Artist puckers up to create celebrity portraits - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Artist puckers up to create celebrity portraits

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Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 10:00 am

Which lip balm works best to heal your lips after kissing for hours on end?

“Anything with beeswax in it is always great. Mainly I use a lot of Vaseline or coconut oil. Beer helps, too,” says Natalie Irish.

The Houston artist is privy to this information because of her unique style of painting. Irish doesn’t use a brush nor paint to turn blank canvases into portraits of celebrities, such as Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe. Instead, she uses her lips and a tube of lipstick.

Irish will display her original technique this weekend at the Scottsdale Arts Festival, where she will work on a different piece each day.

“It’s not a performance thing; it’s a slow process,” she says. “If you sit there watching me, you’ll probably just get a nice view of my rear end, because I will be sticking my face into a painting.”

The Festival showcases nearly 200 jury-selected artists from across the United States and Canada. More than 20 Arizona bands and performers will provide music and entertainment on two stages throughout the weekend, and a dozen food trucks will serve international cuisine.

As a pioneer of her unconventional technique, Irish has tried just about every lipstick out there, from bargain brands to the most expensive.

She even tried paint, but abandoned it when it failed to give her lip prints the definition that lipstick affords.

Using lipstick provides its own challenges.

“In the tube, it looks red, but whenever you put it on a white canvas or paper, it’s going to look like a completely different color,” says Irish. “I’m like a lipstick mad scientist.”  

Sticking her face into a painting poses other problems.

“If you hold your hand up to your face, you can’t actually see where your lips are touching,” says Irish. “That’s definitely a big challenge as well — that I can’t actually see what I’m painting.”

Often, her lips become tired, but her biggest problem is the eyestrain that comes from being so close to the canvas.

“I get headaches sometimes before my lips will even start hurting. I do work in really short sessions.”

There are some benefits of using your lips instead of a paintbrush, though.

“After a day of painting, the next morning I wake up, and it looks like I have amazing lip injections,” she says.

Irish, who has been painting for most of her life, also does more traditional painting, as well as ceramics.

But one night, before going out to a concert, she blotted some lipstick onto a napkin, and the idea of painting with her lip prints was conceived. She played with different shapes and decided that Marilyn Monroe would be the perfect candidate for her inaugural lipstick painting.

The majority of Irish’s lipstick paintings are portraits, due to the curvy nature of her lips and how well that translates to the shape of a person’s face.

The intimacy of kissing someone’s portrait also intrigues Irish.

Her first lipstick painting was done in 2001, but it wasn’t until recently, when an online video of her kiss-painting Monroe went viral, that Irish started receiving widespread attention.

She’s been featured via The Huffington Post, Yahoo!, Time, Glamour and Daily Mail. The YouTube video of Irish at work on the Monroe portrait has been viewed more than 500,000 times.

Irish says she didn’t embark on painting with her lips as a fast pass to fame. She hopes she can use the notoriety to get her talent as an all-around artist noticed.

“Once you get people’s attention, then you keep their attention with your actual talent,” she says. “I didn’t set out to (become famous); I just thought (painting with my lips) would be fun.”   

• Preston, a junior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or tribintern@evtrib.com

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