Choy talks to us about working with the make-up legend, being inspired by Sailor Moon, and her relationship with beauty
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
“Creating art on a human is like a visualisation of a character, a personality. Technically it can be an enhancement or a disguise,” says make-up artist Joey Choy. “It's something beyond beauty that we are trying to capture I suppose.”
2020 is set to be a big year for Joey Choy. After eight years assisting the legendary Val Garland, four of those spent as her first assistant, the make-up artist has broken out on her own and is ready to take on the world.
Originally from Hong Kong, Choy graduated with a computer engineering degree before realising that spending her days on a computer was not her life goal and her real passion lay in art and human interaction. After a period as a bridal hair and make-up artist in Taiwan, Choy decided it was time to learn “from the best of the best in the world,” and went to London to try her luck at working with Val. The move paid off and she spent the next following years assisting on some of the most important names and shows in the industry and learning at the feet of the master.
“One of the biggest things I've learnt from Val is: ‘Nothing is impossible,’” Choy tells us. “Being a great make-up artist is not just about make-up. There is so much more to bring to people than just drawing faces.”
With an eye for colour and an instinct towards experimentation and the unknown, Choy’s work sizzles with excitement. Always fun and vibrant, the looks are designed to provoke feelings. “There are copiers and then there are visionaries,” Garland said about her assistant last year. “Joey is a great visionary.”
Here Choy talks to us about being inspired by Sailor Moon, working with Garland and her relationship with beauty.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Joey Choy: My sister is just one year older than me. I still have this visual memory that we were both jumping on our trampoline – AKA the sofa at home – as you do when you were five, looking at the mirror in front of us. It was then I realised that I had eyebrows while my sister didn’t. That’s the first time ever I thought I looked really weird with two caterpillars crawling on my forehead.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Joey Choy: I watched a lot of Japanese anime when I was a kid, I guess we all do in Asia. I was always fascinated by their enormous eyes that cover a third of their face and their superpowers that can only exist in our imagination. It was Sailor Moon that taught me girls can also be warriors. I always try to ‘draw’ my eyes as big and round as possible. I’m physically quite small and maybe that’s why I always like to wear clothes and shoes that give me more of a structure and height, accessories that add a bit of toughness into my otherwise cute look. Natalie Portman in the movie Leon: The Professional has definitely influenced my love of chokers ever since.
Why are you a make-up artist? Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?
Joey Choy: Giving up the office work that I had in the past to become an artist was a risky but a decision I never regretted. I always want to do something unique, something that I can prove to others that only I could have done it, something that I can put my signature on it.
I always think that whether it’s make-up, painting, poetry, music, or art, they all come from the same origin, inside the mind. The rest are just techniques that you can learn, your choice of tools and medium to express. I believe that the nucleus of art is instinctual and fundamental in all humans. It exists as emotions in our mind. However, it’s always a blessing that some of us are able to use our skills to release our inner soul, to free our individuality.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process, from initial idea to final image?
Joey Choy: My creative process always starts from the vibe. I always want to know what the lighting is, the styling, the music etc. because all of these give us an idea of the mood that we want to create. And then it’s a little rummage of imaginations and things that evolve from this mood. After that, it’s using whatever tools I can get to visualise the idea in real.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Joey Choy: Beauty is a religion. Beauty is an attitude. Beauty has no protocol. The perception of beauty is different in different eras, different cultures, different subcultures. Creating art on human is like a visualisation of a character, a personality. Technically it can be an enhancement or a disguise. It’s something beyond beauty that we are trying to capture I suppose.
What are the projects that you’re most proud of?
Joey Choy: Working for the make-up master Val Garland while getting an MBA. This proved to myself that if you really want something enough, you will find your way.
How has the experience been working with Val Garland?
Joey Choy: From the impossible to the possible, from a dream to a dream-come-true. The experience working with Val was quite surreal, to say the least. It’s like a highly intensive master class that not only trained technicality but also imagination, reality, professionalism, communication, logistics and leadership. It’s like watching a reality show to see how all the magic happens. The difference is, I was in this show. All these invaluable experience with Val will definitely shape the way I think and create on an atomic level.
What should make-up bring to a shoot or runway show?
Joey Choy: Something that completes the personality of what we want to create. It’s part of the puzzle.
How do you use make-up to tell a story or convey emotion?
Joey Choy: Very often, we think doing make-up is to make someone look and feel good. It’s true in a way, but more than that, we are creating a character. Make-up can also be used to alter your facial expressions and that’s how we convey the emotional states of an individual.
Looking back what would you have done differently?
Joey Choy: Sleep more!
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Joey Choy: When I first started out, everything was magical, everything was a mystery. These days, everyone’s a director of their own channel. Everyone has a platform to ‘speak’ publicly, whether or not you are aware of that. The evolution of social media allows everyone to have a voice. Ideas go viral in seconds. Some people hate it, some people love it. I guess being humans ourselves who put all this technology into reality, we have to embrace the pro side of what all these mean to us. It’s fast, it’s furious. But that’s how we force ourselves to create something that is otherwise unimaginable a few years back then.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Joey Choy: With the evolution of technology, our understanding of beauty has shifted to the fine-tuning of ingredients and skills to create personalised products and experience. Instead of standardising formula, technology allows us to understand that beauty is unique to each individual.
In order for brands to stand out, it’s the idea of customisation, the prestige feeling of having or enjoying something that is specially created for you that customers are after.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Joey Choy: I myself am still trying to get into the industry I guess! Not able to give any practical advice yet but still believing in my mantra: Do what you love and love what you do. Remember, the subject of fashion and beauty is always human. As well as creating art, we need to care about how the client and the people around you feel. Being vigilant is key.
What is the future of beauty?
Joey Choy: At a product level, the future of beauty is about sustainability, from sustainable packaging to sustainable ingredients. At a conceptual level, it’s about the blending of beauty and intelligence. It’s not just about the way we look, but it’s also what you have inside that makes you glow.