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Clip art conjunction: Adriana Vassileva puts brush to canvas at home and scissors to hair at Defining Image Salon on NE Fremont in Portland.
Sketch Pad

Adriana Vassileva
Diving into art, head first
by Kathy Anderson

Adriana Vassileva's art either goes straight to your head -- or straight into her closet. As a hairdresser, her art can be seen around town. As a painter, her works see the light of day for family and friends. Adriana, 20, was born in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, moved to New Jersey at 13, then on to Portland at 16.

A change of art
Cutting hair was not Adriana Vassileva's first choice. At age seven she began copying the sketches of an older cousin studying fashion design. By the time she reached high school, Adriana had a portfolio of drawings and a scholarship to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. But lack of appropriate classes at New Jersey and Portland high schools forced her to follow Plan B -- cosmetology.

In Bulgaria, beauty school is not a proud pursuit; it's considered a last resort for girls who can't get into college. But Adriana ignored her family's disapproval, earned a license in 1997 from the Edward Wadsworth Institute for Hair, and is happy with the turn of events.

"I love being a hairdresser," she said. "Every day is exciting, or at least interesting. It's an outlet for some of my creativity -- painting takes up the slack. And even my Grandmother is proud of me now!"

Dyeing to please
Mother Nature inspires Adriana in both. A client's dye job could be influenced by the color of a sunset or an animal's fur, while many of her paintings include trees and flowers.

"In Memory"

"Color plays as big a part in hairdressing as it does in painting," she said. "Hair stylists need to know how colors act with and react to each other. But a head of hair is not the same as a blank canvas. In painting I can think 'hmmm, I wonder how this would look,' try it, and paint over it if it doesn't work. Most clients aren't that forgiving."

And pleasing clients is Adriana's hairdressing goal.

"I'm helping people feel good about themselves, giving their ego a boost," she said. "Of course, when a client walks out with a smile on their face, I'm happy, too. And a satisfied client is the best advertisement a hairdresser can have."

Her paintings need to please no one but herself.

"What I really enjoy about painting is that I can do it every day for weeks, or go for weeks without," she said. "I paint only for myself."

Hair today
Before beginning a haircut, Adriana must consider the hair's characteristics -- curly or straight, thick or thin, coarse or fine -- and listen to the desires of the client.

"Some people come in with a magazine or a mental picture of what they want done," she said. "A big part of my job is being honest and letting them know if it won't work, based on their hair type, facial structure, etc., then offering an alternative."

Rarely does she have the creative freedom to do whatever strikes her fancy.

Her oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings are just the opposite. Adriana takes into account only her emotions at the moment she picks up the brush. There are no limits, no instructions, no "just a little off the top." And most times, no idea what the end result will be.

"My haircuts follow a plan or use a certain technique," she said. "Not my paintings -- I just start and at some point realize what it is I'm trying to do."

Tomorrow never knows
"Painful Sunset"
Adriana has dreams of taking her hairdressing career to the runways of London and Paris.

"I'd like to be an educator for awhile first," she said, "then get into platform work. There's a lot more creativity involved; you can be extravagant and eccentric with the styles."

As for painting, Adriana has no specific plan other than to keep doing what she's doing -- using it as an outlet for emotions and an extension of creativity.

So even though her paintings may be hidden from view, her artwork is showing on a head near you.

Reach Kathy at kanderson138@attbi.com, and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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