Nail Art

Dedicated to the infinite joys of nail art and design: handpaint, airbrush, colored acrylics and gels.


Nails Chicago-Style

Despite a lack of state licensing, students seek out sound education

The state of Illinois has been slow in organizing licensing requirements for nail technicians, yet instructor Deborah Mack reports there is no lack of students eager to learn how to do nails and design nail art in the Windy City.

At Pivot Point International on the outskirts of Chicago, Mack teaches a 100-hour nail class four times a year. Instructor is offered two nights a week, part-time.

“Most of the students work full-time during the day, and they’re looking for extra income or a change in career,” reports Mack.

The instruction, while brief, encompasses natural nail care, acrylics, and pedicures, with the emphasis clearly on acrylic technique. Mack insists the students learn to use odorless systems, because “I’m sick of the smell. We just don’t have the ventilation here.”

The energetic 32-year-old instructor first got into nail because I used to get my nails done in a salon, but when we bought a house, I was depressed that I couldn’t have my nails done any more” She took an evening class, and was asked to become an instructor.

She finds the students are quite interested in nail art. The average class spends four hours on free-hand (flat) nail art, encompassing feathering, marbleizing, Emboss Art, the Dotter, and rhinestone. Another four-hour class addresses the basics of airbrushing.

Last year, Mack decided to offer competition because the students specializing in hair at Pivot Point had so much fun with it, she though the nail designers might enjoy the challenge, too. The results, along with some Mack’s own designs, can be seen on pages 134 and 135.

But just having good technique isn’t the name of the game, advises Mack. “Good people skills [are essential]. If people like you, even if you’re not the best nail technician in the world, if you make them feel good and you’re an ‘up’ person, they’ll come back.”

Bingo. The Pivot Point curriculum is designed precisely to encourage students to enhance their people skills. “We have a licensed psychotherapist come in for one four-hour class,” says Mack. “He teaches the whole thing. The class does role-playing, and he passes out questionnaires to help the students determine how they feel about people their responses to customers, how to get over and around the negativity of others.

“You lose customers more often because someone was indifferent to them than, because of [poor] technical skills,” she cautions.

Not that Mack minimizes the importance of having sound technical knowledge. Since the State of Illinois is slow to round up the paperwork on licensing requirements, Mack advices her students, “Go out there and be shining examples because you are going to see horrendous things.”

For example, while working in a salon, Mack frequently found she was the only one who would wash her hands and wipe down her table between clients, or wear safety glasses when working with chemicals. “people didn’t even bother to replace old, worn-out files.” She recalls. Mack is adamant about the need for state licensing. “Without proper training, you could seriously hurt somebody.”

Pivot Point International already has a 300-hour program in place for the day when manicuring is recognizing as a profession by the state of Illinois.


Nail art, particularly airbrushing, is popular with the younger set in the city of Chicago. Yet it’s rarely seen in the suburbs reports Mack.

“Businesswomen go for the French manicures. I’m seeing a shorter nail, but square is still in. And everybody wants acrylics. It’s getting more and more popular it’s not just a middle-class trend. Lower-income people are looking for acrylic nails also.”

Electric files seem to be the current upgrade investment for the ambitious technicians. “With the electric files, they find they can cut the time in half they ordinarily need to do a fill.”



“I’d like to say the students are here because they like to make people feel wonderful, but they’re really in for the money. They can do very well here,” states Mack succinctly.

“These women have it all laid out; they have big plans. They have huge fishing kits of supplies. One of the draws is, a lot of them aren’t planning to work in a salon – they want to work for themselves.”

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