How Beyoncé’s Makeup Artist Sir John Hustled His Way to His Dream Job (Plus, the Best Career Advice He’s Gotten From Queen B)

October 21, 2021
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How many times have you peered voyeuristically into the lives of people you admire via social media, video, or published interviews and wondered what it must be like to do their job? We’ve all been down that research rabbit hole on our quest to create and cultivate the career of our dreams, but often, we’re still left thinking about the realities of their day-to-day—what is it really like? In our editorial series I Want Your Job, we uncover the truth by getting the nitty-gritty details on what it’s actually like to work in your quote-unquote “dream job” and if the reality stacks up to the expectation.

From Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Chrissy Teigen to Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé, Sir John has worked with some of the world’s most iconic women over the course of his impressive career. (Joan Smalls and Ashley Graham are also on that list, ICYWW). So it should come as no surprise that the highly regarded makeup artist is the visionary behind some of the most memorable beauty moments of the past two decades.

Let’s list a few, shall we? All of Beyoncé’s show-stopping looks from “Lemonade” (that neon blacklight makeup from “Blow,” that tribal-inspired makeup in “Sorry,” that deep merlot lip in “Formation“). Queen B’s impossibly cool glittery eye and glossy lip at Coachella in 2018 (giving us all coolest-girl-on-campus vibes). And Bey’s gorgeous Met Gala looks (who could forget that winged liner moment in 2015?).

But Sir John’s influence goes beyond music videos, concert stages, and red carpets. He’s also collaborated with Luminess Cosmetics to create a Lion King makeup collection inspired by the 2019 Disney movie, and as if his client list wasn’t filled with enough icons, he’s even made over Barbie (!). It’s no wonder he’s been hailed as “one of the world’s most sought-after makeup artists” by InStyle.

Here, Sir John fills us in on his legendary career, from moonlighting at a strip club to make ends meet to assisting other artists like Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath to working with the Queen B.

First things first, how did you get into makeup? Can you share your earliest memory with makeup and how it impacted you?

My earliest memory with makeup was watching my mom put on mascara. My mom was, and still is, so beautiful. When I was little, I just thought she was like a movie star. She loved putting on mascara. That was my first foray into what self-care looked like—just taking a moment for yourself.

You are incredibly successful—your client list includes Beyoncé, Karlie Kloss, Chrissy Teigen, and Kim Kardashian, just to name a few—but it’s taken a lot of hustle and hard work to get where you are today. How did you get your foot in the door as a makeup artist and land where you are today?

Well, it’s hard to describe the journey in just one article with one question, but I would definitely say that my journey and the reason I’m here is because I was a really great student and I was a really great assistant to other artists like Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath. You can’t lead until you can effectively follow someone. So I created a need for myself on any team I was working on, and I was just happy to be in the room. For me, I love people and the reason I’m here today is because of the love for the people. 

In an interview, you revealed that you moonlighted as a makeup artist at a strip club to make ends meet while you worked as an assistant for Pat Mcgrath and Charlotte Tilbury. How did that experience shape your work ethic, and what advice can you share for people who are hustling to make it as a makeup artist today?

I was in the strip club for about three years and it was one of the best experiences; I learned so much about people and compassion. And that’s honestly one of the places that really hit inside of me, the advocacy I have for women’s rights and taking down this patriarchy. So the advice I have is, continue to hustle; that fighter mentality that you have to initiate within yourself. No one is going to push you to do that so lean into it and cultivate that. Lean into your curiosity. I’ve always been curious. I’ve always wanted to see more and know more about the craft, about how to connect with clients with businesses, brands, and people. So the best thing you can do is not just study the craft, but study how to affect people, how to affect change. When you can affect people, you can affect change, and when you have something to say, then people will listen.

Photo: Courtesy of Sir John

Beyoncé, who also has a famous work ethic, was one of your very first clients. What have you learned from her since you started working together? What’s the best piece of career advice she’s given you, and how have you applied it to your career? 

It’s hard to quantify the knowledge that I’ve received in just this one answer. But I would say, for sure, I’ve learned, not only about work ethic but how to continue to push yourself and your own boundaries. I just want to be better than the man in the mirror, and so my biggest competition is myself. And also being authentic. There’s a beauty to not being perfect. And so that would be one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned and how I’ve applied that to my career. But also I would say content is king. Own your own content, own your own brand, have autonomy to your brand. You know, no one’s going to manage you like you manage yourself.

You were the first person of color to serve as a celebrity makeup artist for L’Oreal. While the beauty industry has come a long way, there’s still a long way to go. What are your hopes for the future of the beauty industry? Where would you like to see change, and how are you helping drive that change?

My existence is resistance, you know. If you dig a little deeper into some of the work and the conversations we’re all having, it’s the modern movement and it’s where we need to be. Visual representation matters. It’s so important to have representation in all aspects of the business, in any business. I would like to continue to see everyone who hasn’t traditionally been invited to the party, to be invited or create their own party. It’s not even a seat at the table—let’s create a new room or a few new rooms. I just feel like there’s so much space out here and so many different ways to go about looking for inspiration or change. It will always come from democracy, from the people.

What does your day-to-day look like? Does the reality of the job stack up to the expectations you had when you were first starting out?

