Last month, we visited MEI-CHA PRO, Erin Skipley, at her new studio, Contour + Ink in Beverly Hills. We chatted about opening new doors - literally - on Erin’s journey as a makeup artist, working in both Seattle and LA, and trusting that everything will always work out in the end. We were inspired by the ways she continues to evolve in the beauty industry and hope you are too.
Tell us about yourself! Your background, history & the nitty gritty of all things you!
I grew up on a horse farm so I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, training horses and bike racing. I went to the University of Washington to study linguistics, where I had a boyfriend who was a photographer. Because of that, I got to hang out on shoots and see people doing makeup. I’ve always been super creative. I love to sew and paint and love everything hands-on. I actually quit school and took theater and makeup classes. It’s brought me here!
Tell us about being a makeup artist. How did you get into that?
My first job was a makeup counter job. I just fell in love with being able to transform people a little bit here and there. It was extremely rewarding in a way that I never expected.
I took off and came to LA where I learned to do hair at a makeup school. I learned period hair which was such a great tool. In smaller markets you have to do both hair and makeup to be a working artist. I worked professionally for about two years, then Dior hired me as a national artist. I traveled all over the place doing their retail events and master classes.
It was one of the most important experiences I had as a makeup artist. You see so many skin types and skin tones, features and ethnicities, you really start to know what works and doesn't work.
Tell us about your beauty training!
As a makeup artist I’m primarily self-taught. Back then (18 years ago) there was no Youtube. I poured myself into books and I assisted professionals. You learn their hacks for everything. Most of the people that come out of makeup school are unlearning the robotic techniques they learned.
I have people contact me all the time to assist and pick my brain. There’s no shortcut for hard work and being at the right place at the right time. If you get that sort of attitude - I’m not going to do that because it doesn’t pay enough - you cut yourself from opportunities and learning.
If you’re perceived as someone not grateful for the opportunity, then you won’t get called back. There’s a million other people lined up behind you trying to get that client or get into your agency. It’s so much about the personal connections you make.
How did you get into permanent makeup?
I started hearing people talking about it in the industry. There were new techniques popping up that looked undetectable. It was beautiful — you couldn’t tell that it wasn’t hair. Then I started seeing PMU videos pop up all the time. After seeing a few videos, I thought “I’m doing this.”
As much as my heart and soul is set on creating hair and makeup, it’s been so rewarding to see repeat clients for touch ups, control my schedule, and be home at night — everything I never had as a makeup artist. PMU has been very attractive to me in that way.
What does the word beauty mean to you?
In terms of aesthetic, it’s being polished, looking confident, and feeling good. It’s standing out from the crowd.
What makes you feel the most beautiful?
I love a bright lipstick. I feel the most beautiful when I’m creating. It sort of has made me a workaholic because I crave the feeling of helping somebody feel good. I feel the most beautiful when “I’m doing what I should be doing” - it makes me feel really good. I love that.
What is your self-care routine like?
I love hot yoga. Whenever I can squeeze in a hot yoga class, I’m there. I love to bike and swim. I love to wander around Target. I love makeup stores and I’m obsessed with trying new things; I could pass a whole day in Neiman Marcus, Nigel, or Sephora. I love to spend time with my kids.
You just opened a new studio in Beverly Hills! Can you tell us about that process?
It was kind of a funny story. I dropped my husband off at UCLA one morning and was making a return at Target in Westwood. I came out to my car after and there’s a white Lambo parked next to me. I had this revelation: Wait a minute, what am I doing in North Hollywood? I’ve been doing this beauty stuff for a long time. I should be somewhere where I’m surrounded by what motivates me. So I started looking in Beverly Hills.
I went to Craigslist and found 4 places and this was one of them. I came to look at it the next day and fell in love. But I was going to be gone for 2 months, so I turned it down, went to Seattle to work, then forgot about it. I gave notice at my space in Noho. I knew that I was over that and wanted something different. Right around the time, this place became available again so I knew it was meant to be. My husband came to see it the next day and we put down a deposit. It changed everything. I’m so excited to come to work, to show photos, and to put things out there. It was like I was busier overnight. I have training clients come in regularly. At first it was terrifying, but it completely worked out in every way. Things then came full circle. I stayed friends with the photographer that I had dated in college over the years. Right when I found out this space was available, I found out he passed away from cancer. That was a big motivator for me. What am I doing? This is my dream to do this. I don’t care what it costs, I’m going to make it happen. Here we are — it’s happening.
How do you set up your days/schedule with both studios + photoshoots?
I set aside 7 to 10 days a month for my Seattle clients. I’m fully booked several months in advance. For training clients, I block out dates. Everything else is on an ask-first basis with my agent. When I’m at home, I work 3 or 4 days a week. It’s really tough because if there’s a campaign shoot and it’s 5 days long, I have to move things around. But I’m very flexible with my clients. It’s not about cramming in 10 clients a day and charging no-show fees.
What is your advice for someone wanting to have a studio in multiple cities?
It’s tough to manage inventory, overhead and rent in more than one place. Managing artists and studios are two different things. For people that want to do that, I would start by doing pop-ups and guest spots before committing to another space. As an artist, managing people is a real soul sucker. It’s not what you want to be doing; you want to do the art and traveling.
What is important for new PMU artists to look for in training?
Individual attention over a large class with ten+ people. Training should provide you with a working kit so you are equipped with the tools to start working on models and start practicing. Trainings that don’t offer that is a red flag. If you don't put it to work right away, it goes out the window.
See the artist’s work before you sign up for training. If you’re not familiar, it’s maybe not a good investment for you to absorb what that person has to say. It’s important to feel connected with the person you're learning from.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I feel like the last year has been focused on creating class curriculums. That’s fun and exciting for me. I have fun going out and exploring and finding little spots and shops. LA has so much to offer - hiking, beach. Those are all the things I try to take advantage of when I’m not working.
What’s next in your career?
Professionally, I’d love to do a training tour or master classes. There’s a need for beauty training for PMU artists. Everything you learn initially is technical. I’m really happy in my little space. I don’t feel the need to have a big academy or tons of students. I get the most reward from seeing people follow through and doing beautiful work. It makes me feel complete.
Personally, I love being at home more and doing a higher percentage of PMU days than on set days. I have an okay balance. It still feels like sometimes my schedule controls me more than I control it. But I think that the balance something to strive for.