Expert Feature: Kanako Kawabe on Makeup, Identity, and Creativity

EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with Editorial Makeup expert Kanako Kawabe. Kanako is a self-taught artist and rising junior at Vassar College majoring in Psychology. She is involved with Vassar Contrast Magazine, a student-run fashion blog and magazine. Read about her creative journey and how she uses makeup as an outlet for self-exploration!

AW: Can you tell me about how and when you started experimenting with makeup?

KK: I started makeup when I was starting middle school actually because I was getting involved in theater. And so stage makeup was my first introduction into makeup, and usually the moms – the stage moms – will do your makeup for you but my mom doesn’t like wear makeup and there was no one around me that really looked like me or knew how to do makeup on faces like mine. And I remember where the moms would all line us up and do our makeup, and I would open my eyes and be like, “Oh no, something went very wrong compared to like everyone else’s makeup,” and so I was like I must take things into my own hands and learn how to do my own makeup, and I started doing makeup that way. 

But I started getting into editorial makeup probably my junior year of high school, so that’s like what, four years ago? And I guess the start of that was the start of doing makeup consistently but I guess I got bored. Like there’s only so many different ways you can do everyday makeup I feel like. And I feel like I wanted to branch out into things that would let me be more creative. So that’s what got me started. 

AW: Do you think makeup has allowed you to express your identity in creative ways?

KK: Yeah, I think a lot of my work kind of draws from Japanese imagery and iconography. I think that’s one way that’s been incorporated and then also actually in terms of editorial makeup, it’s been nice because monolids give you this very smooth canvas on your eyes to work with like you don’t have to work with having a crease. Like you can draw whatever you want on your eyelids, and I think that’s been cool to turn that into a strength.

AW: Do you have specific words that you would use to describe your makeup style?

KK: I’m not really sure. I feel like when I started it was definitely very abstract. Like I didn’t try to resemble or mimic something, but I think recently I’ve been trying to branch away from that a little bit. Maybe just “versatile,” because I don’t feel like I have a specific defining style. And a lot of people say that that’s something that you should try to find as an artist, but I feel like being able to explore different domains could also be a strength and I don’t necessarily feel the need to settle down on one specific thing. 

AW: Would you say that there’s an Instagrammer or YouTuber who inspires you? 

KK: Oh I have so many. Definitely @visiblejune does really intricate detail work that I really appreciate and I think it’s very inspiring – definitely not there yet personally. Julia Kong (@juliaakong) – she herself doesn’t do makeup, but all of her photoshoots are really cool, and a lot of them are makeup-related, and I really enjoy her content. There’s also spirituality and motivation stuff on her page that I appreciate. There’s an Instagrammer named @monolidprincess_ that I really like. Her makeup looks are always very deliberate in the concept. Like her feed, each row has a theme or vibe, and she does two photos that aren’t makeup and then a photo that is the makeup – it’s all very tied together. 

For YouTubers, in terms of technique, there’s Hindash who is a professional makeup artist that does YouTube on the side – he’s immaculate – like everything is so precise, so clean. It’s not editorial, but the technique I think translates to editorial makeup and he’s just so good at what he does. Let’s see, Snitchery is on both Instagram and YouTube and she does more cosplay-type looks, but I think she’s really good at doing makeup that enhances her features or modifies her features in a way that really drastically changes how she looks from photo to photo. And I think that’s really cool because she’s very anti-everyone looking like an IG baddie. Like makeup is for exploration and self-expression and if you want to enhance certain natural features it’s not to make everyone look the same. And I really appreciate that sentiment. She uses those techniques to cosplay into someone else and I think that’s really cool. 

AW: I think I definitely feel that especially when I think of makeup growing up like a lot of my peers would do it for the sake of becoming beautiful (I mean “beautiful” in quotation marks). But it was always a very standardized type of cat-eye and eyebrows for the sake of a conventional aesthetic. But I think it’s interesting to think of makeup as a means for expression rather than a means for access to society.

So, how do you define editorial makeup? It’s not a term that I’m personally familiar with.

KK: I feel like when I think of editorial I think of magazine makeup or makeup that you wouldn’t necessarily see in your day-to-day life which I feel like is changing and social media has changed a lot of the standards around makeup and I feel like people are starting to wear editorial makeup out in the real world. But the way I see it, it’s just makeup that is unconventional or like we talked about, makeup that isn’t necessarily made to make someone fit into society’s standards of beauty. It’s not just about making your eyes look bigger or making your face look a certain shape. It’s about putting artistic elements into your makeup that maybe don’t push you towards this ideal of beauty but are still beautiful in that it’s an artistic creation. 

AW: Do you have advice for people who are just getting started with more creative makeup who are feeling a bit timid about branching out?

KK: I think my biggest piece of advice would just be don’t be afraid to make mistakes or to make something that isn’t where you want it to be yet. I do my makeup every day and the things that make it onto my Instagram page are just a fraction of that, like most days I make something and I’m like, “oof, this is not it.” But I think that’s important in order to grow as an artist like you need to figure out what doesn’t work so you can find your way to what does work. Or you need to practice a technique a few times so that you are able to execute it the way that you want to. So I think the biggest thing is don’t let that fear of failure stop you from exploring. Like the amazing thing about makeup is that you can just wipe it off, no one has to know that you messed up. No one has to know except yourself. It’s a very temporary, non-permanent thing. So just embrace those failures and let them exist. 

AW: Do you think that’s something that you would like to encourage with your students or something that would transfer into your teaching philosophy at EvolvEd?  

KK: I definitely think that I would want to create a space where students feel safe exploring and are able to come in with a growth mindset. It’s about the process and makeup doesn’t have rules. Like there’s color theory and all of the things that go into art but it doesn’t really have rules, and I think I want my classroom to be a space where you can explore safely and bend the rules or completely disregard the rules and be okay with whatever end result happens. 

AW: Is there a superpower that you would want to have?

KK: I always really wanted to have the power to fly. I don’t know why, like ever since I was little. I just thought that would be really cool. I think it was because I was kind of obsessed with Peter Pan when I was growing up. But I just wanted to fly like them and I also hate flying on airplanes. I get super motion-sick. But I thought what if I could just fly wherever?  

Learn Editorial Makeup from Kanako at evolved.live!

Follow Kanako on Instagram @kanak0k!

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