September 2nd, 2015
He’s famed for his ultra-glamorous beauty looks. A high-profile artist who wants to share the confidence that make-up can impart, Warpaint sat down with Gary Cockerill to talk about his new book and his career, from coal miner to celebrity MUA. See him for yourself at the Professional Beauty Show in Manchester later this month!
WP: What first drew you to make-up?
GC: My career was not something I ever actually planned – I hadn’t aspired to work in the industry, it happened through chance and by luck. I came from a small village outside of Doncaster, in a coal mining community, in the era just before the mines started closing. I worked down the mine for the last year that it was open, after I left college.
I’ve always been good at art. I got a diploma in graphics and illustration, and wanted to move straight down to London once I’d raised the money from working down the coal mine. I tried to get a job as an artist or as an illustrator, that’s what I really wanted to do, but when I arrived in London I had no experience so no-one would take me. I arrived straight off the train, didn’t know anyone – my parents thought I’d be back within a week. But I wanted to prove them wrong, so I got a job in a hair salon at the weekends which is where I learned about hair. Everything I know has been self-taught. And while I was there I saw an advertisement for a job assisting someone with painting mannequins. I did that for about six months and that, actually, is where I learnt everything about make-up; I’m entirely self-taught, and I took the job because I figured it was just like doing art on a face. And I discovered that I just loved painting faces – to play with the shape, the colour, form, contour. I realised that this was something I could actually do for a job, and it would probably pay more to paint real people than mannequins! That’s what spurred me on to try and get into make-up, to keep practicing, to keep experimenting. I did a lot of tests with photographers and models, went to see anyone I could, until I got a couple of bookings and my life just changed.
WP: What do you think are the benefits of being self-taught versus a traditional course?
GC: It’s really hard for me to say, because I don’t really know what a traditional course is like. I’m not a textbook make-up artist. This is what works for me – everyone’s different. I think limits your individuality if you’re told you’re how to do things too strictly. As long as your work looks fab then that’s the best thing, that’s what’s important. And to have style! Sometimes you need to take chances and risks to get people to notice you. I do think that it’s wrong to tell people that they have to do something a certain way. Working on the mannequins taught me a lot about painting on a 3D face, it taught me enough about form and contour – I’ve been doing contour for 20 years! And now it’s all about strobing apparently.
WP: With experience across so many genres of make-up, do you have a preference and why?
GC: Not a preference of genre as such, but I love making women feel confident from looking beautiful. Make-up can be such a powerful tool – I don’t think everyone realises just how powerful it is. It doesn’t have to be a big glamorous number, it could be natural-looking make-up, but it can give you that edge to go out and project yourself and who you want to be; make-up that makes them feel great for their meeting or their event, or even to go to the shops. When I first started getting successful I was doing a lot of glam and quite sexy looks – it became a bit of a signature look for me. That and the eyes, I love to focus on the eyes. I just love to make women look beautiful. I’m not a SFX artist, nothing like that.
I’ve done just about all of it, so many different styles and genres of make-up, over the years but that’s where my strengths really lie, in making women look beautiful. When I first became quite successful in the ‘90s it was all heroin chic and androgynous looks, and I was doing the polar opposite. I was creating these glamorous looks for great women like Rachel Hunter who wanted to look beautiful. And because I was doing my own thing, bucking the trend, I was working with all of the big magazines like FHM, GQ, which was amazing.
WP: How did your book Simply Glamorous come about?
GC: I had already written my autobiography about six years ago – From Coaldust to Stardust – which was a lot of fun to work on. I just wanted to show people that if I can do it, then anyone can! Although I think it’s tougher now in the industry than it was when I first started. There were only so many agents, so many ways to get work, now it’s flooded. I think people see it as being a very accessible job, almost easy to get into? And with so many people going for the same jobs it’s become so difficult. It’s really changed – when I first started there was barely any retouching and Photoshop, but you have to keep up with the progress, you have to embrace it.
I’d been approached to write a book before, but it’s all about timing. I wanted to do something fresh and new. Jacqui Small were just the right fit; I was very clear about what I wanted to do, and they were happy to let me do it. I wanted to do something different, so I focused the book on transformations – real transformations on real, normal women, showing that you can wear the same look as the models. I chose 15 women of different ages, from all different walks of life, to create these looks. There’s my Bombshell look, inspired by the ‘50s, and the Glamourpuss ‘80s look, mixed in with my advice and tips about how to do things like structure the perfect brow.
There’s no point in making something inaccessible – I wanted it to be empowering and inspirational, it was the only way I would do the book. It took me three months to write it, and I drew the face charts, planned the make-up, helped to style the photography, everything. I’m so thrilled with it, it ticks so many boxes. There’s nothing like seeing your own, published book that you’ve created. It was just the right time for it. I’m still learning all the time, with every job I do, every artist I meet. The time you think you know it all is the time you need to quit!
