Meet Helen Dowsley, an incredible makeup artist who’s worked all over the world with some amazing celebs like Ed Sheeran and Charlie XCX and on some incredible TV shows like The Bachelor! We were so excited to chat to her about her work. From teaching aspiring makeup artists to starting her own line of lashes that are worn and loved by the likes of Amal Clooney, Helen has had a phenomenal career. Read all about her below!
Tell us a little about yourself and your career.
When I left school, if you didn't go to uni you were supposed to be either a secretary or a hairdresser. I didn't want to do any of those things. I wanted to be a makeup artist in Hollywood. Everyone said I was being ridiculous.
I saved my money, jumped on a plane and went and knocked on doors. I worked in LA, New York and Milan.
Life got in the way and I ended up bringing two little boys up by myself back in Australia. I stuck to doing wedding makeup on weekends because I could look after my kids plus make a good living. Then I secured a job on Sunrise at Channel 7. I would work from 3 am to 9 am then drive to Petersham TAFE to teach makeup; eventually I dropped teaching as the kids got older.
After that, I worked as a makeup artist looking after musicians and celebrities, both Australian and international. Whilst doing this, I started my own lash line. I have worked hard and love what I do! I can't wait to see what else I achieve in our wonderful industry of makeup.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
It’s difficult to pick just a few! I love this job because everyday is different. However, I do particularly love live music. Looking after musicians, being amongst the energy of the live crowds and the music—it gives me chills. Being at the ARIAs, you're amongst industry legends. I was with Robbie Williams when he was just about to go onstage. Thousands of flashlights were going off towards him—and I mean thousands! He turned to me and said, “I'm shitting myself!" Next minute he steps on stage and goes for it. The crowd went wild.
Charlie XCX is pretty cool, so are Lily Allen and Jason Derulo. Robert Plant is a legend and a gentleman. Oh, and I always love getting booked to look after Ed Sheeran!
One of my favourite memories is flying to Papua New Guinea then jumping on another plane to go deep into the jungle. Christine Anu was booked to do the Pacific Islands Olympics—it was literally in the middle of nowhere. She's singing her lungs out, I'm dancing in front of the stage. I look around to see thousands of people dancing, smiling. Stretching their hands out to high five me. It was electric. It was a memory I’ll always hold deep in my heart.
The finale in the Bachelor/Bachelorette is also something I always get quite emotional about. Working on the show, you get to know the people very well. Everyone has feelings, and some get hurt.
How did you get your first job in the industry?
I just kept knocking on doors. I wouldn't take no for an answer. America was easy. Sydney was hard. I didn't give up. Channel 7’s head of makeup came to me to be upskilled for HD cameras. I had a reputation in the fashion world. HD makeup is a lot like fashion makeup. I showed her my tricks and in return, she gave me some shifts.
Working on a live show and starting at 3 AM, you learn to keep your nerves at bay. Working those shocking hours and working live TV prepared me for a lot of gigs. I'm proud to say that I’m very good at Celebrity Media Runs, fashion, runways, and concerts (ARIAS, Christmas concerts, Australia Day, musos, etc.). It's imperative you learn to keep it under control. When you’re applying lashes or a crisp red lip backstage and you’re going on in 3-2-1, you must keep your composure. It’s also important that the client trusts you. If they are used to being in front of a camera, then they have probably had both good and bad artists work on them. You have literally ten to twenty seconds for them to make up their mind. Go in confidently and know they will be happy with the result. They feel your energy. They will then relax and let you get on with it.
What is your favourite kind of look to create?
I'm a Gemini, so I can switch quite easily. I used to love a bit of special effects—that helped me a lot on TVCs. But I've always loved beauty and glam.
I like to do a beauty base: beautiful, glowy skin with a statement eye, highlight, and shading the face to sculpt it into perfection.
I've always been known for my eye work. Before lashes became on trend, I always used them. I was also taught by an amazing artist named Richard Sharah. He taught me how to make my brushes dance on the skin, not make mud patches. I am known to be gentle.
How has the makeup industry changed since you first began your career?
The industry has changed immensely. It has become a "real job". I used to have to pretend I wasn't a mum so that I could get the gig. There were a lot more male bosses. They honestly thought you couldn't be a mum and be a reliable worker. Now there are a lot more females in charge. I have a team of ten on The Bachelor and I know the mums give me everything they've got.
You would never ask the talent for a picture. Being in your chair is personal. It's their time to relax and get into a good headspace before they need to be in front of the camera or thousands of people. But these days, if you don't get the picture, did you really do the job? Is it fair? Is it right? I don't know, I do know that social media is here to stay. You get booked now based on how many followers you have instead of what your CV says.
What do you think is the most common misconception in pursuing a career in makeup?
I can't tell you how many times a high profile, very successful businessman has said to me, "Helen, you’re more than just a makeup artist!" They think they're giving me a compliment. I'm not sure about that.
A very successful EP told me as soon as he's booked for the job the first person he books is the makeup artist. He told me, "I want the best. They are there with the talent hours before anyone else makes it to set. A good makeup artist won't only have them looking amazing, but also feeling amazing. In turn, the talent is ready to get in front of the camera and do their job willingly and to the best of their ability!"
You can make a very good career in makeup. It can be a comfortable lifestyle with lots of travel. I have travelled all over the world. If not for COVID19, I would have gone to three spectacular countries this year.
Most importantly, you're doing what you're passionate about. I talk to friends who have so many “what if”s. After over 25 years in this industry, I'm still loving my what if. To be content, happy, and pay my bills. I'm the luckiest girl in the world.