Meet a fascinating colorist with an art school background, a psychology degree, an eye for hair art and a talent for putting them all together.
Gone are the days when someone with blue hair would make you do a double take. Pink, purple, orange, green and every color in between have now become common hair colors for women — and men. Hair coloring has always been a way to express individuality, though it has now moved to an entirely new level. Art. Hair art.
Photo courtesy of Ursula Goff.
Creating a lot of buzz in the field of hair art is Ursula Goff, a fascinating colorist with an art school background, a degree in psychology, an eye for color and a talent for putting them all together. She not only creates breathtaking waterfalls of different shades of hair color; she also re-creates the works of masters.
Capturing Vermeer’s color and light in Girl with a Pearl Earring. Photo courtesy of Ursula Goff.
A Colorful Beginning
Kansas native Ursula Goff resides in a blue-collar farm town where she owns a salon called Karma. When she was growing up, her colorful self-expression stood out. Using her hair as a canvas wasn’t a statement of rebellion, just one of personal preference. “I’ve done this sort of thing to myself since I was 12 or 13. I never thought of it as pushing back against anything else. I always thought of it as ‘I like this so much, I have to do it.’”
First attending college as a fashion major, Ursula grew frustrated. The technology needed for her designs was cost-prohibitive, effectively roadblocking her creative visions. Also realizing she had not yet developed the coping skills needed for the pressure-filled world of fashion, she left school. Ursula eventually returned to college with psychology as her major, but again could not finish her degree. “I was a smart kid — in the ‘big fish in the little pond’ kind of way. I didn’t know how to study, I didn’t know how to learn in the way you learn in college, and it scared me. I thought I would fail, so I quit first.”
Cascading Colors. Photo courtesy of Ursula Goff.
Ursula had run out of ideas at that point and was waitressing. “I didn’t really have a plan. One of my coworkers one day said, ‘Why don’t you just go to hair school?’ And I thought, ‘Well, I could look into that.’ One of the local community colleges offered me a full scholarship, and they had a hair college. So I went because it was free, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I toughed it out and ended up liking it and having a reasonable ability for it.”
A reasonable ability is quite the understatement. Her before-and-after client photographs are extraordinary, elevating hair coloring to true hair art. Goff believes for some women it’s a way to make a statement about themselves. “I think it can be a way to say, ‘This is what I like; this is what I think is beautiful.’ It’s a way for an individual woman to define for herself, maybe for the first time in her life, what she thinks is pretty and to look in the mirror and have that experience of ‘I really like what I am looking at.’ I think that’s amazing considering so many of us never have a pleasant experience looking in the mirror. This is a new, nice, pretty thing to fixate on, that you picked, that doesn’t have to be mandated by a magazine or TV or media on any level. You mandated it. It’s a small thing, but I think it can be a big thing in helping somebody feel better about themselves in a meaningful way.”
Photo courtesy of Ursula Goff.
“I suspect I meet a lot of the criteria for being understimulated visually. I’ve always needed things to look at and I wanted them to be interesting, colorful things. I feel that I experience color differently than other people do.”
With her exceptional color vision, Ursula uses the world as her own color wheel. Her website shows her designs arranged by color saturation: fires, neons, oceans, pastels, rainbows, galaxies and jewels, to name a few. Her fine art hair designs take color inspiration from the palettes of masters such as van Gogh, Vermeer, Warhol and Kandinsky. She has even re-created paintings such as The Scream by Edvard Munch and van Gogh’s Starry Night as hair art.
Starry Night painted on hair. Photo courtesy of Ursula Goff.
On the method and time it takes to paint a work of hair art, Goff explained it “depends on the complexity of the original piece, depends on the size. I would do a mock-up ahead of time to get the scale I wanted; then I would put that underneath the hair and work on top. The Kandinsky one, since that was just shapes, took four or five hours and I did it in a couple of sittings. The Scream and Starry Night — both kicked my butt a little bit. Starry Night was probably the longest; it took a total of 10 or 12 hours. That was the first one I started with but one of the last ones I got done. I would get frustrated with it and just have to walk away.”
Hair painting of The Scream. Photo courtesy of Ursula Goff.
But even when it came to her academic pursuits, Goff didn’t walk away forever. A couple of years ago she went back to college and earned her psychology degree. Sometimes the timing simply needs to be right. “As an adult, I had more of the wherewithal and fortitude to get the degree than I did when I was 18.” Now, using that education and her art to aid people with disabilities, she works through a company called Futures, which helps the disabled get basic work so they can have financial independence. “They wanted to expand that program and add more creative work to it because they could tell some of their residents had creative tendencies, and they felt they weren’t meeting that need for them very well. They try to come up with a lot of recycling work, repurposing work, so I have them looking around for the type of art you can do with repurposed materials. So that’s my job and then I show them how to do it.”
Doing for yourself is something Ursula Goff feels strongly about. “I think it’s important for people to recognize we are all special in our own ways, but no one is really special either. You just have to keep moving. Just put your head down and keep doing what you like to do. It takes time. That’s the most discouraging thing for a lot of people. You feel like you want it to happen right now…tomorrow, yesterday, and it doesn’t. You have to keep trying, keep experimenting, and even if you mess up, you have to try it again and again and again. Sometimes you don’t feel you’re making any progress; you will only see it in retrospect. That’s something important that I’ve learned. A lot of people give up too easily. That’s an easy thing to control: to keep working. You don’t need good genetics for that. You don’t need luck for that. You don’t have to rely on other people for that. It’s all you, and you are 100 percent in control of that. So just do that and you’ll be fine and it will work out.”
For Ursula Goff, it’s worked out quite colorfully.