WP: What is your favourite look from the book and why?
GC: I don’t think I could pick one, I love them all! It starts very natural then builds up through the course of the book. There’s one called Timeless Beauty, which I actually used my mum as a model for, and I wanted to show there’s no rule changes just because you get older. People who say you should to wear less make-up as you get older are wrong, because as you get older you lose pigmentation, so it’s not really a case of less is more – more is more! I think you can break all of the rules as long as the make-up is applied properly and applied well. Something like red lipstick, you don’t have to be a glam superstar to wear a red lip; it’s all about the confidence and attitude you wear it with.
I think every single page is strong, every single look, I couldn’t pick one. We had such a small window to create this book, we had to shoot the whole thing in 14 days. I had such a really team helping me, and Vikki Grant did an amazing job with the photography, she was brilliant. We just had to be really concentrated, really focussed.
WP: What are your current kit favourites?
GC: I really like the Anastasia Contour Palette, it’s amazing, and I’m obsessed with their DipBrow Pomade because they do so many tones and shades for so many different people. I love Crown brushes, I think they’re fantastic. Urban Decay are great for adding a bit of sparkle, and I use a lot of their Naked range, I love the lipglosses. Their new Smoky palette is fabulous, especially for me, I love creating a really bold smoky eye. For foundations I like MAC, Armani and Bourjois. I’m a great believer that you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune on make-up, it should be available to everyone. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you definitely get what you pay for, but there’s always a good affordable alternative; not everyone can afford a £50 foundation. Charlotte Tilbury products are stunning, their packaging is just gorgeous, she’s done such an amazing job. What else… I could go on forever! I use a bit of everyone to be honest, I think it’s important to try lots of brands, lots of products, to get the most from your make-up. I’ll always love Bobbi Brown, they always do great stuff. I’m currently trying some new foundations from EX1, the Invisiwear. They’ve got some great colour tones, and I know they were used on Kate Winslet and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. I’m giving them a go at the moment, they’re getting good reviews.
WP: Do you still dabble in hair as well? How important do you think it is for MUAs to be skilled in both?
GC: I think hair is so tricky and so important – it’s not like you can just quickly wash it off and start again if you’re cutting someone’s hair! I think it requires a certain flair, you either can do it or you can’t, even more so than in make-up. But they go hand-in-hand. There’s not always the budget for separate hair and make-up artists on a job, so why not do both? You’re strength might be weighed on one over the other, there are very few people who can do both equally well, but it never hurts to have the string on your bow. There are some amazing products out there, you can get some great results – and different bits of equipment which make things so much easier. I think education for hair at the moment is really brilliant. I love doing hair, but it’s important to be realistic and play to your strengths. I really like Unite hair styling products. They’re really into their education side of things, which I think is great. Their 7 Seconds Conditioner is absolutely fantastic.
WP: With such a huge range of experiences, can you pick a favourite project or job that you’ve worked on?
GC: They’ve all been so varied, I couldn’t pick one. And it’s not always about the job, it’s about the experience – looking around and seeing that you’re somewhere like the Caribbean with some amazing artists and people. I’ve been so lucky to have incredible experiences through my job, and meet amazing people I’d only ever dreamed of meeting.
I try not to take anything for granted, which is why I couldn’t pinpoint any one experience. I’ve worked on huge TV shows, met all sorts of celebrities, worked in some incredible places – like doing the make-up for David Beckham for the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, crazy! It’s all been amazing. But then doing something for charity, or helping someone feel beautiful for an event, is equally rewarding. I get just as much, if not more, joy from making people feel amazing, people who don’t get the chance to be made up every day.
WP: Do you have any advice for artists who are currently training or hoping to specialise in editorial/beauty make-up?
GC: I’d do plenty of research into places to study. A lot of the people who come to my short courses, to specialise after doing a full course, do it because they simply didn’t do enough on their courses, they just did bits and pieces. You need to find somewhere where you can get the most out of it and make a career of this. You need to find out what will be right for you. Follow your dream… but there’s no need to be ruthless, there is room for everyone in this industry.
Don’t be known for being average; figure out where your strengths lie and specialise, invest in them, and make that special. That will help you to get your name out there. It’s almost impossible to walk out of college and get a job straight away. I’m certainly not the norm, it was a lot of timing and luck! Also, don’t spend a fortune on a photographer for a portfolio; offer to assist for them or models, and build up your portfolio with test shoots. And don’t give up. It’s so easy to give up, but just keep honing your skills and I promise it will happen. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.
WP: After the release of your new book, what is the next big achievement you’re working towards in your career?
GC: I’m actually working on a product range. We’re aiming for a launch at the end of 2016 or early 2017. I want to take the time to get it right. I’ve also been approached about another book, but it’s all about finding the time. I’ll be launching Simply Glamorous over the next few months across the world so that will be keeping me busy, along with my work and clients. Every day is different, I love it.