James Mac gives inspiring Penny Lecture at North Kensington

Yesterday Morley’s North Kensington Centre welcomed guests to a very special Penny Lecture hosted by James Mac.

Mac is an Irish freelance makeup artist based in London, specialising in creative makeup, SFX, editorial makeup, and body paint art for TV, Film, fashion and any creative spaces. You may recognise him from being the first runner up on BBC-Netflix series Glow up (S2, 2020).

James Mac welcomes guests to his Penny Lecture

Growing up and glowing up

James opened up about his upbringing and the way that make-up played a special part in self-discovery.

He spoke about his Covid lockdown experience and how he used this to his advantage by establishing his “40 day challenge” in the lead-up to the premiere of Glow Up, creating 40 different looks for 40 days, which takes a lot of time and creativity.

“My social media was popping when the TV series launched! It was great!” he said.  

Perfecting the technique

James spoke in detail about his looks and the inspiration for each of them. He gave insights into his technique and the time spent creating each look. The audience was lucky enough to view previously unpublished videos for his social media showcasing his experience with his exhibition at the Morley Gallery. (see video at the foot of this page)

He touched on his outlook on life and how that has motivated him to get to where he is today. Mac addressed the fact that it is okay to fail, saying “If you don’t try, why not?”

Getting to know James

We were lucky enough to sit down with James to speak about his career and plans for the future.   

What inspired you to pursue a career in makeup? 

“I’ve always been passionate about art, from pastel drawings, painting, curating sculptures, batiks painting and sketching as a child. Nature is a huge inspiration and I started creating makeup designs based on my hometown and countryside influences. Discovering a love for drag art also helped me tap into expressing myself through makeup, creating art using my face as a canvas.”

What has been a highlight of your career?  

“I have loved every opportunity I’ve had to travel for work, I’m very proud to be a senior faculty member for SFX, an editorial makeup design at the Aliya Baig Academy for Makeup in Hyderabad, India. I teach 25 students each term for one week on a bi-annual basis, showcasing unconventional forms of makeup artistry to help inspire the students to tap into their own diverse creativity as artists.” 

“In conjunction, hosting my first gallery exhibition “Makeup X Art” with Morley Gallery at Morley this past January. That is a huge achievement and new experience to date in my career, which I’m incredibly proud of.” 

What challenges have you faced in your field, and how did you overcome them?  

“My unique perspective being in this industry would be that I’m a working artist in an incredibly competitive field, doing so living with Tourette’s Syndrome. From early childhood years I’ve grown to live with various motor & verbal-neurone conditions that cause a lot of physical pain, fatigue, involuntary body tics and twitches. This means I find it challenging to execute any precision and finer detail in my work – yet I still do it!”

James Mac in conversation with Matthew Cunningham, surrounded by his artworks

“Living with Tourette’s Syndrome and overcoming many challenges has given me a whole different skill set and understanding of myself and others. It has taught me the power of mindfulness and how that can determine what it means to be successful, carve out a space for myself and gain respect within the industry.”

What advice would you give to individuals aspiring to enter or excel in the makeup industry? 

“Never give up! How many times have we heard this, yet how many ways can that be understood. It’s important to engage, network, be part of a team and look to partake with others, and/or find your support group from friends, family and your peers.”

“My career was established on the basis of communication, giving time to shadow and assist, showing up and not letting my doubts and questions control my decisions. Makeup artistry is a person’s passion for those who want it or are thinking about pursuing it as a career, so we are in this together.” 

“The thrill of learning something new and exploring as many avenues within the industry will open the horizon further, hopefully always leading to the next step and future career opportunities – so stick to it and be heard, be seen!”

Are there specific goals or projects you’re currently working on that you’re excited about for the future?  

“I love to travel and experience different cultures, being able to do that with makeup artistry is the ultimate goal. I’m really looking forward to showcasing more of my work in community spaces, galleries and demonstrating my style and art form to other passionate artists, and audiences from all backgrounds and ethnicities.”

“I’ve lived a life to date with lots of experiences from triumphs, to failures and enjoy sharing what the meaning of life has taught me so far. I am wanting to speak more about inspiring the next generation (and anyone whatever point they’re at in their lives). I guess you could say, what also can make someone tick! To seek what it is that motivates us, gives a purpose and follow a passion in this life.”

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The journey of Makeup X Art