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Ella Frank Simkins transforms her hands into horror-inspired works of art

The special FX specialist shares why hands are her most creative means of self-expression

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It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but take one look at Ella Frank Simkins’ magical special FX hand creations and you might begin to believe that it’s the hands that really reveal all. 

From pink and sparkly rhinestone-covered works of art complete with extremely long nails to other works that mimic the claws and talons of creatures from another land, her Instagram account will have you looking twice due to the highly realistic designs. So detailed are her creations, it’s hard to believe each one is actually created on her own hands. “One of the reasons my work resonates with people is because they imagine it on themselves. Hopefully, it inspires them to think more about what you can do with your nails and hands as opposed to your face and hair,” she muses. 

Based in London, Simkins describes her everyday look as being quite low-key when it comes to beauty. She started out as a body painter and eventually worked her way up to specialising in hands, always with an element of horror or surrealism. Protruding eye sockets and bloody etched phrases straight out of Harry Potter are the norm. “I’ve always been drawn to horror,” explains Simkins. “This has just allowed me to bring together a number of the things that I’m interested in.”

Here Simkins shares what it’s like to create works of art on your hands.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Ella Frank Simkins: I grew up in Gloucestershire in south-west England. It’s a peaceful area, full of nature and very middle class. There’s not a huge amount going on there. I’ve been in London for the last few years and it’s definitely played a big part in exposing me to things. It has encouraged me to create more. My degree was in English, I went up North to go study and then I ended up working in West London. 

What is it you do and why do you do it?

Ella Frank Simkins: I do special FX make-up on hands. The ultimate reason is that I have always liked the way that hands look. One of my favourite artists is Egon Schiele and when I was studying him back in high school, his hands were always my favourite part of his works. On a slightly narcissistic level, I have very skinny, sinewy hands and the hands he used to paint and draw were always like that, with these really elongated fingers. I just thought they were really elegant, and at the same time, really creepy. That’s what hands can do. They’ve got so many points of articulation and there are endless possibilities with the shapes and images you can create. I love horror and the motif of the hand is so closely tied to horror. Freddy’s got his claws, Edward Scissorhands has his scissors, and more recently Lady Gaga – her character in American Horror Story: Hotel has these stunning claws that she uses to murder people.

How did you get into it?

Ella Frank Simkins: Probably the internet. I’ve loved art and dressing up since I was young. Certain YouTube artists were really exposing people to how far you could take body paint and that kind of opened my eyes. I taught myself a few of the techniques from that and then just went with it. Instagram exposed me to how far you could go with it even more and to levels that I’d never seen before. You can completely change your entire appearance just with paint and a lot of time. The learning curve for me was steep. 

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Ella Frank Simkins: Around this time last year, I did an editorial with an actress that was amazing. I remember that it wasn’t necessarily going to be used on the magazine cover and then it was. So the image turned out good. For me, it was an example of how you can use special FX and horror in a more traditional beauty and high fashion shoot to create something really, really stunning.

How would you describe your aesthetic in three words?

Ella Frank Simkins: Whatever feels right.

Do you wear your designs out and about?

Ella Frank Simkins: No, I don’t. This is a part of what I want to try and do next year: work out a way that I can make them more wearable. At least the claws and nails. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to retain someone’s ability to wash their hands, hygiene, and all that. For me personally, it’s not a problem with comfort. It’s more about functionality and dexterity when you’re out.

What are your earliest beauty-related memories?

Ella Frank Simkins: When I was younger, I was fixated on high-end makeup brands even more than I am now. I have a really clear memory of really, really wanting some NARS make-up, which I was obsessed with. It was like a dark eyeshadow with glitter through it and I remember the sort of rubbery material from the packaging. I also just remember my mum, she’s another reason I like to work on hands because she didn’t actually wear a lot of make-up but she had beautiful, elegant hands. 

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?

Ella Frank Simkins: Death from Terry Pratchett. He’s one of my favourite literary characters ever, he’s so dry and fatalistic and I love that. I think that I am always drawn to the darker characters, especially when they’re shown in a slightly different light. He’s an extroverted introvert which I can relate to.

What’s your favourite look you’ve ever executed?

Ella Frank Simkins: I did one recently with red rhinestones which went a little bonkers on Instagram. That sticks out for me. It suddenly occurred to me that I was just saying, ‘I’m just gonna pile a load of gems on and see where that goes.’ Suddenly all these ideas were exploding in my mind and I was like, ‘Wow, there’s so much I can do with this.’ 

What does beauty mean to you?

Ella Frank Simkins: It’s escapism for me. Beauty is when someone’s just completely unfettered and they’ve really gone for it. Drag, for example, is a huge source of inspiration in general for me. That balls to the wall, full expression with nothing held back. I suppose at the same time, if you feel comfortable with yourself, it’s whatever the hell you want it to be truly.

When do you feel most beautiful?

Ella Frank Simkins: I do feel the nails are connected to this. When I’ve got a set on, I feel powerful and I feel strong. These pieces that I’m doing feed into that because on a daily basis I’m quite low-key. I don’t particularly like to stand out so when I do, I feel beautiful.

As a warning to the other members of the resistance, your head has been mounted above the gates of the city. How would you do your make-up or your hands that morning?

Ella Frank Simkins: I would like to do the middle finger going through my tongue with a really big nail. Maybe a really long extreme stiletto nail with something on it that would be appropriate to that moment. I would request that my head was shaved because I’d never done it and I’ve always wanted to, and that would just work with the look. 

It’s the sixth day and you are creating humans. They can look however you want them to. What do you want them to look like and why?

Ella Frank Simkins: Let’s take it as far away from what we know and make them like a blob. The human form is beautiful, but I think if everyone was just like that, just shifting forms, we’d probably find a way to remove a lot of body issues. So that would be nice. It would mean that everyone could fit in around each other in a very sort of real way. It would be all the colours of the rainbow. 

You have to replace your body with that of an animal or mythological creature. What do you go for and why?

Ella Frank Simkins: It would have to be one with the biggest wingspan. I think the wandering albatross. I just would love to be able to fly. 

You’ve opted to be cryogenically frozen in the hopes of continuing the human race. When you've awoken, it’ll be your responsibility to kick-start the breeding. How will you wear your hair on your first date?

Ella Frank Simkins: I would crimp it or just do a really tight spiral. Maybe I would do that and then build it into a fauxhawk, just because I feel there’s a bit of a post-apocalyptic nod in that.