Everyone has a favorite holiday, one that they connect with and go all out for. For one Montegut resident, that holiday is Halloween.
Gabriella Ruiz, also known as Twisted Gabby, absolutely loves Halloween. The creative mind behind Twisted Mindz Designs, this raven-haired beauty is enchanted and mystified by all things ghoulish and haunted.
As an artist, Twisted Gabby takes her love for the holiday one step further by making fun and sometimes spooky creations out of recyclables. Last year, she took a huge leap, and with the help of her fiancé Matt Pellegrin – affectionately known as MattGyver for his skill at also creating something from nothing – displayed her work at Houma’s Rougarou Festival. From shrunken heads to enchanted mirrors, from trick-or-treat buckets to scarecrows that frighten off more than the crows, Twisted Gabby shows that art has a place in every holiday.
Her unique shrunken heads were the stars of the show at last year’s Rougarou and will be making a return this year. Twisted Gabby creates the labors of love by first using paper mâché around a ball form of paper. Once it dries, she drills a hole in the bottom and removes the paper form. To create a neck, she uses the top part of a water bottle. From there, her imagination takes over.
“I'll look at the paper mâché, spin it around a bit, and I'm like, ‘Okay, that looks like an eye would go there’,” explains Twisted Gabby. “I kinda see a face before I even start sculpting the clay over it. They all have like their own little characteristics that the paper mâché creates, even over similar paper forms.”
But how did this maven get her start and discover her love for recyclables? Well, YouTube, of course!
“I’ve always enjoyed making things and I’ve always been challenged with doing it on a low income budget,” Twisted Gabby shares. “I really wanted to do a haunted house one year, but I didn’t have the money to go out and buy all the things. So I started YouTubing how to make your own decorations and crafts for cheap and I found paper mâché. It was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen. I feel like I can make anything that I put my mind to now!”
More than just being resourceful when it comes to one man’s trash becoming her own treasure, Twisted Gabby also makes her own modeling clay. Her secret recipe includes household items such as soap, toilet paper and water, blended with wood glue, sheet rock mud and some flour.
“Recyclables or other people's trash are my first go-to whenever I have a new project that I'm working on,” shares Twisted Gabby. “I'll see what I can use that is basically junk first. I try to spend very little money at the store.”
Twisted Gabby also credits her full-time day job at South Louisiana Seed in Houma for help with finding interesting and useful parts and pieces. The warehouse holds all kinds of treasures from the store’s past as a lawnmower repair shop. She also repurposes things that would ordinarily head for the garbage, such as cardboard boxes, old paper fliers, pallets and more. Friends and family also save things like plastic bottles and such for her, knowing that it will all go to good use.
The local artisan has bigger plans in store for the future as well. The new owner of a studio in Chauvin (formerly Lagniappe Café), Twisted Gabby dreams of offering art classes to the youth of her community.
“My big dream is opening up my studio,” smiles Twisted Gabby. “I want to be able to do classes for kids. I live in Montegut and the studio is in Chauvin – I really care about my community down here. I just want to try to make a difference; that is my ultimate goal. I really want to help these kids out by offering free art classes because I know that there's a lot of low income families down here and they can't get to Houma. They can't sign their kids up for extra classes.”
It goes beyond just caring about the future of her community. A mother herself to three beautiful little girls, Karman, Arianna, and Brooklyn, Twisted Gabby knows personally of the hardships that arise when trying to go the extra mile for your children.
“I've been that mother, you know?” she recalls. “I didn't want to bring my kids all the way to town or I couldn't – didn't have the gas, didn't have the time or whatever. I would eventually like to get like a little bus, you know, and maybe pick kids up to bring them to the studio. This would be years down the line. I have so many ideas. But hey, one step at a time!”
Despite not having lessons herself or a formal artist’s education, Twisted Gabby acknowledges that her art is often far from perfect. But that’s just how it should be.
“It really is so easy if you have an imagination and the willpower to do it,” she shares. “ I mean like it's just like Bob Ross says: nothing is a mistake. It's just happy little accidents, you know, and you can make it whatever. And even if it looks funny, oh well, accept that it's supposed to be there.”
“That's why I like doing shrunken heads,” she says impishly, with a grin, “because you can't mess those up. They're all deformed anyways, you know?”