We had the good fortune of connecting with Ethan Ray and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ethan, what habits do you feel play an important role in your life?
I believe success is relative, and as an 18 year old effects makeup artist, I believe my journey to success has barely just begun. However, my success as an artist so far and my (hopefully) eventual success as a makeup artist are heavily influenced by my habits. While I do believe my success in my past 8 years of being a makeup artist is half due to networking, the support of others, and sheer luck, the other half comes from within myself, my drive to accomplish my goal, and the habits I utilize in my pursuit. I believe out of all my habits as an artist, my most important and all encompassing habit is my tendency to force myself into situations I fear. For example, in the summer of 2020, I asked myself what I’m scared of as an artist. As a slow working, methodical artist who knew nothing about business, finance, marketing, etc., my biggest fear was managing an online business which would require me to work quickly with unfamiliar materials. So I turned that fear into a goal. I spent my summer locked in my studio, researching, learning about business, and planning. Many nights, I left that studio defeated, confused, and scared, had I bitten off more than I could chew? I had nightmares about being inundated with an impossible amount of orders or getting in legal trouble because I misunderstood some small clause in a business transaction. So why would I force struggle upon myself? Because of the results. After 2 weeks, it clicked. I understood all I needed to, down to every last word of business terminology, every material I’d use, every day of my schedule. I learned more as an artist in those two weeks than I would in 2 months, because struggle facilitates growth. Growth is so important to me, as I believe the opposite of growth, stagnation, is the same as giving up on your passion. No matter how good you are at your passion, if I am the best makeup artist in the world, and I say “this is good enough”, and stop pushing myself to grow, then I might as well quit then and there. Because passion is not pushing yourself to accomplish a final goal, it is accomplishing a goal and immediately asking yourself “what can I do next?”, and continuing to do so for as long as you are physically able. Stagnation is the decay of passion, and growth is the heartbeat of passion, it’s the coals that keep your inner fire roaring. And the best way to grow is through challenge, through identifying your fears and conquering them. This habit frequently puts me into dire situations, and risk taking, planning, and confidence are necessary to meeting these challenges, but even still, failure is sometimes unavoidable. And while there are often consequences to failure, usually financial and mental, the crucial factor to the success of this habit is the ability to grow equally from failure as you grow from success, and prioritizing reattempting your failures and your next challenge to face despite your natural instincts to move on. I should mention that this is not a habit you develop naturally. Even since I was 10, I had a vague idea of the benefits of pushing myself to grow through challenging situations, and as such have been working this habit into my life from a young age. Despite this, this habit is still an active struggle to maintain, the impulses to procrastinate or use excuses like school or exhaustion are often deafening, and I admit my rate of suppressing these urges is only about 60% of the time. But the strong will and dedication I associate with artists and independents, this habit for increased growth is an attainable possibility for many of us. I believe that adopting this habit will contribute to the success of any artist or entrepreneur who employs it, just as it has contributed significantly to my success so far.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
So I specialize in effects makeup, which covers a variety of art forms, and I’ve been doing it for 8 years now, since I was 10. Effects makeup is a very unique art form, because it is a combination of sculpture, anatomy, painting and color theory, science and engineering, and character/concept design. Its most common use is in movies, if someone ever gets injured or there is a non-CG monster, that is the end result of effects makeup, but there is an incredible amount of work and artistry behind the scenes that never shows up on camera. At its most basic level, effects makeup is actually a process, you do a sculpture, create a mold of that sculpture, and then cast the mold in a new material (usually silicone, a squishy, skin-like rubber) so you have a perfect copy of your sculpture now made out of a different, much more permanent material. Typically, this object you are creating is a prosthetic, which is basically a pre-made injury or feature that you glue onto the skin, like a very complicated 3d sticker, so after you have your prosthetic in silicone the next step is to apply it to a person, which is an art form in itself. The transition between the prosthetic and skin must be unnoticeable, and the paint job should be as realistic as possible, and as the camera quality gets higher and higher in film, the makeup has to be near perfection to not be noticeable. That is a very broad summary, each component of the process is almost exponentially more complex and cannot be summarized here, and as you can imagine there is a lot to learn. With the knowledge and experience I’ve gained so far, I recreate the process mentioned previously, sculpting a prosthetic from scratch to apply on myself or others, and I will usually challenge myself to explore challenging avenues like unfamiliar materials or a difficult sculpture. But more recently, I’ve used my skills with sculpture, running silicone, and painting in my online Etsy store, where I sell small custom-made silicone figures, which also double as stress balls. The designs I sell are often odd real or fictional creatures presented in a slightly stylized way, while still maintaining a high level of detail, anatomical accuracy, and care for each order. I think what sets me apart from others is how I found and pursued my passion from such a young age, which I