Nail Art

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


What’s New in Nail Art?

Holograms, Chagalling, abstracts, and graffiti are the latest inspirations for nail artists.

Jo Livingston's Chagalling technique uses overlaid pieces of painted cut-up nail tips for a bright, multidimensional look.
<p>Jo Livingston's Chagalling technique uses overlaid pieces of painted cut-up nail tips for a bright, multidimensional look.</p>

If you think you’ve seen – or done – everything in nail art, think again. There’s always something new to try, and nail artists across the country shared their latest inspirations with NAILS Magazine. They also revealed their favorite (and often untraditional) sources for nail art products.

“Anything goes in nail art; there’s no such thing as a mistake,” says Jackie Randolph, an independent educator and owner of Nail Expressions Salon in Washington, D.C “You’re the only one who knows what you have in mind,” she says. Use your imagination when creating designs and experiment.

“New designs come from looking at the hand, looking at clients and knowing them, and allowing yourself to create,” says Liz Fojon, owner of Phenomanails of Fair Lawn in Fair Lawn, N.J. “Let ideas flow from yourself and listen to your client. Is she in a delicate mood or does she want art deco? Loosen your inhibitions; don’t feel you have to follow what other people are doing. The nail is your canvas and you should just create.”

When you suffer from “artist’s block,” look outside the salon for ideas. Examine the fashion trends and new items on the art scene. Randolph recommends browsing at a graphic arts store. “What graphic artists are using can often be used on nails,” she says. In the techniques described here, Randolph uses an atomizer and hologram paper, both of which she found at a graphics arts store.

Debbie Mach, an instructor at Pivot Point International in Chicago, searches through craft stores, miniature shops, flea markets, and even fish lure shops for new items. “I found a little mouse in a mouse-trap at a dollhouse miniature stores,” she explains, “and I bought some shimmering material in strips at a fish lure store that I cut and put on the nails.”

In nail art, nothing goes out of style. If you get bored with what you’re using, try combining old materials in new ways: Use glitter in handpainted scenes, or combine rhinestones with snakeskin.

“Art is art. What’s old to the veterans is exciting to the new people. New clients don’t know the old stuff is old so they enjoy everything,” says Elizabeth Anthony, owner of Progressive Nail Concepts in Palatine, Ill. “I do see nail technicians being more versatile and combining different elements more often.”

Keep a loaded camera on hand for those times when you create a new design. “We take pictures of good art and original designs and put them in a photo album for clients to look through,” says Traci Suggs of Great Lengths in Columbus, Ohio. “We also cut out all the photos from “Nail Art by Our Readers” in NAILS Magazine and include those in the photo albums just to keep fresh coming in.”

For new design ideas, try the following tips and nail art techniques.

From Jackie Randolph, owner of Nail Expressions Salon, Washington D.C.:

Hologram Nail Art

Material needed: nail polish, polish corrector pen, top coat, hologram stickers, scissors or Exacto knife, hole punch.

  1. Prepare the nails as usual and apply two coats of polish.
  2. Using scissors, Exacto knife, or hole punch, cut shapes from hologram paper.
  3. Remove the designs from the backing and apply on wet or dry polish.

Apply two coats of sealer to hold the cut hologram paper in place.

Splatter Art

Materials needed: nail polish, polish corrector pen, atomizer (about $2 at a graphic arts store), one to three colors of water-based acrylic paint.

  1. Prepare the nails as usual and apply two coats of nail polish.
  2. Extend the upper rod of atomizer about ½-inch from adjustable hinge. Then extend the long rod and dip it about 1/8-inch into desired acrylic paint color.
  3. Lift upper rod until it meets and rests on top of the lower rod. Hold atomizer 4-6 inches from the nail and blow forcefully through the upper rod.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with other colors.
  5. Clean finger and cuticle area with nail polish corrector pen.
  6. Apply top coat.

Sculptured Polish Art

Materials needed: two contrasting polish colors, cuticle stick, paper towel, polish remover, top coat.

  1. Prepare nails as usual and apply one heavy coat of nail polish. Randolph recommends silver or gold. Let polish dry completely.
  2. Polish one nail with a second contrasting polish color. While the second coat is still wet, lightly drag a cuticle stick or other sculpting tool through the top coat, but not so firm that you nick the base color. After one to two strokes, dip cuticle stick in polish remover and blot on a paper towel. Continue sculpting until design is complete.
  3. Finish with top coat.

From Debbie Mack, educator for Pivot Point International in Chicago: Bindis are the circular forehead decorations worn by Indian women and men. They’re colored felt pieces overlaid and glued together with a rhinestone affixed in the middle of the top piece. Some designs have serrated edges and they’re cut in all different shapes. They can be applied alone on polished nails, or they can be incorporated into other designs.

To make your own, buy felt and rhinestones at a craft store. Use a straight-edge or pinking shears and cut the felt into small pieces. Glue together the overlaid pieces of felt with fabric glue and then glue on rhinestones.

From Diane D’Angelo, educator at Professional Nail Research in Phoenix, Ariz.: Airbrushing is still big in Arizona, Anything with an edge or holes in it can be used in a stencil. It’s just a matter of being able to hold the item and making sure it’s neither too large nor too small to make a design on the nail.

To splatter paint on the nail with the airbrush, follow these steps.

