Inspiration: For Hair, From Lives

To break up all these “this is what I’ve been up to” posts, I just wanted to take the time to type up something a little more introspective.  Sometimes it feels like one topic keeps popping up or like I keep talking (maybe too much?) about a given issue and I get really pumped about it!  Lately, I have had a TON of educational opportunities which I have taken advantage of from many different lines, including: Sebastian, Nioxin, Sassoon, R+Co and Oribe.  Now for me, classes are not about inspiration, they are about technique.  As I said recently on the Hairbrained forums, I see so many incredible hair pictures everyday from all of my different sources that I am almost immune to their charm.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the imagery and believe it pushes me to get better and better technically, but it doesn’t usually generate a true feeling of inspiration.  At least, it’s pretty rare.

See, I have always had two competing drives within me.  I have always been a sort of creative free spirit on the one hand and then a total nerd on the other hand.  Classes and hair photos mostly appeal to the nerd in me and I am prone to breaking things down into very formulaic and almost mechanical functions.  This is the part of me that takes comfort in order, in things making sense.  I look at a photo and I see where if the hair were one centimeter higher it would change the proportions of the image, how the shapes could maximize their impact.  In classes I am always wondering, “Why?” and “Could this be done in a better, more efficient way?” and “How would a small change in technique change the final outcome?”

But the other side, that is the side that makes me really love my job.  Yet it is the part of me that is easier to ignore, since it is often hard to know what it needs to thrive.  Throughout my travels it has been the people, the architecture, the art, the subway stations, the weather, the trees of every shape and color, the rivers and lakes and harbors.  It is the people I meet who are very nice, and the ones who can be quite nasty, too.  It’s the artsy youth of Toronto that somehow look so much more British than the alternative kids in the US (they seem to have a better sense of balance and aesthetics).  It’s the way people from the UK say “cool” like it means something.  It almost gives me chills.  It’s the way the vibe of the bar changes when the woman in the corner stops screaming at the pinball machine.  Or when a different song comes on.  It’s how when driving for 8 hours straight you feel a difference in the steering wheel from one CD to the next.  It’s how you go so long between showers you see what your hair really looks like.  It’s seeing a four year old tumbling in the grass near Boston Harbor, trying to compete with the street performers.  It’s stopping at rest stops in Central PA in black denim and black leather and black shades while everyone else is wearing sweatshirts from wherever they came from.  It’s going to shows and seeing the swing of the hair while everyone is dancing in their own little worlds. It’s those friends you have who always twist the same section of hair around a finger when they’re nervous.   It’s seeing a friend in the hospital and her hair is  cascading so perfectly it’s hard to remember she’s so sick.

Let’s Talk About Balance

A popular topic around beauty blogs and magazines is that of face shapes and determining which cuts/makeup/etc.etc.etc. is right for you.  Now, I am a little bit untraditional.  I didn’t grow up feeling like I had to look more Caucasian or like Barbie.  I felt no pressure to wear makeup or even really to style my hair, although trying to keep my skin healthy and have a good cut was important to me.  I never remember people telling me that I needed to look a particular way.

Modern style isn’t about looking a uniform way.  It isn’t about everyone having one haircut, or one of five haircuts.  People are even willing to embrace their natural texture.  And yet, sometimes the verbiage I hear when discussing face shapes in the salon is very outdated.

First off, I don’t believe in using hair to conceal.  I believe in using hair to balance.  It sounds like a meaningless linguistic difference, but really I think it denotes an important shift in mindset.  If we believe our faces behold some defect, and our mission is to disguise ourselves, that puts a limit on the joy you can get from your haircut because you feel like, “Well, I really want ______, but because of _____ I have to have _____ instead.”  Even if someone using this formulation does like their haircut, they probably would like it more if they didn’t feel like it was one of their only choices.  Besides, sometimes when the only goal is to conceal, it backfires and just points more attention towards whatever is being hidden.  The most exaggerated version of this is the extreme combover.

When we talk about balance it is all about creating harmony with the client.  And it isn’t just about face shape.  It is about individual facial features, overall body shape, size, overall style and personality.  It’s about drawing attention to the positives and working with overall (objective) shapes in order to create something visually appealing.  It isn’t about oval being good and square being bad it is about creating a cut that is holistic, that embraces the client’s individuality.  Some women look darn good with a strong jawline and whether the woman wants a strong shape or a soft shape depends more on where she is in her career and with her life than on something being “right.”  Sometimes obsessing about face shape will cause you to miss a golden opportunity in highlighting gorgeous eyes.  And you can give the perfect cut to create an illusion of slightly more height on a petite woman, but if it doesn’t fit her personality, what is the point?

It’s not about one style looking bad, it is about another looking better.

