Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and visit with the amazing Cat Sherwin, who shared a rare glimpse into the life, times and work of a highly sought after make-up artist and hair stylist. Cat is an outstandingly skilled behind-the-cameras artist who beautifully crafts the looks of actors, hosts, celebs, contestants, musicians and more.
The definition of an artist, Cat creates the needed looks and aesthetics for talent spanning TV, commercials, advertising, film and for the occasional private client. It’s a job demanding the utmost skill, proficiency and creativity. Cat checks all the boxes. Resoundingly.
Cat is based in Australia and has styled for “The Voice,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” “Home and Away,” “Sunrise” and many other productions of the highest notoriety. She’s styled Duran Duran, actor Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”), Australian super talent Tim Minchin, “Warm Bodies” star Teresa Palmer and many others.
Her story is a testament to the work of one of the industry’s most gifted and versatile make-up and hair specialists. What we as audiences see on screen wouldn’t be made possible without the work of essential production members as Cat Sherwin. When it comes to her craft, we think Cat’s a rock star and are excited to share her story below!
Where are you from originally?
CS: I was born in Chesterfield, an old coal mining and steelworks town in Derbyshire, in the North East of England. I’m from a real working class background, where I was taught the value of working hard to achieve great things.
What was the moment for you that you realized you wanted to pursue a career in make-up and hair styling?
CS: I loved Art at school and had a very creative imagination. I also loved fantasy and science fiction films. I remember running around the cinema as a very wee thing for the first Star Wars film and being shouted at by my brother and mum to sit down. As I was so young, I didn’t quite understand the film at the time, but relished the fantasy and adventure, which was a playground for a child’s vivid imagination. As I got a bit older, I would watch the Star Wars trilogy again and again, and any other fantasy or Sci Fi film I could get my hands on. I remember also being fascinated by Casualty, a British hospital drama, and the special effects involved. I was about 13 or 14 years old and I knew it was what I wanted to do. Coming from a very traditional background though, and an era where not so many kids pursued creative careers for real, I ended up going to University to complete an International Business Degree with French, before working in Sales & Marketing in the car industry for Jaguar Cars. The dream of becoming a makeup artist never left me though, and as I escalated through the corporate world, I increasingly yearned for a more creative life. By this stage, although I still loved fantasy and special effects, I had developed a real passion for fashion and regularly scoured fashion magazines for the latest looks and styles and was also intrigued by the idea of creating beautiful looks for television. I remember when I was back working at Jaguar, turning on the morning breakfast show ‘Good Morning Britain’ and saying to myself – I’m going to work on that show as a makeup artist! I didn’t end up working on GMB, but the Australian equivalent, ‘Sunrise’, where I’ve freelanced since the end of 2007.
Who inspired you early on?
CS: Early on I would say the amazing special effects work from the initial Star Wars trilogy, the early Indiana Jones movies, Star Trek and Superman, early Batman….anything fantasy that exercised my imagination and sense of adventure. Later on, the incredible work of Pat MgGrath, Vogue, high fashion magazines. For me travel is also very inspirational – for example I travelled around India for 6 weeks at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008, and there’s creative stimulation on every corner from the architecture, to the landscape, the people, clothing, markets of flowers and spices – it’s a sensory explosion packed with inspiration. Today, many things inspire and influence me – there’s so many incredible artists out there in Vogue, fashion magazines, on the runway, on Instagram. …the list is endless.
You’ve trained in Sydney and New York. Lessons aplenty, I’d imagine, but what was something critically important those experiences taught you?
CS: That you never stop learning, hahaha! The day I stop learning and growing is the day I pack up and go home. I seriously think there’s always more to learn, new ways to grow…it’s a life long journey. I also think it taught me that it really doesn’t matter WHERE you train, with inspirational teachers, and passion, drive and tenacity, you can really get out there and achieve great things.
Is work best learned by doing? Is there something to be said for that adage in your field?
CS: Absolutely. I think it’s a craft, you’re constantly honing, constantly learning by doing, refining, doing again. It’s much like the philosophy of yoga (another one of my passions), it’s a lifetime practice. You can learn the concept of amazing things from fantastic teachers and be inspired by them – this is the catalyst to begin, but you only really start to gain that real depth of understanding as you actually work your craft and work with other people in your creation. The every day job – in fact every day life – can’t be learned by a text book, only by doing, when things don’t always go according to plan, when things aren’t like the classroom or text book – very much like life in fact!
