Issaquah native Melanie, makeup maven, leaves mark on fashion, commercials and silver screen

January 31, 2012

By Sarah Gerdes

Makeup artist Melanie (left), of Issaquah, prepares a model for a recent shoot. At top is a model after her complete transformation by Melanie. Contributed

Imagine a job where you are flown to New York one day, Milan the next and then are out on a boat, performing a job you love, knowing your work will be seen my millions of people.

That description fits Issaquah resident and internationally known makeup artist Melanie.

“I started going by one name 15 years ago,” Melanie said. “It differentiated me from the start, and that’s what I needed in a town full of thousands of other hair and makeup professionals.”

Since she began her career 20 years ago, Melanie has worked on more than 30 films, hundreds of commercials and thousands of print ads. Though it sounds like glamour and first-class tickets, her career is filled with long days away from home, many times in uncomfortable circumstances.

On one commercial set, she had to create the face of the Ivar’s sea captain, working on his beard, hair and makeup, all the while on a boat that was rocking to and fro. For a major motion picture, she and her crew had to arrive at 3 in the morning every day for several months as she delicately glued hair and makeup to the main actors.

“The movie called for an actor to look like a dog-faced boy,” she explained. “We had to lay glue all over his head, little by little. It was a huge job.”

The long days don’t bother Melanie because it brings her in contact with interesting people from all over the world.

“One day, it’s doing makeup for a Fortune 500 chief executive for an annual report and the next it’s a shoot in an airplane with a room full of models for a print ad,” she said.

In between are independent and major motion pictures, like the ones she will be working on for Los Angeles-based producer Lucas Foster.

“Melanie is passionate and talented. She’s an artist at what she does and she’s very, very good at it,” said Foster, who has produced blockbuster films such as “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Man on Fire,” “Jumper” and “Law Abiding Citizen.” He will use Melanie for hair and makeup on several big-budget movies in 2012.

A winding career path

The road to the top in her field was not direct. She spent 12 years as a field engineer for Digital Equipment Corp. after attending a traditional Chinese medical school. She also held odd jobs along the way, including being a school bus driver.

“I got lost on the first day and figured I needed a real career,” she said.

Yet even after graduation from trade school, Melanie considered herself “a hack.”

“I was surrounded by all these other artists who were 20 years younger than me and who’d trained in New York and Europe, and I could barely afford to buy the makeup,” she said.

She purchased a fashion magazine and studied it for three and a half months, perfecting her art on models who sat for her without charge. She was eventually hired for her first movie shoot where she worked 12-hour days for 15 days and was paid only a few hundred dollars. Her first commercial shoots were similar.

“Many hours, little money, but a wealth of experience,” she said.

Those times are long past for Melanie, who is now hired by producers up and down the West Coast for jobs. Now and then, she also takes on small projects, such as the bridal makeup for Issaquah resident Janaye Kenyon-Jarvis.

“I was lucky to have her do my makeup,” said Jarvis, a graduate of Liberty High School, now in her final year at Brigham Young University. “It was so perfect and the look so natural, the only people who knew I was wearing makeup at all was me, her and my then-fiancé.”

With call times scheduled at all hours of the day and night, Melanie adheres to a healthy diet and a regular routine of playing pickle ball at the Issaquah Community Center to stay in top form and keep her energy up. She is often asked to mentor young graduates, provide advice and give tips to up-and-coming professionals who want to get into the business.

“I tell them all the same thing — work hard. Study. Keep your mouth closed and a smile on your face,” she said. “Hard work will pay off to those willing to put in the hours and truly learn the craft.”

Sarah Gerdes is a freelance writer. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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