Portrait of CELIA BURTON
At 28, Celia Burton’s career as a makeup artist resembles someone twice her age. Celebrating a decade in the fashion industry, Celia talks to 5' ELEVEN'' about how to keep up, adapt and thrive in today's weird and wonderful world of fashion.
Firstly, please can you tell us about your makeup journey. Was it something you’ve always grown up wanting to do? Were you surrounded by women who used makeup as a form of self expression?
I knew I wanted to be a makeup artist from when I was about 17 but it didn’t dawn on me until maybe two years ago how my love for makeup goes much further back. Even the games I played as a kid, I would pretend to have a beauty parlour. My younger sister Willa would be the receptionist and I’d give all the treatments; I realise now that giving a make over was my idea of fun from a really young age. My mum’s sister was a makeup artist, so I knew that it could actually be a job that i could pursue. My Auntie passed away when I was 16 and at her funeral I found myself saying for the first time out loud that I wanted to be a makeup artist. I spoke to two of her friends, Mary Vango and Louise Constad, and they said that if I still felt that way once I’d finished school, then I should go and see them. It feels like I have very much been lead and guided by my late Auntie Lynne (AKA Pearl) Easton.
Louise runs a small makeup school called Beauty Queen which is a 5 day course in London, and it’s very different from other makeup schools as you’re actually getting taught by a brilliant working makeup artist. She takes you out as an assistant afterwards too which gives you a better idea of how the industry works IRL. I did the course twice, once as a face for the students and then as a student myself. By doing it this way I got to see it from both angles - how I wanted makeup to be applied to me and how I wanted to apply it. That was the summer I left school at 18. Louise Constad has been enormously helpful in my career. Her agent Mandy Coakely actually became my first agent, who also represented my aunt in the 80s, so it was a lovely way to carry on her legacy. Having assisted Louise and several other makeup artists for a year or so, I then would go back to ‘Beauty Queen’ to do a talk on how to start off and how to get assisting work. It was here that I met Mandy and she signed me soon after.
Because I was a young Londoner, (especially from West London where it’s such a tight community full of innately creative people) a lot of my friends ended up working in similar industries: whether that be as a stylist, photographer, actor, artist, musician or model. We all would work together and help each other out. So at the same time as assisting and signing with an agency, my friends and I were all climbing up the ladder at the same pace, and in quite a short space of time my life had completely changed.
At the time, I was obsessed with New York so I would go back and forth. I would come back to London, work really hard, save money and then move back to New York for three months, work a bit and basically pretend that I lived there. I assisted this wonderful makeup artist out there called John Mckay who would let me stay in his flat in the Lower East Side when he went away for work. At the shoots we did together, John would link me up with the other assistants so we could go on and all work together, it was through this that I met Joachim Johnston. Joachim introduced me to Agyness Deyn, who in 2009 was at the peak of her career, and was slowing down a bit because she didn’t need to work so much anymore. Despite this, Aggy was developing on an online magazine called Naag, and Joachim was asked to shoot for it. We shot Eliza Cummings and her then boyfriend on a rooftop at her modelling agency. Aggy turned up to watch the shoot and we had LCD Soundsystem’s Album ‘This Is Happening’ on repeat in the background, it was so much fun.
About a year later, I was at my parent’s for lunch and my Dad came plodding down the stairs and said 'So I’ve just been Skyping with your mate Aggy'. My response was, ‘firstly Dad don’t call her Aggy, and secondly why are you Skyping with a supermodel you weirdo?’ Basically she had decided to go into acting and my Dad, Harry Burton, was directing a show called The Leisure Society at Trafalgar Studios, he had cast her as one of the leads. We reconnected when she came to London. Her transition from model to actress was a bit of a deal, so she had a lot of press to do and she took me on board as her makeup artist. One day we were having brunch with my family and I remember so clearly doing the washing up when she lent back and said to me very casually, 'I think we’re gonna shoot i-D next week, and I think it’s a Cover.'
I remember just standing in shock at the sink with a wet washing up sponge thinking ‘ha, no way is that going to happen. i-D had always been my dream because my Auntie Lynnie had had this amazing long and successful career, but had never shot an i-D cover before. At that point I used her brushes, I was signed by her agent, you know, everything about my career was weirdly mirroring my Aunt’s and so for me to shoot an iD cover at the age of 20 was a complete dream. A week later, I was on set with Caroline Newell and Scott Trindle shooting Aggy for iD, I was surrounded by the best of the best and I just sort of pretended I knew what I was doing It was completely surreal, and I remember when she had to do the wink for the cover, I just thought to myself ‘what the hell is going on’. A lot of my career has felt like that As soon as I got home my roommate and I danced around the flat listening to Justin Timberlake and drank champagne. It was seriously a big deal, and turned out to be a real pinnacle point in my career. Before that I had assisted an artist called Georgina Graham who was then signed to CLM Hair and Makeup, and I had always dreamt of being represented by them. After the iD cover came out, CLM took interest in me and I was signed to them when I had just turned 22. CLM was a completely different level for me, the second chapter in my career. Although, once repped by CLM, the more I worked with bigger and bigger names, the more I had to prove I was perfectly capable despite my age.
