Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Lee.
Erika, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My journey, hmmm? Now that is an interesting question because it was less journey and more of a trip and fall component to my experience, I was a hobbyist photographer with ideas in my head, which were editorial ideas. At the time, I didn’t even know the term editorial but I knew that I had ideas which I wanted to bring to life but I lacked any makeup skill. Out of frustration, I took a (3) day crash course with Loli Romo who owns Makeup City based out of National City. We all giggled when I walked into class with mascara and Chapstick because she wanted to see our makeup kit. Makeup kit? Pffft, what was a makeup kit? I was just trying to not be terrified of makeup.
As the crash course ended, a friend by the name of Alex Thompson was making his first feature film and he asked if I wanted to do makeup. I laughed and explained, that I barely knew what I was doing. He said, “Great, I don’t know what I am doing either, we will figure it out together,” and that was how I gained my first IMDB credit. Alex believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself and when that film wrapped, I knew that I had found my creative career and purpose (3 careers later).
One of the most important bits of my journey was working for Chanel in a retail store. This was also one of the most difficult bits of my journey but it was necessary and I consider it to have been a paid internship. While working at a counter isn’t glamorous, it is a great way to hone your craft. I spent 40 hours a week, learning product, ingredients and applying makeup to women and sometimes men of all ages, races and with a variety of concerns. There is no better way to get your feet wet than to work a counter job. The position, while challenging was an incredibly important step towards where I am today.
While working at the Chanel counter, I was starting to follow a variety of artists on Instagram. I was dipping my toe into a massive pool of beauty information and I often felt lost, insecure and overwhelmed (Exactly how I felt walking into Sephora). One day, I followed an artist by the name of James Vincent, out of N.Y., whom I hadn’t heard of before but his work spoke to me. He created really beautiful work that seemed to always have at least one variable that had an edge to it, and I loved it. His work drew me in and spoke to me. One day, while scrolling through IG, I noticed he had a new post of current work and the work had a very Joan Jett vibe to it. I commented on his image and to my surprise, he actually responded to me, Long story short, one simple interaction changed my whole world and career trajectory. I know that sounds dramatic, but one person taking the time to respond, really can make a difference and for that, I am forever thankful to James who has become a friend and mentor. Because James took the time to respond, it led to further interactions and down the path to education with a group out of N.Y. by the name of TPG (The Powder Group), run by Michael DeVellis and James Vincent. This group and the friendships that I have made, within the industry because of this group, have had a huge and important impact on my growth.
Almost (2) years ago, I reached out to a photographer / make-up artist whose work I admired, by the name of Fidel Gonzalez who is managed by his partner, Joshua McIntyre. They brought me on board and took a chance with me. This business relationship became a fast friendship and they are now like family. They also have a big piece of ownership of why I am, where I am today.
The bottom line is that in this industry, it is all about the relationships you have and the respect you give others. The industry is a very BIG yet LITTLE industry, which means everyone knows everyone and it is wise to work hard, release any ego and to be respectful of those who came before you and to take the time to hone your craft.
Respect the craft and the artists!
Has it been a smooth road?
Is anything worth having, ever a smooth road? A relationship, a dream job, being a great mom? None of those things come to us in life without a lot of work and sacrifice. For anything we gain in life, I believe we choose to sacrifice something else!
The makeup industry is a beautiful industry which requires pure passion and the willingness to sacrifice sleep, balance, vacations, possibly friendships and relationships. Most successful people in the industry, breathe the industry from what I have seen and they have given up much to be where they are at. In the beginning, also known as “the top ramen years”, by my friend Leslie Rodriguez, you work for free to build relationships, test with other talents, to build your book and get your name out there. Trust this, most people who aren’t in the industry don’t understand the sacrifice or why we work for free and there is little to no support.
This is not a career for the meek nor anyone looking for a “smooth road.” This career is for the passionate, the hungry and the ones that don’t care what all the naysayers say because they can’t imagine doing anything else.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
This question is a tough one for me because this is where I am supposed to toot my own horn, which is difficult. My most favorite humans in the world are humble, and this answer won’t allow for humility. Toot, toot!
If you were to ask my mentors, friends, and clients what they like about me, I think they would say that I am an incredibly hard worker who approaches my work with passion, focus, and an intense drive, yet I am easy to be around and a great support person, both with labor and emotional support.
I love to support others and when I see someone who is doubting their own beauty or gifts, I will be the first person to remind my clients and peers what amazing gifts they have, whether it is physical beauty or artistic talents. I go into a job after I have researched my clients and my peers so that I am prepared to understand them and to know how I can best be of service. At the end of the day, my job is a service job and I am here to be of service to others. Sometimes that means applying makeup and other times, it means that I am of support and service to others, in any way I can be. At times, that means hauling camera equipment, assisting an artist who is more established than me and my service is then to make their day easier. I hope when I assist, the lead artist can see that I am always trying to be one step ahead of their needs, so when they turn around to reach for something, I already have it waiting.
In short, what sets me apart is that while artistic talents are the skill set that must be honed and respected, this job is more than that to me. This is a job of service, lifting up others, helping people through mentoring or lifting up a woman to help her see her true beauty when maybe she doesn’t see herself as I see her. Some people hold their craft hostage and won’t share their “secrets” but I think what makes me different is that I want to share and let others know that we can be successful as a whole and that there is no sense in approaching life from a place of scarcity. While it is true that this market is over-saturated, I believe there is enough for everyone and it is important to be giving with my clients and my peers.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Let me answer that question by telling you that I put 700 miles on my car last week! Why? In order for me to do the work I love, I have traveled to Los Angeles and to locations far and wide. At this point, I feel like I spend half my life in my car but I am okay with that because I love what I do! My travel hours are exhausting and I will honestly say, I wish I could just move to L.A. but I can’t, so I do what I need to do.
I do a variety of makeup for clients which includes bridal, private client work, assist on large productions, work production jobs, editorial, and print-work. I really have my feet in all of the pools and that is what makes me happy. I love doing a variety of jobs and if I was only focused on bridal work, San Diego would be an amazing place for me to focus 100% of the time. Since I am a freelance artist who loves doing other types of work, it requires me to travel a lot and in order to do that, I have to juggle a lot. It is not always easy, honestly, it’s rarely easy but it’s always worth it.
For a new artist, the most important question is what kind of work do they want to do? Based on their answer, my answer would change on where they should live. If the new artist is heavily focused on Bridal and private clients, then yes, San Diego would be a great place for those services. A new artist needs to ask themselves what their goals are and then make decisions on the right environment for said goals.
- Website: erikaleeartistry.com
- Phone: 619.341.0264
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @erikalee_artistry
- Yelp: Erika Lee Beauty & Bridal
Dave Tada aka Analog Pictures