They move us. They shake us. They make us laugh. They make us think. In addition to our October cover star Annie Murphy, we’re highlighting the Canadian women—across fashion, culture, beauty and more—who are impressing us the most right now.
Everything can feel like an illusion on Instagram, and the looks that Mimi Choi creates are exactly that. Using her own face and body as a canvas, the Vancouver-based makeup artist has gone viral on the platform for her mind-bending portraits that fall somewhere between surrealism and special effects. Her work has not only racked up more than a million followers (as well as complimentary DMs from Marc Jacobs) but also landed her partnerships with cosmetics brands like M.A.C and Make Up For Ever, redefined Instagram makeup and inspired a new genre of face painting. It’s a surprising turn of events for Choi, who only a few years back was working at a Montessori preschool teaching mathematics and making crafts out of pencil shavings and toilet paper rolls while doing bridal makeup on weekends. Much like Isamaya Ffrench, an artist Choi admires who started her makeup artistry training painting faces at children’s birthday parties, Choi developed an interest in a career outside the classroom through her work with young students. “I realized that I really enjoy teaching art and discovered my creativity,” she says. At 28, she quit her job and enrolled in makeup school. Illusion makeup wasn’t part of the curriculum, says Choi, so she started experimenting with the technique on the side. One night, inspired by a motion-photography image she’d seen that captured a person running, she painted several blurry eyes on her face. “I remember posting it and then going to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I was like ‘Holy cow!’” During the night, she’d acquired thousands of likes and followers, and within weeks, artists from all over the world started recreating what she had done.
Since then, Choi has dabbled in a range of different looks inspired by everything from food (sushi and spaghetti and meatballs) to nature (ocean waves and pandas). But the majority of her work skews creepy, mined from the terrifying visions she has during spells of sleep paralysis, which she has suffered from since childhood. And she still does wedding makeup from time to time. “Bridal makeup is kind of an illusion, too,” she says. “You’re tweaking the person’s natural beauty and revealing a different layer of themselves.”