KISS AND TELL: NATALIE IRISH PAINTS WITH HER LIPS AND TALKS ABOUT DIABETES
For someone who doesn’t wear lipstick often, Natalie Irish’s makeup collection is extensive. The artist’s claim to fame is lipstick painting, and she’s using her unique talent to connect with others who live with Type 1 diabetes.
Her petite build and blue hair attract attention, even before she starts kissing a canvas. And for children who frequently deal with doctors and medical devices, Natalie is a fun and refreshing personality they can relate to.
“How cool is it that I made up my own job?” she says. “I’m doing something fun and different for a living, and I have diabetes too.”
Diagnosed at 18 years old, Type 1 diabetes meant a big adjustment from life as Natalie knew it. Although she had planned to go away for University that year, she stayed close to home instead and attended the local college.
She was on injections for only 6 months before starting on an insulin pump. “My blood sugars were all over the place—the pump was exactly what I needed to get things under control.”
After facing several challenges with the first pump she tried, Natalie sought out Animas. Not only was she attracted to the Animas® Vibe® insulin pump —for its interface, its accuracy, and primarily the fact that it’s waterproof—she was drawn to the people and personality at the company.
“They focus on the important things and have fun doing it.”
Since then, she’s been sharing her story and introducing art at diabetes events and conferences. She says art is a way of connecting with people on a different level.
“With art, we’re not discussing the physical aspects of the disease, so it allows us to focus on the mental and emotional part of living with diabetes. In the last decade, many more people are talking about depression and the mental aspects of diabetes, and art is great for that. And it’s fun—how often do you get to try green lipstick?”
Art has been a part of Natalie’s life since she could hold a crayon, and her goal has always been to do it full time.
Although she’s become most well known for lip painting, Natalie doesn’t have a favorite medium. She works with clay, textiles, oils, acrylic, charcoal, metals, and experiments with any other medium she can get her hands on. There’s evidence in every corner of her house that her home is an art studio—easels, a drafting table, yarn, knitting needles, and lipstick in every shade imaginable.
“A common theme in my work is to use things in ways they weren’t originally intended. That’s how lipstick came along. I wanted to find a new medium.”
After facing several challenges with the first pump she tried, Natalie sought out Animas.
She started experimenting with the lipstick technique in 2001. She was in college at the time, and before heading out for an evening with friends, she blotted her lipstick on a tissue. It was a brief moment of inspiration that led her to a unique career.
Everything about lip painting was an experiment—what kind of surface to use, what kind of lipstick to use, and how to apply the technical aspects of painting like shading and blending.
“The problem-solving was fun. There were a lot of misses before I figured it out. I’ve tried so many types of lipsticks—from dollar store brands to professional stage makeup—I even make my own lipstick from scratch.”
While she works, her hands and forearms get a workout. Each painting is a physical process, with lots of bending and maneuvering to get the desired effect. And the uniqueness of her craft attracts attention from people who aren’t usually interested in art.
“There can be a pretentious wall with art, and this medium has helped to bring that wall down. Art is everywhere—it’s your t-shirt, your sneakers, your furniture—and it should be approachable.”
Her art has led her to people and places around the world, giving her the chance to work with the likes of cosmetic companies and Cirque du Soleil. But while lip painting catches people’s attention, Natalie says many of her most heartfelt feedback comes from the diabetes community.
“I’ve received so many messages about diabetes with words like ‘inspired’. That is so cool. My art and my diabetes are so intertwined. I can’t turn diabetes off, and art has given me a way to talk about diabetes.”
“One of the hardest things about diabetes is trying not to beat yourself up. Every time you look at your meter and your blood sugar level isn’t where it’s supposed to be, you judge yourself. This condition can be devastating, even though it’s not your fault,” she says. “Art can help you see the bigger picture: when our lives are busy and fast, art helps us to slow down and appreciate the little things.”
Natalie says she’ll never stop creating. And just like she’s learned to take diabetes one day at a time, she’s an optimist when it comes to her work.
“A lot of people ask me what painting is my favourite—and I say the one I’m working on right now.”