Do you find as a young woman on set that you have to prove yourself twice as much as anyone else there?
Not anymore. It’s very surreal, for ten years now I’ve always been the baby on set, arguing that yes I know I’m young (and look even younger) but please just let me do my job and prove you wrong. Now a lot of the time everyone’s younger than me We’re lucky to be in London, not Paris. In Paris you have to have done your apprenticeship and clocked up the years and experience before you’re given a chance on your own, but it’s different here. Here, as long as you’re convincing enough, with the balls and talent, plenty of people will pay attention and want to work with you. The first 5 or 6 years of my career felt as if it was full of people looking at me thinking who the fuck are you and why the fuck are you here. But in hindsight, I can see that it was a great challenge and experience for me as we all as massively improving my craft.
I think this goes back to something that we as women experience a lot. Imposter syndrome having a lack of confidence and self belief!
Oh my God, completely. I’ve spent my entire career waiting for someone to point at me and ask who let me in and why was I there. I often would be told, “oh you wouldn’t get that reference, it’s way before your time”, being quite condescending and assuming I had no clue. Perhaps I didn’t a lot of the time, but I do have a very practical brain, you can throw anything at me and I’ll get on with it. It’s really satisfying for me now to have had such a great start and now I want to put my foot down and make some serious shit happen.
How important now do you think these makeup courses are to succeed? Would you recommend aspiring artists now to go straight into assisting instead of school?
I occasionally wish I had studied makeup more intensively at one of the longer courses because there are moments when I feel a bit out of my depth. My initial plan was to assist seriously, join all the show teams, become someone’s first assistant and dive head first into it, but because so many of my friends were doing these exciting things, I accidentally ended up assisting only for about a year and a half. I think that is the best school, being on set as an assistant. Even now when I have someone working with me who’s assisted Pat McGrath or Val Garland, I beg them to tell me everything Adwoa Aboah told me yesterday that Pat doesn’t even use a lip brush to apply a lip, she just uses her finger! Her finger If I could see that in real life I could die and go to makeup heaven.
Obviously studying is essential for people who want to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer for example, but in this day and age and in terms of being artistic and creative, if you’ve got it you’ve got it, you’re not going to find it at university. Studying for makeup can even end up being detrimental for your career, because you’ve studied for three years and then have another 3 years assisting, so it’s an incredibly long period of time to survive on very little money and without doing your own work.
There are so many makeup courses you can do now, way more than when I started 10 years ago. And there are different ways of studying now too. So many people watch makeup tutorials online and then work via their Instagram having never been on set before in their lives. Those three year courses to me are a bit of a waste of money and time unless you want to go work on the set of ‘Lord of the Rings’ for example and work in prosthetics or wig making. Either way, I would say 100% do 2-3 years of assisting because you learn so much that way.
Now that the roles have reversed and you’re being assisted rather than assisting, what does the role of assisting mean to you? Has it changed since you first started working in fashion? No it hasn't changed yet but I’m sure it will in another 10 years time. My attitude towards my own assistants now is one of, I need an extra pair of hands and someone nice to hang out with, if you’re up for washing a few brushes too then thats great When I started you were told you needed to know exactly how the artist likes their cup of tea, and when to reach for that brush or product before the makeup artist has even thought of it themselves. It is obviously amazing if you can find assistant like that, but my first, Alex Reader is basically my best friend. She is so much more to me than that. Now more than ever I just think support is the most important thing, I don’t expect them to know exactly how my brain is working but just to be there for me.
Left AGYNESS DEAN photographed by SCOTT TRINDLE for i-D cover published in Summer 2012.
Above 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' with CARISSA PINKSTONE photograpghed by NADINE IJEWERE for i-D Winter 2018.
Both make up by CELIA BURTON.
Maybe the time to train assistants the old school way doesn’t really exist anymore?
I find it really difficult hiring new people purely because if they haven't assisted before, there’s so much time needed to explain it all, that by the time you’ve finished explaining you’ve ended up assisting them when you should be working. I don’t want to be one of those diva artists who is frustrated and screaming at people all the time. I’ve worked with my Alex since I was 23 and she was 16, and if she’s not available I will try to do as much on my own.
How do you think the role of a makeup artist has changed what with social media and the obsession with celebrity culture? How would you like to see the industry change?
