For Kristyan Low, self-expression isn’t a choice; it’s an imperative. A renowned makeup artist, his craft is a means by which he communicates to the world, and integral to his sense of identity. “To discover and live my creative life is an innate feeling––a part of my authenticity,” he says.
And while living authentically is now second nature, it wasn’t always the case. “I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney in Quakers Hill, although it never really felt like home,” he recalls. “It was hard for a super flamboyant, gay teen.” Over the years, he gained confidence, conviction, and found his community. Meeting diverse, likeminded people at a gay youth group, within the cultural hub of Newtown in Sydney, and watching iconic drag performers, Kristyan was inspired to embrace his extravagant, creative self––which is exactly what ensued. “It was the ‘90s and it was all about being camp and flamboyant,” he says. “I loved it. It made me feel fearless.”
Informed, but not bound, by his past, Kristyan’s is a journey that’s filled with determination and appreciation––from his Malaysian and Chinese heritage, his parents’ unequivocal acceptance, and many learnings along the way. Today, it’s Kristyan’s humility that informs his every action, and choosing a conscious mindset is key. As for his guiding light? He says it all comes down to gratitude, which brings meaning to his days, and an appreciation for the simplest of moments.
Here, he chats to RATIONALE about passion, belief, and shaping his sense of self.
You’re quite the multi-hyphenate. How would you describe your job?
By trade, I’m a makeup artist and I also dabble in a bit of hair. Working in the fashion and beauty industry, I love that I get to connect with others on various jobs.
When did you discover your passion for beauty and makeup?
Coming out as a young gay teen, makeup was one of my main outlets––a way to express and experiment with my identity. I never left the house without some sort of eye makeup and would always do my sisters’ faces. It was the ‘90s and it was all about being camp and flamboyant. I loved it. It made me feel fearless. After high school, I went straight to makeup college as I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a makeup artist. I worked for MAC Cosmetics for a few years, started assisting, and then flew out on my own.
What does being a makeup artist mean to you?
Coming from a Malaysian and Chinese background, being an academic is drilled into you. I was very fortunate to have understanding and open parents. I remember saying to Mum, “I want to go to makeup college” and she replied, “What’s that?” (laughs). They were always very supportive from the get-go. When I chose to be a makeup artist it wasn’t because I was told to do so by my parents or school. To discover and live my creative life is an innate feeling––a part of my authenticity. To get to where I am I’ve had to put the work in; my passion and drive have been integral to my success. You have to keep at it, evolve your artistry, network, and be OK with not knowing what you’re earning every week, because every week is different. Through your hands, you are making people feel a certain way. It’s beautiful and rewarding when you’ve nailed a brief. I am extremely grateful to be working in an industry that I thrive in and where I have made beautiful, lifelong friends. To me, the life of a makeup artist is very ‘freeing’.
What kinds of projects do you work on and what does a ‘typical’ workday look like for you?
Every day and week is different; one day it can be an editorial cover shoot, the next day a campaign, and the day after, a red carpet event.
This year, we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary and our central theme is The Brilliance of Technique––an ode to the many years we’ve spent researching, perfecting and innovating the science of luxury skincare. How do you perfect your skill in the world of beauty and makeup?
Letting go of expectations, trusting the process, taking a risk and making mistakes. Through every mistake is an opportunity to grow and further hone your skills. Practise, practise, practise. Remember to enjoy and appreciate your work, step back and don’t be too hard on yourself.
What does the concept of ‘home’ mean to you?
Having travelled most of the world, every time I land in Sydney, I know that I’m home. Sydney is home, especially Newtown.
Tell us about your life growing up and the places that you call home.
I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney in Quakers Hill although it never really felt like home. It was hard for a super flamboyant, gay teen. I stepped foot in Newtown for the first time in the '90s but I remember like it was yesterday. I felt safe and excited. Newtown allowed me to join a gay youth group where I learned to embrace my ‘gayness’. I met other youth in the LGBTQI community and wore makeup without feeling ashamed or judged. I found my tribe.
Throughout the years, I lived in various suburbs in and out of the inner west, but always came back to Newtown; a diverse, colourful and vibrant community. It has a special place in my heart and when I walk through the glowing streets of King St and the surrounding areas it feels like home.
Who, or where, do you turn to for inspiration? Either creatively, for inspiration in your work, or in life.
