Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Elephant No. 331: Lipstick Art

I was cleaning out my makeup bag yesterday and started to throw out some lipstick colours that are either too old, nearly gone, or in colours I never wear. Then I wondered if I could paint with them before tossing them. After all, they're loaded with pigment, and have an oily-waxy base—how different could they be from oil pastels or oil sticks?

It is thought that women in Ancient Mesopotamia (ca. 3000 B.C.) may have been the first to invent and wear lipstick, produced by crushing gemstones and applying them to their lips. Around the same time, women in the Indus Valley Civilization were also applying lip colouring.

By the first century B.C., women in Ancient Egypt used some unusual lip concoctions, including dyes made with iodine and algae, crushed carmine beetles, and ants. Shimmering lipsticks included ground-up fish scales.

Solid lipsticks were invented in the tenth century A.D. by noted Arab Andalusian cosmetologist Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis). He produced perfumed pigment sticks which had been rolled and pressed in special moulds.

A couple of centuries later, lipstick was banned by religious authorities in Medieval Europe as something sinful, since it was generally worn only by prostitutes. During the sixteenth century in England, however, lip colouring—now made with beeswax and plant-based dyes—began to regain its popularity. Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most avid followers of this particular fashion, whitening her face and colouring her lips a bright red. Interestingly, for a couple of centuries to come, only upper-class women and male actors wore makeup.

"The Darnley Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I,
by an unknown artist, ca. 1575.
Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Darnley_

During the nineteenth century, warnings were issued about some of the dangerous compounds used in makeup, including lipstick. Both lead and vermilion were mentioned, and it wasn't until the end of the century that the first relatively safe commercial lipsticks in Europe were manufactured. Produced by the French company Guerlain, these early sticks were made of deer tallow, castor oil, beeswax, dyes and scent, and were covered in silk paper. Prior to this, women had mixed their own lip colourings at home.

By the 1920s, the use of makeup in Europe and the United States appears to have become acceptable within the fashionable world, quickly trickling down to the wider populace.

Silent movie star Clara Bow, who popularized "bees-stung
lips" in bright red, ca. 1926.
Source: http://www.glamamor.com/2012/03/cinema-

During the first decade of the twentieth century, lipstick was still being sold only in paper tubes, small pots or on tinted papers. It was applied either by brush, or with the tip of the finger. By 1915, metal lipstick cylinders, invented by Maurice Levy, had become available. A small lever on the side of the tube allowed the user to push up the lipstick inside. The first swivel tubes arrived in 1923, patented by James Mason, Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee.

Interestingly, during the Second World War, metal lipstick tubes were replaced by plastic and paper tubes, because metal was needed for the war effort. Lipstick also grew somewhat scarce, because some of lipstick's essential ingredients—including castor oil and petroleum—were unavailable.

Over the past several decades, lipstick has become available in a bewildering array of colours and formulations, including lip stains, lip gloss, long-lasting lipstick, and liquid lip colour. In addition to traditional reds, pinks and earth tones, as well as the pale and white lipsticks first popularized in the 1960s, lipsticks now come in colours such as green, blue and black.

Vogue Italia, August 2009.
Source: http://www.eyeshadowlipstick.com/date/2010/11/page/26/

Today's lip colourings contain wax, oils, emollients and other substances such as scent and flavourings. Waxes such as beeswax and candelilla wax give sold lipstick its structure. Oils and fats such as olive oil, mineral oil, and cocoa butter are added to make the lipstick glossy. Dyes include both organic and inorganic pigments. Shimmery lipsticks often contain mica, silica, synthetic pearlescent particles and even fish scales.

Although I found almost no art created with lipstick in my online search, I did come across some rather charming work by artist Natalie Irish, who "paints" with lipstick kisses.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Natalie Irish.
Source: http://www.visualnews.com/2011/07/14/artist-

For today's elephant, I had the following colours to play with. I now regret that I threw out a few other colours several weeks ago.

My first thought was to draw on paper with these, as you'd draw on a mirror, then I realized that I also have a lipstick brush. So I decided to use that instead. I also have paintbrushes, of course, but I wasn't sure I wanted them gunked-up with lipstick.

I was going to work on paper, but then I thought it would be more interesting to work on a small canvas board. I chose one measuring a modest 15 x 20 cm (6 x 8 inches).

