This artist distorts her own face and body to create extreme beauty looks

Dain Yoon tells us how she sent the internet into a frenzy by using her skin as a canvas for bizarre optical illusions.

by Ryan White
27 February 2020, 5:00pm

Standing out on Instagram isn’t easy. In 26-year-old Dain Yoon’s case, all it took was perfectly blending in. In one of her most popular posts to date, she recreated a Macbook screen and keyboard on her face by hand, to near-perfect effect. The media coverage that followed -- “MAKEUP ARTIST CREATES STUNNING OPTICAL ILLUSIONS” -- was emphatic.

It’s worth noting at this point that Dain doesn’t use the term makeup artist herself. “I’m a classically trained, fine artist,” she says, “who happens to use herself as the canvas.” Her dramatic work -- which has earned her 620k Instagram followers, a popular Youtube channel and an appearance on The Ellen Show -- makes disorientating recalculations of both her face and body. In some cases she appears blurry, her eyes multiplied, or her entire body completely distorted. “When I am creating my ‘look’, I always try to capture everything inside the frame, not just the painting,” she says. “It’s not only the body parts being painted but also the background, the atmosphere, the movement of body, objects, lighting, every single detail.”

Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea -- the daughter of an artist and an architect -- Dain studied at two prestigious art schools before enrolling on a scenography course at college. “I had a chance to design theatrical makeup and to draw and paint on the body of actors in plays and, after participating in theatrical makeup, I felt a strong need to do my own creative work, and not be part of the theatre,” she says. Now she focuses solely on her own looks. “Eventually I decided to draw on my own face because the face is the strongest, most sensitive part of the body where I can convey my own most delicate emotions.”

What’s the starting point for these artworks?
The first step is conceptualising ideas. This takes the longest. The last step always depends… If I do body painting and want to record it as a digital photographic work, that would be the last step. If it’s performance, performing would be the last step in the creation of the work. That said, I feel that the presentation of the work is as important as the making of it. So whether it’s finding the right frame or the right caption for Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, this all is part of creating the experience or emotion I seek to communicate to my audience. Finishing a piece can vary from 3 to 12 hours.

What kind of things do you look to when finding inspiration for a new beauty look?
I think the reason my work sparks the reactions it does is that I make sure my work is inspired by true feelings, and I’m happy that people are there to receive and be affected by them. I’m a very sensitive person and my emotions have always been the source of my inspiration. And painting is the language I express myself in, in the same way that a musician uses music to communicate their emotions.

I get inspiration from my feelings, both emotional and physical. Since both of my parents worked day jobs, I had a lot of time to think on my own when I was young. Although everyone feels emotions, I was overly sensitive to mine, to an abnormal extent. So when I started painting at a young age, back when I used to paint on canvases and pieces of paper, the subject matter of my work was almost always about people and emotions.

You've got such a huge online following, when did your work start to get this global recognition?
Since May 2016. My work and Instagram hit it off right away. I made use of Instagram’s visual nature and it worked out well for me and my art. Because it’s mainly a visual channel, and my work is definitely eye-catching, it drew a global audience. I also feel that because my works are unique each time, they appeal to a wide range of people around the world. But it’s always about quality over quantity. I could make A LOT of new works but I don’t; I prefer to focus on more innovative work instead. Even though it causes me a lot of stress, I really enjoy the challenge!

You've collaborated with a number of brands on projects. Is this a full-time job now?
Yes, I’m a full-time artist. And it’s exactly as the word says: full-time. From the moment I wake up until I go to sleep, I’m constantly thinking. I have many collaborations and art shows going on all over the world. And in the meantime, I always try to keep making my personal artwork as well.

Why do you think Seoul and South Korea are creating such world-changing styles and trends?
Korea is a country that developed very quickly, economically as well as culturally. Koreans are very hard workers and make sure to always stay very busy. Also, Seoul is very efficient. You can get everywhere in 5 mins, and you can get anything delivered in the same amount of time... It’s a very comfortable, but fast-paced place to live. Personally, I get a lot of influence from Seoul, especially because I attended the most competitive art middle school, high school, and university. Since I was 11, my paintings were continuously scrutinised and rated. I grew up under those circumstances. You could argue that such competitiveness and “over-education” could be detrimental to young kids… but I used it as a source of positive energy. I always felt that I could and should never fail at what I’m doing. I believe it made my inner soul strong.

Lots of people turn to makeup and extreme beauty looks for different reasons. Do you see the work you create as something to hide behind or something to stand out with?
For me, in my case, I see dramatic beauty looks as something to stand out with.

Finally, what advice would you offer someone looking to create beauty looks like yours?
Make sure to go through many trials and errors. Because you will never know until you’ve tried it. Since I was freshman, I’ve done many different part-time jobs in areas I was interested in: styling, teaching, graphic design, film assisting, movie makeup, theatre makeup, musical costume, modelling... After doing all of these, I mixed them all together into something I enjoyed doing. It really helped me to find my own style.

Dain Yoon