Career Diaries: Andrew Sotomayor Shares How He Became an Emmy-Winning Celebrity Makeup Artist

March 04, 2020
Genesis Rivas
By: Genesis Rivas
As a makeup artist who has slayed the faces of our favorite celebrities, worked on some of the most well-known TV shows (ahem, Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live) and won an Emmy award, it goes without saying that Andrew Sotomayor is crushing it in the beauty industry. Currently, he’s creating the makeup and tattoos for the revival of West Side Story on Broadway, which he says is a full-circle moment in his career. Here, Sotomayor tells us how he got to where he is today, some of his best advice for aspiring makeup artists and the beauty trends he’s loving now. 

Can you tell us about your background and how you got started in makeup?
My first time ever doing makeup was freshman year of high school. A makeup artist did a workshop teaching us how to do old-age makeup and apply fake facial hair for a production of Fiddler on the Roof. Then, my first makeup job was at a counter at Lord & Taylor. It was just supposed to be a summer job, but it went well, so they asked me to come back for the holidays and summer vacations. I did that all throughout college. I remember I used to bring my Kevyn Aucoin book Making Faces every day and recreate the looks on faces or on paper face charts. I asked all my friends to come visit when it was slow so I could practice.

What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment in your career?
A lot of people have told me to stick to just one area of makeup, but I’ve worked my way up from the bottom of several different areas of the industry. My fashion pinch-me moment was my first show at Bryant Park for New York Fashion Week. On TV, the kid in me couldn’t stop smiling this one time I worked at Sesame Street and almost any day I’ve worked at Saturday Night Live. But winning an Emmy in 2018 was one of the most amazing days of my life. I was honored that the SNL Makeup Department Head Louie Zakarian included my name on the ballot as he has been an amazing mentor. I’m in awe of the artists I get to work with. 

It’s impossible to judge how much winning an Emmy that year or getting nominated for two other projects since then has advanced my career, but it’s very clear to me how much the award changed how I see myself. I have this shiny reminder on my dresser that tells me I’m too grown for excuses. I know I deserve it, but I also have colleagues just as worthy of this honor, so I have the responsibility to show up on all my jobs with the right attitude, meet unique challenges and do work I can be proud of. 

Tell me about your experience designing the makeup and tattoos for the current revival of West Side Story on Broadway?
It will always be a landmark moment in my career. I went to school for musical theater, so this full-circle moment is surreal but it also feels right. I’ve never designed a Broadway show, and I think West Side Story is the greatest musical ever written. As daunting as the project sounded, I honestly knew I was meant to do it. There are amazing makeup artists that I thought would be hired before me, but my entire life had been preparing me for this moment. As soon as I left my interview, I ugly cried in the hallway. The first time I walked into the Broadway theater and saw the gigantic HD screens lighting up the entire stage with images of my work is a moment that I will never forget. 

How has working in makeup impacted your life?
It has challenged every part of me — a good career will do that. West Side Story challenged my self-doubt unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. When I first started, I would sit at my desk fully nauseous and force my pencil onto paper. There were lots of initial attempts that looked embarrassingly bad, but I knew that this was going to be part of the process. When I was a student, Tony-winning actor Elizabeth Franz said that confidence is way overrated. Courage is much more important, and when we do something in spite of the fear, that matters much more. It’s also impacted my life by forcing me to be more outgoing. It’s taught me what it feels like to be powerful or in control of a moment. 

What’s your favorite part of your job?
The people. Those who I’ve worked with in TV, film, beauty, fashion, as a spokesperson and real people, have taught me a lot about life. People like Heléne Yorke made me laugh. Sasheer Zamata taught me about self-respect. Julie Taymor taught me how to push my creativity and how to encourage others. Louie Zakarian taught me to be a team player. Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider taught me how to make good decisions quickly. Michael Clifton taught me how to show up ready for work with unabashed joy. 

What advice do you have for others pursuing a career as a makeup artist?
Don’t work for free. There are a lot of people out there who think aspiring artists of all types should work for free to build experience and make connections. It’s one thing to do that when you are truly starting out and don’t have skills yet, but my best advice is to know the differences between practice, charity and work. It’s one thing to collaborate with friends when no one is getting money out of it but everyone’s getting to practice and experiment. It’s a totally different thing when someone asks you to work for free because “they don’t have a budget.” If they say that then they’re not actually offering a “job.” Period. 

In contrast, a while back I turned down an off-Broadway theater design job because the pay wasn't fair. The client tried to get more money, but the producers wouldn't budge. I knew my work was worth more, so I walked away. That said, I appreciated that she thought of me and we kept in touch. Six years later, she was part of a totally different team that was working on West Side Story on Broadway, which is now one of the biggest jobs of my career, and did have a proper budget for makeup design. It worked out in the long run. It's okay to say no to a potential client. If you're really good, they'll look forward to hiring you when the time is right. 

What's one beauty trend you can't get enough of right now?

After doing West Side Story, I’m partial to temporary tattoos. Tattly has an amazing collection and it’s a fun way to accessorize your look and change it as often as you like. I’m also glad to see beauty products going green and cruelty free. 

What is the biggest makeup tip you think everyone should know? 
Apply makeup only when or where you need it. A full face of full-coverage matte foundation and metallic highlighter across the cheeks is trending on Instagram and YouTube right now, which is fine if you’re trying to create a total transformation. But you might only need foundation in the center of your face and concealer under your eyes. Once you do that, try taking a kabuki brush and buffing the makeup into your skin as opposed to putting a full layer all over. This technique will give you that airbrushed finish in the center of your face without worrying if your foundation is a good match because there is less makeup on your jaw, so you’ll always know that your face will match your body. 

Makeup is … the great equalizer. Makeup does what fashion can’t or won’t. 

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