How Makeup Illusionist Mimi Choi Turns Fear Into Art
Makeup is an art form. When used in innovative ways, it actually allows us to create brand new versions of ourselves — whether that starts with something as slight as plumping our lips with a lip pencil or as dramatic as changing the shape of our face with contour. To makeup artist and illusionist Mimi Choi, the latter is a lot more interesting. Take a look at her Instagram, which includes sliced up faces, additional eyeballs and distorted features but all done in a way that’s actually quite beautiful.
“I get inspired a lot by my dreams,” says Choi. “I have sleep paralysis, so I hallucinate.” And it’s these hallucinations that truly animate and influence her makeup artistry. Her paralysis causes her to experience illusions — everything from seeing spiders coming out of the walls to Slenderman at the foot of her bed. “I’ve seen people with holes in their faces,” she says. “Which inspired me to do the hole in the face and slice face.” What’s most interesting about Choi’s work is that she’s a master at making parts of the face appear missing — a trick she achieves with solely stark highlighting and contouring, absolutely no Photoshop! And to go along with her missing body parts and distorted perceptions, whether it includes a fake face mask or pixelated look, her hallucinations also disappear once she completes each look. “When I wake up, I write it down so I don’t forget,” she says. “And when I draw it out, I feel like it goes away. And then I don’t dream about it much anymore, and I move onto the next dream. It’s kind of like my therapy, it helps me conquer my fear.”
My demo at @makeupartistmag Booth 114 at #IMATSNYC yesterday plus some clips Andrew took of me as we were walking towards dinner in #TimesSquare last night. Thanks for all the love, everyone! ❤️👁 I’ll be with @mehronmakeup today from 10AM-2PM — come find me at Booth 816! 💋 @imatsofficial @michaelkeyreal @timessquarenyc • All photos and videos by @andrewy527
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Without surprise, part of this therapy (and eventual flawless execution) takes a lot of trial and error. Seemingly simple designs and illusions take a lot more resources than one might expect — “like drawing on an eyeball,” Choi suggests. “People think it’s just brown, white and a few lines — no, it’s a hundred different colors. And at the beginning, it’s going to look really cartoony. If you give up like that, it’s not gonna happen — you need to persist!”
In addition to persistence, Choi recommends stopping for breaks and taking photos of the process — “a lot of the times when you look at something, you might not know what you see until you take a photo.You see more in photos; you see the dimensions better. It’s flat in real life, but in photos, it captures all the shading and highlight,” she notes. The best products to nail this three-dimensional look down? Mehron Paradise Body Paints are some of Choi’s favorites — as well as a great translucent setting powder like RCMA No Color Powder to really make a distorted vision last.
But the key advice Choi has for just about any makeup artist out there is something much more than the brushes and palettes she uses, and that is to use your failures and fears as motivations for everything you continue to create. “Always step back if you’re frustrated,” she says. “Take a photo, take a break, eat a snack, don’t get too carried away by how it’s not working at the very beginning, cause it will if you persist and keep going — I think that determines your success or not.” And maybe a few dozen melting lips, dangling eyeballs and ribbon faces later, something beautiful will come out of it all.