Dermatographia: Artist Turns Her Rare Skin Condition Into an Artistic Medium


Brooklyn-based artist Ariana Page Russell takes the saying “being comfortable in your own skin” to an artful and literal degree.

Born with dermatographic urticaria, Russell takes advantage of this condition also known as “skin writing” to turn herself into a living, breathing work of art, photographing her sometimes beautiful, sometimes intricate, and sometimes itchy designs for a series titled Dermatographia.

In layman’s terms, Russell’s skin condition turns almost all contact with the skin into an allergic reaction. By causing the cells underneath the skin to release histamines, it leaves behind a welt wherever such contact is made.

Affecting roughly 4–5% of the world’s population, Russell quickly learned that this painless skin condition could be used to create unique pieces of art on an even more unique medium.


Drawing into her skin using knitting needles and other blunt objects, she draws everything from geometrical patterns to typographic designs, always careful that she inflicts no real harm upon herself. Once she’s finished drawing her design, she waits about five minutes for the welts to form, at which point she pulls out her camera to document them before they fade away 30 minutes later.

An insightful and inspirational endeavor, below are just a few images Russell was kind enough to share with us:









The project started back in 2003, when she first combined her love for photography of the human body with the newfound style of artwork to capture self-portraits using a tripod and remote control. Since then, she’s turned it into an entire project called Skin Tome, through which she helps others with sensitive skin issues see that their conditions can be beautiful.

“Skin Tome celebrates sensitive skin, and acknowledges that having unique or weird skin is cool, inspiring, and something to be proud of,” she explained to The Huffington Post. “There’s also tips for how to treat dermatographia and other skin conditions.”

To learn more about Russell, her condition and this project, head over to her website by clicking here. And when you’re done there, don’t forget to pay the Skin Tome site a visit as well.

(via Huffington Post)

Image credits: Photographs by Ariana Page Russell and used with permission

  • Eden Wong

    Gee willikers…

  • Larissa

    You can’t just call anything and everything art! Gartdammit!
    But I will say that these temporary, organic 3D tattoos look kind of cool! Photographically maybe she should wait a little bit longer until the redness has faded more to make even nicer images. (like in the writing one or panty hose one)
    I like the one where she played connect the dots with her moles. I used to do that with pens.

  • maverickmage

    I’ve always been able to do this… just thought that I had skin that’s slightly more sensitive than others. Weird finding out that I have a skin disorder through a photo website.

  • kotaro_14

    Half-Life 3 confirmed.

  • Kyle

    I have the same thing! Used to freak teachers out in high school by writing their name in my arm and getting a good friend to help me convince them that it just appeared there.

  • Andrew

    Yeah I have this condition as well, I wouldn’t call it ‘rare’.

  • edgar

    The definition of art has evolved over time and varies based on context; anything can in fact be art, and the term continues to evolve.