In a world of self-expression and artistic innovation, the art of drag makeup has become a prominent force in the world of beauty and fashion. Embodying the unapologetic nature of the club kid scene and its transgression into modernity, Bo Quinn, a 24-year-old drag clown and makeup artist based in Hackney, East London intertwines complex feelings of insecurity and performance to produce their flamboyant looks. With a background in Fine Arts, Quinn's approach to drag makeup is nothing short of otherworldly and experimental, allowing them to become the canvas for their own pieces. From art student to drag makeup artist, we uncover the role that the circus aesthetic, insecurity and the pandemic have played in the creative process, and their signature Swipe for the Wipe images.
To start off, would you mind introducing yourself and the kind of work you do?
I’m Bo Quinn, I’m 24, and currently living in Hackney, East London. I’m a drag clown/makeup artist who specialises in creating otherworldly/experimental looks and am fascinated with the art of transformation. I’m an artist most known for the extreme looks I post on social media, mainly Instagram and more recently TikTok.
How did your time studying Fine Arts influence your approach to drag makeup?
Moving to London at 19 and studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths I was thrown into a world of colourful people. I fell into the underground drag scene and would go out and dress up several times a week just to mingle and have fun, not taking it seriously at all. Over time, I fell in love with the London scene and this paired with my love of makeup and painting anyway resulted in me discovering my own drag and where I fit in the community. In terms of how my studies influenced my approach, it was the first stepping stone of really accepting myself for one, and also being in that art school environment it was encouraged to express yourself however you felt necessary and this came without judgement. I’d always painted and suddenly I had this completely new and exciting medium being makeup that I was so eager to get stuck into and therefore I became the canvas.
Can you tell us more about your experience merging your drag and art in your work and how it has evolved over time?
Merging my drag and my art in my work was something I struggled with for a while early on. I saw my drag and my art as two separate things and couldn’t figure out a way of them living in the same world. At the time, I was doing super abstract paintings on huge unstretched canvas on a massive wall in a studio and then going home and practising these beauty/clown makeup looks. I saw them as almost polar opposite aspects of my craft and there were times when I felt like I didn’t know where I was going with any of it. Looking back it has been an organic journey, but where it clicked was when I started the Swipe for the Wipe series and figured out the hybrid of clown and more traditional beauty drag makeup style that I continue to develop to this day.
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Can you talk about the significance of the circus aesthetic in your drag makeup?
The circus theme in my drag makeup ultimately stems from my heavy inspiration when I started experimenting with makeup on myself, being obsessed with images of club kids and the unapologetic energy they held. I also have always been drawn to simplicity and clown faces to me are so satisfying, the clean white base with all the super exaggerated elements to the face, there is so much room for manipulation. I used to use water-based face paint and just draw clown faces and weird lines, it was quite scary to be fair, I had minimal technical skill back then. Since then, I have refined this and don’t do as many typical clown looks anymore, I’m sure I’ll revisit but the white base is definitely here to stay, at least for now!
And what about the role of insecurity in the creation of your clown-inspired makeup looks, and how that has changed as your career progressed?
I mentioned this in a previous interview, but the initial clown faces I did partly come from insecurity. I was severely acne prone, and still am, but am more in control of it now, back then I had really bad skin flare-ups and hated it. That paired with wanting to smother your face in thick makeup is never a good combination so I was in a bit of a situation with myself. The clown face paint masks were a bit of a mask at the time, it helped me get out there and feel more confident about myself and talk to people I definitely wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the makeup on. Now, it couldn’t be more different, I’m much more confident out of makeup & don’t use makeup to hide from anything anymore.
Talk us through the process of creating your iconic Swipe for the Wipe images and how they have become a signature of your work.
Going into the second lockdown in 2021 I wanted to keep myself busy and continue experimenting with makeup on myself, and the Wipe prints I’d seen a few done before but not as a series, definitely not of one hundred. Once I’d tried it once and thought it looked cool with my clown face aesthetic, I set myself a goal just for fun and completed doing one hundred over about 9 months.
As for the process, I find water-based products always of course absorb to the wipe best, anything that set or dries down super strong often won’t transfer well. I find that firmly holding the wipe to your face and pressing rather than rubbing it has a better success rate for a cleaner finish, for me at least. I had 2,000 followers when I started the series and had just been posting my makeup looks here and there for friends to see mainly. Now, they’ve become a bit of a staple in my work and I have a huge binder full of them, I try to do one for every look now, just at least to keep for myself. They’re well received on Instagram and online and I often put a couple up for sale on my website for those wanting to buy a framed original piece on my website.
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Can you discuss the impact that the pandemic and lockdown had on your creative process and how it has influenced your work?
I was in the final stretch of my final year in university when we first went into lockdown. I had to finish my art degree in my bedroom. However, I think although everything was falling apart around me, I was still very much creatively charged being that I was just about to start preparations for my final show after 3 years of university.
