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Living For: Mimi Choi

For Mimi Choi, It’s Halloween 365 days a year.

Choi (@mimles) specializes in optical illusion makeup that chops and screws the human face in strange and deceiving ways, evoking the tromp l’oeil works of surrealist artists like Salvador Dalí. Her skills have earned her Instafame and led to collaborations with MAC and Samsung, but her busiest time of year is obvi Halloween season.

Below she tells INTO about making the move from teaching to full-time makeup artistry, the inspiration behind her work, and her favorite look she’s ever done.

SLICED X SHIFTED FACE 💉🔪 This is #makeup • Final look of my @imatsofficial Main Stage Live Performance yesterday. Wish I had more time to bump up the highlighting and shading a little bit more after the demo for maximum effect, but this was the best I could do in 1.5 hours! I decided to change my whole concept the night before so this was actually my first time testing out this extension of my chopped face makeup. It could have gone terribly wrong so I’m glad I kinda pulled it off. 😂 Winging it one day at a time and pretending to be calm on the outside while screaming on the inside is my specialty. 😅 I’d love to first thank my talented friend @paulalanzador for assisting me on the beauty base. That was incredibly helpful and I am so grateful for our friendship. ❤️ I’d also like to thank my husband @andrewy527 for taking care of literally every aspect of my life so that I can focus on creating art everyday. 💑 Of course I have to thank my beautiful model @devangeselle for being there for me since the very beginning of my makeup journey. She was my first model for Battle of the Brushes in 2014 and has always believed in me since day 1, even when I didn’t. Thank you to all of you amazing people who came out to say hi and watch me being awkward during my live demos today. You guys warm my heart so much and I truly appreciate every single one of you! Thanks @blancheworld — you all know how much you mean to me. Last but not least, thank you @imatsofficial and @michaelkeyreal for having me and for letting me play all day! 4 years ago, I was admiring educators who were doing stage demos from afar and I told myself that if one day I could also do a performance on stage live, that means I am halfway there. I can’t believe it happened yesterday. Thank you Universe!

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Hi Mimi, tell us more about who you are, where you’re from, and how you got to where you are now.

I am a makeup artist based in Vancouver, Canada. I teach makeup and hair at Blanche Macdonald Center (a local beauty and makeup school) and do a lot of bridal work on the side, but I’m most known for my illusion makeup that has gone viral on the internet. I was born in Macau and immigrated to Vancouver with my family when I was 11 years old. I only started doing makeup four years ago, as I worked as a preschool Montessori teacher before that.

When I was 28 years old, I realized that I wouldn’t be happy being a preschool teacher for the rest of my life so I decided to take a leap and go to makeup school with the support of my parents and boyfriend at the time (now my husband). Doing makeup unleashed a part of my brain that I didn’t know existed before. I started posting looks on Instagram to record my progress and did my first illusion makeup for Halloween in 2013, which was reposted on Instagram many times and featured on Pinterest. That motivated me to keep exploring this style and improving on it.

I figured that if I could do a successful illusion on the face, it would be easier for me to perfect beauty and glam looks, so I used it as a way to build on my techniques and skills. I also realized that I love being creative and producing art that has shock value and is unique and original. I focus on beating myself from yesterday and not competing with others. Four years later, my art has become what it is now.

Your makeup skills are insane. Who was your mentor?

I studied makeup at Blanche Macdonald Center, and all of my instructors have been my mentors. When I was a student, I was hired to work at the pro beauty store of the school and my managers there (Jaylene and Gina) have guided and supported me throughout my career. Right now, my husband Andrew, who is also my manager and business partner, is my greatest mentor. He helps me organize my work schedule and deals with the finances and other not-so-glamorous aspects of my business, but he also gives me a lots of creative inspiration.

My chopped body #makeup digitally animated by @theglitch.og 🔪🔪🔪 • Model: @r.mac

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Your looks are often creepy and dark–did you grow up watching a lot of horror films?

No, I didn’t grow up watching a lot of horror films. I find that not a lot of horror films scare me. I think that a lot of the darkness in my art stems from the fact that I suffer from sleep paralysis and would often hallucinate in the morning. These hallucinations used to frighten me, but I have chosen to use them as my art inspiration. Expressing my fears through my art has helped relieve a lot of my stress and anxiety.

You’re known for optical illusions on the face. How did you perfect this art?

I don’t think I could ever “perfect” this art, but I am always aiming towards that. I think that practice and persistence is key to mastering any makeup style. The reason why I am able to execute these makeup illusions now is because I have been through a lot of trial and error and hands-on experience. When I finish a makeup look, I always scrutinize it by picking out the flaws and trying to figure out how to improve upon it. All of my looks are built upon the experiences I’ve gathered through doing my previous looks.

Tell me about your process, from initial idea to execution?

I get my initial ideas from my surroundings – it could be anything from the pattern of a shirt, a painting, photography, to architecture, etc. Sometimes I save my ideas on my iPhone in case I forget about it in the future. When I feel like creating, I look through my list of ideas and just execute the makeup in one go. I don’t plan extensively beforehand and like to go with the flow. I do not like to repeat my looks – I enjoy creating something new each time.

Where have your skills taken you? What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

I’m very grateful that my art has taken me to a lot of amazing cities including London, New York, and Montreal. I have collaborated with Make Up For Ever and created my own custom palette with them, taught a Masterclass for Kryolan, and worked on a project with MAC Cosmetics. I have also recently collaborated with Samsung for the launch of their Gear 360 Camera. I am very excited to present on stage for IMATS Vancouver 2017 and connect with talented artists from all around the world.

How has Instagram impacted your career?

Instagram has definitely positively influenced my career in a big way. Without it, I don’t think my art would spread internationally in such a short period of time and bring me so many job opportunities. I am very grateful for my following and the support from the community.

What look are you most proud of, and how did it come about?

I think at this moment my favorite look is my “hole in the face (faceless)” look. It looks simple but took a lot of patience and precision for it to look impactful. I was inspired by the Dali exhibition by Chali-Rosso Art Gallery at Oakridge Centre. When I saw Dali’s sculpture “Surrealist Newton,” I wondered if I could paint a hole in my face with makeup, so I gave it a go.

Do you love Halloween?

Yes I love Halloween and seeing everyone get creative with their costumes and makeup. Everyday is like Halloween to me though – with makeup I can be whoever and whatever I want on any day.

What are your plans for Halloween? Do you have a lot of work/jobs happening this time of year?

I would love to dress up and do makeup on myself for Halloween, but I’ll most likely be working throughout the Halloween weekend and getting my clients ready for their parties. Yes, Halloween is a busy work period for me because it’s the time of the year when people want to look different and stand out.

What are your goals for the future?

I would like to do makeup and keep creating for as long as I live because doing art and makeup truly makes me happy. I would love to have my own art studio in the future where I can offer lessons and create all sorts of art whenever I want. I love collaborating with makeup companies and other creative minds from all over the world and look forward to doing future projects with them.