The opportunity to kiss a celebrity may top many folks’ wish lists, but it’s just part of the job for Texas artist Natalie Irish, who puckers up for Hollywood greats, music icons and British royalty.
“What’s more intimate than kissing someone’s face?” asks Irish who has gotten up close with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe and Kate Middleton.
But Irish’s lips have never met those of the celebrities she creates using hundreds of carefully planted lipstick kisses on a blank artist’s canvas.
Irish began kissing canvases as a hobby more than a decade ago, but ramped up her effort in 2010 when she quit her job at a Houston veterinary clinic to devote more time and energy to her art projects.
She bases her technique off a style of painting with thumbprints that she learned in high school and spends two to three weeks—and uses one to three tubes of lipstick— on each portrait.
Chapped lips and eyestrain are occupational hazards for the artist who treats her lips as carefully as a painter would a prized paintbrush. Each night she coats her lips with petroleum jelly and keeps lip balm close at hand during the day.
With drawers full of different types of lipstick, Irish is keen to experiment. “I use everything from designer brands, to Dollar Store stuff, and even theater makeup. I make a lots of my own lipsticks and can create whatever colors I desire,” she says.
Irish uses her unique art form to raise awareness for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a cause that’s near to her heart. As a high school senior, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a genetic form of the disease in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar to enter cells to produce energy.
“At that time, I had only heard about [diabetes] on ‘Steel Magnolias’,” she says, noting that today she keeps her sugars under control by watching her diet and using an insulin pump.
Irish also volunteers with the Houston chapter of the Youth Leadership Council and donates her artwork and time to the JDRF’s Walk to Cure Diabetes and other fundraisers.
Sarah Blackmon, a JDRF development manager, says Irish particularly enjoys talking with younger Type 1 patients and encouraging them about how to live with the disease.
Irish breaks the ice with her unique art and then shares information about diabetes, answers questions from the kids and shows them her diabetic tattoo, which includes the universal medical symbol including the snake-entwined staff of Aesculapius.
“She was involved, really, in every aspect of [Walk to Cure Diabetes],” Blackmon says of Irish’s yearlong commitment.
“We’re closer than ever [to finding a cure for Type 1], but the more we learn, the more complicated this disease gets,” she says. “Patients are determined not to let it slow them down.”
While Irish and three million other Type 1 patients wait for a cure, this lipstick painter says she will continue to produce masterful works of art.
“Art has always been there, and is always something I will do,” Irish says.