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Kanya Iwana and Francesca Martin Talk Creative Collabs

Just as the world began to quarantine, collaborators and friends, photographer Kanya Iwana and make-up artist Francesca Martin spoke to us about how they got into their respective careers and what it’s like to work together. Today, we’re highlighting their project “COLOR STUDY.” See below for the full convo:

Kanya Iwana: So as someone who’s worked with you pretty much since my beginning, I know about your story, but for those reading, tell us a little bit about yourself: where you were born, where you grew up, how you got into make-up. 

Francesca Martin: I was born in New Zealand, and I’m half Kiwi, half Guatemalan. The women in my life were always being beautifully made up. I would frequently show up to school with my mother’s kiss mark on my cheek – from her favorite MAC lipstick in Chili. I was also fortunate to have a cousin who owns The Makeup School in Auckland. That was my first introduction to seeing that this could be a “real job.”

KI: Did you always know you wanted to do makeup or be in an artistic industry?

FM: When I was five I would say that I wanted to be a singer/dancer/actress when I grew up. I loved dressing my Barbie dolls in different outfits and giving them different hairstyles and making them play in different scenarios. Looking back – I always had a strong sense of creative possibility and imagination – which I now get to explicitly express in my professional life.

KI: I love that you say dressing your Barbie dolls in different outfits, because I did that, too – and undress them. I don’t know. We’ve all been there. 

FM: This is why I love you. So Kanya, how would you describe yourself to those who don’t know you? What would they be surprised to know?

KI: I’m an awkward dork and a nerd. I’m still obsessed with Game of Thrones. Also, not a lot of people know I was born and raised in Indonesia. I came here when I was 16 by myself. 

FM: So we know Game of Thrones brings you joy; what part of the creative process brings you the most joy?

KI: GoT brings me so much joy, it’s ridiculous. But yeah – usually in the beginning, when the artist or creative director and I could just talk about the creative vision, before the money conversation starts. Because I am a creative and producer – which could be such an oxymoron – the magic of creativity can get murky when I start working on budget spreadsheets. It gets exciting again when you execute the project. Then seeing the work on a magazine or a billboard definitely has its perks.

FM: Yes! We had a massive billboard in Times Square in July for a project we worked on together. It was so cool to see our work on that scale.

KI: Yes! That was amazing — Mahalia. When I saw that billboard, I was quickly reminded of how blessed I am with the career I have. That was also a perfect example of a project I worked on from the very beginning. We’ve been talking about working together since 2018. And, all the members of the crew are my friends. We had a blast on set – we even sang Happy Birthday to our videographer, Darrin!

FM: That was such a great day.

KI: How long have you been doing makeup?

FM: I was doing film makeup part-time in New Zealand prior to coming to LA, but I’ve been freelancing full-time in LA for almost four years. A project of yours was actually one of the first jobs I took on as a full-time freelancer four years ago! When did you start shooting professionally?

KI: I’ve only started the end of 2017, and in 2019 I officially LLC-ed. Now, I’m an Inc. Time moves fast when you’re constantly hustling, but I think things can get pretty dark. I remember you saying in the car, “I often compare myself to people who have been in this industry for a decade longer than me. I feel like it’s the dark side of social media.” What’s your relationship with competition and social media?

FM: I tend to get caught up in the cycle of needing to regularly post, and hoping that immediately translates to more business. When I am not working consistently – I feel like it can be of my own failing. I try to remember though when other people are sharing their successes,  that I don’t know how long they have been waiting, or what challenges they’ve been through. I support that person’s success too.

KI: I love that so much. You just never know where people are and where they’ve been. I have to remember that whenever I get competitive or self-destructive. Social media most times only shows highlights or “curated authenticity” is what I like to call it. So with this push and pull from social, where else do you draw inspiration?  

FM: I have dreams almost every night and they tend to be vivid with vibrant colors and limitless scenarios. I write my dreams down in my phone as soon as I wake up. I think that helps bring vibrancy and possibility to my work. On a conscious level, I’m inspired by lines, shapes, color palettes, and textures in nature and architecture. On a job, I draw inspiration from the features of the person in my chair, and how I can work with those features to achieve the vision of a project.

KI: That’s so dope. These days my dreams are super apocalyptic. 

FM: Mine are too sometimes! I have lots of natural disaster dreams. Well, we’ve had a bit of a rough start to 2020. What’s brought you joy in the last few months?

KI: So fucking rough. I’ve been able to look at what is directly in front of me, which is my daughter Milo. She’s three now, and she loves to play pretend. She’s also hilarious. I’m learning not to take things for granted.

FM: It’s hard to stay present so having someone as precious as Milo is such a lovely reminder. She makes me laugh too.

KI: So just for the reader’s context, I’m sending you questions now from home as we social distance. We were going to go eat at an Indonesian restaurant on the west side, but alas. How do you stay motivated when work is slow, or like now, completely shut down? 