  1. Take the tip, or crown, off the gun to expose the needle.
  2. Angle the gun upward and spray. The paint will splatter down on the nail. Practice on glass because the paint will slide more on the glass than it will on polish so you quickly get an idea of what the angle should be.

To make stars, base coat the  nail with clear polish and airbrush a blue background. Scratch the blue paint very lightly with a pin.

From Jo Livingston, educator and owner of Nails Chicago in Chicago: I’ve created a style I call Chagalling, named after the French artist Marc Chagall (noted for his inlaid mosaics). I call my collection of designs Nails Nouveau. The technique calls for assorted overlaid cut-up nail tips on the nail. Layering the pieces gives you a multilevel effect.

Materials needed: various sizes of nail tips, nail tip scissors, files, nail polish, neon water-based acrylic paints, fine nail art brush, nail tip glue, and top coat.

  1. Apply two coats of a soft, subtle nail polish color. Allow each coat to dry.
  2. Select two or three tips of various sizes and cut out designs with short, snipping strokes. Don’t cut too much at once or the tip will crack or shatter. The more twists and curls you include, the better the effect.
  3. While the polish is drying, paint the nail tip cutouts with bright, neon colors that complement the base color. Be sure to paint the sides that may be exposed as well.
  4. Place once cutout on each nail. Practice placement on a sample nail tip. Once you’re satisfied, put nail glue on the back of each cutout and place on the nail.
  5. Overlay the second level of cutouts on the nail. Secure on the nail by applying nail glue to the back of the cutout.
  6. Repeat step 2. The third level uses smaller cutouts, and you might use more than one.
  7. Don’t overload the nail with too many levels. Once you are satisfied, seal with top coat.

Luann Rounds, nail technician at Pazazz in St. Petersburg, Fla.: The stained glass effect is becoming increasingly popular with clients. Create the illusion of stained glass windows on nails by using foils or glitter mixed with clear polish.

Materials needed: desired polish color, black nail polish, nail art foil or clear top coat mixed with glitter, fine nail art brush, clear top coat.

  1. Prepare the nail as usual and apply two coats of nail polish.
  2. Outline desired shape with black polish or water-based acrylic paint.
  3. Paint inside the lines with glitter top coat. Or, apply foil adhesive inside the outline, let it dry, and press foil on the adhesive. You can fill in one shape, or you can divide the nail into sections and cover the nail’s surface with “panes.”
  4. Apply top coat.

From Liz Fojon, owner of Phenomanails of Fair Lawn, Fair Lawn, N.J.: I have a patent in the tri-state area on Nail Carving. We carve hearts, stars, or diamonds in overlays or tips with emery boards.

For carving, you’ll need supplier to do your nail art, if any, and a wood emery board.

  1. Prepare the nails as usual.
  2. Make sure the free edge is strong enough to support the carving. Apply nail tips or overlay the natural with acrylic or a wrap.
  3. Outline the desired shape on top of the nail with a pen or pencil.
  4. Carve the desired shape by filling the nail with a wood emery board. Don’t carve in too far from the sides or the nail will snap off, potentially causing the damage.
  5. Polish and decorate as desired.

From Traci Suggs, nail technician at Great Lengths, Columbus, Ohio: I do graffiti on the nails. It takes about a half-hour, and clients can personalize it.

Materials needed: airbrush; white, red, and black water-based acrylic paints; flat edge, such as business card; clear top coat.

  1. Spray a white base coat over the prepared nail.
  2. Spray a red background.
  3. Using a business card or other flat edge as a mask, spray black lines to form bricks and sidewalk.
  4. Airbrush a black background for the word, then freehand airbrush the word.
  5. Handpaint details, such as stars.

From Norma Gonzalez, owner of Foxy’s Nail Salon, Toldeo, Ohio: I’ve been doing abstracts on the nails with black and white polish. Black and white are timeless and people are really getting into them within the last six months.

Materials needed: black and white polish or water-based acrylic paint, fine nail art brush, top coat.

  1. Prepare the nail as usual. Separate the nails into quarters by painting a thin black stripe vertically down the center of the nail. Paint a second thin black stripe across the horizontal center of the nail.
  2. Fill in two squared with white paint or polish. The two squares should only touch at the corners.
  3. Paint the other two squares with black polish or paint.
  4. In the white squares, use black paint to create diamonds, swirls, or any other figures.
  5. In the black squares, paint the same designs using white polish.
  6. Finish with top coat.

From Ron Hernandez, owner of Just Nails, El Sereno, Calif.: Color and designs often just come out on the nails by playing with them. Ideas come to mind, and I find myself hurrying because colors are flashing in my head and I need to get them on paper. With this design, I was trying to give the impression of clouds or lightning.

Materials needed: airbrush; frisket paper (self-adhesive mask) gray, white, and red water-based acrylic paints, top coat.

  1. Prepare the nails as usual. Base coat the nail and spray light gray paint over the entire nail.
  2. Cut a jagged edge on the frisket paper. Mask the nail at the free edge and shoot white paint. The white should shoot just over the edge of the frisket paper, leaving a thin, jagged line on the nail.
  3. Cut another piece of frisket paper with a stairway cut. Lay the paper on the nail’s free edge and spray red paint on the nail tip.





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