What have you been working on since graduation?
Since graduating in 2010, I have mainly been working in film and television production which is where I thrive as an artist. I have worked on a variety of projects ranging from television, campaigns, commercials, music videos, photo shoots! In 2018, I decided to proudly relocate from Toronto to Los Angeles. While I miss my Toronto makeup artist community dearly but prefer the nice weather!
What has been your favourite job so far and why?
(Images from DMT and Far Away music videos by Stacey)
This is tough to answer! I am so fond of the many projects that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of! I do tend to say that the last project that I worked on is the highest measure of my skill. So in this case, a music video I co-created with an artist friend of mine, quarantined in Los Angeles in the spring of 2020. It’s something that I am truly proud of! Stacey, a songstress, released her video “DMT” which we filmed together — just the two us — over a weekend in isolation. We created approximately 10 different looks, based on her 1960s pop aesthetic. The footage was filmed in a studio setting on a green screen, with various other professionals advising via video calls for technical support. The footage was then animated and edited by a digital artist. Please watch and enjoy!
Where do you find inspiration for the looks you create?
I find inspiration for the looks I create mainly from pop culture. I am obsessed with 20th century history of fashion, fine art, and music — everything is related! One decade informs the next, it is all so fascinating to me!
(Images from Twining Tea 2019 Commercial)
What are your goals for the future? Any dream makeup jobs?
My goals are to continue to create fun and exciting makeup looks with wonderful people and colleagues. It would be an absolute honour and dream of mine to create iconic looks that are recognized on an international scale, and to inspire others.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of enrolling at CMU or aspiring makeup artists?
My advice for anyone thinking of enrolling in CMU is get ready for an exciting new journey! For aspiring makeup artists I would advise to just keep at it — keep practicing, learning, networking with your peers and be patient; don’t give up, and don’t forget to practice gratitude! There is space for everyone, you are all welcome in this artist community.
(Christina Spina photographed by Courtney Cole)