Take two best friends, a love of horror movies and a big dose of YouTube. Then say hello to the extreme make-up talents of Strawberri Gashes, who put on an exclusive photo shoot just for us. By Gillian Drummond. Cover photo by Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli. Make-up by Strawberri Gashes. Models: Katy Gierlach and Jared R. McKinley.
Katy Gierlach can’t speak. And, even more crushing for this normally cheery lady, she can’t laugh or smile… for close to three hours.
Katy is a Tucson model known best for fashion and style shoots. Tonight, though, she’s going gory. She has agreed to be transformed into an apparent murder victim, with a facial prosthesis that will resemble the exit wound of a bullet. That’s a bullet from the gun of her fictional husband, who has discovered his wife’s affair and shoots her while she’s in the shower. It’s not an impulsive act, though. The husband is smug about it, proud that he’s finally got evidence of something he’s long suspected.
This detailed back story and the special effects make-up are the work of Tricia Golding and Hillary Solterbeck, the best friends, self-professed soul mates and horror film fans who comprise Strawberri Gashes.
Their make-up business is just a year old and, while most of their work still comes from fashion and beauty shoots, they are becoming a go-to for local photographers and event producers needing zombies, vampires, aliens and… well, the list is literally endless. Because Tricia and Hillary are game for anything, which is why those who use them say they love them.
Their professional makeup baptism wasn’t so much by fire as by rotting flesh. “It was dumb luck,” says Tricia. Her then sister-in-law had heard of a charity event called Zombie Apocalypse that was looking for make-up artists. Together, Tricia and Hillary transformed 12 models and worked 14 hours straight.
“I told them it was going to be sink or swim and they did amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better team,” says Jake Rafus, the Scottsdale-based model and producer behind the Zombie Apocalypse event, and now a regular collaborator and friend. “It’s not just the skill, it’s their personality and who they are. I feel like no matter what [job] I give them they’re going to get it,” he says.
Tucson-based photographer Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli, also an organizer of Zombie Apocalypse, says they are his “go-to girls” for styling that’s outside of the box, outlandish and outrageous. “As a photog, usually I’m the one visualizing things more ludicrous than anyone else in the room, but they’re brilliant cause they always go further than I thought possible. I have to reel them back in like Robin Williams on a talk show. That’s what you want when working with real artists, you want them flirting with the limits of what’s possible.”
Jared R. McKinley echoes those sentiments. In his spare time, this publisher, writer and botanist puts on special events through MEOWmeow Productions. “After doing this kind of thing for years, I think enthusiasm goes further than skill. They’re very skilled, but skill only takes you so far,” he says. “Enthusiasm is going to take you further and allows you to jump into things. They’re not afraid of playing. Some people might say ‘I’m not ready for that.’ They’ll do it and with a lot of enthusiasm.”
Strawberri Gashes was hired to help turn Jared and Katy Gierlach (his girlfriend) into their alien alter egos, Kitty Quasar and Andromeda Katz, to promote MEOWmeow’s glam rock-themed Glitterball last March at Tucson’s Rialto Theatre. It meant three hours in make-up – specifically, a metallic powder mixed with liquid, the remains of which stayed with the couple for days, says Jared.
Tonight, as Katy and Jared lend their modeling services again in an exclusive photo shoot for 3 Story, the issue isn’t glitter but liquid latex, cotton balls and toilet paper. Make that one-ply toilet paper, the cheapest you can get. That, say Tricia and Hillary, works wonders when they are creating gore, from scars to Katy’s fake blown-open face.
The two work in tandem, each delving into a pull-along train case to produce everything from the pedestrian – Q-tips, mascara, said toilet paper – to the fascinating, like a ‘bruise wheel’ with varying shades of red, purple and black cream that give the illusion of bruises and abrasions.
The fake wound has been partly constructed earlier and is now attached to Katy’s right cheek, along with special effects make-up, in a process that could be straight out of the TV reality show Face Off. (You can see the step-by-step process, and the end result, in the slideshow below).
Documenting the whole procedure – and producing the final photos – is their friend, photographer Danni Valdez of Shutter2ThinkPhotography. Danni met Tricia and Hillary at the Zombie event and, having just lost his long-time make-up artist to Los Angeles, jumped at the chance to work with them. Now the three are regulars together on photo shoots.
