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The Iver Academy: Make-up Artist Nabeel Hussain

SEEN recently chatted to Liz Tagg-Wooster, head of the Iver Make-Up Academy at Pinewood Studios. You may remember that Liz is passionate about the quality of people working in the Film Industry in hairdressing and make-up. SEEN caught up with Iver alumnus Nabeel Hussain, who explains exactly why he left a successful graphic design career to pursue his dream…

SEEN recently chatted to Liz Tagg-Wooster, head of the Iver Make-Up Academy at Pinewood Studios. You may remember that Liz is passionate about the quality of people working in the Film Industry in hairdressing and make-up. SEEN caught up with Iver alumnus Nabeel Hussain, who explains exactly why he left a successful graphic design career to pursue his dream…

What first made you think about changing careers?
I moved down to London from Birmingham in order to do a masters at Central Saint Martin’s. I loved graphic design and after university, I was in a similar position to a lot of people, living in survival mode, paying rent and making enough to live off. I worked with an industry leading company and I really enjoyed my job. Eventually I was offered a full-time position at the company, which should have been a high point for me; however it was at this moment when I had job security and a plan, that I felt as though something was missing.

What made you decide to study hair and beauty professionally?
I had done a little bit of hair and make-up before, nothing hugely professional. A close friend asked me to do her hair and make-up at her wedding. When I began to think about pursuing it as a career and mentioned it to friends, their reactions were “well yeah, obviously”. I was also doing some volunteer work for an anti-bullying charity which involved going into schools and raising awareness about diversity. I shared my journey with young people about growing up and the lessons I’ve learnt. I recall saying ‘pursue what you’re good at and follow what you want to do in life’. This was another spur for me to put into practice what I was preaching. I first became interested in The Iver Make-Up Academy after seeing an advert on the tube. Signing up to something from an advert was another big deal for me as with a background in graphic design, I’m always very sceptical of advertising.

What eventually made the decision for you?
I spoke to Tamsin Barbosa (a tutor and well-known hair and make-up artist) at the open day, and past students; everyone was so welcoming and encouraging which was another great sign. I was still very unsure about leaving a full-time job. I decided to go to the academy again but as a model, giving me the opportunity to observe the lessons and to see the individual creativity involved, which was also very important to me. The tutorials were intense but they covered so much and I could see how invaluable they were. After the modelling day, I signed up for the next taster weekend, which led me to hand in my notice at work the very next day and sign up to the 14-week Foundation course.

Why did you choose The Iver Make-up Academy?
After the taster weekend it was pretty clear to me that this was where I was supposed to be. It’s often hard to be completely confident in your abilities – particularly when you’re starting something new, but on the course you take so much on so quickly that you don’t have time to doubt yourself, you just do it. It was largely a three-part process; we were taught the technique, applied the skills and then saw what it looked like on screen for review and to understand what needed to be corrected. I’ve always loved learning and particularly in such a hands-on visual format. With hair and make-up, I find that I am continuing to improve my skills and learn something new. The tutors are very knowledgeable and know various techniques; I get to choose what works for me.

What course were you enrolled on?
I was on the 14-week foundation course and went back for a week’s course of advanced haircutting and barbering with Alex Volpe. I would love to learn more about prosthetics and airbrushing. Maybe in a few years when I’ve worked on a few more projects first!

What skills did you learn?
HD TV and film hair and make-up, SFX, theatre make-up, wig dressing, period hair and make-up (which I loved!), learning body make-up from the incredible Mona Turnbull and also understanding the importance of primary references and breaking down a script for continuity. You learn a lot with plenty of variety involved. We also had visiting make-up artists talk to us about their careers which was inspiring, such as Tina Earnshaw and Michael Key. We had master classes with industry professionals such as Caroline O’Connor from the Royal Opera House, Phillippa Devon from the Wig Store teaching how to knot a moustache, and the very talented Polly Earnshaw, teaching us how to lay-on facial hair. One of my best moments on the course was timed simulations, where we had to complete three specific looks in a certain amount of time. If we are on a job in a crowd room, we are expected to know the difference in period looks, such as 18th century curls to 40’s rolls and 60’s beehives etc., and work on artists we have never met or know what they look like. This simulation is invaluable and many skills are learnt. We were also very lucky to do some practical work experience with events like Top Model UK where we created various looks over two days. This practical experience is invaluable when it comes to looking for work at the end of the course. Ultimately it was about the looks, the models, the clothes, the show and not about me. I have a tendency to over-think but on a job like this you don’t have the opportunity to think, you just do.

What are the most important things you’ll take away from the course?
I know it sounds cheesy but I think the relationships that I’ve built. Immediately after leaving Iver I was lucky to get some work experience on the set of The Last Dragon Slayer. There were a few Iver graduates doing the same; even though this is a very competitive industry, there was a sense of comradeship. It was great to learn from so many incredible tutors and I’m really keen to remain a part of the community at Iver. What Liz (the school’s Director) does now, I would love to do in the future. Though they have such impressive experience under their belts there’s no hierarchy, they just care about what they do and want to share it with as many people as possible.

How will the course you’ve taken help your job prospects?
The Iver Make-Up Academy is very widely recognised within the industry. The majority of people recognise the name even if you just say ‘Iver’ and ‘Greasepaint’. Having the chance to build a relationship with the tutors, as well as fellow talented make-up artists and many others in the industry is invaluable. I feel that having had the opportunity to take this course has given me the drive to really want to do the best I can, and I would say to anyone considering it to go for it, just do it.

What did you most enjoy?
In the last two weeks of the course we got to do two weeks in haircutting and barbering. I was anxious about this as it takes a lot of mapping and patience but when it came to it I absolutely loved it, so much so that I went back a few months later to do the advanced course.

What were the hardest elements?
I generally find that the things I find the hardest, later become my favourite elements; in this example it was haircutting and knotting a moustache. I also found it hard to practise the looks on myself. I asked my friends to let me practise on them a lot. I did learn that when I’m faced with a challenge, I don’t panic and try to find a solution to the problem. When I learnt to apply a bald cap for the first time, it looked initially as though everything had gone wrong, but it came together and didn’t look as bad as I first thought. It also helps that the tutors and fellow make-up artists are on hand for advice and support.

Separately, living in London, I never felt the need to drive and would panic at the idea of sitting in a car and dealing with traffic. Getting up early and driving for up to two hours there and back allowed me to build my confidence with driving. Being mobile is essential as a hair and make-up artist and I’m very grateful I have gotten over this fear.

Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath,