Wednesday 12 January 2011

To Coin A Face

Hong Kong has a spiralling number of fashion magazines, an endless supply of writers, a smaller number of good photographers, an even tinier number of decent stylists, and just a handful of good makeup artists, which makes Karen Yiu a rare gem, confirms P.Ramakrishnan. All images by Ike.

It's hard for her to pin down the exact number of faces she's held in her hand - oily, dry, clear, tan, pale, Asian, Caucasian, African-American, female, male, smooth or rough - and converted the often questionable canvas into a flawless piece of art. Sound hyperbolic? Just visit her website as faces are converted into showcases for her extraordinary talents with a brush. Karen Yiu, 28, does hair and make up. Sound simple? Well, there's more.

If you've ever seen a perfectly attractive girl look ordinary or, conversely, an ordinary looking girl out-pout Angelina Jolie, then credit artists like Yiu who highlight the good, hide the bad, and get rid of the ugly altogether. She can make an acne-stricken male teenager look like an Italian stud or an anaemic model seem to be in the pink of health, all within an hour.

Having seen her in action at various shoots, what never ceases to surprise, the way she maintains her genial spirit while working with difficult people (not all models are as pretty in person as they are in print) needs to be rewarded. Under the constant stress of limited time and merciless working conditions, her unwavering hand can provide astonishing results, delivering exactly what the art directors and editors ask for, mostly going beyond expectations.

"I love what I do" says Yiu with her ever-present smile. "I used to be a social worker until 2001 as I have a degree in social work, but then I decided that I wanted to do something creative. I like colouring and drawing so when I first enrolled at the London College of Fashion, I studied fashion design. But I didn't get the chance to draw everyday, so I studied the art of makeup and finally I got to do what I like - so I switched courses."

I wonder if she looks at the visage of a woman as one would a large jigsaw puzzle that requires assembly and construction, where every 'body' is just a 'body of work' that needs to be done? "When I look at a person, I don't know immediately what I'm going to do with their face," she confesses, adding that she likes to study her subject before the first touch of powder ever hits the epidermis. "I talk to them, ask them what they like, find out more about their personality, what their favourite colour is, and so on. Some makeup artists know instantly what to do when they see a face, but I need some time to absorb all the information."

In her unaffected manner, she earnestly says,"I want to make people happy by creating something new for them."

New and innovative was the theme of Yiu's recent exihibition where she displayed pictures of her work over the last year. Together with fashion photographer Ike, the duo hosted the event entitled, 'Second Skin'. The evening coincided with the release of a photo book, 'Oriental Eye', a stunning showcase of Ike's trademark black and white images, described as "an intimate look at Asian beauty". Consisting predominantly of images of Asian nudes, Yiu's within the collaboration was a bare necessity as she did most of the creative makeup and body art, molding the entire naked body to create erotic, aesthetic human landscapes.

"Makeup design cannot work on its own; it needs a photographer to capture the images," says Yiy. "Photography plays a very important part in the whole process; therefore makeup artists and photographers need to have good communication and a connection. Ike has been one of the most important and significant people in my career so far, as he gave me a chance when I was a fresh graduate. I would have an idea when I was walking down the street, and then I would call him, he would get a model, set up the shoot and we would do test shots. He did the same with me and I'd come up with ways to put his ideas into makeup."

As an image of a girl, bearded with gold dust comes into view on one of the pages of the book, it's easy to see why the novel odd couple (he's a tall Chicago native, she's a petite Hong Kong resident), somehow gel and mesh together so well. "We've worked together on many projects and I'm so grateful he gave me my break."

In addition to focusing on fashion and bridal makeup, as well as body art, Yiu says on the record that nothing beats editorial work with creative magazines and daring photographers.

"I like editorial work more because you can create something original and through a magazine people will know that," says Yiu. "I don't like to look at other magazines or the work of other artists or stylists for inspiration, because you can just end up copying them and what's the point in that?"

Did Yiu always have a particular passion for makeup? "I have always liked beautiful things," she says with a laugh and then drops the bomb. "But actually, I have only been doing professional makeup in Hong Kong since last April." In such a short period of time, being counted among the best in the field is a grand achievement. "Trying new looks and testing images is not common practice for most photographers or magazines in this town, and I consider myself lucky that I've met people like Ike, and worked with creative magazines and visionary people to produce original images."

Lucky indeed, but Yiu's sheer talent is what it's all about.

Contact Karen: Karen Yiu: The Art of Makeup

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