I believe that cuts and color services should be flattering, but I don’t believe in black and white rules.  I don’t believe in approaching a service with a list of things I can’t do.  I believe that as a hairstylist, my vision for my client should be both attentive to their overall aesthetic and sensitive to who they are as person and where they are in their life.  I believe that part of my job is to instill pride and comfort in one’s own body, in one’s own identity.

I guess YS Park deserves their cult following…

The elite in the hairdressing community have long praised YS Park, a Japanese company that makes legendarily awesome clips, combs, brushes and other such tools. I was not so convinced that one clip or comb could be that different from another. I has curious, but not enough to shell out for them. Clips are $6 for two and combs are $10+, and until Hairbrained reduced their shopping cost to slightly over $2, there was a hefty shipping charge on top of that. When Hairbrained lowered their shipping rates, I was hit by a moment of weakness and succumbed to my online shopping addiction.

When they arrived my first delight was how petite my clips and comb were. The comb was lighter than I was expecting, for allegedly being indestructible, and had some bend to it. It fit so perfectly into my hand, and that’s when it clicked that of course Asian brands will be more suited to my small, Asian stature. The first time I slid it through hair I was literally dumbfounded. I ordered one with fine teeth, and while the tension was still there, it slid through with such little friction. I didn’t even realize that every other comb I had ever used had been snagging and tugging hair out of poor design or teeth being out of place. I thought fine teeth just snagged more, which can be true, but this comb was so smooth and the tension was so even throughout the section. The clips were also light and unobtrusive, unlike the ones I normally use, which look more like a piece off of a transformer. Yet, they hold so much more hair than should be possible. They have a very unique design. Most clips bevel upwards, where these are indented down. I am amazed how well they work for both big and small sections. Also, the aluminum is colored rather than being painted metal, so don’t expect any chipping.

Incredible. Light. Durable.

I got their diffuser, too, but have not gotten to use it yet with anyone with super curly hair. But it is very nice and fits on any blow dryer.

Japan is the future.


Vidal Sassoon Scholarship Entry

This was my entry for the Vidal Sassoon/Beauty Changes Lives Scholarship Competition. The competition grants ten winners an opportunity to train at one of the Sassoon academies in North America, providing $5,000 of support for travel, expenses and tuition.

I was not selected as a winner, but this entry was still a labor of love and friends and family are still coming to me and remarking on ways it inspired them, so I wanted to share it today. Enjoy!

Thinking Outside the Box

Throughout my life, people have told me that I am good at thinking outside the box. The idea has always puzzled me because I don’t think that should ever be the goal of creativity. Creating is about making something beautiful and interesting and if it comes from a place of sincerity and authenticity, it will be inherently different than anything anyone else has created. All it takes is putting your emotions, your philosophies, your world outlook into your work. And that can be subtle, no need to reinvent the ponytail. Unless, of course, there is a need.

I have good people sense but not necessarily common sense. A lot of “rules” don’t make sense to me and I have always been this way. It is not that I try to think outside the box, I just don’t see a box in the first place. And really, my mind is all over the place and I am often trying to reign my thoughts in, imposing rules on myself, creating a box, it just never seems to be the same one anyone else is using. Without some sort of “box” or collection of restraints, I am not really sure how I would ever get anything done because there are just too many choices!

Frankly, I really don’t understand why fanny packs aren’t socially acceptable.

20130817-031859.jpg(Photo by Adam Adolphus)

And I don’t understand why a lot of women think their hair needs to part somewhere.

And I am not sure why most people wash their hair so frequently, because I still have plenty of friends on day 7.

I don’t understand why some ladies want hairstyles that they need to spend hours on when many women could look more modern and spend less time if they just accepted the texture they were born with.

I don’t understand why mascara is such a big deal.

I don’t know why people ever want to be more than one or two shades tanner than their natural color.

And most of all, I don’t understand how it is almost 2014 and a lot of women still believe their femininity is tied to the length of their hair. Or why they think femininity is so important anyway.

Likewise, people occasionally ask how I had the guts to enter competitions and the fact is, I can’t see why I wouldn’t. I love having my work photographed, it is a way for me to look at hair in a different way, a way to experiment, a way to measure my progress…. I am shooting all the time and competitions are a perfect way to give myself some restrictions so I can focus my art and make cohesive and relevant pieces. And with so many that are free to enter, why on earth wouldn’t I send some stuff in every now and then?

In short, I do my thing and don’t really know any other way. I have trust in my way of life and things just work.


I experiment. A lot. Sometimes it works and sometimes it goes horribly wrong. I am usually happy with a 50% success rate over the course of a day. It is ok if my smoothie tastes so bad it needs a chaser as long as my drive from the South Hills to the Northside saves me five minutes. I try things and sometimes it is awesome and sometimes it isn’t.

