Brett Blonigen Dorrian SP'07, MAOL Cert'09 spent six months on the East Coast learning special-effects makeup for character and film work.
More Than Skin Deep
By Sharon Rolenc
From age 15, Brett Blonigen Dorrian was hooked on hair and makeup. The ambitious academic inside her went to St. Kate’s, where she majored in theater and art — and was eventually named valedictorian.
Today, Blonigen Dorrian is the owner and visionary behind Brett Dorrian Artistry Studios. She has won numerous awards for her work, including “Brides Choice” by WeddingWire/Martha Stewart Weddings, “Best of Hair and Makeup” for Minnesota Bride and “Outstanding Wedding Day Hair + Makeup” for Mpls/St. Paul Magazine.
Her fast train to success was no stroke of luck or happenstance, but rather a result of good old-fashioned hard work.
Were there any faculty or staff who inspired you at St. Kate’s?
There were quite a few, but one in particular stands out. I worked in the theater department’s tech shop and Troy Wilhelmson, the production manager, taught me a lot about responsibility — about working and being humble, about not being entitled.
How did you decide to start your own business?
At St. Kate’s, I was wrestling with the idea of whether to be on a master’s or Ph.D. track for either art or theatre — to become a professor or administrator, or pursue some other grown-up job. I didn’t think then that doing hair and makeup would be a career. But I just kept coming back to it.
I loved everything that I learned through my degree — theatre, lighting and production, as well as color theory, elements and principles of art. I thought 'there’s got to be a way of tying all of this into hair and makeup.' I did a little bit more research and found out that the industry I was interested in was called “media, makeup artistry.” I completed a three-week training in high-definition make-up and was like, 'yep, this is how all those pieces come together.'
There wasn’t a huge industry for this locally, there wasn’t even a formal place to train. So to be in this field, I had to create a job — a business for myself. But I quickly realized that I needed to learn business acumen, marketing and bookkeeping. So, I went back to St. Kate’s to study strategic management.
When I finished the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership certificate program, I got a scholarship to study on the East Coast. I did a six-month training in makeup, hairstyling and special effects, with all of the blood and gore that we do for character and film work.
Why did you shift from freelancer to a company with employees?
When I got back to the Twin Cities, I started teaching media artistry and noticed there were a lot of people interested in the industry but didn’t know how to start. They also didn’t realize that being in this industry meant being an artist, entrepreneur and small business owner.
I am an anomaly in this industry. It’s traditionally self-taught and not something that requires a lot of education.
Basically, I changed my sole-proprietorship into a limited liability company by turning to all my investors and assistants, and saying: ‘I’m ready to start a business with a formal studio space and a staff, so if you want to take this ride with me and want to work for me, let’s see what we can build.’
Why was this shift in business focus so important to you?
Brett Blonigen Dorrian SP'07 at work.
People needed a place to work , grow and learn — and a place for community. Working freelance is very competitive and not collaborative in terms of finding work. I feel like my business is a way for the social justice learning I got from St. Kate’s to exist. It’s a way of giving back to the community.
My time at St. Kate’s influenced who I am, the values I have and what I want to continue to do. The guiding values of my business are pride, professionalism and integrity. You’ve got to take pride in what you’re doing, no matter how big or small. That’s how you stay humble. You need to be professional so that you’re giving the best of the best to the community and the client. And you need to have integrity so that you’re always doing the right thing and letting that guide you.
What do you do to mentor other artists?
I currently run an apprentice program that covers makeup, hairstyling and special effects. I also offer a class called “Entrepreneurship in the Arts,” in which I coach artists through how to launch their business, and I offer workshops and retreats for advanced working artists.
Who make up most of your clientele?
Bridal makes up 75 percent of our revenue. Then it’s special events, photo shoots, black-tie events and personal makeup lessons. We also work on productions for local theaters and smaller films, as well as runway shows. We’re one of very few artists who get to do Minnesota fashion week. We often donate our services as event sponsors to be visible and help out the community.
What do you love most about your work?
On the outside, people think this work is all about curling irons and lip gloss, but it’s so much more. It’s a vehicle to provide confidence and empowerment for women. I get to show people a version of themselves that is authentic, that they didn’t know was there, that they forgot was there. This is as simple as making a bride feel beautiful on her wedding day. Or giving someone who was laid off that extra boost of confidence, by doing her hair and makeup for a new headshot or job interview.
Any big plans for the future?
I’ve been very passionate about being a pioneer for media artistry and entrepreneurship in arts education. There’s theory and academic application, and then there’s hands-on work — like the internship and apprenticeship that I offer at my studio.
I’m hoping in the not-so-distant future to launch this at a higher academic level with the goal of finding a home for this curriculum in the collegiate arena.
Currently, media artistry only exists in trade schools and many of them are unaccredited.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to grow our work at the studio, provide jobs and a place for artists to belong. And, of course, help make dreams come true.