More than skin deep
Posted on 29 March 2017
Tanya Swiegers-Loots is a fine artist who works in a realistic style – which serves her very well in her amazingly lifelike 3D restorations of nipples and areolas. She was inspired to start her business from her own intimate experience with breast cancer.
It was after her own breast-reconstruction surgery, when she was looking for a tattooist to perform the highly specialised and delicate art of areola repigmentation on her own breasts that Tanya Swiegers-Loots realised there were no dermapigmentologists working in South Africa specifically in nipple and areola restoration following breast reconstruction.
Her frustration turned to fascination, however, as she researched ever deeper into the subject. ‘It was like discovering a new art form,’ says this qualified fine artist. ‘I was curious about the medium, tools and colours.’
She found that the leaders in the industry were American artists, ‘all highly skilled and passionate about this procedure. Their work became my inspiration,’ she recalls.
After qualifying as a paramedical tattooist through Nouveau Contour, a European company specialising in micropigmentation techniques and tools, Tanya began searching for similarities between her oil-painting technique and the new medium of paramedical tattooing and the tools that came with it.
‘It held a lot of new challenges, but by improvising I found that I could manipulate the medium to mimic closely what my oil-paint medium could do. This allowed me to achieve realistic and natural-looking results,’ she explains.
Tanya’s family history with breast cancer echoes that of actress Angelina Jolie, who discovered through genetic testing that she carried a genetic variation in the BRCA1 gene that gave her an estimated 80% risk of developing breast cancer. She chose to have a preventive double mastectomy in 2013.
On Tanya’s father’s side, four of five sisters died of what they called ‘women’s cancer’. In 2007, her elder sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in 2013 Tanya, then aged 40, was also diagnosed with the disease.
The cancer was fortunately in its early stages, and Tanya didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy. She did, however, have a double mastectomy. Dr Christiaan Gildenhuys, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon working out of Mediclinic Panorama, did the subsequent reconstruction.
‘The nipple and areola repigmentation brings to an end what is, for most women, a long and difficult journey,’ says Tanya, who asks clients for photographs of their reconstructed breast/s, from which she makes preliminary drawings of the colour, size and shape of the nipple and areola. The first session with the client results in the basic structure and placement of the nipple and areola, and depth and detail are added during follow-up sessions.
‘The technique I use is very similar to the technique I use in my oil paintings. Multiple sessions allow me to layer the colours instead of placing them next to each other, and this layering renders a more realistic, almost translucent effect,’ Tanya explains.
‘By combining my skills as an artist and my own personal understanding of how the loss breast cancer can make a woman feel, I hope to restore at least a small part of what cancer took from her,’ Tanya says.
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