Nina Park didn’t set out to become a makeup artist. While her love of art, particularly colouring and painting, can be charted back to her childhood, her career appeared almost by happenstance; however, it has since soared into success. “As a child, I’d sit in the bathtub with crayons and a colouring book, mimicking my mother’s movements and facial expressions,” recalls Park, adding her distinct memory of feeling mesmerized as her mother applied a blue Estée Lauder kohl eyeliner. This innate appetite for colour and art propelled her onto a creative path, first at an art college in Minneapolis as a painting major and later as a sought-after celebrity makeup artist.
“When I moved to New York in 2010, I never knew that my passion for makeup could lead to a career. I had a friend from Paris who was working as an assistant to a top industry hairdresser. He introduced me to a makeup artist who needed a substitute assistant. Not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, I walked onto the set and remember feeling like I had entered another world,” says Park, citing that experience as “one of the most memorable, life-changing days.” What opened up next was a world that Park may have tumbled into, where she has since solidified her place, despite her relatable feelings of inadequacy. She explains, “I think at the beginning of my career, I was confused as to where I fit in all of this. I would easily get overwhelmed or discouraged if I got released from a job and distracted by what the future held. I’ve learned to live in the moment, face what’s in front of me, and not worry about things that are out of my control. Patience truly is a virtue.”
Park’s professional and artistic inspiration points to quite the sophisticated list, with Serge Lutens, François Nars, and Tyen among some of the top names, right next to her mentor, fellow makeup artist Pati Dubroff. But Park also has a knack for creating stunning red carpet-ready makeup looks with drugstore finds, proving that a fresh face doesn’t have to be reserved for the upper echelon of the celebrity set. Her beginnings are far from the celebrity face-painter she’s since become, with Vogue shoots and Cannes appearances listed on her resume, along with her roster of celebrity clientele that includes Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, Brie Larson, and the person who social media leads most to assume is her best friend, Zoë Kravitz.
Her background in art begets some of her current makeup style. “I find myself using some of the same techniques between oil painting and applying makeup: priming the skin, using a tonal palette to build up a face or canvas, using sheer washes of colours in layers to create depth.” This virtuoso has certainly transformed; however, she admits she still sketches, creating her own face charts on her tablet.
Makeup artists often align themselves with cosmetic brands they admire, some even going on to develop their own namesake lines. Park has not ruled out her own line just yet, however she recognizes that the market can get quite crowded and would be looking to create a line only if it filled a gap: “If I were to create my own line, it would be because I believed something was missing and there was a need for it.” Given her undeniable fervour for colour, however, her brand alliance was unexpected: she was named as a global consulting makeup artist for skincare giant Kiehl’s. “Honestly, to me, it’s always been about skin: A radiant, dewy complexion,” Park says, echoing the sentiment so many makeup artists have shared. Skin first, makeup second.
She believes that social media can be a good tool (which is apparent with her almost 50,000 followers on Instagram), but her advice for those aspiring to break into the industry places more emphasis on personal connection than digital presence. Park says that assisting artists whose work and career inspire you is a great place to start, as they can often become allies. “Learn as much as you can—absorb not only the artistry techniques, but how to behave on set and around talent,” she says, adding, “I think this is invaluable [experience] that programs and social media can’t teach you.”