What are the ingredients that encompass great style?
CS: Confidence, Individuality, being unafraid to stand out from the crowd, with sense of unique taste and class
How would you describe your own style?
CS: Boho/urban? Hahaha – not sure that’s even a word?! I do have a number of different styles according to my mood. Often for work, I go for comfort – a pair of stylish baggy boyfriend pants/jeans, with a cool silk top or edgy tee and some fab silver/turquoise jewelry. I love North American pieces. I can also be quite feminine if I’m off out for dinner or something. Some things friends and colleagues say are unique, stylish, bohemian, different – all good things I hope! Generally I keep my own makeup quite natural, especially for work, but always have a good skincare regime. I’m always experimenting with my hair and putting colored balayage through my hair at the bottom with feather extensions.
You style for a living. Does it give you a personal advantage?
CS: Of course. You pick up little tips and tricks on how to quickly revamp or refresh your hair and skin. There are also pitfalls though, and I’m always very careful not to allow my personal style to influence the tastes of a client or a creative brief. As an artist, you always add your unique touch and vision, but I make sure I just influence my creativity into a specific project and not make everything my personal style. I can’t make everything boho, haha ;o – plus there’s no adventure and fun in that!
When did your pro career get started? Was there a big early break?
CS: I’m not sure I have a complete lightning bolt moment, it was progression and flourishing and flowering from working hard and building upon a number of early opportunities. My first television job was at SBS, and that definitely opened doors, as once I had some television experience, it offered leverage when approaching other networks. After I had been at SBS for a little while, there was a current affairs program Insight, lead by Jenny Brockie, and the lead makeup artist & hair stylist booked regularly for that show was leaving to work on a reality series, so I was given a trial run and then became the main makeup artist on that show for a period of 1-2 years. It was a fabulous experience and I travelled with the show to a number of locations around Australia.
Upon entering the industry, what was one thing that surprised you?
CS: A number of things were not quite what I expected – I think the unusual hours, the studios themselves – how a set looks so very different in real life to what is portrayed to the audience back at home – the magic of television! Also how real people can be…all the behind the scenes stuff you don’t see.
A decade long into your career now, what’s one thing people would never suspect about being a make-up artist and hair stylist?
CS: I think the long hours and dedication required. As it’s a passion, I think sometimes it’s mistakenly seen as a ‘hobby’. When I tell people about my work hours, some of the first remarks are, are you a doctor? Unfortunately, I don’t save lives, but the hours are often, and mostly, long and anti-social – although incredibly enjoyable.
“Sunrise” is for Australia as “Good Morning America” is to the States. What’s it like to style for such a popularly viewed show that audiences start their day with?
CS: Amazing, exciting, initially daunting in the earlier days. Your work is on show for the world to see. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work on such a fantastic show for so long. It’s incredible to see the influence you can have on inspiring the general public and audience with style. It still blows me away sometimes the amount of people that comment on certain looks, hairstyles, a lip color, especially with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter – it can be exceptionally rewarding too.
In Australian TV history, “Home and Away” has clearly made its mark. What should fans know about the work that goes into styling the series’ characters?
CS: The head makeup artist works very hard to create a character that reflects the script and the part they play. This is often not the same as the actor/actresses personal style off the show. They’re mostly very different people, testimony to the acting skill of the cast! There’s also a lot of work that goes into continuity – ensuring scenes run seamlessly to the viewer, but which may have been shot on different days and weeks. Simply explained, a cast member may be inside at school, with a ponytail, shot in the studios. The scene of the cast member walking out of the school most likely will take place at a different time, on location somewhere, but they have to look exactly the same and not suddenly have their hair down, for instance.
You had a styling stint with Fox Sports Australia. What are your own favorite sports?
CS: I don’t follow any particular sport/game specifically. I enjoy working with sporting personalities and watching their shows whilst we’re on air. And I do like watching large international matches, which can be exciting. In my personal time, I enjoy fitness and regularly run, spin and do yoga.