This is a big reason why I like to immerse myself in a world of hair outside of the salon. I am very conservative with my risks in my chair (by my standards) but when I am doing a test shoot or a class, that is really when I can test my limits and really see what hair can do. A lot of people ask me why I do hair in my time off, and this is precisely why. It makes my work week more informed and excited because I get to employ the tricks I learn on the side.

Connect 2013 Part I: Reconnecting with Myself Circa 2007

I spent last week in Las Vegas training with Sebastian Professional at an event called Connect (which included Wella, Nioxin and Clairol). I have written a great deal since Connect, so expect more posts to come, some will be hair related but mostly this was a week of finding myself more as a person and an artist. The energy of Connect and all the fabulous hairdressers attending, seemed to reawaken someone who I once was. It was a similar feeling to my early college years, where art ruled my life and haircuts were done in hallways and bathrooms with my friends wearing ripped up garbage bags as capes. It was electric. It was just the regression I needed, because it is so easy to lose yourself in the day to day and so hard to be on your A game if you aren’t being completely true to yourself, at least for me.

In college you could mostly find me holed up in a corner making crude sculptures or writing on my windows. Most people knew me like this:

Or this:

Above I am explicating trash/treasure from a scummy park with the intention of making found art. I remember every RA in the dorm telling me that the nasty shopping cart I hauled out of a hillside was not allowed in, and yet it got to my room and stayed there. For whatever reason people have always just let me get away with things, little and big. I guess because I am small, quiet and have a nice smile? I don’t know.

It is interesting to look at my old work and see how I have always been most obsessed with texture.


When working on this tree project I could not close my eyes without seeing bark patterns. I nearly went crazy, working 8+ hour days creating the texture out of newspaper and duct tape.

It is so strange, how coming together with the Sebastian team didn’t just inspire me to do hair, it had me writing on napkins again, re-reading my favorite poems, yearning for international travel and reminiscing over the different places my art has taken me in the past.

One of the things I love about Sebastian is that it has a strong culture, a strong identity, and the hair styles emanate from that. Over the course of the last few months I have been re-immersing myself in all of the things I used to enjoy, making time for concerts and writing and the occasional painting. It is invigorating and truly just what I needed. Starting out as a hair stylist I always felt the need to fit a certain mold, and I struggled and found myself generally unhappy. The Sebastian culture, however, is one I feel completely welcome within and I feel the importance of being in tune with the artist I am.

Hair, Music, Youth, Freedom

The further I dive into the beauty industry, the more I see how many enthusiastic, ambitious and passionate hairdressers have connections with the music industry. It is one of those fascinating ideas that should have been obvious, but never fully clicked until this past year and now I can’t stop seeing the connections. So many of the iconic hairstyles of the last fifty years have been made famous by different music icons (The Beatles, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, even Justin Bieber…)

Thinking about music and hair and all the connections brings me back in time to my teen years. Now, I have little musical talent, but music was always extremely important to me. I was by all accounts a pretty nerdy kid growing up. And more than a little weird. I had a uniform of band shirts with collared shirts underneath and jeans. Dressed up was the same outfit, but with a plaid skirt, knee socks and a bow tied around my calf. I chopped at my own hair with reasonable success. I was a quiet, straight-A student and this was as rebellious as I got. I had a quiet angst that expressed itself through looking completely oblivious to fashion trends (other than sort of looking like an indie boy sometimes). I felt most alive at small shows at the WOW Hall in Eugene, OR, letting my epileptic dance moves writhe free.

I never thought of myself as “into” fashion, but I was always intrigued by it, studying Vogue imagery in waiting rooms and admiring the perfection, even though at the time I found no connection to it. My “fashion” came out of nowhere. Like the questions of whether something was relevant or appropriate never popped into my head.

In college I was constantly covered in paint, duct tape, clay, etc, and dressed in jeans and oversized men’s shirts and the occasional sundress. I had the artsy/quirky look down and showered rarely, especially in Pittsburgh winters. I let my hair grow wild.

But eventually I graduated and went to beauty school, graduated that and began a desperate search to find my professional image as a hair stylist.

Long story short, the further I get in my career, the more I feel myself grow in confidence and revert back to some of my old gut feelings and style impulses. A little over a year ago I was in Berlin and the style there was so inspiring to me. To see how effortless and sort of dirty these people looked, yet they still had an unmistakeable sense of style and confidence. Now I am not back to band shirts by any means, and admittedly, I am a bit of a fabric snob, but I feel like a grown up version of who I used to be, as opposed to the beauty professional I imagined myself to be.

Part of this has also been a return to music. I’ve been back at shows for the first time in years. Back in tiny rooms packed with sweaty people, where the music is raw and the music is LOUD and I yell along and feel this surge of emotion and it is inspiring.

