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Wingman Wednesday

Natalie Irish

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Years ago, Bob Ross captured the world’s imagination by creating works of art right before our eyes. It was like watching a magician. With a stroke of a brush he magically formed a “happy tree” or a “little friend,” and it was amazing… BUT, imagine if he had done that using nothing but his lips instead of a paintbrush. Well, that’s exactly what artist and creative thinker Natalie Irish is doing, but she isn’t painting landscapes. Natalie is producing incredible life-like portraits armed with nothing but a blank canvas and lipstick.

We recently sat down with Irish to discuss her lip-bitingly incredible work, chatting it up with Conan O’Brien, and why she’s so passionate about educating people on Type 1 diabetes.

TrunkSpace: When we saw your portrait paintings, we were super impressed to say the least. When we found out those paintings were done using just your lips, our minds were completely blown! Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to paint just using your lips?
Irish: I’ve always loved trying new mediums. In high school I learned about Chuck Close and tried his finger print technique. So, in 2001 I blotted my lipstick on a tissue one day, and when I saw the lip print I thought that it could be used in a similar technique. It’s all in the spirit of pointillism. Then the experimenting began. What kind of lipstick works best? What kind of surface? How do I make different shapes and shades? No one else had done it before, so I had to figure it all out, which was and still is exciting. I am still finding out different things I can do with the medium after working in it for 17 years. 

TrunkSpace: With your lips as the paint brush, you must be up close and personal with the canvas much of the time. Do you have to step back often to take it all in or make adjustments? And, can you give us an overall idea how your whole creative process comes together when you’re working in this lip-centric style?
Irish: My eyes usually become fatigued way before my lips start hurting. I have to step back and look at the entire canvas, find the spot I want to make the next mark, and then get so close that I can’t actually see where my lips are touching the canvas. I’ve had a lot of practice with my aim, but it still hurts my eyes. I have special made bifocals that help reduce the strain on my eyes, but I still have to work in short sessions. There are a lot of things like that and weird techniques and problem solving that has come along with painting with my lips. I feel that because I have studied art my whole life it makes it easier, especially in the beginning. I use the same basic principles that you would use in any medium: balance, shading, proportion, etc. Because I knew how to create a portrait with pencils, charcoals, paints and brushes, when I went to try it with my lips I was able to focus on how to do things I already knew, but with a different “brush.” 

TrunkSpace: What do you use to create your color palette? Is it all lipstick? Or is it paint? Or maybe a combo of both?
Irish: It’s all lipstick. I have no desire to put actual paint on my lips! Also, I don’t think you could get the same texture with anything but a cream-based lipstick.

TrunkSpace: You were a guest on the Conan O’Brien show, and you got to share your artwork with the entire Coco nation. What was that experience like? And did that open any creative doors for you?
Irish: It was great. I’ve always been a Conan fan. They shipped a lot of my artwork out to California to be featured on the show and everyone was so nice. They wanted to purchase the portrait I painted of Conan to have for their green room. I asked that they make a donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation instead and the painting is still in their green room to this day. It was great to talk about my work on the show, but the feedback from the diabetes community really was incredible. I have been on an insulin pump for 17 years and was able to show it and talk about it on the show. Tons of people reached out to tell me how much they enjoyed it or how much their kids with Type 1 were so excited to see a pump like theirs on TV. It was quite overwhelming. My website even shut down from all the traffic, wasn’t ready for that!

TrunkSpace: Can you tell us more about your work to bring awareness to Type 1 diabetes?
Irish: I love to talk to people about Type 1 Diabetes because education is so important. It’s a very misunderstood disease. I talk to kids with Type 1 every chance I get. I have blue hair and tattoos and wear “Star Wars” t-shirts, so I don’t look like most of the “adults’ that come and talk to them. Most people with a chronic illness are told that they may have to work a little harder to make it happen, but you can still be or do anything. I tell them that I’m living proof of that – I made up my own job! I’ve had the opportunity to be a guest at many conferences and walks and fundraisers all over the country. It’s always been a goal for me, that one day I could use my artwork to maybe make some kind of a difference and raise awareness to things that are important to me. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon either. The main message I would like to get out to folks with or without this disease in their lives would be, very simply, do some research. Find out exactly what Type 1 Diabetes is. Then you can see for yourself that insulin is not a cure and the need to continue with fundraising and advocacy is very great.