Since I was working with something as bizarre as lipstick, I decided to start from something realistic. I chose this photograph:

Savannah elephant, Kruger National Park, South Africa, 2005.
Photo: Felix Andrews
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elephant_side-view_Kruger.jpg

Before I used any of the tubes, I cleaned them all off with a tissue. This not only removes a bit of the ick factor—related to your canvas becoming covered in something that may have touched your lips—but also provides a nice, fresh source of pigment. To me, it was a bit like preparing a pigment stick.

I started by using a medium brown called "Fabulous Fig" to make a light outline sketch. I didn't bother with an underlying pencil drawing, because I had no idea how I would ever erase pencil afterwards.

Already I could see the limitations of this medium. Or perhaps it was more the brush that was the issue. If the brush was overloaded with colour, it kind of smeared around. If there wasn't enough colour on the tip of the brush, I got a very soft-focus effect.

Next, I added something called "Blackberry". I discovered that, if I loaded mostly the tip of the brush, I could draw fine lines. The colour petered out quickly, but at least fine lines were possible.

My next addition was a red called "Très Très Dior". Although I like red, this colour looks terrible on me—but nice on my elephant. This is when I began to notice that the consistency of the lipstick made quite a difference to how the pigment reacted on the canvas. The red, for example, was very smooth and very creamy. This made it more blendable than any of the other colours, but also less likely to hold a fine line.


After this, I simply kept painting with different colours of lipstick, until I was happy with the final design. I also discovered a sort of pointillist technique which allowed me to dot fine lines of lipstick with the tip of the brush in order to produce a continuous delicate line.

If you decide to try this with lipstick otherwise destined for the trash, here are a few helpful tips:

1.  Keep tissues handy. Not only is it a good idea to wipe the surface of the lipstick before starting, but you may also want to remove some colour before applying your brush to the canvas or paper. You will likely want to wipe your brush in between colours as well.

2. I used a lipstick brush, but I did try a very fine paintbrush at one point. It was a bit underwhelming. Not only did it not hold enough paint to be worth the trouble, but it also didn't make lines that were any finer than the tip of my lipstick brush.

3. The quality of the lipstick brush is immaterial. I used one that I bought years ago for less than ten dollars, and it was perfect. The main thing is that the brush be square enough at the tip to allow for a razor edge.

4. The quality of the lipstick is also immaterial. Although the Dior lipstick cost well over twenty dollars, it was actually the most tricky of the tubes I had. The creaminess that makes it pleasant to wear also makes it more smeary and unpredictable.

5. Because this is a medium with a wax-oil base, it will smear quite readily. Although I have no idea how archival lipstick paintings might be, I'm guessing it's probably a good idea to let it dry as if it were an oil painting. In this case, because the layers are so thin, a few days should do it.

6. If you don't want to use a brush, obviously you can just draw directly on the surface with your lipstick tube. You could even blend it afterwards with a brush or your fingers, depending on the effect you want. I used only the lipstick brush to blend my drawing, because I feared getting lipstick all over the place if I let it migrate to my hands.

It took me a little under an hour to produce this drawing, and it was actually an interesting experience once I got the hang of working with lipstick and a lipstick brush. Prior to this, I had only ever thought of lipstick art as something scrawled on a bathroom mirror in movies. Now that I know you can actually make finely shaded drawings with "lippy", I may not throw out these tubes after all. You just won't see them on my face.

Elephant Lore of the Day
I've written before about the Dasara Festival in Mysore and an elephant named Arjuna, but there are many other elephants used in the festival with equally interesting stories. Two of my favourites are Gajendra and Mahendra.

Gajendra is considered an expert in making other elephants fall into line. His imposing size and manner have also made him a natural at capturing problem elephants in the wild.

One day, park rangers were chasing a wild elephant, with Gajendra in the lead. Suddenly, Gajendra stopped—a behaviour that is almost unheard-of for an elephant in hot pursuit. When rangers approached Gajendra to see why he'd stopped, they found an unconscious man lying in the grass. Although Gajendra had let a wild elephant escape, he had saved a human.

Mahendra was a less intimidating and more tenderhearted sort. He was very fond of his trainer, who happened to be something of a drunkard. Every night, when his trainer did not return, Mahendra would actually go in search of the man, eventually retrieving him from one of several village taverns.

Dasara Festival procession, Mysore.
Photo: © K.L. Kamat
Source: http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/prani/

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