Kristie Matthiae gained a degree, then trained as a make-up artist. Catherine Raw discovers how she's finding life at work

"Following my degree in creative expressive therapies at Derby University, I decided to continue with the creative theme by studying to become a make-up artist. My three-month course at Greasepaint - a school of stage, TV and film make-up - covered a wide variety of modules, including stage and camera make-up, prosthetics, hair-cutting and wig-styling. We were given a basic grounding in all these areas and, more importantly, through our teachers' experiences, gained a valuable insight into the world of make-up artistry.

Stage, TV and film make-up is an intensive, fast-paced course which, I have since found, is representative of the industry in general - working in make-up often involves intense long working days. It is run approximately three times a year, and there are usually only about 24 students in the class, resulting in plenty of individual attention for everyone.

As the course is 100 per cent practical, I felt that I was fairly well prepared for work once I qualified, but of course nothing quite prepares you for being on set. Greasepaint has an agent to help newly-qualified students gain some work experience, and also advise on various legalities, such as registering as self-employed - a task that's not as easy as it sounds!

After qualifying, I was extremely fortunate in gaining a nine-day placement working on the BBC drama Fingersmith, and even more fortunate in that on my second day working there, the designer offered me a five-week paid contract to stay on until it was completed.

Unpaid work experience is a necessary part of training and the tasks undertaken during work experience differ greatly depending on the project. Often they will include menial jobs such as tea-making, tidying, washing hair, handing hairpins, but all of these allow you to work closely with other make-up artists, and learn skills and techniques from them. I think that I have learned almost as much from observing and talking to people in the industry (including the teachers at Greasepaint), as I have done from practical lessons. While working on the BBC drama, I was also lucky enough to actually work on some of the background actors myself, making people look dirty, tired, ("breaking people down") or adding facial hair and so on, so my training was starting to pay off.

Being in the right place at the right time can be a huge benefit and as Fingersmith came to an end, the designer took me onto his next project - a UK-produced film, Kinky Boots. This involved three months of filming in Northampton, London, Clacton - and other such glamorous places! It allowed me to see a film created from beginning to end, which is a fantastic experience, and I met a huge number of other make-up artists. Making up the drag queens in this film was fun - and very different to the period make-up in Fingersmith!

From my original placement with the BBC, I have gone on to work on a diverse range of projects with the contacts I made there. These have varied from amateur dramatic productions to big blockbuster movies - Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code to name two of the more well-known ones. In addition, I spent nearly two months working on a fantasy film in Budapest.

Living on location is not always as glamorous as it sounds. It can be quite difficult to be away from home for long periods, but it is important to be flexible and adaptable, especially when just starting out. However, it can also be a lot of fun living with the crew and cast, and it certainly helps people bond - it becomes more important to build good working relationships when you're forced to spend 24 hours a day with colleagues!

Although it is not vital to complete an official course, it certainly helps, particularly as a way of making contacts. Many of the jobs I have had since have come as a direct result of having studied at Greasepaint, and the course enables people to build a basic understanding of the work involved before committing themselves to a career.

I have always known that I didn't want to be an office-worker with a nine-to-five routine, and I enjoy using my creativity and working with a diverse mix of people. This career can be difficult at times, especially learning to cope with periods of unemployment, and I have had to learn to take any opportunity that is offered, no matter how inconvenient. I received a phonecall one Thursday afternoon in October to ask whether I was available for work, and was on a plane to Budapest first thing on the Friday. Although the job is not always as glamorous as people expect - long hours standing around, doing tea and coffee runs in your first jobs - it can be an extremely rewarding career. I love the practical nature of my job.

There's nothing quite like working on a big project from start to finish, and then watching it when completed on TV or at the cinema - remaining, of course, to watch the end credits roll past until your own name appears!

The beauty business

There are many avenues to choose - but most involve working your way up

A cosmetologist is someone who works with beauty treatments. They may cut and colour hair, give manicures, train in massage, or work as a make-up artist.

Most cosmetologists are employed in beauty salons, nail salons, department stores, nursing and residential care homes, and cosmetics stores. Some work freelance.

It's difficult to say how much money cosmetologists make as it differs from specialism to specialism and practitioner to practitioner. There are many opportunities and avenues in this business. You will have to work your way up and starting pay is usually fairly low - but your income and reputation will increase as you build your clientele and expertise. You may choose to become self-employed, open your own salon, become a sales representative, beauty consultant or teach cosmetology classes.

Another wonderful thing about working in cosmetology is the freedom it offers. Although overtime or longer hours can be common, especially for self-employed workers, many cosmetologists are able to work flexible hours or even part-time. Also, as salons are located worldwide, there is plenty of scope to work wherever you want.

If you are interested in a career in cosmetology, you need to have an understanding of fashion, art and technical design. You should enjoy working with the public and also be happy to follow clients' instructions.