Kevyn Aucoin first inspired my love for makeup. I was in awe of his book, Face Forward, and still am. I’m inspired by nature, other artists, movies and history in beauty. I love the ‘20s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. For my sanity and to quiet the mind I love Oprah Winfrey, especially her Super Soul Sunday segments and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle. I listen to Eckhart almost every night. It’s my way of meditating and winding down. I love his teachings on being present, gratitude and surrendering. Those three philosophies have changed the way I navigate my life and work in an unpredictable industry.
You’ve spoken about your mother’s influence and how much you admire her strength of character. Could you tell us a little about her? How do you think she has helped shape the person you are today?
My mum and I had a tumultuous relationship during my teens. I guess I was a bit of a rebel, galivanting around Newtown and Oxford Street, even hitting the clubs underage. It all changed in my late 20s when my mum became my icon and our relationship did a 360. I matured and understood why she and dad migrated to Australia for my sisters and I. Mum is a sensitive soul, I am too. She has battled many demons and has come through stronger, empathetic, and more resilient. In recent years, she’s shown me it’s never too late to live your best life and, most importantly, change. ‘Change’ in life is so important. Change is a good thing. She has always shown her love through cooking. She would be in the kitchen for hours making six-hour bone broth soup, organic Hainanese chicken rice, or soul-soothing congee––to name a few. The ingredients and produce had to be fresh and made from scratch: authentic Chinese cooking. I learnt everything I know about cooking through her and the importance of feeding my body with ‘the good stuff’.
Has there been a challenge or obstacle that you’ve had to work hard to overcome? What did you learn from this?
Social media. If it weren’t for work, I probably wouldn’t have it. I used to dread posting my work on socials and being validated through ‘likes’. It wasn’t until I separated my obstructive thoughts with social media and learnt to use the tool rather than the tool using me. I now view social media as an extension of my work to further connect and allow myself to surrender rather than fester.
Tell us about your attitude to beauty and self-care. Growing up, did anyone’s outlook on beauty influence your own?
Aside from expressing my identity through makeup, the catalyst for delving deeper into the world of makeup was the majestic drag performers at the Albury Hotel. It was an iconic venue through the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I used to sneak out at the age of 16 and watch the showgirls and drag queens glisten before my very eyes. I would stare at their faces in awe thinking, “Wow! How did they do that?” I wanted to learn, paint like them and be them. It was around then I bought my first Kevyn Aucoin book and the rest is history.
What does self-care mean to you now?
Self-care didn’t really become a part of my life until my early 30s. I couldn’t bounce back like I did in my 20s and I needed to find holistic ways to unwind and look after my mind, body and soul. I’m a summer baby and love the water and sun. I’ll spend 10-15 minutes getting some morning sun or having a dip in the pool, which relaxes me. I love listening to Oprah and Eckhart to fuel my soul and calm the mind. I never really had a skincare regimen, and now I do! Fitness has also been a bigger priority in my life. Being a makeup artist, long-term, can incur imbalances in the body. Your back, hips, shoulders, arms…the list goes on. To counteract this, functional training at the gym is so important and a part of my weekly routine, to keep me strong and injury free. I’ve recently started meditating before bed. It’s been a game changer. I fall asleep quicker, for longer and awaken feeling present. I get it now.
Describe yourself in three words.
Tenacious, effervescent and kind.
How long have you been with RATIONALE and how did you learn about the Brand?
I first used RATIONALE three years ago, and loved it. I … came back to the brand about eight months ago. RATIONALE is now in my core skin regimen as well as in my [makeup] kit. I’ve seen the difference that RATIONALE has made to my skin and others have, too.
Is there a quote, attitude, or approach to life, that you live by?
Gratitude. On her Super Soul Sundays [podcast], Oprah says, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance. Chaos to order. Confusion to clarity. Be grateful for the smallest things. Learn to be thankful with what you have while you pursue all that you want. The more grateful you are the more present you become.”
What do you look forward to most in life? What fills your cup?
It’s the little moments; appreciating time with loved ones and the way I love doing that is through food. If you have ever tasted one of my mum’s soups, you will understand why I love going to my parents’ house for dinner––and the company of course. Dining at a local restaurant for catch-ups with friends is one of my happy places.
Photography: Jason Ierace
Production: Chee Productions