As a spotlight on AMUA’s graduate network, we’ve sat down with alum McKenzie Gregg to talk shop, finding success, and doing what you love so you can love what you do.
A Nashville native, Kenzie graduated from AMUA in 2012 in the Professional Makeup Artist Program. She forged her own career as a professional makeup artist working for such notable clients as Jack White, Timbaland, Devon Bostick, Dean Norris, and Mara Marini. Then, in 2015 she came back to AMUA to earn a diploma in the AMUA Special Effects Makeup Program. A skilled craftsperson and talented artist, Kenzie is now focusing her creativity in Los Angeles where she works for one of Hollywood’s top makeup and effects houses. Dynamic, bold, and eager to collaborate with fellow creatives, Kenzie exemplifies the students we hope to empower, and the professionals we aim to create. We are excited to see Kenzie taking her education, talents, and career to the next level – and maybe even around the world!
What was your first experience with AMUA?
I went to AMUA in 2012 to get certified in beauty makeup. I had already been freelancing for a couple years and was hoping to pursue makeup full-time. I really thought I was just going to sit through the classes and get a piece of paper; but I learned SO MUCH more than I thought I would. I learned a crazy amount of new techniques and the reasons why and when they were applicable. I also learned more about business and finances. Both helped me transition my passion into a legit career. AMUA taught me how to take my hobby and turn it into a livelihood.
What attracted you to makeup initially?
I honestly fell into it. I had been doing my friends’ makeup since Middle School and everyone said I was pretty good at it. I liked it, so, when I had the opportunity, I took it. Later, I happened to be hanging out with a DJ friend of mine at one of her promo shoots. Half-way through the shoot she wanted to alter her entire look and asked if I would change her hair and makeup. I immediately said “Yes!” Little did I know then that this opportunity would change my life in return. The photographer sang my praises for the rest of the shoot and convinced me to start a career in hair and makeup. At the time doing something I enjoyed for money didn’t even make sense. I remember having this whole conversation with myself how unreal it would be to actually make a living doing something that makes me happy. Needless to say, taking that chance is working out so far…
How did your interest in beauty expand into Makeup Effects?
I’ve always been creative. Even before [I took classes at AMUA] I was trying out body painting and all sorts of avant-garde looks for fun on friends, myself, and my more daring clients. I also kept exploring how [other] amazing artists were turning people into even more expansive works of art with prosthetics and paints. It was all so creative and visceral; pretty soon I was hooked. I love using the human form as my canvas! You not only get to express your art, you get to work with interesting people and literally see your effort come to life. So I decided I had to learn. I had to make friends with [other makeup artists], just to watch and learn from them. I didn’t necessarily understand everything they were doing, I just knew I had to keep paying attention and trying to expand my knowledge. When the [AMUA Makeup] Effects program opened, I knew I had to take it.
What do you like about Makeup and Makeup Effects?
Well, a lot of things. I like that I can make someone feel beautiful. I like that I can express myself through art in the human form. I like that I can take a beautiful woman and turn her into a creepy bat! I like that I can make a living doing and creating things that in turn create happiness in my life.
What are you currently focusing on?
I am currently working at Legacy FX in Los Angeles as a mold maker for major motion pictures and commercials. Alongside that I am pursuing music… my other passion. I am from Nashville, y’all. I also pick up whatever makeup gigs I can on nights and weekends. Safe to say my schedule is pretty full!
How did AMUA help you in your career?
Oh my! How do I begin…. I wouldn’t have anything near this life I have without AMUA. I never thought a school would show so much support and love to an alumni’s career. It is absolutely incredible what they are willing to do for their students. I really can’t even name all the ways in which I’ve become a better artist, better learner, better business woman, better person, and better colleague. I could really go on about this… but I’ll say one more thing… I am incredibly and eternally grateful for this school.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
That’s a hard question. (Laughter) I never think that far ahead. But maybe I should. People have asked me over the past few years, “What’s your ‘end game’ with this whole makeup thing?” For a while I would stumble around the answer because I had no idea. But last year, I figured it out. I want to travel. If I have it my way, being a makeup artist will take me around the world and I won’t have to pay for plane tickets… although I’m willing to (laughter). So I’m really looking for those opportunities that take me to foreign lands. It doesn’t matter whether I’m doing natural hair and makeup, beauty makeup, special effects, body painting, monsters, creatures… it’s all stuff I love to do. If all this comes together and I get to see the world and do something I love, well, I will continue to be one happy camper.
Kenzie will be demonstrating one of her custom makeups at IMATS New York this April at the AMUA table, alongside Special Effects Program Director, Ben Rittenhouse and AMUA School Founder, Executive Director and President, Ashley Driver.
For more from Kenzie, check out her website (www.mckenziegregg.com) and Instagram (@mckenziegregg).
Photo of McKenzie by Chase Stockman; Instagram @chasestockmanphotography