The job can be tough, you know. I mean, the job is pretty diverse in the sense where some years or some months are spent moving around and going to something like fashion month. I’m going from Paris to London to Milan. Then there’s another summer or year that I’m going on a world tour with Beyoncé or a Super Bowl or Coachella. And you have to have stamina, you have to have energy which is why wellness is so important. I always travel with OLLY gummies for immunity, to keep my skin in check (I love the Collagen Gummy Rings!), and to be able to dial down at the end of the day and go to sleep so I can wake up and do it all over again. OLLY’s Sleep Immunity gummies are really amazing as well but besides immunity, it also takes a mental check-in. I have a therapist I check in with to make sure I’m processing everything and don’t have any anxiety. We can push the body, but how are we conditioning the mind? We can exercise the body, but how are we exercising the soul? That’s really important to me and something I had to learn in this business. 

What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you were first starting out in the beauty industry? 

The industry is completely different than when I started. Even though I have the same title of “makeup artist,” I’m at a new level than where I was back then. I hope younger people have the ability to look at the landscape and see all the avenues available to come in and create change. It doesn’t have to be like anything you’ve seen. If you have a feeling or an idea, create that space. I would tell my younger self, create the space you want to see. 

Your portfolio is so impressive. You’ve created looks for Beyoncé’s tours, partnered with Mattel to give Barbie a makeover, and so much more. Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which are you most proud of?

I’m super proud of Barbie. Barbie is a childhood thing and growing up in an inner-city, playing with Barbies wasn’t cool for a guy to do. To normalize all children playing with all toys, showing up as who they are, and having a spectrum of strength and softness is kind of beautiful. I love that Barbie champions change, diversity, and unique experiences. Barbie is definitely a feather in my cap but so is the work I’ve done with Beyoncé over the past decade as well as the new things we have coming up that people haven’t seen yet. Coachella was great, the world tours have been amazing, but so is just being in the dressing room and the conversations that occur in that space. Those are the moments that aren’t necessarily wins for everyone else but are really special to me. My relationships and having people trust me is the biggest gift life has offered me. 

Photo: Courtesy of Sir John

There is so much competition in the beauty industry. How do you set yourself apart from other major players in the space? What is your advice for others reading this who want to achieve your level of success?

I set myself apart by not looking at anyone else’s pie. There’s so much competition in this business, so everyone is continually trying to beat the masses and beat the beast of social media. I refuse to. I just want to be myself, my authentic self. The more I lean into who I am, even my flaws or things that might not be the most popular or get the most likes, I love myself more. I love what I do more, I have more ideas, I feel more invigorated, I’m more inspired. You’re going to hear tons of “no’s” in this business and so many people will tell you that you’re not right for this, but at the end of the day, someone is going to give you a yes. So, when you get a no, just say “Okay, it just means I’m not supposed to do this with you, but I’m going to do this somewhere.” If you’re compelled to do it, it will happen. 

You are one of our favorite people to follow on social media, so we’d love to know, what is the secret to growing a community like yours? What are your top three tips for growing a following and building a brand on social media? 

Oh, wow. To be honest, I’m probably not the person to talk to about social media because I just live and do what I want. I’m not really concerned about the numbers or likes as much as I am with my clients, the brands and the people. You can have a voice that doesn’t revolve around social media. You can impact change and move the needle emotionally with people all around the world and still not hit a million followers. So for anyone in a space where they’re wanting to grow but feel pressure, take the pressure off. That’s the best advice I’ve given myself for my own mental health and my own wellness. You don’t have to perform for anyone. You get into a place where you’re loving it but social is your brand. Everything you post is a choice that shows your character, your taste level, shows what you’re involved with and what you deem important. That’s the pro and the con of it all. Have fun, just be you. The more you look for your inner light, social media has a way of showing our darkness or showing our light. Nothing in between. If you’re looking to grow, people are attracted to light, baby.

Social media always shows the highlight reel, but we know that this is not a depiction of reality. What’s a mistake you made in your career and what did you learn from it? How did you turn it into an opportunity?

You have to realize social media is like an editorial. When we look at someone’s page it’s like looking at any magazine. They’re going to show you a curation of what they want the world to see. When you know that, it takes some of the pressure off. I don’t necessarily think I’ve made mistakes, so to speak. I don’t know what algorithms or formulas that work for other people—all I know how to do is connect. If I’m really being authentic, people are going to rock with it, they’re gonna laugh, they’re gonna have fun and hopefully, they will come back. The biggest mistake I’ve made around social media was not realizing that if you’re with me, you’re with me. If you’re not, then you’re not my people and that’s fine as well. In that, there’s a piece that goes back to the mental and emotional space you need to allow yourself.

What keeps you motivated and inspired to keep going even on your most challenging days?

I’m a hustler. I gotta get up, and if I don’t, a whole village falls. I don’t have time for that. Immunity is really important to me, that’s why I make sure to keep OLLY gummies in my car, to be drinking water, taking probiotics, things like that. I need to make sure I’m at the top of my game, it’s almost like being an athlete. You have to go, go, go and be all in all of the time. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I love you guys for reading!

Featured image: Tyren Redd Courtesy of Sir John

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