I can remember being a teenager starting out doing makeup, and sitting on the old church pews in our glorious makeup college. We were fortunate enough to have some fantastic guest teachers who brought in their portfolios (yep – we carried around giant portfolios in the 90s!) and showed us projects they had worked on.

One makeup artist worked on the lovely George Miller movie “Babe”. Another had worked on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – with Robert De Niro in heavy makeup.

The reason that I’m sharing this story with you is that more often than not, the projects that our guest teachers were kind enough to share with us, were period projects.

That is, the time setting for the movies was different from the current era.


What I was about to learn was just how crucial research is when it comes to preparing for your makeup work.


In fact, researching a big period project can often take weeks of your pre-production.

It’s really that important.


grayscale photo of three women standing and sitting on rocks
An image of Australian Beach girls from the 1950s by Museum Australia





Reference Material Can Often Provide You With Ideas and Contextual Information That You May Have Otherwise Overlooked


And this goes for any type of creative project; not just historical or recreation jobs.

I have been involved with many fantasy or alien projects where I use reference material from nature, from other animals, trees, sea life, you name it. And I love to pinch skin textures or patterns, even color schemes from other animals.

Honestly, if you’ve worked with me, you know I always say – always use reference material. I do. And I will continue to do so.

There is something indefinable about stealing from Mother Nature. I highly recommend it – even as far as taking skin color patterns or color combinations as inspiration for a high-fashion beauty makeup.

Reference material can help you to think outside the box.


Gathering reference images can help bolster your confidence.

It reinforces your work and gives you the knowledge and a solid crutch to lean on to support your creative choices in your work. So when you show up for work, you feel prepared and ready with some inspired ideas in the back of your mind.


Reference material is reinforcement.


Depending on the type of work you do, showing up well-prepared and with plenty of references and inspirational images can also prove that you take your work seriously, are passionate, and care deeply about going the whole 9 yards with your job, no matter how big or small.

Even your humble face charts can go a long way in communicating looks.

If you’re doing a project that involves recreating characters that are based on real-life figures (from either past or present-day), your research and reference material is absolutely essential. 100%.

And depending on the size of the project, your show may even have a dedicated historical advisor or expert employed just for that reason; to provide authenticity and yes, help you with your job.

I love it when I’m on a period makeup show and there is a historical researcher on the production staff. They sometimes have access to images and resource material that you and I can’t locate online. It can be a real treat if this is the case – as they can be invaluable and help save you time as well.


Using Reference Images Can Help You Achieve The Exact Style or Look The Director Is Going For

More and more these days, I find the people we work for tend to need to see something in front of their very eyes to understand and grasp what you are attempting to communicate with them. Even down to something as seemingly straightforward as dirt colors for war films and the much-practiced, seldom-perfected breakdown makeup!

Which I find fascinating, considering what a visual field we all play in!

What reference images can do is bridge that gap.

Images can be a short-hand in helping clarify the lines of communication between you and your director, or performer, or bride and ultimately ensure that you’re both on the same page.



There are so many brilliant places to gather references and inspirational images in this day and age.


Currently, there is absolutely no fathomable excuse NOT to have tip-top reference material. I mean, we all carry it around in our handbags and pockets in this day and age.


I’m talking about your smartphone!


It contains all the tools needed to enable you to create a solid reference folder in minutes.

I still have many photos and albums on my phone from jobs done well over 10 years ago. Something sentimental in me just can’t get rid of them! Ugh, 200,000 photos later…..


If you haven’t used Google Image Search yet in your quest for the best reference images, then go and check it out right away.

It’s a seriously solid way to find images on just about anything and is a great jumping point off as you narrow in on your search for specific times or people or things.

The more specific the details you type in are, the more efficient your searching will be.


blue and white logo guessing game
Have you tried Google Image Search yet? Photo by Brett Jordan


Pinterest is another favorite among makeup artists.

Some brilliant features of interest include the option to create what are called “Boards” that you can dump all your images onto for a specific time period or style that you are researching. It makes it so handy to use later on and refer back to.

I also love that you can share boards with others, so let’s say you’re doing a show set in the 1950s. You create a board for 1950s evening looks for a particular scene in your project, and just like that, you can share the board with everyone working in your department.

Of course, each makeup artist must have their own Pinterest account to partake.

Pinterest is incredible and such a comprehensive visual search engine. If you haven’t used it yet, go and check it out. And don’t be afraid – there’s a little learning curve but you’ll get there 🙂


Another super cool place I like to look at images is a site called Iconic Images.

What I love about this site in particular is it provides images (of popular iconic figures) from photographers. So this means that the images are usually super crisp and clean, professional images. Great for makeup and hair research, and there are also some interesting finds in there.


And finally, I wanted to mention one of my favorite jumping-off points for research. And that is Creative Commons. What makes this site so useful is it provides you with the licensing right for every image they have available.

This ensures you’re covered if you will be using the images publicly, commercially, or even adapting or modifying an image as well. And perhaps we’ll go into this more another time.

To use Creative Commons the most efficiently, click on the link above, then scroll down until you find Search the Commons. The right below, click on the words Visit Openverse and this should open a new window.

And here’s the fun part. Now you can get specific with the topic you’re looking for.

And what I want you to pay attention to is the right-hand side section where you’ll see all of the copyright and licensing options. So whether you will be using an image on your website, adapting it, or for social media, you can check the boxes that apply to your needs.

Also, you can just simply check the Public Domain box. But more on that later 🙂


When Do I Begin My Research?

As soon as you book a job, do your deal memo on a film or tv project, sign on your bride, and book your photo shoot.

Start looking for references. Look everywhere.

Sometimes you may see great references in the least expected of times or places.

Regardless of the context, research is a must. And it’s never too early to begin it.

Once you have that job locked in, if you’re anything like me (and I think you are!) you’ll be champing at the bit for any opportunity to start collecting images and making folders, files, albums, you name it to collate your reference images.

And one last word to mention. More often than not, this won’t affect your work, because you are purely using images for research purposes and nothing more.

However, if you are planning on using images for your own use publicly, or for something more substantial, say your website or social media pages, it will do you plenty of good to get savvy about copyright laws and understand image ownership and use.

You can find more info on google 😉


Now I’m off to look at some images. Happy researching!


Featured Image by Giulia Bertelli

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