I think the pandemic happened at a crucial time for me, a real transition period. Having what seemed like endless time without distraction locked in my house, I was forced to think about what I wanted to do. I had the freedom to just play with makeup products and learn, expand my skill set and ultimately just try as many new things as I could, I wasn’t going anywhere anyway. It was the second lockdown where I did the Swipe For The Wipe series, a definite blessing in disguise as it did give me some sort of purpose through those uncertain months.
How do you balance authenticity and individuality with the pressures of gaining recognition and validation in the beauty and makeup industry?
I’ve never really been overly concerned or put pressure on myself to gain recognition or validation, of course, it’s nice when you get it and I’m always grateful for all the support I get. However, I try to just always do what I want and if people like it then love that! There is always going to be someone that doesn’t like what you’re doing anyway, so I think putting pressure on yourself is unhelpful. I’ve always found those around me that do well are just authentically themselves and a little different to the sea of the same.
How did you go about building your brand and what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in growing your following?
My ‘brand’ happened organically; I always had an image of what my ‘look’ was going to centre around. That clown alien thing, it’s an extension of what the person behind Bo Quinn enjoys and is inspired by. I’ve just always stayed true to myself and done what I felt was right for me. I think some of the challenges of growing a following would be staying consistent, consistency in posting and engaging with your audience makes such a difference in my opinion, and I’m guilty of letting that slip for sure. Also, I think just being aware some things are going to flop, just pick yourself up and try again, not every post is going to be a hit. I think if you’re doing something you enjoy and for the right reasons people will see that and organically people will want to buy into your story and support you.
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How do you approach creating new and fresh looks while still maintaining your signature style?
I’m always sketching out makeup look ideas in notepads and drawing them on face charts, noting down ideas on my phone as and when they come. Often ideas will just sit in my brain and merge and I come up with looks that way. Years ago, used to look at a lot of inspirational pictures, on Pinterest and other sites when I was dry of ideas or to at least get started with something. More recently, I’ve found drawing shapes and thinking about the elements of the face and technically what exactly I’m really trying to achieve and things like that more helpful. Also, I like to look back at previous looks I’ve done as well and remake them how I envision them now. I’m also inspired by makeup products and trends themselves, at the moment I’m really into thick clear gloss over block colours, which adds such an amazing dimension and wetness to the skin.
Can you talk about a specific project or look that you are particularly proud of and why?
The collaboration I did with Tush magazine was a definite highlight. Being asked to be on the cover and do have seven full-page makeup looks with them was a dream and so incredible. I’d always wanted to work with them and for it to have been that I was so excited. I don’t think I realised at the time as so many other things were going on in the world, but it was and still is a big deal for me! It was during the lockdown I did pretty much everything myself alone, except the final editing etc. But I came up with all seven looks, did the makeup, and shot the images all in my tiny bedroom on my boyfriend’s camera I had no idea how to work, all within quite a tight deadline and I’m still so happy and proud of the final result.
How do you stay inspired and continue to push your own boundaries in the beauty industry?
To stay inspired you have to love what you’re doing and want to work for it. As long as I’m able to freely express myself in my way I’ll be happy with that. I do think it’s important to push yourself to a certain degree. At the moment I feel I’ve found a great balance between striving for goals and better things in the future but being content with where I am, remembering and appreciating the hard work I’ve put into my own craft and vision that’s got me to this point in time today.
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Can you share any particularly memorable reactions you've received from people when you've worn your unique makeup looks out in public?
Most of the interactions I’ve had with the public are positive, I see a lot of confusion on people’s faces which I guess is understandable. I remember one time accidentally scaring some children on the train. I got on and was suddenly stuck in a carriage with several screaming children not being able to get off. It was quite funny, and that sticks out to me. London is a pretty good place for getting ignored on the street though, most people keep themselves to themselves.
Could you possibly speak about your experience as a queer artist and how that has influenced your work and career?
I’ve always been super flamboyant; I doubt it was a shock to anyone when I came out. Although I knew from an early age, I feel like I found my true queer identity through the close group of friends I found here in London. I’m super lucky to have a supportive family and close circle surrounding me who encourage anything I ever wanted to do.
What is your ultimate goal or dream in terms of your career in makeup artistry?
I don't have an ultimate goal or career in mind; I’ve done things that were never even on my radar of things I could ever achieve, like having Bo Quinn and my makeup featured in Vogue, that to me is still so crazy. I want to try it all, I’m just excited to continue working and figuring out my path as I go, creating things and am open to what the future may hold.
Finally, do you have any upcoming collaborations or projects you’re looking forward to?
There is always something in the works, I have a big job coming up that I’m super excited about, I’ve never done anything like this before, but I can’t give anything away just yet I’m afraid.
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