“My skin inspires me in a way that I can’t really put into words. It gives me a whole range of opportunities, not only in learning how my body and my skin work, but my place as an artist and discovering the things that interest me to work with.
The skin is the largest organ of the body, so it clearly makes sense to take care of it, and mine turns out to be also a huge blank canvas for me to work.”
-Isabella De la Mora
You all know how much I looooove it when people send me photographs of their dermatographia! Well, I especially love it when people are doing amazing things with their skin, playing around with it and making something interesting and unique–making it art. Enter Isabella De la Mora, a young artist from Mexico making beautiful photographs of skin drawings.
Her images are so powerful! This one with bite marks is kind of unsettling, yet gorgeous. I love the push and pull of attraction and repulsion in this image. It makes it even more impactful because it’s skin and the human body she’s playing with…. it definitely makes me feel very present in and aware of my own body, which is a great thing!
Isabella sent me a lovely and inspiring email last year, and I immediately thought to feature her here. (Apologies for taking so long in posting our interview, I’ve been neglecting Skintome lately. That is changing though! Expect more regular posts from me starting now :+)
My name is Isabella. I am an artist from Mexico, and I also have dermatographia.
I first found your artwork a few years ago and it was really a revelation for me because growing up with dermatographia wasn’t always easy for me.
My artwork was basically painting and drawing, each I love, but I always felt something was missing.
When I started experimenting drawing in my skin and creating these images was when I realized I has something really interesting going on. Doing research about this condition and what I could do with it was how got to take a look at your amazing work.
It has being really helpful for me to see a different side of myself and how can I be my own canvas.
Here are pictures of some of my work so far. Thank you for being an inspiration!
I love that we can inspire each other with our art, and that people all over the world can unite in skin. Isabella and I chatted more about skin, art and inspiration over email:
Ariana Page Russell (APR): When and how did you find out you have dermatographia?
Isabella De la Mora (IDM): I have had dermatographia for my whole life. My parents always thought that I was allergic to a lot of things and they just kept me away from the things that could make it worse. It was a real problem for me growing up because I was itchy all the time and I couldn’t control it. It was a real struggle. When I was around twelve I began to learn how to control the itchiness and how to actually live with it. That’s when I discovered that I could actually draw on my skin. So I went to the doctor and they told me that it was dermatographia and that I was just born that way, there wasn’t anything that I could do that would actually make it go away.
Since then I have just been learning as I grow up that it actually goes with me everywhere, and now, I always have something red or swollen going on in my body,but it doesn’t really bother my anymore.
(APR): I’m so glad it doesn’t bother you anymore! That’s how it’s been for me too. I’ve learned how to manage the itch and make the most of it :=) How did you control it when you were 12? What did you do?
(IDM): At first, my mom would get me lotions and would help the itchiness go away and this way I would stop scratching myself.
As I got older, I started to learn that I didn’t need the lotions or anything, just to control the need to scratch myself because of the itchiness my dermatographia brings with every mark. I think it’s a matter of self-control. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I just can’t take it and I scratch myself all over like crazy. But this just produces more marks and the skin gets more swollen and with this comes more itchiness and it’s a never ending cycle. So yeah, it is easier for me just to keep calm and breath and go through the itchiness, it’s better for me.
(APR): It’s better for me too! Do you take antihistamines or anything?
(IDM): I actually don’t take anything. I just let it be. It has become a part of me and in some way is something that defines me.
Doctors have told me that I could take antihistamines or something to take care of my condition, but honestly, I just don’t care. Right now I’m in a period of my life where I’m just embracing it and everything that comes with it.
(APR): Yay for embracing it! Do you do anything special for your skin (like for example, how I use coconut oil)?
(IDM): Not really. My skin is actually very dry, so I use products and lotions that help me with this. I think that I take care of my skin as much as the next girl fighting against dry skin and pimples. Although I use sunscreen everyday because of the Mexican sun but in terms of my dermatographia I don’t really do anything special.