TrunkSpace: Listed under your past work you have a number of VIPs and interesting clients, but one that really peaked our interest was “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” What sort of work did you get to create for this collector of curiosities?
Irish: Originally, Ripley’s commissioned a portrait of Kate Middleton, which is in their museum in Piccadilly, London. Later they purchased a piece I had created of Elizabeth Taylor, shortly after her death. That one is either in Florida or Dallas… not sure! They sent me a Christmas card one year with a photo of the lady with super long fingernails on it. Best Christmas card I’ve ever received!

TrunkSpace: You teamed up with Urban Decay for the “Revolution Lipstick Launch.” This sounds like the best partnership since wine and cheese! What was it like working with Urban Decay, and did you get to create any special works of art for the event using the line of lipstick?
Irish: Oh my, working with Urban Decay was a dream! I have traveled all over the world working with all kinds of cool companies and clients – Avon Brazil and Chile, Magnum Ice Cream in Budapest, Cirque du Soleil in Vegas, and Covergirl at an MTV VMA party, to name a few. But Urban Decay, that was indeed a perfect fit. I’ve always loved their products and brand and have used their lipsticks to paint with since I first started. They contacted me and wanted to have me and my work be a part of their new Revolution lipstick launch in Sephora in Times Square. I created a total of 12 pieces, most of which were exhibited at the “Kisshibition” Event. I also worked on a painting live throughout the party. It usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to complete a piece, so when I do I live painting I bring something that is almost completed to finish at the event. We also teamed up with the Art of Elysium for the event. They auctioned off most of the paintings for charity after the launch. The founder, Wende Zomnir, is such a cool chick and we had a blast working together, we even went to the same college, University of North Texas! UD has always had a fun, colorful approach to cosmetics and I believe that makeup should be just that, FUN! And their lipsticks are so great to paint with. While I use many different lipsticks when I paint, I think the most frequently used lip colors in my paintings are Urban Decay, stage makeup (Ben Nye and Mehron), and formulas that I have made. And they have never paid me to say that. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You’ve accomplished so much in the art world using nothing but your lips. What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or partnerships we should keep a look out for?
Irish: I have lots of projects I’m working on. I am currently working on perfecting the formula for my own lipstick line, which I am super excited about. As for lip painting, I still have new things that I want to do with it and am currently working on a series for a gallery show. (Details coming soon!) These newer pieces are focusing on beauty treatments, all the things we do to alter our appearance. I’m really enjoying working on them. I also am always working in other mediums. I studied Metalsmithing and Ceramics at university and I was always told that I needed to pick one medium and stick with it. But, I don’t work like that. I think art breeds more art. I can be throwing pottery and get an idea for something I want to sew and then get inspiration for an oil painting from a piece of jewelry I’m making. I can’t even watch television without knitting or doing something with my hands. I hope to start showing more of my different mediums in the future. One common theme that has made itself apparent in my many different mediums is that I like to use things in ways that they aren’t intended. Working with different mediums helps facilitate that too. I love to use sewing and textile techniques with metal and using plastics for sewing and knitting. It’s about looking at things differently, like seeing lipstick as a tube of paint and my mouth as a brush.

For more information on Irish, visit here.

For more information on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, visit here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Ally Maki

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Photo By: Rick Bhatia

*Feature originally ran 9/20/17

There are many things to like about the TBS comedy “Wrecked” – the humor, the life-or-death stakes, the irresistible accent of series star Rhys Darby – but there’s one piece to the stranded on a desert island puzzle that we can’t help but love – Ally Maki.

