You may not be familiar with the name Ashunta Sheriff, but you most definitely are familiar with her work. If you’ve seen Alicia Keys’ flawless face over the past 10 years, marveled at Cookie Lyons’ (Taraji P Henson) perfectly beat pout or seen the amazing makeup of many other celebrities or fashion models, then you’ve definitely feasted your eyes on the masterpiece work of ths in-demand makeup artist.
Getting her start before Youtube and social media made it easy to reach millions and make a name for yourself without leaving the comfort of your room, Ashunta was able to rise through the makeup ranks by studying and practicing her craft, honing her skills and ALWAYS being ready to deliver.
She was gracious enough to chat with us and share her journey of become a successful makeup artist and starting her own beauty line. Read on to find out more!
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? (Title, hometown, educational background, etc.)
I’m born and raised in Harlem from parents who are both from Missisippi. I studied music, theater and dance growing up. I was a creative kid always writing and drawing.
I attended private boarding school in Marion Massachusetts on full scholarship then went to Howard University and majored in Cultural Anthropology.
2. Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be involved in the makeup industry?
I was fascinated with makeup and hair; I always watched my mom and aunt get ready it was an amazing process to me.
3. Did you have any other initial career aspirations or was it always makeup?
I wanted to be the female Indiana Jones so I majored in Cultural Anthropology. My goal was to travel the world and live with indigenous people and learn about various cultures around the globe.
4. So everyone, including me, learns anything they know about makeup from Youtube videos now. How did you originally learn?
YouTube did not exist when I became a makeup artist. You had to learn by working with real faces and also practicing techniques on yourself in the mirror. Working at MAC also helped because we had such a busy counter we learned to practice on faces daily.
We learned from books like Kevyn Aucoin and Sam Fine which are like the two beauty bibles that have taught numerous artist techniques. I watched old movies and picked up things as well just seeing placement of color or contouring on old films. It was interesting and always read flawless on television and movie screens.
5. How do you learn now and stay abreast of the latest techniques and trends?
Today I look at YouTube videos as well since there’s so much information out there nowadays. I also look at references from fave charts or movies as you can learn a lot from period pieces incorporating some of the older styles and making it fresh. Whenever I work on fashion shows I always just let my mind go and I free hand the makeup and just let my creativity guide me.
6. You were able to land a job with MAC because you literally looked the part, which goes to show that you should always dress and beat your face for the job you want. Can you tell me a little bit about how that all went down?
I was infatuated with MAC. They opened a MAC store on Spring Street in NYC and I went there to lunch daily just to play with products. I was in the store all the time. Sometimes I was helping people with product selections or suggesting colors. The manager advised me to stop consulting people and maybe consider getting a job at MAC since I loved makeup so much. I took her up on the offer even though I believe it was from a sarcastic place. Later I saw an ad for MAC and I applied got the job and the rest is history!
7. You then moved on to becoming a makeup artist for Laura Mercier. What prompted you to switch over?
I lost my job at MAC and a friend was working at Laura Mercier at Henri Bendels and they referred me to their manager. Their artist position paid twice as much as MAC, so I was super grateful to get this job.
8. You credit this position with getting you into the world of celebrity makeup artistry as well? How so?
Absolutely! If it wasn’t for MAC I would not have known there was a world of makeup outside the retail counter level. Laura Mercier gave me opportunity to work on fashion shows and with celebrities, opening my mind completely and giving me focus that was very clear.
9. You also recently started your own makeup line and launched in on QVC, Perfect Face Dual Foundation and Blush. Congratulations! What made you decide to pursue this venture and how has it been going?
I decided I wanted to make my mark on the beauty industry and I’ve always wanted to create my own product line. It was eight years in the making from the idea, then bringing the concept to life. Then I went to my chemist and described the formulations I wanted my products to have. I went to the lab weekly, mixing with the chemist to find the perfect shade combinations to create the dual ended foundation stick and we launched on QVC June 2013, which was an epic moment in my career.
10. What was the process like from deciding what products you wanted to sell to production and marketing?
It was all written down because I’m a visualizer. That allowed me to imagine what I wanted and then follow through to make it into a reality. Marketing the product is very grass roots and through word of mouth recommendations. We are a small brand so we grow when people talk about our products. So far so good!
11. So currently, what is an average day like for you? What do you do when you have down time?
On an average day I’m on the set of Empire for 14 hours creating Cookie’s iconic looks. I could also be wrapping my work day at 1am and traveling to South Africa the next day at 6am for a press tour. Anything is possible and my schedule is almost never the same day to day. It keeps me on my toes!
12. What is your favorite/least favorite part of working in the beauty industry?
I love being in beauty and enhancing women’s beauty brings me so much personal pleasure. I also love how clients can be having a down day then get their face put on and feel immediately better – makeup is an instant mood changer and I love being a part of that.
My least favorite is the politics of the entertainment industry. If a client has a team they love that makes them feel and work more comfortable, then why not give them what they want? At the end of the day we are artists and we deserve to be given chances and opportunities to work. If a magazine or television show or producer or photographer doubts the celebrities’ team, then just send story boards and implicit directions and I’m sure the artist can give them what they want.
I’ve seen so many makeup and hair artists get pushed to the curb because higher ups were doubtful the team could execute the vision. I’m thankful to have clients who fought for me, allowing me to have the opportunity to work on all types of amazing projects. I’m very blessed.
13. The beauty industry seems to be very in demand nowadays as many seek to make a name for themselves with their own salons or services; what advice do you have for someone looking to branch out and start their own thing within this industry?
You have to market and promote your business but you also have to support other small businesses. If we bond together and support one another we help each other to win. I think it’s silly to see everyone and everything as competition.
14. What would you say sets you apart, makeup wise and product wise, from your competitors?
I am me and that’s what makes me different. I’m not the greatest makeup artist on the planet, but it’s my work ethic and who I am as a person that makes me stand out from other artists. Sometimes that works for clients and sometimes it doesn’t. However I’m a firm believer that what’s for you is for you.
15. What is your biggest professional accomplishment to date? Personal?
I’m proud of completing my first season of Empire season 2! I’m even more proud our department has been nominated for a Makeup And Hair Stylist Guild Award. I’m proud of the Ashunta Sheriff Beauty and creating a unique product that makes women look amazing. I’ve had a lot of rough patches along the way. A lot of poor choices and financial set backs but I remain humble and happy because I’m blessed to do a job I love every day!
16. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome and how were you able to do so?
Traveling a lot and being away from my family especially my kids. That is the toughest part of it all. There’s a lot of sacrifice made in this industry. However with prayer and a positive attitude you can overcome anything. My kids and I miss each other so much, however they know that I’m sacrificing for the bigger picture. We FaceTime and email and text and I love the bond we are forming together even though we may be apart.
17. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out as a professional?
I know more about saving and being financially prepared for hardships, because in our industry financial hardship can happen at any moment. You have to save and be prepared. Don’t spend all your money shopping and living beyond your means, which is something I constantly have to keep in check. No job is guaranteed or promised and can disappear easily. So you need to be mindful of your finances.
18. What’s next for you?
So much, where to begin?!?
I’m working on a film next and then back to Empire for Season 3 God willing. I’ll also be participating in The Makeup Show LA and so much more is in store! I’m excited for all the possibilities my future has to offer me because I planted the seeds and now it’s time to reap the benefits.