Investing in herself is the most terrifying thing Mary Katie Engle has ever done.
When she was laid off from a marketing assistant job about five and a half years ago, she decided against searching for another marketing position.
Engle, 31, of Hanover had long been interested in makeup artistry. She helped her classmates get their faces stage-ready during high school musicals, and as she grew older, beauty art became her passion and a bit of a side job.
So, unemployed and unsure of what the future held, the Harrisburg native chose to market herself. She hit as many networking events as possible, built a website and cultivated her brand – Mary K. Engle: Makeup Artistry.
“It’s a tough business to get into,” she said. “It’s not just about how good you are. It’s about your personality, how you conduct yourself, and when it comes down to it, who you know.”
Her investment paid off. Today the self-taught makeup artist is basically booked solid, offering her beauty services throughout Central Pennsylvania. This month she will work her biggest gig yet – prepping the many faces set to appear at media outlet Politico’s Democratic National Convention hub.
“There are so many high-profile clients,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting to meet all of these different people, and it’s a very exciting time for politics. I’m really excited just to be part of it. It’s history.”
‘This is my path’
Prior to taking it on full time, Engle had dabbled in makeup artistry as well as photography, getting paid occasionally and posting her work online. A few months after losing her marketing job, Engle’s talent caught the attention of Curtain Call Costumes in York, and they hired her to do makeup for a commercial photo shoot.
“They say fake it ’til you make it,” Engle said. “I totally pulled a fake-it-’til-you-make-it moment. I had done makeup for photo shoots but nothing at that level.”
The company booked her for two days, and Engle knew immediately she was starting a career that was meant for her all along.
“It was like in that instant, I felt like, ‘I am home. This is perfect. This is my path,'” she said.
As expected, the first two years of Engle’s makeup business were the most difficult.
“I struggled,” she said. “I barely made any money. Thank goodness I was getting unemployment from my first job. The second year, when my unemployment ran out, that was the real test, like, ‘Can I do this?'”
Through networking meetings, putting dollars toward Facebook marketing, attending WeddingWire Inc. events and making contacts with photographers, Engle built the groundwork for her brand.
But Engle also experienced a lot of anxiety and self-doubt, worrying how she would earn her next paycheck when she didn’t have a booked schedule. She frequently had to cancel plans with friends when she was offered last-minute bookings, and she often missed out on quality time with family.
“It was very heart-wrenching at first,” she said.
By year three, Engle’s business was “blowing up.” She started having to hire makeup assistants to help her on the job.
“It’s been growing ever since,” she said. “This year has been my busiest year yet. It really goes to show you that hard work does pay off.”
There’s a lot of competition in the region, Engle said, and those in the industry can be catty at times. Engle keeps a positive attitude, though, as she feels there is enough business to go around for everyone.
She has worked on weddings, fashion and editorial shoots, and television commercials. Some of her clients include Charles F. Snyder Funeral Homes & Crematory in Lititz, Under Armour’s gymnastics wear line, DelGrosso’s Amusement Park and a ghost hunting show titled, “The R.I.P. Files,” which airs in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the U.K.
To stand out from the crowd, Engle has developed a signature “natural unnatural” look. She stays on the pulse of beauty trends via Pinterest, YouTube and especially Instagram.
“It’s a really fun time to be a makeup artist because I feel like it is taking a turn to be more daring than it has been in the past,” she said, adding that product technology is far more advanced than it was during the last decade of daring makeup – the 1980s.
Landing the DNC contract
The Politico contract came across Engle’s radar as she was browsing a job posting site. The listing only described the Democratic bash as a convention.
Erik Estrada, events associate at Politico, said the company received more than a dozen applications for the job. Engle stood out due to her impressive resume, interesting profile, positive reviews and great website, he said. He also appreciated “her willingness to walk me through an industry I know nothing about.”
“She’s completely flexible, so hospitable and so willing to chat about every single question I have about makeup because I am not an expert,” he said.
Politico’s hub will be located at 2 Commerce Square. Its events will include interviews with members of Congress, university professors and experts on the many topics that are crucial in the 2016 election, he said, as well as live entertainment and happy hours.
The list of guests has not yet been finalized, Estrada said, but Grammy-winning songstress Alicia Keys is slated to perform at the hub’s opening night.
It’s not a guarantee that Engle will work with every person appearing at the hub, but it’s more likely than not, he said.
For those wondering, Engle hasn’t paid much attention to the 2016 election coverage. She’s too busy fielding text messages from brides fretting over whether their spray tan will affect the shade of their foundation.
“I plan to read up on it, but when it comes down to it, I’m there to do makeup and not get into a debate,” she said.
Hillary Clinton has received criticism regarding her appearance throughout the election. As a makeup artist, Engle “doesn’t understand the haters.”
“She’s up for presidential election – she’s under a microscope. You can’t be on point 24/7 – no one can. Maybe the Kardashians, but they have people do their makeup while they’re sleeping,” Engle chuckled.
Keeping up the momentum
For independent business owners like herself, Engle advises, “Don’t give up. Just keep at it.”
“You never know when you’re going to get that phone call from your first corporate client,” she said. “Honestly that phone call could change your life.”
She attributes her success in part to her commitment to making her dream a goal.
“You have to make it your everything. If you really want something, and you really put your time into it,” she said, “it is going to work out for you, but you really have to work for it.”
“My advice to people that really want to do something that they love – not just makeup, but anything – you have got to be ready to give it your all,” she said.
Engle is hopeful her work with Politico will open doors for her as well as her two assistants.
“I’m all about empowering other women, and these two women work very, very hard,” she said. “I’m booked pretty much on a regular basis, and I want the same for them. They work hard and they deserve it.”
Editor’s note: Mary Katie Engle is the stepdaughter of Michele Engle, a senior account executive at Central Penn Business Journal.