The Washington native shines on the series, consistently delivering laughs in the midst of her character Jess’ attempts to strike a balance between enduring the tortures of a survivalist lifestyle and her own personal problems, most of which involve her on-again/off-again significant other, Todd, played to great douchery by Will Greenberg.

We recently sat down with Maki to discuss mosquito scars, why she loves that Jess is such a hot mess, and how she once played a keytar without ever having actually played a keytar.

TrunkSpace: Congrats on season 3 pick up!
Maki: Thank you so much.

TrunkSpace: I hope you’re a beach person because we assume that means more sand in your future!
Maki: It does. I have so many stories about our filming on our tropical set, but overall it’s pretty wonderful to film on a beach.

TrunkSpace: The universe is going to punish you at some point. Your next job is going to be like six months in Antarctica.
Maki: You know what, I have already been punished enough by the mosquitoes, so I feel like I’ve paid my dues.

TrunkSpace: Even though you were on the same island in the show, you actually filmed the first and second season in different locations, right?
Maki: Yes. The first one was in Puerto Rico. I love Puerto Rico, but the bugs there were such an issue. I left and I had, no joke, like 250 scars on my legs. We had to do like a workers comp file because I did seven months of laser scar removal because my legs looked like insanity. I couldn’t even show them at all because you would think something was wrong with me.

TrunkSpace: Yikes. That sounds rough. And then, we’d have to imagine that the sun itself is a bit of a liability.
Maki: Oh yeah and I’m very sensitive to any sort of heat. I’m the girl that, if I take half an Advil, I’ll pass out. I’m always stressed out by the heat and I’m constantly getting dehydrated, but then you don’t want to drink too much water because then you have to go to the bathroom a lot. It’s a whole thing. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We know a lot of people instantly connect the show to “Lost” in terms of the premise, but it’s really more of like an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but with life-or-death stakes.
Maki: Yeah. Absolutely. I was the only person who had never seen “Lost” when I booked the show, so I really only knew the show as its own thing, and I definitely saw it as something completely different. It’s just so wacky and zany, and fun, and weird. I appreciate that people who loved “Lost” love the show as well, but it’s definitely its own thing.

TrunkSpace: And that thing is represented in the humor. Sometimes the funniest things in life come out of those moments where the stakes are high.
Maki: Oh yeah. I mean, you’re just elevating the stakes by 1000 percent. My character, Jess, is just, she’s an all-American, modern girl. She’s going through all the things that every woman goes through – dealing with a douchey boyfriend, or relationship, sex, this and that. She’s trying to find her inner strength, but it’s hilarious when you kind of put that in a life-or-death situation because it means so much to her. It’s very fun.

TrunkSpace: We hope every woman doesn’t have to deal with a douchey boyfriend at some point in their lives. There’s got to be some who get a Get Out Of Douchey Jail Free card.
Maki: I would love to meet and talk to a woman that has not had to deal with one because I have had far too many in my life. (Laughter) I would love to give those away to other people if they would like those.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) From a performance standpoint, what is your favorite thing about Jess that you like diving into? What about her is worth dealing with heat and the mosquitoes for?
Maki: I honestly love that she’s somewhat of a hot mess because I kind of am in my own life too. It’s fun to see her go through all of these things and she’s really just trying to find her own independence and her own voice, but she has kind of a rough time getting there. She wears her heart on her sleeve so much, and she’s constantly making mistakes, but I love that she just kind of always gets right back in the game and goes completely head strong and nose first into all of these issues. It’s so much fun to play her. She’s a total mess, but I love her.

Maki and Greenberg in season 2 of Wrecked. Photo By: Vince Valitutti

TrunkSpace: From what we read, you almost didn’t even read for Jess in the first place, right?
Maki: Yeah. I was kind of in this weird head space because I had just done this show with Nick Frost and Justin Long, and it was literally my dream project and we were on a hold for about a year. I just found out randomly that the show was not going and it was absolutely devastating for me. The audition for “Wrecked” came very soon after, so it was one of those things that I was like, “Screw it! I’m not even sure if I’m ready to get back in the game again because I’m so depressed about it.” And I also just thought, at that time in the industry, we’re in this place where I didn’t really believe that it was possible for an Asian American woman to be playing this part just based upon years and years of the roles that people would see me for and not see me for, or pity see me for. So I was kind of like, “Is this going to be a waste of my time?”

