Spotlight on Success: Sheryl Leight Ptak
Sheryl Leigh Ptak graduated at the top of her class from the Joe Blasco Make-up Artist Training Center. The very next week, she landed a job on the TV sitcom, FISH . Since then, Ms. Ptak has been steadily rising to the top of her profession. For over 17 years, she has “painted the faces” of Laura Dern, Rebecca DeMorney, Susan Sarandon, Mick Jagger, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters and dozens of other stars. Throughout the 80’s, Sheryl designed and applied special Make-up for all of Shelly Duvall’s cable series, FAERIE TALE THEATRE. TALL TALES AND LEGENDS and NIGHTMARE CLASSICS. In 1989, she won the coveted Ace Award for satirist Harry Shearer’s special. THE MAGIC OF LIVE, on HBO. She has been Harry’s Make-up artist for ten years. She has also been nominated for a Louise Duart special on Showtime. Sheryl was Head of Make-up for the second season ofROSEANNE. Next, she accepted the challenging position of Head of Make-up on IN LIVING COLOR, where she is now in her third season. Sheryl just completed the upcoming TV Comedy Pilot, THE EDGE, starring Julie Brown.
Q I understand you were a model, an actress and a working mother before you developed a career interest in Make-up ?
A Yes. In the sixties in Ohio, where I grew up, people weren’t getting their Make-up done anywhere. It never occurred to me as a career option. Even when my family moved to San Francisco and I became a model at the age of fifteen. I always did my own Make-up . I had a natural ability for it. After attending San Mateo Junior College, I continued modeling and acting and also worked as a rep for a line of cosmetics. I found the line moved a lot faster when I did the Make-up on people at the stores. I never felt the drive and mental stimulation as an actress and model, but I was passionate about Make-up artistry. I love to design on a living canvas. I needed to learn more, so I worked in a beauty salon. Also, I did the Make-up for a photographer friend. He encouraged me to train at the Joe Blasco School. I borrowed the money from close friends. I worked days to pay them back and studied with Joe at night.
Q What was it like studying with Mr. Blasco?
A It was a real privilege to study with the Master. I felt so positive, so excited, so alive at his school. It touched my heart. He cared so much about the work and drew upon real working experience. He had a wonderful sense of humor, too. We hit it off right away. Yet, I took my studies very seriously. I shelved everything I had previously learned. I was a willing sponge. I was determined to go for it 100%. Joe gave quality lectures and I took endless notes. The best part was the hands-on experience. We had plenty of practice time and he’d check our work. He gave us such a wonderful, substantial education in all phases of beauty Make-up for photography, film and tape. Real strong beauty Make-up helps all other forms of Make-up . Then we went into extensive character Make-up and hair work. A new, exciting world opened up to me. It was amazing. He taught us how to break down a script and come to a meeting of the minds with the director and actors. We finished with prosthetics work. My final project was a beautiful woman with a half lion face. I used it for my first business card. Of course, school was just the tip of the iceberg. You never stop learning in this business.
Q How well did the Joe Blasco School prepare you for a professional career?
A Excellent preparation for getting into the studios. He goes way beyond the basics. I couldn’t have made it without him. In fact, Joe hired me to work on my first special for Shields and Yarnell. It snowballed from there. My training was excellent preparation for the 26 episodes of “Faerie Tale Theatre,” working with fabulous directors and actors. Each episode was based on a different time period and illustrator, like Rackham, or Parrish. I designed the Make-up to look like the illustrations while keeping the celebrity actors recognizable. We did face casts, some prosthetics. For example, a cat muzzle with a lot of fancy paint Make-up and hair work. It was really exciting.
Q What is it like working on “In Living Color?”
A My niche is making people look like other people. We do a lot of that on this show. The show requires extensive, but fast character Make-up . Each episode has different characters. There’s up to thirty sketches plus the dance numbers. Not much time for sculpting and prosthetics, except for some recurring characters. Like Arsenio Hall, M.C. Hammer, Homey the Clown and Fire Marshall Bill. We often need to create something out of nothing and paint our heads off. Be quick and spontaneous. We do three shooting days a week. On Thursday, I fly in from my home in Phoenix to get next week’s run down. Then on Monday and Tuesday I prep for everything we shoot over the next three days. On Wednesday, we tape about five sketches before a live audience. We pre-tape the most difficult sketches on Thursday. We make up the actors for their first sketch. Tape it. The actors rush back. We remove the Make-up and apply the next character. Tape it. We keep that up for 17 hours! On Friday, we do the dancers In the morning, pre-tape sketches in the afternoon and do the rest of the live show that night. It’s Insane! I feel right at home!
Q Speaking of insanity. Who conceived the Fire Marshall Bill look?
A It is based on a funny face that Jim Carey makes. He can roll His lips in so they disappear and contort his neck so his tendons pop. I accentuate that bizarre look with Make-up surface burns and a bald cap. It s a fine line trying to make a burn victim humorous. We can’t make it so gruesome that he’s not likable. At the end of every sketch he’s destroyed and he reveals his bald head. Each week we put the tufts of hair In different places. It s a lot of fun for me. Like the time he does a drop and roll on a classroom floor covered In push pins. He comes up with push pins stuck all over his face. He is an hysterical character.
Q You’re so enthusiastic. You must really enjoy it.
A There’s nothing better than making a living doing what you love to do. My family is proud of me and I m proud of my work. It’s worth all of the long hours. Every job is a new beginning. I’m very happy.
Q What advice do you have for aspiring Make-up artists?
A If you have the drive and the talent you will work. Don’t give up. Please remember: You’re only as good as your last job, so stay humble. You’re working in fantasy land. It’s important to remember what’s real. And never stop learning. For example, I’m still learning a lot of lab work from my friend, Matthew Mungle, another JB graduate.
Q What do you tell someone considering the various Make-up schools?
A What other Make-up schools? But seriously . . . check them all out. There’s a range of approaches and prices. Honestly, though, the Joe Blasco School is top of the list. He taught me all aspects of the craft and gave me the tools. I’ve used everything he taught me. I also use all of his products; we all do. They are the best. His new prosthetic products are fantastic!