(APR): How does your skin inspire you?
(IDM): My skin inspires me in a way that I can’t really put into words. It gives me a whole range of opportunities, not only in learning how my body and my skin work, but my place as an artist and discovering the things that interest me to work with.
The skin is the largest organ of the body, so it clearly makes sense to take care of it, and mine turns out to be also a huge blank canvas for me to work.
I love to show people about my skin. I have my own blog in spanish yodibujoenmipiel (“I draw on my skin” in english). This virtual space gives me the chance to show people how I develop my pieces and my work and to express how is like to grow with dermatographia, as a person and as an artist.
Like I already mentioned, my skin is part of who I am, is how I put myself out-there and how I introduce myself as an artist. As I grow up, I find it more and more amazing how my condition works and how I can get the most I can out of it. You could say that I am “dermatographic” and proud.
(APR): So awesome to hear that! And I love your blog, such a great idea to have it. What inspired you to make art with your dermatographia?
(IDM): I’ve always been interested in working with the human body. Wherever it is conceptually or literally. Being able to use my own body as a canvas, as a raw material to work with is just a huge bonus for me.
I use my dermatographia as a bridge between my inside world and the outside. A bridge that reflects what’s going on in the inside and how it is affected by the outside. I really like the idea of experimenting with canvases and different elements to create different juxtapositions between the softness of the skin and the hardness of the marks in it.
I usually use either photography or video to document these images that I’ve been creating. Always with a different concept and a different topic behind. I use my skin as the medium, but at the end it is a whole lot of ideas, concepts, research, among other things and bring my work together.
(APR): It’s amazing how much of our past and present show up on our skin. I’m constantly fascinated by it! Where do you live, and what else do you do (besides make art and blog)?
(IDM): I live in both Mexico City and Puebla, both in Mexico. I am in my forth year of my Fine Arts Degree and basically I have a pretty normal student life. I focus my time in my art and searching for it, reading different things that could help me develop projects. I’m always interested in trying new things in terms of my art and developing new techniques. Besides working with my skin I also like to paint and draw and I try to always keep investigating contemporary art and new proposals in this world.
(APR): Keep up the good work! What do people think about you and your skin once they find out about your dermatographia?
(IDM): Lately I have been to parties and different get-togethers where people approach me and ask me: “Are you the girl with the skin?“. As weird as this sounds, it actually makes me quite happy. For people to recognize me for something such as my art is exactly what I’m aiming for.
People that know me and what I do don’t really ask questions, they are just used to it and are only waiting for my next photographic project or video or the next idea I come up with.
But nowadays, it is pretty normal for me to explain to people about my condition, is almost an everyday thing, which actually excites me and with me the thrill to keep creating these images.
(APR): Me too! I love talking with people about dermatographia, and being known as the woman with skin writing, who makes art about it. Is there anything you’d like to know about dermatographia?
(IDM): All the questions I have had, time has been the one to answer them for me. It’s just a matter of me growing up and becoming who I am that has answered me all the question about my condition.
I would like to know if they are like different levels or types of dermatographia because I do believe that mine is very developed. I have met people who have a more subtle kind of condition and their skin doesn’t get as swollen as mine. Also, I got mine with birth and they are others that develop it as they get older. That’s what I would like to know basically, if they are different kinds of dermatographia and if it manifests in different ways.
Thank you so much Ariana!
(APR): Thank YOU Isabella! I love hearing all about your skin and art and what keeps you inspired while not succumbing to the itch ;+)
As far as I know everyone just has a different severity of dermatographia, and it’s not necessarily more developed. It’s more about the individual and how sensitive s/he is, what the triggers are, etc. It’s such a nuanced condition, experienced very differently for everyone.
Readers: Please share the ways your dermatographia manifests itself! We have different experiences of it, we’d love to hear what yours is like. Do you have really bad itching? How do you treat it? Have you tried the ‘no scratching’ treatment that Isabella and I have adopted?
We’d love to hear!
All images courtesy of Isabella De la Mora