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Courtesy @mimles

These surreal beauty illusions will melt your mind

We meet three make-up artists blurring the boundaries of reality with their mad make-up skills

Over on Instagram, a new trend has been bubbling away for a couple of years now, dedicated to blurring the boundaries of reality, with make-up artists from all over the world transforming their faces into surreal illusions.

There’s 19-year-old UK-based Romanie-Jade Tulloch, who entertains her 186K followers with cracked egg and lava lamp illusions. Croatian artist Ines wows fans with her holiday-themed body art. Macau-born Mimi Choi beggars all belief by transforming her face into ribbons; Seoul-born Dain Yoon blurs her face so that it looks out of focus, while Ana Cedoviste spends her free time fiddling around with the size of her face. With more and more artists emerging, the movement is growing, and so is its audience. Just type #illusionmakeup into Instagram and there are over 20.8K hits that come up, which is nothing compared to the sizable followings that each artist has. Mimi alone has 870K on Instagram alone. To find out more, we spoke to three artists pioneering the way.

Mimi Choi

Often credited as the founder of beauty illusions, Mimi Choi’s fascination with make-up dates all the way back to when she was just a kid. “I used to play with my mom’s makeup and remember stealing concealer when I was 11 to cover up my first blemish. I’ve always had an obsession with concealing imperfections to create a flawless look.” Her attention to detail has clearly stuck. Fans (there are over 800K on them) flock from all over the world, to watch Mimi transform her face into everything from cake slices to bowls of sushi.  

Growing up within Macau’s rigorous education system, Mimi’s childhood was very academically focused, which often led to bouts of anxiety and depression. It was only when she and her family immigrated to Vancouver, that she began to explore art as a form of self-therapy. “I would doodle and paint intricate details on my nails when I had free time as a way to escape,” she says. “I started experimenting with makeup and tried different looks as a form of self-expression. The first time that I picked up a brush and painted on someone’s face gave me a feeling that I had never experienced before.  Ever since I made the decision to pursue my passion, I’ve had fewer bouts of anxiety and have become a more open and positive person.”

After honing her skills at Blanche Macdonald, Mimi set up an Instagram account to record her work. In 2015, she started experimenting by painting multiple eyes on her face to create a blurry illusion. These images went viral and her following blew up. “It became a trend and inspired makeup artists from around the globe to recreate the look which, in turn, really helped popularise the illusion genre. Since then, I’ve created several signature original looks that have gone viral and further promoted the genre, including my chopped face, shifted face, melting face, hole in face, and food face looks. Instagram has become an important tool for me and I look forward to continuing to use it as my portfolio and gallery to share my new ideas.”

Who do you post for?
I make posts on Instagram for myself because I enjoy documenting my growth as an artist. If I didn’t have a following, I would still continue doing what I do as it makes me happy. However, the app has given me a platform to reach an audience and so I use this opportunity to encourage my followers to step out of their comfort zones and to experience growth in their own lives.

What is more important: creating art or achieving technical perfection?
Both are equally important. Creating art is therapeutic for me and keeps me sane while allowing me to express myself. Technical perfection is something I strive for constantly and it bothers me when lines aren’t clean or colours aren’t blended well. Improving the technical aspect of my work means that I am growing as an artist and is something that I can use to measure my progress.

You could create your illusions anywhere, why do you choose the face?
I love using the human face as my canvas as it is the most defining and recognisable part of the body. I enjoy the challenge of disguising, transforming, and shifting features when I create a look. I usually paint on my own face out of convenience.  I am most inspired at night when I feel that the world is asleep so I am the only person available.

How will you evolve your work?
As I grow and evolve as a person, I expect my art to do the same and I am looking forward to seeing what it becomes.

Dain Yoon

The first time Seol-born make-up artist Dain Yoon painted someone’s face was part of an art project she was working on in college. She was tasked with painting the faces and bodies of actors for a play they were working on. “After that, I felt a strong need to do my own creative work, so I began painting on the bodies of several models. A little later, I decided to draw on my own face. To me, the most powerful medium is the face, it is the main focal point during a conversation. And since I only have one face, it means that I only have one canvas to best express my individuality and emotions.”

Though steeped in the visual rhetoric of Surrealism – the cloud motifs, the empty picture frames – the naturalistic rendering of Dain’s artwork is of such a high standard that it’s hard to know exactly what one is looking at. “Technical perfection is only half of the magical equation here,” she says, of why her designs have gone viral. “I believe that my observation and fascination with the complexity of human emotions is the other key ingredient that elevates things to a higher artistic level. This is how very ordinary things can become very inspiring when one takes on a unique perspective.”

What is it about creating illusions that appeal to you?
I believe my art mirrors the way people experience this world. We all live in illusions. We all see everything in our own subjective way. That’s why in my work you will see the real face reveal itself underneath the hand that hides it, expressing how the first impression of a person does not tell the whole story. The most important feature of my work is wittiness. I try to poke fun at reality.

In a world where illusions can be so readily rendered with things like Photoshop, why it is so important to stick with handcrafts?
I stick to my craft and draw the traditional way because I believe technical devices don’t have or convey the human soul.

Why do you think there are so many other artists on Instagram creating illusions on their face right now?
I think Instagram has influenced this a lot. It is one of the strongest communication tools we have these days, where people share their daily lives, their character, identity and their emotional state of mind. Instagrammable moments have taken over our streets, subways, and cafes, etc. In essence, Instagram is an illusion all in itself. A lot of people seem to think illusion means tricking people into something but I don’t think of it that way. I don’t think of illusion necessarily as trickery, but as a wider concept – I think that anything, slightly different from its original form, could be an illusion.

Ana Cedoviste

Ana Cedoviste is a psychology graduate from Montenegro who works in HR. In her free time, though, she paints mind-melting, internet-breaking illusions on her face. A face within a face, a small body holding up a giant face, and even a face sunken into a body. It all started one Halloween, a couple of years ago, when Ana’s friends asked her to paint their faces, as they knew she was the only one who could do it. Word travelled (not that hard when you live in a country of 620,000 people) and soon strangers were tapping Ana’s make-up skills for seasonal parties. In 2015, she set up an Instagram account to document all her work and has been posting nightmarish looks ever since. “I think I was among the first few or even the first person in my country to do body art, especially illusions,” she says. “In my country it’s seen as a strange thing to do.”

How did you first get into makeup?
When it comes to my illusion artwork, I never treat it as if it’s make-up. Firstly, I mainly use body paint instead of make-up. Secondly I’m not that good at make-up, I’m better at painting. Finally, I associate make-up with beauty looks, which isn’t what I’m doing.

How has your craft evolved over time?
In the beginning, I would use cheap make-up. I couldn't afford real body paints and at the time there was no place to buy them in my country, I could only order them online but that was too expensive for me. I entered a couple of competitions on Instagram, international ones that offered real body paints as a prize for the best look, which I ended up winning. Having new paints allowed me to change my style from character transformations to illusions.

Who do you post for?
I do it because I love it.  I’ve been doing this for three years, I'm not making money from it, this is only fun. It’s my way of communicating with the world. I want my viewers to interpret my looks in their own way.