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Interview with Makeup Artist Mimi Choi

Mimi Choi is a professional makeup artist with a unique creative style

Mimi was born in Macau and immigrated to Canada with her parents in the mid-’90s, where she now practices and teaches her craft. In her 20s, she made a change in her life and decide to pursue her creative passions. Before her career as a makeup artist, Mimi was a preschool teacher in Vancouver. Now she is one of Instagram’s most sought-after illusion makeup artists. When learning 3-D makeup her teachers were amazed, and everyone was asking “Are you sure you’ve never done creative makeup before?” Mimi has incredible attention to detail, which allowed her to create intricate and dreaming illusions. Since graduating from Blanche Macdonald Centre in 2014, her pioneering illusionary work has earned international attention and a huge following on social media. Mimi now instructs at Blanche Macdonald and manages various masterclasses and workshops around the globe where she demonstrates her mind-blowing looks. She also freelances as the artistic director for various campaigns and her CV includes collaborations with brands such as Make Up For Ever, MAC, Kryolan, Mehron, UNICEF, Warner Brothers, and Samsung to name a few. Mimi’s work has been featured on various international television shows, magazines, music videos, and most notably at the 2019 Met Gala where she created the event’s most talked-about look on actor/model Ezra Miller.

Official site | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Can you tell us a little about you? When did you first realize you wanted to be a makeup artist and learn 3-D makeup?

My name is Mimi Choi (@mimles on Instagram) and I am a professional makeup artist known for my illusion looks. I’ve always been creative and have enjoyed playing with makeup from an early age but I didn’t consider the arts a career option until later in my life. After graduating from university, I was a Montessori preschool instructor and while I love working with children, I didn’t feel completely fulfilled as I had to act and dress a certain way. As a creative outlet, I found that I would paint my nails and doodle in the evenings. My mother noticed this and encouraged me to pursue my passion and enroll in makeup school which I did at the age of 28. I didn’t attempt a creative makeup look until my first Halloween as a makeup student. I decided to try out a cracked face illusion which garnered a lot of positive feedback from my friends and the look gained some attention online. This encouraged me to continue pursuing this style and my portfolio has evolved into what it is today.

I think the important thing is just to keep evolving and creating new art and just staying happy.” – Mimi Choi

How long does it take to complete a makeup creation? What’s the funniest makeup experiment you’ve ever done? Can you share with us the story behind it?

My looks can take anywhere between 2 to 10 hours to complete. Usually, I spend another several hour photographing and touching up my images before I post on social media. I often get funny reactions to my makeup especially when I go out in public. I remember one time I was doing a multiple eye look late at night and had ordered food delivery. I forgot that my face was painted and when I answered the door, I could see the terror in the delivery man’s eyes. He didn’t say anything as he slowly backed away from the door. Since then, I make sure to leave a note for the delivery people to drop the food off at the door.

She likes sharing and educating. When she is doing her classes it’s not just teaching makeup. She likes to talk about her journey, too, because Mimi thinks that young people could find it inspirational that she changed her career and path like she had a second life or another chance in life and that everything worked out.

Your mind-boggling skills create stunningly realistic illusions. What do you hope to communicate through your creations?

I don’t try to communicate anything specifically with my work. Everyone interprets art in their own way and my aim is for my audience to have a visceral reaction to what they’re seeing. If my looks make them feel something – whether it be joy, horror, or confusion – I have achieved my goal.

The most important thing for everybody, not just makeup artists, is to step out of your comfort zone. That’s one thing that made me grow the most; whenever I feel comfortable in a situation for too long that means I’m not growing.” – Mimi Choi

You are a Vancouver-based professional makeup artist. You were born in Macau, which has Portuguese and Chinese cultural influences. How your background influenced your life and your way to be creative?

Growing up in Macau, I was more academically focused. While I knew I had a creative mind, I didn’t really have the outlet to express myself nor was I encouraged to pursue my passion. However, since moving to Canada and becoming a makeup artist, I have grown to appreciate my hometown more and more every time I return. I am inspired by the contrasts and see beauty in what I once took for granted. The blend of Chinese and European influences in the architecture is so interesting to me as is the cityscape of new and flashy casinos standing next to ancient buildings. I try to use contrasts in my work as well. For example, I like to combine beauty and horror elements in my looks and find beauty in everyday objects.

The quarantine and masks changed the routine of many women and for some of them, the relationship with makeup. What about you? How has the pandemic affected your work over the past year?

Personally, the pandemic has been tough on me as I try to stay home as much as I can. I used to travel a lot for work and obviously, that has been put on hold due to COVID-19. However, I am thankful that I can work from home and I can be my own model. This has allowed me to continue teaching online classes and creating looks for various campaigns. I am still very busy with work so I am grateful for that. As the world recovers from the pandemic, I am looking forward to traveling and teaching in person again.

I get inspiration from my sleep paralysis, my nightmares. I’ve had that since I was little and I hallucinate during my sleep paralysis and see really weird visions, frightening visions, and I paint them out. When I paint them out, for some reason I don’t dream about them anymore. I dream about something else. Makeup, in a way, heals me and allows me to express myself and reveal my true self.”  – Mimi Choi

The pandemic has been an eye-opener on a spike in violence against Asians. Are you surprised? What are your thoughts about that?

I’m not surprised that there is a spike. The way that China has been blamed for the pandemic will naturally result in animosity towards Asian people. However, what I am surprised about is the severity of the acts of violence. It’s particularly sickening for me to hear about how the elderly or those who are unable to defend themselves are targeted.

Makeup became her habit to release stress

Have you, or someone you know ever experienced microaggressions or bias? Is there anything you hear more often or that you are tired of hearing?

Fortunately, I have not experienced microaggressions or biases myself at least to the extent that I can remember. However, I know that it exists because it is being reported more often – even here in Vancouver where there is a huge Asian population. As I mentioned previously, it is especially difficult for me to hear when an elderly person is targeted. This is further evidence of how cowardly these attackers are.

Globalization shows that humans shared common knowledge. Why stereotypes against Asians still exist? Why are the highest number of attacks upon women?

I think that stereotypes against Asians are perpetuated by people who don’t know many Asians. People who are exposed to Asian culture or know Asian people tend to be able to have a more informed and valid opinion. Unfortunately, there is still a large population who have not experienced different cultures other than their own and as a result, they form opinions based on the limited information they have. I feel that women are often targeted because we are seen as being an easier target. These attackers are cowards and their victims tend to be people who can’t defend themselves.

Mimi loves to learn something new each time, she constantly pushes herself to do something that’s different. She thinks that’s how she progressed as an artist

How can people contribute effectively to help stop hate crimes against Asians? What is the first step to take?

I don’t think there’s a quick and easy way to stop hate crimes. People learn to hate due to misinformation and ignorance, and reversing this feeling in them is difficult. What I think is important is that we educate and have meaningful discussions with people before they learn to hate. By exposing the next generation to different cultures, it gives them the opportunity to make an informed decision and hopefully will eliminate any harmful stereotypes that may develop.

Photos courtesy of Mimi Choi

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