What’s your approach for styling sports-focused programming?
CS: The presenters need to look fabulous, whilst also looking professional, relatable, current and appropriate to the sport they are talking about, if it’s not the news. I think it’s important to not change someone’s personality in this instance – to just help make them a more enhanced version of themselves under the harsh studio lighting. Sometimes it’s more natural, sometimes a little more vamped up.
What was your experience like styling Joel Edgerton? Was he giving an interview appearance?
CS: Joel was being interviewed at the ABC for a pre-recorded show called One Plus One. Amongst other things, he was talking about his new movie (at the time), Felony. I had been booked to look after preparing him for the interview, before moving onto a News 24 show there. Joel was exceptionally grounded and down to the earth; he struck me as someone very warm and very real, who didn’t take himself too seriously, yet absolutely professional to a tee. It was just simple, natural, clean male grooming. To me he seemed a very manly man, salt of the earth kind of stuff. As a stylist, you would never take away from that. His interview was much the same - candid, charming, very real. I ended up crossing paths with him in the corridor for a brief chat later that day, he was incredibly approachable, somebody you could imagine hanging out and having a few beers with at a BBQ!
And how about Tim Minchin?
CS: The first time I met Tim, he was on the first season of the annual Friday night Crack up at the ABC, an awareness and fundraising program for mental illness. We had a great line up of celebrities on to support the cause, amongst of whom, was Tim. Tim was just very friendly, affable, and approachable. My job was male grooming, nothing fancy, and Tim already has a very distinctive look. He’d already had his fabulous crazy locks looked after earlier in the day, so it was just a matter of making sure his skin looked great and he had that rock star look going on!
The second time I met Tim, he was being interviewed by Leigh Sales for 7.30 Report at the ABC.
Tim had come from another interview, and time was of the essence, so it was a very brief touch up and grooming. He was very lovely and courteous and it was great to sit in on the interview as Leigh, the interviewer, did an impromptu piano session with him, which was amazing to watch.
Tim gained some further U.S. fame for his role on “Californication.” Did the topic arise at all or did you see his portrayal of Atticus Fetch in the series?
CS: No, we didn’t discuss it at all. I actually hadn’t seen his roles in Californication, prior to working with him – I think I’m always out working on TV and unfortunately don’t get an awful lot of time to watch it! However, not long after Leigh Sales’ interview, I did randomly get to watch a few episodes. I really loved Tim’s role and thought he was such a great character on the show.
What show or appearance did you style Teresa Palmer for?
CS: Teresa was a guest on Channel 7’s Morning Show over the last 12 months and I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of doing her makeup and hair for her interview.
What’s she like moments before going on camera?
CS: Teresa was really lovely, very relaxed and down to earth. An absolute pleasure to work with and very beautiful, making my job very easy really!
Does your job become a challenge to make a Teresa Palmer looking talent even more appealing?
CS: I think Teresa would’ve looked great just going on without anything! I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge. It’s more the importance of communication – understanding what someone like Teresa would want, makeup and hair style wise, having never worked with her before, whilst also making sure she looks great under the strong studio lighting, and also allowing her personality to shine through. From what I recall, she may have come off a long plane journey, so making her look fresh, but not changing her spirit/essence.
Tell us a little about your work for “The Voice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” How pressure packed was it working for those competition-based reality shows?
CS: The pressure did mount as the show progressed, as although ultimately the performers were being judged on their talents and abilities, their overall performance and appearance affected how they were viewed by the voting audience. The whole make-up and hair team wanted to do the very best for all the performers, so they looked and felt amazing, and were ready to give their best possible show. Initially, looks were very simple, but as the show went on, and the Battle rounds commenced, overall looks, including hair, make-up and costume became more elaborate, creative and glamorous.
What’s your shortlist for favorite commercials you’ve styled for?
CS: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most commercials I’ve worked on, as it always seems to be a great crew. Ones that spring to mind are, a web commercial for the show Devious Maids, when it launched in Australia. It was centered around an actress I had to make up as a glam made with big hair and glamorous makeup. She acted out a number of spoof comedy sketches, which drew in members of the general public, throwing a prank around the devious maids’ antics – a little bit Jackasss style. It was very funny and she was a great sport and the make-up and hair were very creative for the character.
