Halloween party-goers hire pro makeup artists to perfect their costumes

Makeup artist Lexi Martinez transforms Sherri Pontious into a Day of the Dead skeleton, using an airbrush and stencil to place the designs.

Christina Murphy wanted her Halloween party to be epic. Rooms were given ghoulish themes. Everything was cobwebbed. Each light bulb was switched out into autumn colors. She even hired a professional makeup artist for herself and guests.

Murphy enlisted the help of Lutherville-based Lexi Martinez to help transform her into "Star Wars" character Oola, Jabba the Hutt's green-hued dancer. She said her guests were blown away.


"It looked amazing," said Murphy, a 28-year-old bartender. "She painted me head-to-toe green. Everyone asked how long it took." (About three hours.)

Three of Murphy's guests also got a new look from Martinez. One, Murphy's roommate, dressed as the evil sea witch Ursula from "The Little Mermaid." The two others became the Ziggy Stardust-era version of David Bowie and a candy skull inspired by the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos.


"Lexi did an amazing job with their makeup," Murphy said. "I heard many, many guests commenting on how incredible it was."

Local makeup artists say Halloween is the busiest time of the year for their industry. There are jobs at theme parks and haunted houses, but they have noticed a spike in recent years as party-goers hire them to take their costumes over the top.

"It's definitely trending," said Martinez, who charges $50 to $110 per person. She typically does makeup for about a dozen people in the two weeks leading up to Halloween. "The Halloween industry has really exploded over the past five years. Costumes have gotten more elaborate. It has made it almost like a fashion show. And there are costume contests. It is a day to show off your creativity or an idea that you may have that you may need a little help in expressing."

According to the National Retail Federation, about 158 million people will participate in Halloween activities, spending an average of $75.03 on decor, costumes, candy and fun. Overall average spending on Halloween has increased 54.7 percent since 2005.

Murphy, who has thrown a Halloween party for the past 15 years, said she needed the help of a professional makeup artist to re-create Oola.

"I was originally going to do it myself. And I'm sure I could have done the makeup on my body, but the makeup she did on my face was out of this world," Murphy said. "She used an airbrush, eye makeup and fake lashes."

Martinez said she starts practicing and doing "test runs" in the months leading up to Halloween.

"It's like Christmastime for us," she said. "We order tons of packages and do tests. I've run through a series of tests on myself. I've bought funky lashes, airbrush colors. We're constantly raiding Michaels and other craft stores to see what we can find to complement a look and make it unique and fun. We're experimenting in a lab all month."


Siobhan Beckett, a makeup artist from Baltimore, has been surprised by the number of requests she's received from complete strangers to do their makeup.

"I'm used to my friends asking me, but it is a little surprising that I'm getting requests from the general public, which is great for business," she said.

Beckett, who has been a makeup artist since 2008, cut her teeth doing theater makeup and eventually expanded to working haunted houses and other seasonal events. The past couple of years she's been inundated with dozens of requests to transform people into TV characters, such as Don Draper, and creatures, such as zombies — her personal favorite.

"The last two weeks [leading up to Halloween] get pretty busy," she said. "On the day of, I'm going to have people early in the day so I can crank them out. That is definitely the busiest day of the year."

Beckett's fees range from $20 for "simple makeup" to $70 for more complicated jobs.

Margaret Mae, an on-location makeup artist and skin care specialist, is also swamped with work for seasonal haunted houses and requests from party-goers.


"They fill up my schedule," said Mae, who charges up to $200 for complicated costumes. Some customers ask for pop-culture figures such as Lady Gaga. But most people seek out horror, according to Mae.

"Most people don't know what they want, but they do want to be scary," said the Hanover resident. "Usually people want to be very gory."

Mae and other artists meet with clients in advance to discuss inspirations, concepts and execution. After the visit, Mae is then able to find the proper makeup for the job.

"It's about the makeup," she said. "You'd be surprised what you can use to make someone look scary."

One of the most complicated looks Mae pulled off was transforming a man into a woman last year.

"It was so much fun," Mae said. "I wanted to do it because it was a challenge. I think I succeeded because everyone I show the photo to freaks out."


Some revelers who want more gender-bending illusions turn to drag queens — around Halloween, some makeup artists say, they're inundated with requests from men who want to be visually transformed into women. Drag queens say they typically do their own makeup and are well-versed in doing it for others as well.

Last year, female impersonator Krystal Nova helped four men masquerade as women for the day, and she'll be back at it this year.

"I like seeing them experience what it is like as a drag queen," said Nova, whose real name is Andrew Ratych.

Nova charges about $30, and provides makeup and the all-important fake eyelashes. The guys usually bring their own wigs and clothes.

"I don't like to overcharge," Nova said. "I do it for the experience."

Nova has experienced success in her work. One client last year has gone on to compete as a drag queen.


"She went on to win Miss Leon's after that," Nova said proudly, referring to the annual Baltimore drag pageant.

But typically, Nova said, the men wanted to look as much like women as possible.

"They don't want to look like a drag queen," she said. "That's easier. It means less makeup."