Music events also happen to be the best place for hair gazing. There are a lot of do-it-yourself hack jobs that are kind of inspiring to me, either because they are awful or because they have something interesting going on. So many textures and so many shapes. The kinds of shows I go to the people usually don’t do much to manipulate their hair texture so everything is real and it is all about the cut. You get people with a sass and spunk and they aren’t afraid (or don’t want to look afraid) of anything. I remember loving the hair gazing at shows well before I was cutting anyone else’s hair, and far, far before I ever even considered it as a profession.

In the world of music, especially indie music, image is important, but in a way that doesn’t feel superficial, but rather an outward expression of where we are on the inside. There is a confidence and a ease present. An awkward, yet solid, sense of identity. It is no wonder to me why so many musicians have awesome hair and why some of them eventually end up as hairdressers.


Enjoy these photos of me as an angsty teen.

My Goals as an Artist

Hello everyone! I thought today was as good a day as any to jot down some of my artistic goals I will be working on throughout the coming year. These are mostly for me to be able to look back at and assess how I am doing, but it also opens the door for others to tell me how I am doing and offer friendly criticism. I would also encourage other hair designers and other sorts of artists to take an honest look at your work and think of productive ways to make it that much better! These goals are mainly for improvement as an editorial stylist, but I find that what I learn from photo sessions also teaches me a lot about other facets of hair styling and even just general design.

Here are the three areas I will be working on this coming year:

1. Juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is something I have always thought about with other forms of art, from poetry to painting to sculpture, but my recent trip to LA with Sebastian really opened my mind up to the idea of juxtaposition as a way to highlight and add emphasis to parts of a style. Strong textures can become muddled without an opposing texture to create contrast.

In the Urban Explorers collection, the Shanghai styles are a great example of what juxtaposing textures can do, adding emphasis in subtle ways. For the Shanghai styles, the models had black or near black hair, which is great for creating an architectural style with high shine. But in order to really showcase the shine, the micro crimper was used to matte areas so the shiny areas can appear shinier and the hair can still have dimension in a two dimensional picture. It is often a problem getting shapes to show up in dark, solid colored hair, which is why certain updos can look much more interesting on blondes, but with juxtaposing textures, it is possible to create dynamic styles even if the hair color is fairly flat.

For me, I do a lot of braid work and waves and just generally love texture. I am working on taking control of the textures in my work and knowing when to add some smooth or tames areas of a style in order to add emphasis to the wilder parts. Otherwise the eyes don’t know quite where to look.

2. Form/Silhouette. The overall form or silhouette of a piece is almost always what attracts me most to a hairstyle. So why on earth am I say meticulous and detail oriented to the point that I completely lose track of what shapes I am building? I get swept away. And I don’t step back enough. It is important to me this year that the overall shapes I create be completely intentional and not just the result of stacking detail upon detail. Part of the problem is I treat styles as if they will be examined from every angle rather than focusing the design on the front (or three quarters view, or back) and letting the side details be secondary.

I think planning and staying dedicated to a plan will be of utmost importance for this goal, as well as assessing my work multiple times throughout the creative process.

3. Efficiently Refining Textures. This is probably the most important goal, as it also applies to bridal clients and other salon work. I want to learn everything I can about perfecting and refining textures…. quickly! Smoothing and taming hair is always a delicate balance between keeping textures organic and free, yet making them smoother and cleaner. It is about precision and getting the texture exactly how I want it rather than just a general idea. I mean curls that are soft and frizz free without going to far and making them crispy. I mean teasing that looks whimsical rather than like a mess. I mean tight braids that are perfect and loose braids that are controlled and clean with well planned wisps.

I want to achieve ultimate control and most of this is about product knowledge, which Sebastian has been helping me with quite a bit. It is about knowing what to grab and when because the wrong pomade in a braid can make it to crisp and the wrong product for taming curls during a comb out can weigh the hair down.

Luckily, I have my whole career to strive for perfection in styling. When I am satisfied that I am taking each of these elements into consideration for every style I will make more goals. I know each of these will be a never ending journey to perfect, but as long as I can keep them at the forefront of my mind during this year, so that I can continue improving and evolving, I will consider my goal met.

Sebastian What’s Next Awards Competition


Hey folks! I am about to head back out to L.A. as a finalist in the What’s Next Awards Competition. Here is my award-winning piece! Wish me luck as I fly out tomorrow for the event. They are flying me out, with a limo waiting for me in L.A. I am looking forward to an elegant rooftop reception the first night and two days of intense styling, followed by seeing my work presented on stage at the What’s Next Tour’s L.A. show.

Thank you again to Lexi Nicole and Mark Brosius for making this picture possible!