A plus-size artist told how she exorcises demons which have haunted her since her schooldays by depicting horror fantasies on her own face – spending up to 12 hours giving herself a different extraordinary look every day.
Spending $5,900 on makeup in a single year to transform herself into a “living art doll,” changing her visage daily, Skye McLaughlin, 24, of Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania also restores statues. She describes her face as a “canvas of emotions” on which she depicts her changing moods.
Weighing 298 pounds, Skye’s style is inspired by Japanese fashion – is also keen to challenge preconceptions that dolls should have figures like Barbie.
She said: “At first, people would say, ‘You can’t be a doll because you’re fat.’ But I just did what I wanted. Now, I’m helping other people who are plus-size realize that they can do it too.”
“I have tons of people every week saying, ‘Hey man, you make me see that I can do that too. I don’t have to dress drab because I’m plus-size’.
“It’s the magic of life – we can wear what we want! One of my huge goals is to make people feel comfortable wearing whatever they want. It’s so important to dig deep and be who you are.”
Skye, whose mum is a makeup artist, became interested in painting her own face at age 15.
She said: “I started to realize that I could paint on my face and that segued into special effects makeup.
“Then, when I was 18, I started working at haunted houses as a dead clown girl, inspired by Pierrot clowns with the stark white, mask-like faces.”
She continued: “It provided the foundation for what my makeup evolved into, and I still use the same basic formula when doing my makeup – a white base, some type of bright blush, bold or gigantic eyes, and then details.
“That’s where I really came into my own and really started treating makeup like art.”
At school, without the funds to invest in cosmetics, Skye improvised, using markers to create realistic special effects on her face and body.
She laughed: “I’d draw on myself with my artist markers. I’d make these realistic gashes, or I’d draw weird things, or lines on my face, but the gory stuff got me in trouble.”
“I remember once, I was in maths and I raised my hand and had these cuts on my arms.
“My teacher screamed and ran over to see if I was okay, but I’d drawn them on with a marker!”
While her wild makeup grabbed her classmates’ attention, Skye does not have happy memories of school, where she was bullied about her size and constantly harassed by one student who continued to verbally abuse her by phone even after they graduated high school.
She continued: “I struggled a lot as a young person; I was not treated well by my peers because of my weight and how I dressed, which was really experimental and weird, but I think people also just thought I was weird.”
“Some teachers even thought I was the bully because I was big, tough and angry and I stood up for myself.”
She added: “I was so angry and sad, but instead of lashing out, I really turned my anger into fuel to create and have found devising my different looks a great support.”
“With each new look, I create a new piece of art.”
And, while Skye’s inspiration for her elaborate appearance often comes from her love of horror and fantasy, her own emotions are also reflected in her creations.
She said: “A lot of my emotions are put into my work.”
“When I’m angry, I paint it on my face. When I’m sad, I paint it on my face and when I’m happy, I paint it on my face.”
“I’m turning myself into this caricature of emotions.”
Her love of dolls has developed in tandem with her makeup creations, but while she began collecting them, along with figurines, as a teenager, she could not afford the ball-jointed versions she really wanted.
Coming as a blank canvas for their owners to transform, she now has three of the special dolls, which collectively cost her $1500, for just the blank doll forms.
She said: “I read about ball-jointed dolls obsessively from the age of 10.”
She continued: “Even though I couldn’t have one, I was planning which one I was going to get in the future, who they were and how I was going to dress them.”
“I was drawn to them because of the magic of what I could do with them. I got to take something that was in my brain and apply it to this doll – making my fantasy real.”
“And that’s pretty much what I do to myself on a daily basis.”
But Skye, who has 17,900 followers on Instagram is keen to differentiate between herself and “living dolls” – a community of people who try to replicate the “perfect” waif-like appearance of Barbie dolls.
She explained: “Living dolls try to be very perfect, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not my goal. At the end of the day, I take my look off, and I’m the blank canvas again – nothing is permanent.
“What I really wanted was always to just be a living artwork and to eat, sleep and breathe it and become it.”
She added: “I describe myself as a living art doll. It means I’m using my body as a canvas to become my own art.
“Part of being a doll is being blank, especially with art dolls, it’s a lifestyle, so part of being the art yourself is being a blank canvas.”
And while Skye has certain repetitive themes – like painting a dot under each eye to highlight two natural freckles – she transforms her look to be different every day, taking between three hours for a simple white face dusted in gold, and 12 hours, for a complicated evil clown look.
She continued: “It’s cool because it’s temporary, I make this piece of art and as soon as I’m done, I wipe it off, then it’s gone forever.”
“When you make a painting you have this big thing left once you’re done, it’s beautiful and it’s wonderful, but I don’t have space for a million paintings.”
“So, that’s the great thing about makeup art – it disappears when you’re done.”
But Skye – who mostly receives positive reactions to her appearance, but recalls shouting at a man who made indecent sexual comments to her – says that, despite the care she puts into her makeup, her favorite part is taking it off.
She said: “It’s like a breath of fresh air. The makeup is a deep inhale and taking it off is letting it all out again.
“It’s part of the cycle. I feel just as good with or without makeup. The blank canvas is fine, it’s good, and it’s mine.”