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The Radical Makeup of Susana Hong

Susana Hong is not your typical makeup artist. Hong, based in Toronto, uses the face as a canvas, employing unique technique and exotic colors to reinvent the model and tell a story. Hong speaks to the importance of having a clear "mood" to convey in her work, but leaving the rest of the creative process to freely unfold. This is all part of what breeds the free-hearted and almost rebellious makeup looks that Hong constructs. Hong tells of how being a makeup artist has helped her to not only develop her passions and express her creative vision, but also to evolve out of her introverted self and create nurturing relationships within the industry.



1. What is your favourite thing about being a makeup artist?

Being a natural introvert, being a makeup artist has forced me to be in uncomfortable, social situations by nature of the business. This has helped me to improve my communication skills, and see the humanity in all people. It really has been an accidental social experiment for me. This has been the greatest achievement for me professionally and personally.

2. What is the hardest thing about being a makeup artist?

The hardest thing for me has learning to navigate all the different personalities that come with the job. And to not be intimidated by anybody. To learn that it is okay just to be me. As I’ve said before, I am an extreme introvert. So those were tough lessons to learn when I was young, but soooo necessary in my quest to become whole. And to not take things too personally. I always tell my assistants that if a client doesn’t want to work with you again, you probably don’t want to work with them either.

3. How do you brainstorm creative makeup looks? What is your creative process?

I work quite organically without too much planning put in before any shoot. I find this allows me to be flexible with all ideas the team might have in mind, and sometimes changes are necessary. It usually starts with a mood board. After the mood board is established by either photographer or art director, I have a feel of what they are looking for. Then when model/talent is confirmed, I have a clearer picture in my head. Then I will have maybe one or two looks I think are appropriate on my camera phone with images I’ve scoured on the internet that fit the mood. Other than that, my pre-production planning is minimal besides getting supplies I think I might need.

This sounds lazy to some, but in my experience, planning too much makes you mentally rigid, unable to make quick drastic changes if necessary. And having loose ideas allows creativity to grow while you’re in action, rather than copying an image that you pulled. When you get on set, the look you’ve planned might not work with the model/talent, light, wardrobe, hair, etc. So, I go in with a general, loose idea, and work with what’s on hand, and get creative.

4. Do you like to experiment on yourself as a canvas or do you prefer a model?

Definitely a model. I don’t like wearing much makeup ironically. That is why I love doing test shoots, or creatives. Unpublished work allows me to be fully experimental. I’ve been asked how I come up with ideas, and my answer is to actually try it. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it SLAYS! But you’ll never know if you just never do it.

5. What is the most Canadian thing about you?

I prefer a cooler climate than hot, although a full blown winter here in February is not my idea of comfortable. I’m trying to get rid of the Canadian habit of saying "sorry” even if someone else bumps into me lol.

6. What is the most rebellious or shocking makeup look you’ve ever done?

That is a hard question. I’ve always gravitated towards being a little more rebellious with my makeup against trends. But I don’t think “trends” are as influential as they used to be. Everything seems to be a bit of a rebellion. So I guess that makes me basic now? lol. But I’ve always tried to always add an element of ‘ugly’ into any creative look I do. I don’t know why this makes me deeply happy. When things are a little out of place, yet balanced, this is when I am happy.

7. Describe a makeup look you’ve been dreaming of recently.

Many years ago, I painted a black lace mask on a model’s face. It was completely free handed, and a spur of the moment idea. And I’ve been thinking of that shoot a lot lately, even though it was many many years ago (maybe a decade??). Making me think that I would like to start creating more textures on the face, mimicking fabric maybe. It’s just an idea that has been floating around in my mind.

8. Who or what is your greatest creative influencer?

How do you begin to answer this question? Sometimes everything influences me, sometimes nothing. It really depends on my mood and state of mind. Sometimes I will go on a binge and scour the internet for any images for ideas. Then I will go long periods without looking at a single image regarding makeup or fashion. Sometimes I will go on a Youtube binge learning how to “beat” a face to my horror. But my last image binge has been with old Shiseido ads by makeup artist Serge Lutens (I think he’s a perfumer now). I believe he was always ahead of his time in the 80’s and 90’s. His images were so eerie and strange considering they were for a beauty brand at a time when Elizabeth Hurley was the face of Estee Lauder. His manipulation of light and shadow with both lighting and makeup has really been inspiring to me again lately.



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