Also for the jeweler Emma & Roe, who were doing a web section on Bloggers for Vogue magazine – I loved that one, as it touched upon my passion for fashion. A commercial I did for Readers Digest was also memorable, as we were filming real life competition winners, who were receiving life changing cash cheques – it was very heartwarming. Another fun ad was for Grill’d Low Carb Burger Bun – we were filming comedy sketches about healthy food and lifestyles, which were very, very funny. I also very much enjoyed an Isagenix commercial I worked on, as the stars of the ad were real Isagenix employees, who were so dedicated and passionate about their brand and promoting a healthy happy lifestyle.
You’ve worked on a few films like “I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer” and “The Substitute.” What was your favorite experience working in the film world?
CS: These were budget films, early on in my career. Character makeup and special effects were done on a shoestring, so it was all about thinking creatively with not much money. It was also very much about teamwork. I loved the family spirit of working long hours together to make something special.
Styling for the fashion world is a bit different than film and TV, I’d imagine. What’s the key to working effectively for renowned events such as Sydney Fashion Week and others?
CS: Yes it is, catwalk fashion is definitely different to say looking after the Prime Minister for an interview on a political show, like Lateline, at the ABC. But your passion, drive and work ethic remain the same, it’s a consistent thread that runs through everything, I believe. In Fashion week, as with most jobs, teamwork is crucial. I worked on Manning Cartel, Aje and We Are Handsome with Prema Hair last year. It was such a fantastic experience and the buzz was phenomenal. It’s so important to pull together and work in sync to support each other, listen to the brief, communicate, work cohesively under tight time pressures, with models coming often running late from other shows - it’s essential in getting the show to stage on time and looking incredible.
What are your personal hobbies and interests?
CS: I’d love to say something crazy like bungee jumping, and although I have gone sky diving ONCE, my every day loves are pretty simple…Yoga, running, fitness, coffee, great food, Travel, movies, spending time in good company.
What film and TV titles may be found in your DVR or Netflix queue?
CS: I am a massive Game of Thrones fan. Those fantasy films get me every time. Also Outlander, House of Cards, Wentworth, which is an Australian women’s prison drama. I love movies, but haven’t managed to get to the cinema in way too long. I recently watched The Gift on the plane, which was fabulous. A couple of weeks ago I watched Southpaw, Miss You already & Burned, which I really enjoyed. I’m dying to see the new Star Wars movie, but I’ve already missed it at the cinema, so I’ll have to settle for DVR.
Who is on your shortlist that you’d like to work with?
CS: The list is long, and it’s a difficult answer, as there are so many incredible people out there to work with for differing reasons. Cate Blanchett is a definite – she’s such an iconic, talented, versatile actress, with such amazing skin! Also Kate Moss, as she’s such an iconic fashion model of my time, from my homeland. Beyonce and Pink would also be amazing as they have such lavish performances and adventurous, glamorous looks. Emma Watson, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence – I always think they look fantastic on the red carpet and would love the opportunity to style them for a big event.
I also just watched an interview by Edwina Bartholomew, who I often style for Channel 7, for “The Huntsman: Winters War” with Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt. Both Charlize and Emily gave such a great interview – I think they would be a lot of fun to work with and also both incredibly beautiful actresses.
Johnny Depp would be a must as he always plays such quirky characters and I love that he is so unique and also a very talented actor. And also Hilary Clinton as she’s such a strong, professional, smart lady.
And of course, it would be amazing to join forces again with Theresa, Joel and Tim again, as they were just so enjoyable to work with. I could go on forever.
What’s next? What are your future goals and aspirations?
CS: I’d love to work in the U.S. – both LA and New York have such a great heart and spirit. To base myself from one of these place and work internationally would be a dream come true, and be also able to work in London, as there’s so much going on there and it’s near my family. To have my work on the front cover of Vogue would be an honor and a milestone – and the achievement of a dream. And maybe also to work on one of the fantasy films where my dream began – Star Wars or Game of Thrones would be an incredible experience. I’d also definitely want to develop and launch a unique global beauty or grooming product – watch this space!