Last month Nelson Mail reporter Naomi Arnold visited the United States, and took some time out to visit Nelsonians scattered around the country. This instalment comes from Los Angeles.
Phoebe Dawson likes to sleep with the curtains open, so she can see the car headlights on the I-10 flashing into her room at night.
It's peaceful, she says, and the traffic isn't nearly as bad as you'd expect for a studio apartment at the centre of the universe. She especially likes to watch the palm trees swaying against the lit skyline as darkness falls.
From her concrete eyrie in a former hotel on Garland Ave in downtown Los Angeles, the 24-year-old is carving out a niche for herself as a freelance makeup artist.
She's just moved into her new apartment, which has a bright blue pool at ground level. Her sister, Chelsea, often joins her there; she lives nearby, and recently moved to LA to work as a model under the name Mahala Dawson. The two are close and used to live together in Pasadena, but they've recently branched out on their own, both renting their own studio apartments.
On the walls of Phoebe's are dreamboards visualising her goals. There's plenty of storage - all stuffed with makeup.
When we meet, Dawson has just returned from a photo shoot with actor Mickey Rooney, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the biggest cinema company in the United States.
"They call it ‘grooming' when it's men," she says. She keeps her work light for the older guys; evening out their skin tone, powdering any shiny bits, applying lip balm, smoothing stray hairs with hairspray, shaving off a few errant whiskers. Some like a lot of makeup, some don't. Rooney, a 92-year-old veteran of eight marriages and 10 decades of film, doesn't like a lot.
He was "a classic old person", she says. "Very straight up, like he ignored questions and just said what he wanted to say in the interview at times, and he totally didn't give a crap what others thought of him."
She's also thrilled to have recently worked on "legendary rock guy" Alice Cooper, preparing him for a Kiss documentary and a British TV show spot. "Nice, humble, funny, charming, interesting, very intelligent, and with a beautiful wife who is very sweet."
The stars are beginning to come thick and fast now, because after years of hard work, Dawson is starting to make it.
At the beginning of 2011, at the age of 23, a big British beauty school asked her to become the head tutor of its Los Angeles division, where she taught up to 80 women with a fellow makeup artist she hired. Most of her pupils were more than double her age.
She recently scored her first Best Makeup film nomination at the International Fashion Film Awards for a short beauty film she worked on called WAR.
She's on the advisory committee for one of the biggest makeup schools in Los Angeles, and is a regular speaker there, offering advice and motivation to the students.
She's sponsored by M.A.C, has judged Miss Teen USA, and worked for LA Fashion Week, Comedy Central, Miss USA, America's Next Top Model and Germany's Next Top Model - but the bulk of her work is red-carpet makeup, TV commercials, photo shoots, documentaries, auditions, reality shows, and dozens of music videos - she's worked on the dancers on videos for Jennifer Lopez, Dido, Kelly Clarkson, Neyo, The Game, Kings of Leon, and Lil Jon.
She's painted people silver, made up a Playboy Playmate, created festering wounds on zombies, made up celebrities for the Grammys and the Oscars, and taken trips to posh houses in Beverly Hills, where she'll do a woman's hair and makeup for the day, and then leave again.
"I do it all," she says. In a few weeks, she'll be doing a how-to video for a cosmetics brand.
There is no typical day. "I've had ones where I'm driving out to the desert and I'm there for 18 hours doing a music video with a horse and a circus and somebody lying naked over there," she says.
She's been flown to Nashville, Seattle, and to Las Vegas and New York multiple times, spending every day in a different location: a skyscraper, or Times Square, making someone look homeless or oiling a stripper's thigh. "That's what I love about it. It's such an adventure."
She has known she's wanted to do this, in this city, since she was 13.
"I was like: I want to be a makeup artist and I want to move to Hollywood," she says. "I always loved makeup and movies and magazines. I was like: What can I do where I make great money, meet amazingly talented people, travel, and have new experiences?"
With Hollywood in mind, she left Nelson College for Girls aged 17, and started studying hair and makeup artistry in Sydney, readying herself for Los Angeles.
But she didn't graduate from makeup school, preferring to skip classes to take on real jobs, organise her own photo shoots, approach models, and build a portfolio. She worked in a bar, a bowling alley, went to school, and did shoots. "I didn't really sleep much."
She lived in an apartment with 10 other people, all from different countries, all single. "We shared rooms. I could never do it now."
She credits her parents for being "amazingly supportive" of both her and her sister in their move across the Pacific. Her clutch of passports - United States, European, and New Zealand - have also been helpful, she says with a laugh.
Since she landed in LA, she's become an expert self-marketer, and recently became that extremely rare creature: a makeup artist with an agency, DGReps, which books her on jobs and manages the business side so Dawson can just turn up on set and do what she loves.
"I'm very blessed to have one," she says. "I had no money when I came here. I didn't know how to drive, I just had to figure everything out."
But she never had a moment when she wanted to go home.
"I've had moments where I thought: ‘This is so hard' and cried myself to sleep, and I have been on jobs where it has been really tough and I just want to escape - but I'd rather be homeless than doing anything else, anywhere else. Now that I've seen and done everything over here I just love it. Being on these music videos and being around these people - it's so much fun and so amazing. It's history being made."
These days, she has women from all over the US reaching out to her for advice, asking how they can be like her.
However, it's an industry where you have to pay your dues first, and she makes sure she tells them that. In Sydney and her first years in LA, she did "thousands" of jobs for free, assisted top celebrity makeup artists, and put thousands of dollars into her training and her makeup kit.
Her ultimate goal is to be a personal makeup artist for A-list celebrities.
"I would love to work with Rihanna and go on a tour, travel and do really sexy makeup looks, trying different colours and lashes," she says. Working on celebrities is "a collaboration".
"A celebrity is usually very particular about the makeup they like," she says. "I try to make everyone happy but also putting my own talent into it. You have to interpret what they want. The might want a smoky eye and you have to say ‘That won't look good on your face'.
"So much of my job is psychology. People are insecure and you're really up close and personal with them - you get to see people who are in the public eye when they're naked and no-one else sees them. They can be very vulnerable, and I have to be confident and reassure them."
A lot of the time, she finds herself the go-between between the star and the director, their right-hand person - and often has to mop up afterwards. "They're all happy smiles on the camera, but they have stresses and problems and insecurities like anyone else."
The pay varies at the top; she thinks Jennifer Lopez's makeup artist probably earns $5000 a day. "But I've heard Madonna's would be way more. Janet Jackson's apparently makes $10,000 a day."
She has no doubt she'll get there. That's what the dreamboard visualisations are for; that's what she is in this city for. She has a favourite saying, along with "carpe diem", which is tattooed on her left forearm: "It takes 10 years to be an overnight success, and you really have to have that never-give-up attitude," she says. "The options are unlimited.
"I absolutely love it here. It's been the hardest thing I've ever done, but the most rewarding. I get to meet and work with the most talented artists, actors, athletes and public figures in the world and help them look and feel the best."
See Phoebe Dawson's work at phoebedawson.com.
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