The industry has been completely turned on it’s head, but the severity of it depends on what your niche is within the fashion industry. In the world of high fashion, where I like to think I work, it’s very much still the same as it was. Of course there are young people on Instagram coming out of the woodwork, but the teams that shoot with David Sims or Inez and Vinoodh, all the top photographers, they still want to shoot with old school makeup artists who have years of experience rather than an enormous Instagram following. Not me Yet. But maybe one day. Obviously Instagram culture has added a whole new aspect and audience to our job. When I first started working with Aggy at 19, Instagram had just launched but no one was really using it to better their career, so I never posted about her or anyone else I worked with. Before, we would use websites like models.com to find teams to shoot with or whoistesting.com which was a forum to help creatives link up and shoot together. Now anyone is reachable, you can approach anyone on Instagram. We shot an editorial in Vegas earlier this month and it happened because the model had messaged the photographer via their Instagram saying ‘lets shoot’.
But I think the biggest change for us as artists is the new brand of makeup artist who haven’t necessarily worked in the industry, but decided to stay at home with a ring light in their bedroom and film themselves applying makeup. What they have done is push artists like me, who have really worked their arses off, out of the way because brands see their 100k followers and put money into them that used to be set aside for our Ambassador contracts. I would love to see the makeup artist become the expert again. I can't wait for the concept of ‘beauty’ to change, because it has become so extreme and unnatural. I would love people to truly embrace being themselves, stripped back and natural, happy and healthy.
What I really love about your work is that it seems really considered. You often seem to work with girls that are not only ‘on trend’ but are also doing their own thing. Is this choice of work something you just fell into or something you paved purposely throughout your career?
I guess the idea of being ‘just a model’ is very old fashioned now, so many gorgeous people are using their platform for good and doing plenty of other things along side modelling or acting. If I meet someone on set and think they’re brilliant, I will always try to work with them again. My nature is to make friends. It’s very rare that I go home and disconnect completely from work, everything just flows and carries on and I have so many amazing beautiful people in my life because of that With Adwoa, we have been friends for such a long time. After what she went through and now that she’s so unbelievably successful, it makes sense for her to have a team of people around her who really care about her and her wellbeing. We all look out for each other, its very special and I am so proud of her. I especially love working with musicians, I love the live element and the energy backstage. I’m a massive music nerd, I was an A&R scout for a record label as well as being a makeup artist for my first three years and now my boyfriend works in music, so I am still surrounded by it. Back then I would use the fact that i was a scout to reach out to artists making music that I loved but that I also wanted to work with as a makeup artist. Having the music industry knowledge and contacts got me in the room.
Another thing I love about your style of work is that you always enhance natural beauty. But say if you got a call from the Kardashian’s agent for example, to do their makeup would you do it?
I’ve been asked to do a similar style of makeup for a big client before and I was honest with their manager and just said to them I don’t think I was the right person for the job. I think if the Kardashian’s called I would probably say the same thing. Maybe I’m an idiot. It’s just so not my style. I’m not someone who feels the need to do everything.
How do you combat the world of social media and make it work both for you and your job? Does your agency help you with that?
My agent is really supportive about me doing whatever I want to do with my profile, but I think a lot of hair and makeup agents were in fact the last to pick up on the importance of social media. I think they were so stuck in an office booking us jobs, that they completely missed the band wagon in helping us to utilise this new platform. In terms of how we do it, a lot of artists were completely clueless. We would just have to hope that our famous celebrity clients would tag us and get us a few more followers.
Rather than getting thousands of people to look at my feed, I focus more on keeping my side of the street clean and putting out images that I love and represent me and my aesthetic. You’ve also got to have a sense of humour with it I am very aware of the negative in social media and monitoring myself on it. My whole aesthetic is that I want people to be happy in their skin. That’s the message I enjoy sharing, happy people feeling good about themselves.
Lastly, what advice would you give to any aspiring makeup artists?
I would say you do you. We’re living in an amazing time where opportunities are endless. I would say that you should always reach out to people whose work you respect and admire and ask to shadow them. I would say go and get some form of training, whether that be over a short or long period of time, whatever suits you best, but definitely prioritise assisting as that’s the most valuable classroom you’ll ever be in. I would say be bold and ask for help when you don’t know what you’re doing. Slow down and think about what artist you really want to be. Don’t be busy for the sake of it, put the time in to work out who you want to be and who you want to work with. I wish someone had said that to me because I spent a long time working that out on the job. I’ve done a lot of work that I’m immensely proud of but a lot of work that I really didn't need to do. I was taught to say yes to absolutely everything but that’s not as beneficial nowadays else you can get completely lost. If you’re more considered then it will certainly help your career in the long run. I’d also advise new artists to get a couple of jobs on the side because it’s impossible to live in London purely on an assistants salary, and shooting editorial (for free) is so important at the beginning. I had six jobs at one point in my early years. I was doing makeup but also nannying, working for my mums catering company, had an office job, was a music scout and I worked in the bar at the Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush when I had an evening spare. My friend George famously left me a voicemail during that time, asking if I had any jobs going spare because he couldn’t find one.
Lastly, don’t put up with bullshit. If people are horrible to you, even if they’re the best in the world, don’t work with them again. Your sense of self worth is so important. Being grumpy with everyone on set is very old fashioned anyway
Read more and purchase your own copy https://www.5elevenmag.com/