I spray painted my roommate’s hair and here’s what I learned

Wear gloves.

I know you were probably hoping for a good life lesson like, “think about consequences before you spray paint” or “huffing is bad, kids” but truth be told, I learned that smashing to things together that don’t usually go makes for a hell of a good time.

Fourth of July last year, I took a can of white spray paint to my roommate Ethan’s head. It was a patriotic time marked by a tumultuous election ramping up. All in all, I was sitting there thinking about how I could make something different than all the red, white, and blue posts I was going to see the next day on Instagram. I had the idea that I could color the flag into someone’s head but not a regular flag. I thought about all the stenciled flags I saw on anti-flag album covers growing up. I thought about flab lined tattoos that I saw my friends getting in New York while I sat on a beach in sunny Florida. I honestly missed the grime. I grew up in Philadelphia and was by no means a city kid. But that led to the allure of the grey of city life. Hard lines, Neon corners, and all dusted with a powder that comes with taxi cab exhaust.

I rarely think of myself as an artist when it comes to hair because I behave more like a translator. People tell me concerns and wants and I turn them into something visual. By that math, I’m more of an architect than a painter. But there are these rare moments where I get an idea that doesn’t have any grounding in hair. Sure the medium is still the thing that grows out of someone’s head but the visual concept is something outside of that world.

There’s a concept in art called mixed media, or visual art, where the artist combines more than one medium to create a result. I remember looking through these artist endlessly in Cosmo school because they were creating the closest thing to “mood boards” which are something we use before photo shoots to get an idea for overall feel and such in a casual way.

I’ve always tried to think of hair as medium without choice. When someone comes in to get their hair cut it’s a lot like going to an artist mystery bag of paint types and telling them they need to create a chair. They agree to craft the chair and then you show them what they are given to make said chair. Sometimes they are given wood and glue. Other times they are given acrylic paint and need to illustrate the idea of a chair. Sometimes they are given a sponge and a pat on the back saying good luck. The truth with hair is we always know the result (make me looks good) but never know the medium until the person walks through the door.

But I had an idea that doesn’t concern itself with hair texture, density, or even color (when you think about it).

So I took a straight edge razor from my kit and stenciled out the American flag on a piece of heavy white paper. Then I asked Ethan if I could spray paint his head. I rarely surprise people with hair things nowadays. People know what I do on instagram so when I pose them and bend them post cut, there’s never a surprised face in the house. But try asking someone if you can stencil something on their head and see what happens.

So I sit here a year older and wiser and I’m thinking of if I have regrets from the past year. Now I live on the other side of the country, do very different hair, and haven’t gotten to spray paint someone in a while. But the truth is, as far as my work is concerned the only thing I worry about is that I haven’t taken enough risks when it comes to hair. I play to smiles and adoration of my clients. But to be unique, one needs to risk failure and disappointment. I shy away from those which has always led my clients to believe I am ritualistically consistent. I document cuts in order to replicate them in the future. But the coolest things I’ve ever done have huge risk associated with them. Not just in hair, but life.

My advice and final thought from the last year:

Break out the fucking spray pain and put on some gloves. You got this.

Don’t worry. You’ll thank yourself next year for thinking outside the box.

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