How did you get your start in makeup?
After graduating from university, I worked as a Montessori preschool teacher. While I still love working with children, I felt that I wasn’t completely myself because I had to act and dress a certain way. I’ve always been a very expressive person and adventurous with my fashion, so I felt that side of me was being suppressed. As an outlet and creative release, I’d paint intricate designs on my nails when I got off work. After three years as a preschool instructor and with the encouragement of my family, I decided to pursue my passion and enroll at Blanche
Macdonald Centre here in Vancouver at the age of 28. During my first Halloween as a student, I tried my first illusion which was a cracked face look using only a black and white liner. I received a lot of positive feedback and many people recreated my look on social media which inspired me to further explore this style.
Did you start out as a creative artist or were you focused on more traditional means of artistry in your early career?
I did every style of makeup as part of the Global Makeup Program at Blanche Macdonald including beauty, fashion, and prosthetics. Illusion makeup was something that I explored during my free time because it was intriguing to me and I felt that it was a style that would elevate other aspects of my artistry.
So many artists have been inspired by your work and have tried their hand at your style of artistry. Is that a blessing or a curse to have others copy your energy and designs?
I am flattered that artists enjoy my work enough to recreate it and I’m humbled to know that I’ve helped pioneer a style of makeup that people are interested in. However, I like to encourage my students and followers to attempt their own creative looks that are authentic to themselves because it is much more rewarding to create from within. However, I know that for the most part, those who recreate my looks are genuine fans
and have good intentions so I definitely feel blessed. Of course I’ve also come across dishonest artists. The worst case was one who had copied several of my looks and initially had credited me, but retroactively removed all credits and tried to claim them
as her own when she gained popularity. This type of action does annoy me at first, but I use this negative energy to motivate myself and continue improving as I know these plagiarists will always be steps behind me in terms of creativity and ability.
Your work on Ezra Miller for the Met Gala in 2019 was one of the talked-about moments of the event. What was that like?
Creating the Met Gala look was a very spontaneous process as we didn’t even have time for a trial. Ezra loved the kaleidoscope face look that I did on myself in 2018 so I adapted it to fit a different face structure. We started the makeup process at around 3 AM and finished at 8 AM for a photoshoot. By the time Ezra made it to the red carpet, it was 7:30 PM so it was vital that the makeup last all day. It was such an incredible experience to showcase one of my most iconic looks and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to rock the look than Ezra.
Your work is often compared to that of a fine artist or painter. Do you also paint or doing any other fine artwork?
I never received formal art training, so it wasn’t until after I started doing illusion makeup that I realized I could do other types of art as well. As I improved my skills and evolved my style, I started incorporating props, drawings, and paintings into my looks which I feel elevates my work to another level.
What inspires your designs?
I’m inspired a lot by other forms of art including surreal digital art, photography, sculptures, paintings, films, and music. I also suffer from sleep paralysis which is a condition in which I see visions right before I wake. During these episodes, my body is asleep but my mind is awake and I often see frightening images like split bodies, faces with multiple features, and spiders. I started painting these visions on my face and realized that once I paint them, I don’t dream about it anymore. It’s a blessing in disguise as it has inspired some of my morbid looks.
When you are creating multiple facial features as a part of a design, is this all hand-drawn, or do you ever use stencils?
Everything I do is hand drawn and I never use stencils for my illusions. I take lots of photos of my features (or spend the time to study my model’s features) and then try my best to replicate every detail and color with makeup and fine art brushes. It has taken me a long time to train my eyes to pick up the smallest detail and I continue to learn each day.
How long does one of your more technically difficult pieces take to create?
It can take up to 10 hours to complete but I’ve started taking naps in between. It can take several more hours to craft props, photograph, and record my looks so, by the time I post the content, it may have been a full day since I started.
Do you do much post-production retouching of your images?
I take pride in the fact that I create my illusions through makeup only and not through digital manipulation or Photoshop. One of the biggest compliments I receive when I am on set or teaching a class is that people tell me that my illusions are just as effective in person as they are online.
What’s Next for Mimi Choi?
My only aim is to keep evolving my style and improving my technique. Whatever opportunities come my way, as a result, are just bonuses. I never want to limit myself and I want to continue creating spontaneously and following my instincts. I hope to
continue shocking the world by creating art that nobody has ever seen before and pumping out content that evokes a visceral response in people.