FM: I try to make the most of downtime by updating my website, planning posts, condensing my kit, or cleaning the house. Something that I struggle with, though, is allowing myself to experience joy when I’m not working. I have finally allowed myself to take up a pottery class, which I have wanted to do for a long time, and it’s been wonderful. 

KI: I really feel you on finding joy when not working. It’s tough. I think I put too much value in work. It’s important obviously, but it shouldn’t run my psyche the way it does.

FM: Right, it’s hard to find that healthy balance of spending time or money after you’ve earned it. I do think you are one of the most resourceful, out-of-the-box creatives that I’ve worked with. I’m wondering what you would do with unlimited resources?!

KI: I love you! That means so much. And I don’t know what that would look like honestly. Creativity is so abundant and when you have unlimited resources, it’s a dream come true. I’d imagine just being able to create with people without the stress of money. Ultimately I want to give back to the community and most importantly to the earth. I’m not sure what that looks like exactly, but I’m excited to explore it. 

FM: So when it comes to the work itself, what do you think makes your work stand out from others?

KI: That’s a tough one. I like to say that my eye is gentle but bold – intimate but loud. Behind the scenes, I like to think I keep getting hired by the same people because of my work ethic and how I conduct a set or a project. Like I said I like to be involved from the beginning, so that miscommunication or misdirection doesn’t happen, and everyone’s on the same page all the way ‘til the end. I also try to just keep my work environment very low-blood-pressure. 

FM: Agreed – a calm set makes a huge difference. 

KI: And what’s your philosophy about beauty? I think it can be perceived as a mask, which is what I used to think, but then as I work very closely with the beauty industry, I realized there’s so much more to it. I view it now as a meditative ritual for myself and a complex yet astounding artform. 

FM: I really respect how people want to present themselves in the world. If you are 70 and want to wear glitter, go for it! If makeup isn’t for you, no problem! I celebrate anyone that presents themselves in the way that makes them feel most comfortable or beautiful. I find it aggressive when people say “this is the way you should be”. I’m not going to dismiss anyone’s form of self-expression.

KI: To kind of go back to the idea of collaboration – what do you look for in collaboration to know it will be successful? 

FM: For me, a good collaboration has a clear vision and open communication. I want to be able to be heard and ask questions. I definitely think it helps to be aesthetically aligned. What about you? 

KI: I agree with what you said. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses can also be productive in collaboration. I’d also add that an ego-less place is the safest place. A huge ego is always a bummer to everyone. I’m sure you’ve experienced that.

FM: Yes for sure! It’s tricky to balance. 

KI: So then, what do you do when that happens – when things go south?

FM: If things are going south, I tend to try to protect those around me – especially the talent, who are often in the most uncomfortable situations. Every job is a learning experience – I try to reflect on what I could have personally done differently to prevent that situation. 

KI: How have you come to set boundaries for yourself and speak your mind? Is this an area you’re still working on or do you feel like you have a solid foundation in this?

FM: I am naturally a people pleaser, so it hasn’t been easy to go against that. I work on it by practicing speaking mantras to myself like: “I do not have to apologize or give reasons when I say no; I have the right to say no without feeling guilty or judged.” 

KI: I feel like I’ve definitely pushed you before… Oops! Hope you don’t hate me. 

FM: Definitely do not hate you!! It’s helped me grow so much. For this shoot, you really challenged me to redefine “pretty.” How do you push your own boundaries? 

KI: I’ve always been a very free person with my art. I’m never scared to break the rules – except trespassing. My main challenges are actually when I have to follow the rules and go back to basics and learn technique, new gear, “more commercial” lighting. There’s much pressure to be “perfect” in the commercial world… when perfection is not humanly attainable. 

FM: You give me old soul vibes with your inherent wisdom. What piece of advice have you received from someone else that you find useful?

KI: From my husband – your lows and never too low and your highs are never too high. It has helped me feel centered and at peace with my failures and triumphs. How about you? 

FM: To trust that what is meant for me, will come. 

KI: Okay, so let’s do some rapid-fire questions. Three desert island beauty products. Go.

FM: Sunscreen, Bite Beauty agave lip balm, Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir mascara.

KI: Biggest beauty-related pet peeve?

FM: Harsh unblended lines from foundation and contour.

KI: What gets you out of bed?

FM: My full bladder.

KI: What keeps you in bed?

FM: My wife, we enjoy a good sleep-in.

KI: Your dream job?

FM: Anything with Zoe Kravitz. And now my turn — Are you a morning person or a night owl?

KI: Morning person

FM: Favorite camera to shoot with?

KI: My Pentax 6×7

FM: Would you ever live anywhere else apart from LA or Jakarta?

KI: New York City

FM: Food you’d be really sad without?

KI: Coffee

FM: What’s your favorite episode of The Office?

KI: I’ve said it a hundred times and will say it again – “Dinner Party.”




HAIR STYLIST: Ashley Lynn Hall


MODELS: Walker (Ford Models), Saoirse McNamara (Vision), Nicole Chanel (Vision), Harkomal (Vision), Nyadhuor (LA Models)

Stay tuned to Milk for more artists we love. 

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