PS_100922 Kim Davis 1on1 photo by Bryan Oller 2 copy 2.jpg

Kim Davis has a rule: In her household, no makeup until the age of 16.

For a person’s relationship with makeup to be healthy, she explained, they need to be comfortable with themselves first: “I love that my mom took me when I was 13 to get my makeup done. But I do wish that I would have had more time with my own face before I started deciding I needed to change it.”

Makeup as a tool to “enhance,” versus “alter,” is a mindset Davis has built her career on — and helping people feel their best (but still themselves) is what she finds most rewarding about her work. “It’s taking something ‘superficial’ and using it in a way to create change,” she said.

Her business, Kim Clay Artistry, offers hair and makeup services for production events and photoshoots, as well as private makeup lessons. And over the last couple decades, she’s collaborated with international photographers; worked on sets of commercials (and a movie, which premiered this summer); coordinated fashion shows for nonprofits; and worked with big names, like The Voice and American Girl.

How did you get started in the industry?

I’m self-taught, and when the internet started

becoming bigger, with tutorials and stuff, I immersed myself in that. I sold Mary Kay. I checked out every single book there was out there on makeup — because there was no schooling for it 20 years ago. You could work at a makeup counter, but I had three kids by the time I was 23, so I wasn’t working any makeup counters. I was working in the evenings. And then, in 2007, I started working for Sephora. It gave me a different background. I [already] had the talent and [now] I also had the knowledge behind the talent.

Fifteen years ago is when my career really started to get traction, and I went from being a hobbyist to being like, ‘OK, no, I’m legit now — I have the training, I know the sanitation [procedures].’ And that’s when I started expanding into working the entertainment side. ... Before I moved to Japan [where Davis’ then-husband was stationed], I decided to contact every photographer I could find online in Okinawa. I went through and I looked at every single photographer, and I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m moving to Okinawa. This is what I offer.’ And before I got there, I had six photoshoots set up. 

It was a turning point in my career because everybody was going the route of online tutorials and that kind of stuff. And I’ve never wanted to be a YouTuber, I’ve never wanted to be an influencer — I’ve always wanted to be around people and be in the moment. As soon as I got there, I just was like, I’m going to take my own route, I’m going to do my own thing. 

You mentioned Kim Clay Artistry is transitioning out of bridal makeup services. Is the market oversaturated?

I don’t think it’s oversaturated — actually, we could use more! But there’s nobody on the weekends to take photoshoots of proms or homecomings and other events that are, to be honest, a lot less stressful.

Bridal does seem very stressful.

It is. I think a lot of people don’t understand why bridal costs more. I just kind of feel like I don’t need to explain myself anymore to clients, and so I’d rather just not be in that industry.

I charge more [for bridal] because if my car breaks down, I will rent a car if it’s your wedding day. If something happens and I get stuck in another city, because you have a contract with me, whatever I have to do to get there I’m going to do. So I build that into my rate so that I can be sure that nothing is going to stop me from being there.

When someone books me for a regular appointment, they go online, they book it, I see them the day of the appointment. Maybe I’ll get one message. That’s it. Correspondence is very minimal, so it’s really easy. But when I’m doing a wedding, I get at least 17 emails from the average bride. And then there’s the collecting of payment, there’s the sending out an invoice for 12 people for hair and makeup ... I’ve had five people in the last four months [book a bridal appointment as a normal appointment] because they wanted to pay less. It doesn’t happen to everybody, but it definitely happens to me a lot.

Tell us more about the private lessons.

For a private lesson, I have [clients] bring their products so that I can see what they’re working with. It helps to see where they’re at budget-wise so I can help give great product recommendations. A lot of times, they don’t need products, because they have it all right there. It gives me an idea of kind of the tones they like, and I can tell a lot about someone by their makeup bag. Then I talk to them, and I gather information: what do you do for a living, what do you do for hobbies? Basically, it’s a [two-hour] customized lesson. My one-on-one private lessons are my favorite service.

You can choose only three cosmetic products to use for the rest of your life. What are they?

Lip Therapy by First Aid Beauty. A good water-based moisturizer. And a good sweat-proof mascara.

Some people assume makeup is something that is incompatible with feminism. How do you feel about the cosmetic industry, as it pertains to empowerment?

I battle with that internally a lot. I truly believe you do not need makeup. I do not believe in makeup as a necessity.

And so it’s definitely very much an internal conflict because, you know, here I am using this tool to enhance your features — but this tool can also be used to hide your features, and it can be used to alter your features. One way that I combat that conflict for myself is being really upfront with my clients about my style. My style is enhancing. My style is not rearranging your face, unless we’re doing an editorial, or film, or there’s a reason that I need to alter your appearance to not look like you. ...

When someone looks in the mirror and they say, ‘Wow, I don’t even look like myself,’ that is probably the biggest slap in the face — for me and for them. Because when you’re happy that you don’t look like you, that’s not OK. My goal is never to make you not look like you. I want to make you look like the most polished version of you.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One important thing that I think needs to be addressed in the makeup industry is that artists need to be globally trained. The fact that I have a diverse clientele that comes to me and says they don’t feel like they can go to anybody else — I don’t want you coming to me because I’m the only person that you feel can do it. I want you to come to me because I’m the best at what I do. I really think there needs to be an emphasis on, if you’re offering services to people, you should be able to confidently provide service to every single person who sits in your chair.