consider myself extremely lucky for having, and that my work is pretty solid for an 18 year old. I think people, especially in the makeup community, can see my passion for this art form, and know that this isn’t a hobby Ill be done with in a year or two, they are seeing the baby steps in my path to becoming a successful makeup artist, so while the work I do is solid enough, my work is on track to becoming film worthy in the distant future. While I am proud of what I have accomplished before, I tend to focus on what I’m excited for in the future. What excites me the most about makeup is the day in my distant future where I apply a makeup to someone, and it is no longer a model in prosthetics, what I created breathes and moves and thinks. I want someone to watch my work on film, and for even a split second, they aren’t looking at an actor covered in makeup on screen, they are seeing a creature or a monster or a totally different person, because in that moment, my work becomes reality, because it is good enough to accurately present the illusion of reality. I am excited for the day when my work becomes realistic enough to make people say “Wait, that was makeup?” The story of how I got to this point starts when I was 10, in 5th grade. I was a naive, socially inept kid, trying to conform with traditional notions of “popularity”. One day the kids I so desperately wanted to befriend discussed making a “movie”. Now, I don’t quite recognize where the notion materialized from, but I blurted out that I had a fake injury kit in my garage, an unopened birthday present from an indeterminate year. I suggested we use it. Taking their usual indifferent dismissal of my idea as a chance to impress them, I went home, opened the kit, and made a bruise using markers contained therein. My interest was piqued, I continued to create and experiment, and eventually I knew that this was my calling. With help from my parents, I researched and contacted a local artist, who invited my to his studio, gave me some clay and showed me how real makeup effects was done. From then on, I was on the path to success, he told other artists about me, they told me about events, and at those events I met other artists, slowly expanding my network of fellow artists and mentors, all while dedicating myself to practicing at home. This would continue at a steady pace throughout my teenage years, occasionally interrupted by bouts of teenage angst and demotivation, but overall an engaging, challenging yet stimulating, period of quick growth as an artist. As I became more and more engaged in makeup, the social environment around me at school became less and less important to me, and I quickly changed from the weird kid who tries to hard to the quiet kid who doesn’t talk much because he’s too busy thinking about what he wants to sculpt next. While this transition was far from painless, effects makeup is what kept me going in the difficult times, knowing that there was a community out there who accepted and welcomed me gave me hope in the darker times in my social life. I think the most important lesson I learned from my life experience so far is to live for yourself, because the best things in my life have come from me doing what makes me happy regardless of the social ramifications, and that the worst things in my life have come from me trying to change for other people. As for what I want the world to know about me, I don’t think I’m too interesting to warrant that much interest. Of course, I’d love to share my work with many people, and I do love talking about and discussing effects makeup and art in general, but I’d rather my work be known to the world than me. Of course, my work is nowhere close to warranting that amount of attention, and if I did get any I could name 25 people who deserve it much more than me, so I’m honestly happy with any amount of attention from anyone who finds my work and journey worth observing.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is an interesting question, as to be honest, I rarely leave my house. For me, the best time ever would probably be visiting quiet, uncrowded places with a lot of history. I love the Tellus Museum, and that museum of ancient history at Emory. The botanical gardens are absolutely enchanting, and while I wouldn’t like the crowds at the Aquarium or Zoo, I think they are so interesting that they are worthwhile, hopefully in quiet hours. I would love to visit a bunch of small town antique stores to look around for cool or interesting artifacts. I love abandoned structures like the old mill in Roswell next to the waterfall. And maybe just going around window shopping in historic parts of Atlanta, preferably away from the city. If we had a bunch of time, Id go to all the way out to the Blue Ridge Mountains, specifically Marcere’s Orchard, a wonderful orchard and market thats a bit of a family tradition. And if the weather is cool and a bit cloudy, I would love to go on some small hikes or nature walks on any number of beautiful nature trails, preferably near rivers. As for food, I think I would go to a few places. Ippolitos in Sandy Springs is the best Italian food in the world, sadly it burnt down but It should be coming back sometime. Theres a new bakery nearby called Cinnaholic, it is absolutely delicious. I’d try to stop into any small bakeries or sweet shops I saw, I have a sweet tooth, and on the rare occasions I go in public I like to treat myself.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The amount of support and mentorship I have behind me is almost unfathomable, so many talented artists have guided me, mentored me, and supported me that I can’t name them all individually here. But I think the most influential people on my journey are my mom and dad, while its cliche, its true. They have supported me unconditionally in so many aspects of my journey, and used their own life experience to guide me through this unfamiliar path. All the events, studio visits, mentoring sessions, none of that would have happened without their support, and it was their advice for me to prioritize networking that allowed me to meet all my mentors in the first place. They are the main reason I was able to turn effects makeup into something more than a hobby, so they deserve most of the credit for me pursuing my passion.