You've Never Seen Makeup Like This Before

Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
We can all agree beauty is an art form — from intricate braids to the (multiple step) “no-makeup makeup” to nail art, there’s something very creative about what we do to make our bodies look the way we want. Our tools are works of art, too, which might explain why resellers can make hundreds of dollars on rare lipstick shades and polishes, just like an art collector with a rare print. That being said, there are artists who take “beauty as art” to literal — and monumental — heights, like May Sum.
Sum is a Hong Kong-based makeup artist who not only paints her models but creates amazing, delicate sculptures out of everyday lipsticks and beauty products. She’s created freakishly accurate likenesses of pop culture icons like GaGa, Madonna, and more. She’s done collaborations and museum exhibitions around the world using lipstick like clay, molding it as if she were a makeup Michelangelo. Her work has caught the eye of major companies, including Chanel, Disney, Shu Uemura, Shiseido, Clinique, and Dior.
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Intrigued by her medium (how could we not be?), we sat down with Sum to chat about her work. Click through to hear how she came to be a lipstick sculptor, and see some of her past and present work. Three words for you guys: Lipstick. Anna. Wintour.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
Some of May Sum's lipstick-sculptures of famous women, plus a handy identifying key to who's who.

“I was already a senior makeup artist who understood cosmetics thoroughly when I began,” Sum explains. She adds that sculpting seemed like a natural breakthrough of interpreting the power of lipstick.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
A few close-up shots of the detail that goes into each sculpture.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
She started sculpting in her free time and garnered enough attention to go on an Art Tour in 2012, then eventually working with DFS Galleria (a cosmetic brand and shopping mall) on her first in-store exhibition. There, she had an opportunity to parse out what it means to be a woman with lipstick as her medium.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
Anna's signature bob looks just as shiny and perfectly coiffed in lipstick as it does in real life.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
Creating each work of art is no small feat, despite the conspicuously small setting she works in — a single sculpture takes at least 12 hours to create.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
Where else would Iris Apfel and Blonde Ambition Tour-era Madonna be able to hang out side by side?
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
For the intricate landscapes she’s been working on lately, she’s been averaging one a week. “They’re incredibly easy to melt out, so I have to let them cool after an hour of carving. Since I’m working at such small scale, too, I have to take frequent breaks since I start to see stars. It’s slow and meticulous work — but I love it.”
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
Part of Sum's "Storytelling" series, carved from a cream blush stick.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
The brands she works with (NARS, Charlotte Tilbury, Bobbi Brown, Max Factor, and MAC, just to name a few) seem to love her right back: Make Up For Ever tapped Sum to interpret their 30th-anniversary products at their Hong Kong flagship.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
Sum's most recent work, using Make Up For Ever compacts and palettes.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
May Sum used their anniversary series of Artist Shadow Artistic Maestro Eye Shadows to create elaborate works of art that pop out of their compacts.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
We can barely make sure our pressed powders don’t shatter in our makeup bags — May Sum manages to turn hers into pop-art dragons and botanical gardens. Besides sculpting these ridiculously amazing works of art via eyeshadow, she found the time to make up four models in the epitome of the MUFE agenda and create ceramic sculptures inspired by the launch. Talk about overachieving.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
The added touch of the little man with a lawnmower rolling through the "garden" fills us with an indescribable glee. It's the little things.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
There doesn’t seem to be anything involving makeup that Sum can’t do — being afraid to ruin a $70 stick of foundation in the name of art doesn’t occur to her. Maybe it’s due in part to her in inspiration, the late and great Alexander McQueen. “He’s the artist I admire most," she says. "His work has always inspired me.”
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
The intricacy and fearlessness in her own work do echo back to the punk fashion priest. It’s nice to imagine them working together, in another lifetime. Until that happens, Sum has a line of brand collaborators out the door.

When asked about her favorite lipsticks to work with, she confessed that she hasn’t had to buy any materials in a while. “I have quite a few lipstick sponsors, so I pick the sharpest colors out of whatever I’m sent, from MAC, NARS, Chanel, Dior, the list goes on.”

But, her favorite lipstick to wear herself? Dior Addict Fluid Stick. “I love the natural look,” she says wryly, as we examine her fantastical works of art.
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Photo: Courtesy of May Sum.
If you’d like to see her sculptures in person, you can buy a custom piece from May Sum’s Etsy yourself — or hop on over to the Make Up For Ever x May Sum Exhibition at Atrium II, Gateway Arcade, Harbor City, Hong Kong. These new MUFE pieces will be displayed in store from September 21-27.
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