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A Makeup Artist on the Intimacy of Working With Her Hands

In partnership with David Yurman.

Man Repeller is partnering with jewelry brand David Yurman to explore the supreme romanticism of hands. In addition to being a renowned decorator of this particular appendage, offering up all manner of artfully designed and crafted vehicles for sparkle, David Yurman is also a trained sculptor who not only works with his hands but also dreams with them. To that point, we’re publishing a three-part series spotlighting people who use their hands in creative ways. Part one kicked off with our own Leandra Medine Cohen, who examined the trajectory of her career as a writer through this lens while decked out in some of her favorite David Yurman pieces. Part two featured floral designer and Fox Fodder Farm founder Taylor Patterson, who shared the joys and challenges of making art out of flowers. Next up is Emi Kaneko, a freelance makeup artist. Read her story below.


On the Revelation That Led Her to Becoming a Makeup Artist

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by makeup, but I think the interest largely stemmed from how much I loved painting as a kid. I’ve always been attracted to experimenting with color and texture. I like playing dress-up and creating characters in my head, and makeup can be such a powerful tool for bringing those things to life. When I realized that makeup artistry was an actual profession, and that I could get paid to do it, and travel the world, and work with amazing, talented, creative people, I was like, “This is it.”

On How Her Makeup Aesthetic Has Evolved Since She Started

I grew up in L.A., which is definitely a “more is more” environment when it comes to makeup. Moving to New York and working on fashion shoots shaped my perspective both in terms of toning things down and thinking outside the box. I’d already developed the right skill set, but I saw a big evolution in my taste and aesthetic.

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To that point, the longer I do makeup, the less I put on myself. That might sound kind of strange, but I think it comes from a place of being more comfortable with who I am and how I look. When I was younger, I used makeup as a mask to protect myself so I didn’t feel as vulnerable. It was a layer of armor–a bit of oomph that I needed while I was trying to discover myself and figure life out. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m just like, “I’m good.” I’m content. Obviously I still play with makeup and do a full beat when I feel like it, but on an average day, I’m really happy just being me.

On the Primal Intimacy of Working With Her Hands

Because I work with my hands in such an intentional way, I feel an instant connection to the person whose makeup I’m doing. Touch is a very primal, intimate thing, and I try to use it in a way that helps people feel comfortable with me. I’m pretty gentle, which I think is important, because I don’t want it to feel forced. I’m also naturally an extrovert, which is probably why I never have an issue making small talk and touching a stranger’s face. I try to channel the mentality of a facial or a massage and make it relaxing for them.

On the Most Satisfying Thing About Being a Makeup Artist

The idea of making people feel empowered through makeup is particularly gratifying. It’s amazing how something as simple as a swipe of lipstick can give someone the confidence to do something outside their comfort zone. In a weird way, makeup can give people a voice even if they’re not actually saying anything.

Being surrounded by creativity on a daily basis is also one of my favorite things about my job. Recently, I worked on a show during New York Fashion Week for an up-and-coming brand with super talented, young designers, and the energy backstage is something I’m still carrying with me. I had full creative license with the makeup, which is always fun, but also a lot of pressure with 30 models in a short amount of time. Seeing it all come together was such a distinctive moment of euphoria, especially because the runway show only lasts for two minutes–all that momentum leading up to a single, poetic blink.

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The only thing I dislike are the suitcases I use to pack all my makeup in. They’re so heavy! I can’t stand them.

On Her Advice for Aspiring Freelance Makeup Artists

You kind of need to have tunnel vision. Keep picking yourself up and putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes a job works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the nature of being a freelancer. That constant feeling of, “Is the job going to confirm? Is it not going to confirm?” never goes away, no matter how good you are or how long you’ve been doing the work. So believe in your talent, don’t take anything personally, and keep moving forward no matter what.

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Photos by Sabrina Santiago.

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