Realistic salmon sashimi, panda bears, self-portrait masks, and layers of skin peeling back to reveal deep, black holes are just a few of the things that have inspired makeup artist Mimi Choi’s insane illusions. With over 600k followers on Instagram, Mimi’s work is impressive beyond belief. Much of her work (like secondary eyeballs painted below each of her real eyes, or extreme contouring used to create multiple layers of her own face) is so surreal, it looks photoshopped — adding even more of a eerie appeal when she films herself whimsically looking into her iPhone camera wearing a full look. She’s often her own model and some of her creations are so labor intensive, they can take up to six hours execute. (122) add
“The first time I used two products,” says Mimi of her initial experimentations with black and white eyeliner. “The second time, I added in an eyeshadow to make that shadow pop. Four years later, it became what it is right now. I love doing things that are different and unique, and kind of surreal, so it just became the art that I’m doing.“
Although Mimi is based in Vancouver, she just happened to be at IMATS, one of the world’s biggest makeup trade shows, in New York City this weekend. She partnered with Mehron, a makeup brand with a deep-rooted history in stage and performance makeup since the 1920s — to create one of her signature op art makeup looks at the beauty expo.
While Mimi was painting a surreal lace-up down her model’s nose — plus an extra eye for good measure — we caught up with the beauty star to talk about her unexpected inspiration, unconventional contouring, and more.
What made you start experimenting with op-art makeup?I started in 2013. I got into makeup school because being a preschool teacher wasn’t really making me completely happy. So I decided to pursue a different path at 28. When I first started makeup school, it was around Halloween time. Because I was studying to be a makeup artist, I was thinking, ‘Ok, I don’t want to wear a typical costume anymore. Why not do makeup on my face as a costume?’ So I did my first creative makeup look with black kohl liner and white kohl liner. I did a cracked face look—as if my face was broken like a mirror. Then it went viral. It was great motivation for me because it was my first time doing creative makeup. I had no arts background. I never painted before. (138) add
What are some of the most interesting reactions you’ve gotten?I’m grateful that a lot of people love it. People from all over the world compliment me. They say that it inspires them to get out of their comfort zone and do something different. Some people get scared sometimes, with my food makeup. When I was painting burgers on my face I didn’t think it was going to scare anybody. My sushi makeup actually scares a lot of people.
What happens when you wear your op art makeup out?I just wore it out yesterday. It was around Times Square and it took me forever to get to my dinner. It could have only taken us ten minutes, but it took us over an hour. People everywhere were stopping us, taking photos of me, asking me questions. I don’t mind going out after a long day of putting makeup on. I don’t want to wipe it off and put on normal makeup. I’ll just rock it. Why not? It’s just paint.
What’s your most unusual source of inspiration?I like to look at architecture, patterns on clothing — and photoshopped art really inspires me. Sometimes I look at it and I ask myself, ‘Can I do this with makeup?’ I don’t photoshop any of my art but I like to create that surreal look using just makeup.
I actually get my inspiration a lot from my dreams. I have sleep paralysis and it’s really scary. It’s a condition where your body is asleep, but you’re awake, so you’re trapped in your sleeping body. You’re struggling inside. During sleep paralysis, I hallucinate. I’m in my room, and I see things happening to me. Slender Man, I always see him: dark, tall face, just a shadow coming at me. I’ve seen men with no faces, so that inspired me to do faces with holes. I’ve seen people chopped up. I’ve seen spiders crawling all over my room. The funny thing is, when I draw these things out, the dreams don’t happen again. I dream about something else. It’s like my way of conquering my fears. I used to be so scared of it, but now I’m grateful for it because it helps my art. (145) add
What is your favorite tool?My really fine brushes. I use art brushes from Michaels. When they go on clearance, when nobody wants them, I take them all. I just bought ten of them before I came here. They were on sale for $1 each. They literally have three bristles on them. I find that not a lot of makeup companies make brushes that small. Also Mehron’s black eyeshadow. It’s very pigmented. The black is very black — it’s jet black. When I’m looking for black to do a contour, it has to be matte. Mehron makes a very, very solid color that is great for illusion. Their paints don’t crack. (110) add
You’ve talked about how highlighting and contouring is the secret to your work. Most people don’t think of that as being associated with wildly creative makeup.With any illusion that I do, I use a lot of black, grey, and white to contour and highlight. Illusions are all about contouring and highlighting. Making things appear — when you shade around the hairline in all black, it makes it look like it’s empty. To get things to pop out or recede, it’s all about black and white.
Do you do normal makeup?Yes! I actually do bridal makeup a lot. I don’t post my bridal work online. People still hire me to do it, even though all they see is creative makeup. I don’t promote it on Instagram but people just ask me to do a trial and they love it.
What’s the story behind your sushi makeup?I just had a sushi dinner. During that time, I was constantly craving sushi. I remember I was just craving for my sushi, and I was like, ‘I should paint what I’m craving.’ I didn’t know if it would work. I was like, ‘Ok, my hand is kind of shaped like sushi.’ As I was painting it, my husband was like, ‘Wow, it does look like a huge piece of sushi.’ So that’s how I started. That became a series I did: different types of sushi. Then I moved onto my face and I did a burger. I even did fries on my hand. (110) add
At Gucci’s most recent runway show, there were hyper-realistic eyes painted on models foreheads and arms. Do you think this kind of makeup is becoming more popular?Definitely. Four years ago when I starting doing eyes all over the place, it was not popular. It blew up when I posted my first multiple eye makeup look. It was inspired by blur photography. You know how people take photos of people moving? So I did that and then I got a lot of attention. A lot of people have recreated those looks. When I was doing it, it was something that was not common. Hopefully it’s inspired other people to do it. I see a lot of it right now. (118) add