Young women’s faces, painted or smeared with a unique crimson shade, gaze pensively. An extremely intimate element was used to create these portraits: their own blood.

Piece by piece, she lays them out, the models’ tender features blushed with natural pigment drawn from their veins, mixed with water, colored powder or just pure blood. For Darisa Karnpoj, the artist behind these sanguine sketches, it’s a method meant to capture a woman’s most intimate beauty.

“I think things that highly contrast each other have some surprising factors that people enjoy,” she said. “Using blood, which looks scary and a bit taboo, that people don’t like, and combining it with beautiful things, like a woman’s pretty face, creates some charm and mystery.”

She will show the results of her unique aesthetic at “Vein/Vain,” her first exhibition, opening Saturday.

This feels like I paid the ultimate homage to the beauty of the person I painted

The 26-year-old artist, who paints as “Riety,” graduated from Silpakorn University. She says that after years of working in a totally opposite direction, designing for movie posters and advertising, she can finally express her own idea of beauty – though some may find it unnerving.

“This is the kind of work that you either love or hate. That’s the approach I’m going for,” she said. “I’ve been a commercial artist and have always worked to please people. I feel that my career now has reached the point that I need to show more of myself.”

The project started about a year ago, as she accidentally noticed an interesting quality of blood when she was in the hospital and on an IV drip.

“I saw blood mixing with water and different shades of it coming out,” she said. “Then I thought, blood has hemoglobin that creates color in it. That’s similar to color pigments. I should try to paint with blood.”

She did not wait long to experiment.

“That evening I stopped by a pharmacy, bought an insulin needle and drew my own blood, and painted one as a prototype right away. My own portrait,” she said. “Then I asked my junior if I could paint with her blood, showing her that I had already done it to myself. She said yes. … It continued thereon.”

Although recruiting models and finding someone to draw their blood wasn’t much trouble, the unusual concept of her bloody project quickly hit a rough spot – it almost got her arrested.

“I rented a house near Khaosan Road and had my models’ blood collected there,” she said. “The house owner found needles in a trash and called the police, thinking we were hosting some kind of drug party.”

“I told the police that I was working on an art project, and he said ‘Okay, you must really be an artist’ after checking my Instagram,” she recounted with amusement.

Then, to begin work on a series she intended as a tribute to her subjects, Darisa’s fidelity to her vision made it difficult to find financial support.

“When I was finding sponsors for this work, each of them would ask me to tie it with blood disorders or something that looks more beneficial to the society,” she said. “But I didn’t want to change the focus of my work. I wanted it to be all about passion, genuinely. So I rejected them all and paid for almost everything myself.”

“I nearly gave up many times,” she said. “I thought I might gain nothing out of this. It could turn out looking ugly, and the money I spent would be in vain.”

It’s not something that came out of the blue. Growing up in her mother’s dentist clinic helped foster Darisa’s deep interest in science, making her naturally curious to try new things – however unusual.

“I’ve always liked to paint with weird things. They’re like my own experiment projects,” she said. “When I was young, I wanted to be a doctor. … I’ve always thought the human body is a very interesting thing.”

“Actually, art is just an outlet I use to release my creativity. What I’m really interested in is something else. I want to talk about these things through art,” she continued, adding that she wants her next exhibition to be about chemistry.

Saliva, urine, tears and sweat have also been incorporated in Darisa’s work, but to her, none was more intriguing than what she found in blood.

“When I first did it to myself I noticed, why my blood is quite dark like my skin?” she said. “As I tried with more people, I saw quite a similarity. It’s not an exact match to their skin tones, but if this person’s skin has a yellow tone, her blood will contain some yellow tones in it.”

“Nothing can be played with in so many different ways like blood,” she added, while insisting that there is no stench. “Urine has color, but it’s quite smelly. I had to throw it away afterward. Saliva is too clear and doesn’t leave much of a trace.”

Being a mythology and history enthusiast is also a powerful influence that sparked the idea of using blood in her art.

“It’s like admiration or worship. In the past, people also used blood, meat and skin for such things,” she said. “This feels like I paid the ultimate homage to the beauty of the person I painted … like I was able to immortalize the moment when she looked the most beautiful.”

Although nervous about letting her fascination out into the wild and public scrutiny, Darisa hopes her “fine art” project will help define her as an artist.

“I was very conscious about it before, because of the unusual ideas that I have,” she said. “But then I thought, ‘So be it, I’d rather have only people that really love who I am to be with me.’”

“As I’ve already had a fanbase on Facebook, I think when I do something that makes people who like it continue to stay with me. And people who don’t can just click unlike. It’s a great way to narrow down my audience,” she added. “The only followers remaining would be the ones who really enjoy my work.”

Vein/Vain runs Saturday through June 30 at the Daydream Believer cafe. The opening reception starts at 6pm on Saturday. Daydream Believer cafe is a 10-minute walk or short taxi ride from BTS Ari.