Putting on lipstick means more to one woman from Texas than just getting all prettied up for a night out on the town.
Nope, for fellow PWD (person with diabetes) Natalie Irish, those shades of lip color mean she's creating art.
Yes, she paints with her lips. On canvas. And produces remarkably amazing portraits of people like Marlyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, and the Dutchess Kate Middleton. That's just what she does, and is known as "the kissing artist" who uses lipstick as a means of artistic expression.
Natalie also happens to be an insulin-pumping type 1 who proudly refers to herself as "a cyborg."
Living with type 1 for just over a decade, the 29-year old from the Houston area hit celebrity status in mid-2011, when a long-overlooked YouTube video of her "lipstick art" that had been posted by her husband finally got some attention. An off-beat website called Oddity Central stumbled across that video and linked to the channel, catapulting her art into the public eye.
Since then, Natalie's name and artwork have appeared in national media and blogs, including high-profile spots like Good Morning America and the Huffington Post. Most recently, on Dec. 19, Natalie made an appearance on Conan O'Brien's Late Night show.
Natalie on Conan - Part One
Natalie on Conan - Part Two
This isn't the world she imagined for herself, although it's a dream come true for Natalie being able to be a full-time artist. After studying metal-smithing, ceramics and art at the University of North Texas and Alvin Community College, she took a "corporate job" working the front desk at a local veterinary clinic in Texas and was only doing art in her free time.
But she started having unexplained high and low blood sugars and got sick, often needing to leave and even passing out at work. That created problems with co-workers and she was scared for her own health, but no one believed she was really ill because she didn't "look sick." One day, Natalie received a letter in the mail from her pump-maker Medtronic alerting her to an infusion set recall and faulty infusion set and tubing -- proof that something was indeed wrong. But even that didn't convince her employer, so she eventually she left that job.
That brought Natalie into the fold as a full-time artist, devoted to her own creative expression.
Through the years, Natalie has made much more than lipstick art. She uses her hands quite often, and in the past she's used D-Supplies in her art, like pump supplies for conceptual jewelry beads, and broken syringes in her metalwork creations. On her right wrist, she sports a serpent-cross tattoo on that reads "Diabetic" with the date of her diagnosis: Oct. 30, 2000. It's much more stylish than a medical bracelet and is "fitting for an artist," she says.
Her website features all kinds of different thumbprints and lipstick pieces that can be ordered online, and Natalie tells us she's interested in getting involved in Diabetes Art Day (coming up on Feb. 4, 2013), possibly putting some lipstick art together for that! Though she's busy, Natalie took some time to talk with the 'Mine recently about her life with diabetes and her art career.
DM) Can you share your diabetes diagnosis story?
NI) I was diagnosed a few weeks after my 18th birthday, in my senior year of high school. It was also the day before Halloween... and all the candy that goes along with it. Good thing I didn't wait another day longer to go to the doctor. Six months later I was on a pump. Now I wear an Animas pump. It's pink, and waterproof, and awesome. I joke a lot about being a cyborg, especially with little kid pumpers. I tell them we're part robot -- how cool is that?!
I've been making art since I could hold a crayon. I like to try every medium I can get my hands on. Drawing, painting, sewing, metal-smithing, ceramics... anything and everything. I've always sought out new ways to create and enjoy using everyday things in ways that they aren't intended. I have made several pieces with thumbprints before. Chuck Close has done some portraits in that manner, as well as other artists. It's all in the spirit of pointillism. Back in 2001, I was putting on some red lipstick to go out and see a show, and I blotted the lipstick on a bit of tissue. I saw the kiss print it left and decided I could paint with my lips in a similar way as with thumbprints.
Do you take your artistic talents to any diabetes organizations?
I have been involved in JDRF and ADA walks and events for years and I try to donate art to local gala and event auctions. I really enjoy working with the JDRF advocacy team. A couple of us met with (politician) Ron Paul a few years ago and I had a chance to speak with him. He had never even seen an insulin pump and was very interested in the technology. He said that it was ridiculous that we can put men on the moon, but do not yet have an artificial pancreas. A few weeks later he voted in support for more diabetes research funding.
OK, how cool was it meeting and talking with Conan on live TV?
I had a blast! He was a pleasure to work with and he really enjoyed the artwork. The crew working on the show are an amazing group of people and I had so much fun meeting all of them! Plus, it was very cool getting Conan to put on some lipstick and smooth his portrait -- nobody else can probably say they've gotten him to do that on TV!
Now that you're taking your art to such a broader audience, will you be focused on raising awareness about diabetes?
My main goal is to help get some awareness and educational information out there, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to speak to people about diabetes and insulin pumps. When most people hear that I have diabetes, they automatically assume type 2. Both type 1 and type 2 are terrible diseases, but they are also very different. Don't ever assume you know what someone else is going through. And don't take my word for it either; do a little research on your own. That part is easy... and mostly painless.
What an incredibly unusual talent, Natalie! We love what you're doing, and hope to get a chance to see some of your artwork up close and personal some time soon!