It wasn’t. It was because of our amazing casting director Julie Ashton, who’s a friend and she’s honestly the only reason why I ever worked in this business, but she was like, “Honestly, we’re going so out of the box so come in and see what happens.” It’s one of those things where I kind of just let it go, and I was just the right girl for the role. Thank God for TBS and the Shipleys and everyone because, yeah, I almost did not go in.

TrunkSpace: Life always zigs when you plan for it to zag.
Maki: Absolutely. It’s kind of funny, I always look back to the moment of my rock bottom when I was told that the Fox show wasn’t going through, and I was like, “Is it even going to happen?” I was really kind of just doubting myself in the industry and everything. I look back now and I think about all of the adventures that I’ve had and how incredibly amazing the show is. It’s just awesome. I feel so lucky.

TrunkSpace: Beyond the job and your career itself, what is one of the coolest things to come out of the opportunity “Wrecked” has provided? We know you did Conan’s show, for example, which to us, would have been an amazing chapter in our life book.
Maki: Well, Conan is like a number one bucket list thing for me, so that was another moment I was like, “I can’t even believe that this is possible!” If I had gone back to my 14-year-old self and would’ve been like, “Hey, one day you’re going to do a late night talk show,” I would have honestly just pissed my pants. It was so meaningful because I was getting so many messages from people in the Asian American community, or just young girls of color. I had this one girl who literally said she watched it and she cried because she’d never really seen someone that looked like her on a late night talk show before. It makes you feel like, “I do exist in this world, and people like me exist. Our stories matter.” It’s really a cool thing.

TrunkSpace: Here’s the thing, Ally. You’re beautiful. You’re talented. You’re funny. But quite possibly the best thing we discovered about you is that, yes, you played the keytar!
Maki: Oh my gosh!

Photo By: Francisco Roman

TrunkSpace: As far as visuals go, it really is the greatest instrument ever invented.
Maki: (Laughter) I know. One of my friends calls me Robin Sparkles. She’s like, “You’re like my own Robin Sparkles in real life.”

TrunkSpace: If you discover that there has been a big jump in viewers on the “It’s a Hair Thing” video, that’s because of us. We’ve watched it over and over and over again.
Maki: (Laughter) Oh my gosh. So hilarious. When people find out about it, I’m like, “Please don’t Google it. Please don’t Google it!” It’s so embarrassing, but you know, we all have our embarrassing stories.

TrunkSpace: Did you have to kind of rebrand yourself after that period?
Maki: Here’s the thing, that was not where I started. I actually started out always in acting. I did theater all growing up. I was scouted when I was 14. I moved out here as an actress. I started doing stuff for the Disney Channel and stuff, but the only reason why I did the girl band was, honestly, because there was such a lack of things for me to do as an Asian girl. There was just nothing. There were only things here and there, little things, so my agent was like, “I think you should go out for this girl band. They’re really interested in you and they’re looking for an Asian girl.” I was like, “Please no! I don’t want to do it!” I was classically trained as a pianist, not like the keytar or whatever. They were like, “Please just go in.” I had to learn Avril Lavigne’s “Skater Boy” and I went in and they were like, “Well, you got it!”

It’s really just this blip, and it was never what I wanted to do and never what I was supposed to do. And then one day they were like, “Hey, so we want to change it up and we want you to play the keytar.” I was like, “What?!?!” I never even learned how to play it. It was never even plugged in.

TrunkSpace: Life is all about the journey, and as far as journeys go, that’s a hell of a story to share!
Maki: I always think when I have embarrassing things, I’m like, “This will be a great story on a talk show or in an interview one day.” That helps me get through it. (Laughter)

Featured Photo By: Rick Bhatia

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