Danni, Tricia and Hillary dissect the scene they are about to create. “What would the bullet have hit when it exits?” asks Danni. “Nothing!” laughs Hillary, not wanting to have to add any more to the already complicated vignette. Then the conversation turns to how Katy would have fallen out of the bathtub after being shot. Katy is finally ready and Tricia and Hillary arrange a white shower curtain on the bathroom floor. Katy lies down on it, naked, one leg draped over the tub. Then they drench her ‘wound’, face and body with fake blood, and mix it with water to add to the shower curtain.
The easy-going Danni is a fan of Forensic Files, and it shows. As he sets up his camera equipment he is still concerned about authenticity. “Are you gonna put blood splatter on Jared’s head? She should have liquid blood under her head too. You have to have more blood on the clear curtain.”
Jared, who plays the wronged murderer husband, has changed from jeans and a T-shirt into suit pants and a white shirt. He’s sipping Scotch and waiting for his cue. The Scotch becomes a prop in the final photo, as does an empty gun and a Camel cigarette. Jared nails the smug, morbidly fascinated look they were all going for. Katy looks suitably murdered – her eyes slightly open and staring.
Danni wraps it up and, a few iPhone snaps later – of the bloody Katy grinning for their Facebook pages – they’re done. Jared apologizes to his other half – “I f***ed you up real bad honey, sorry” – and Katy showers, this time for real. Her verdict on her first gory photography session? “Sticky.” And although she’s used to hanging around on photo shoots, keeping her face straight for three whole hours was a challenge. “When you hang out with people you like and they’re making you laugh, it’s hard not to,” she says.
Tricia and Hillary have worked relatively quickly, says Katy, thanks to teamwork and an interesting shorthand. “They tag team. And they’re so close they finish each other’s sentences. They’ll point to something on your face and they won’t have to even say anything.”
Strawberri Gashes – named after a song by ’90s riot grrrl group Jack Off Jill – is the culmination of both this friendship and years of fascination with make-up. Tricia and Hillary, both 26, met aged 12 and haven’t spent much time apart since. They live minutes away from one another, see each other two or three times a week, and finish each other’s sentences. “People will talk about soul mates and you tend to think of that as a man and a woman. We’ve always believed there are friend soul mates,” says Hillary.
They started experimenting with make-up as teenagers. Tricia honed her skills as a student for a while at modeling and acting school in Scottsdale. Hillary, banned by her parents from wearing make-up until she was 15, wore it anyway, sneaking it out in purses and school backpacks.
Then along came YouTube, opening their eyes to instructional make-up videos, products, and online gurus like Goldie Starling. Their make-up experiments became more extreme, sometimes gory, spurred on by their love of horror films.
On Friday the 13th of July 2007, Hillary’s brother and her roommate were killed in a car accident and Hillary was badly injured. Hillary woke to find the bodies, which were in “extraordinarily bad condition,” she says. “I know it sounds morbid but it’s almost for me therapeutic [to watch horror movies] in the sense that I can say ‘This is fake’. It helps me.”
While freelance make-up is Hillary’s day job (she trained as a beauty technician for a time, and was a bartender), Tricia is juggling a job as an insurance agent with an online degree. She is also a licensed pharmacy technician. “Makeup is never going to give you a steady income unless you end up working with a [film] studio,” reasons Tricia.
That’s something they’re not ruling out. Their guru, Goldie Starling, recently won a scholarship to the Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles – a place they’d love to attend.
“The biggest thing we’ve had to deal with is so much interest so quickly,” says Tricia of their busy year. But one thing they still make time for is YouTube and the makeup tutorials that helped them on their way. ‘It’s the top school for people that can’t go to school,” says Tricia of a medium that has seen huge growth, and business opportunities.
As for Face Off, which returns to TV screens in a few weeks, you can bet they’ll be watching.
* See below for our slideshow on how Strawberri Gashes and photographer Danni Valdez created their gory scene.
Make-up by Strawberri Gashes. Art direction and photography by Danni Valdez. Models: Katy Gierlach and Jared R. McKinley