Nail Art

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


Nail Art Spectacular Airbrush Album

NAILS talked to 14 top nail artists across the country to get their airbrush design ideas, methods, and price guidelines.

NAILS talked to 14 top nail artists across the country to get their airbrush design ideas, methods, and price guidelines.

The Color of Money

Well-known in the industry, international educator Elizabeth Anthony and her vice president of operations, Sandi Nidetz, conceptualized and airbrushed these nails, which are examples of the types of designs nail technicians completing their third, three-day Elizabeth Anthony airbrushing seminar can achieve. “Our focus in the classes is on airbrushing techniques, including color theory and product usage, and on how to make money with your airbrushing skills,” Anthony notes. “Everyone thinks of airbrushing as nail art, and many don’t realized they can do simple color fades and French manicures and increase their income.” While the designs shown here utilize many colors and stencils, Anthony says all, with practice, can be done in 10-20 minutes on all 10 nails using multiple guns. The secret to mastering these vibrant, richly detailed designs? “Understanding color theory and how to place colors correctly to get a strong contrast, as well as working with transparent and opaque collectors and placing stencils correctly.” This month, Anthony is launching her own line of airbrush products.

The Natural

Dianne D’Agnolo began airbrushing in nail school, and her instructor was so impressed with her natural talent she took her nails to a local distributor, who then recruited D’Agnolo as an educator. For many years, she went back and forth between working in the salon and educating for a distributor, but she has focused on airbrushing for about seven years now, most recently as product development manager for Too Much Fun (Mission Viejo, Calif.). Now, she happily divides her time between teaching advanced airbrushing seminars, training educators, and designing the company’s patented mask designs. She also develops recipes for new paint colors that technicians can mix using the company’s 76 colors. One reason she loves airbrushing with masks, she says is because they offer both positive and negative images, from which technicians can create countless scenes and effects.

Geometric Glam

Since she got into airbrushing, Deneed Daniels of Reggie’s Salon in Atlanta says her appreciation for art has increased 1,000-fold. The Safari educator is always observing other technicians work, looking for new themes, color combinations, and medium. But in deference to her mostly conservative clientele, she has developed a repertoire of simple but striking French manicures and color fades. Here, she provided three designs to demonstrate some of her favorite effects for those willing to “step out” a little. “The Harlem Hip-Hop Sound design demonstrates effects of graphic masking cover-ups and Lectra set letters and numbers,” she says. “The other two are designed to show how I use geometric shapes and patterns.” For those who have trouble mixing and matching colors, Daniels recommends creating geometric patterns and gradating a color or working with the opposite side of the color chart for some great color combinations.

Harleys to Hoppity

Before shrinking her canvas to human nail four years ago, Billie Sue Grider, owner of Billie Does Nails at Bella Capelli Salon in Santa Rosa, Calif., already had 16 years’ experience airbrushing motorcycles, shirts, walls… you name it. Also a tattoo artist and educator for Too Much Fun, Grider says she loves to paint intricate portraits on the nail with a very fine needle as well as custom-design her art with hand-cut masks. Here she demonstrates some of her work with pre-cut masks. Nine out of 10 of her nail art clients choose a fantasy French design like the one shown above. For the other 10%, she offers a variety of striking designs. On her Easter-themed nail, she first airbrushed faint clouds on the nail, and then cut just the head from a mask, applied it to the nail at the top edge of the cloud, then sprayed it white, lightening up her spray at the bottom edge so the head would fade into the cloud. With the Strawberries Forever design, she says she used the same mask for the entire nail, moving it as she worked.

Free Design, Free Referral

At Naughty By Nails in Linden, N.J., few of manager Kim Matos’ clients leave without art on their nails. “Oh, new clients may resist at first,” she says, “but after doing a free design on one or two nails they come back wanting more after all the attention they get from friends and coworkers.” Accomplished in both airbrushing and hand painting, Matos likes airbrushing because she can work fast and it dries fast, and she can incorporate more color variations. She loves hand painting as well, because she loves to draw. Her advice to those just learning to airbrush? “Don’t concentrate on creating a design. Just be creative and play with stencils and colors on the nail.” And if the colors bleed out under the stencil, she cleans up the edges of the image with a fine-tipped brush dipped in window cleaner.

Art Meets Airbrushing

To Dana Smith, a Freemont, Ohio-based educator for Thayer & Chandler Institute, her job combines the best of all worlds. She always wanted to be an art teacher, but when she sidetracked to go to nail school and picked up airbrushing, she fell in love with this career as well. “Now, I can teach and do nails and do art all at once,” she says, adding that she still works in the salon three days a week. “My favorite airbrush designs are the complex ones, but most of what I do in the salon are French manicures,” she admits. To all those still mastering the airbrush, Smith advises lightening up on the trigger finger.”You shouldn’t be able to see the paint leaving the gun or you’re spraying too heavily,” she notes. “If the paint is shiny on the nail, it’s too wet.” And while instinct may tell you to bend the stencil to the curve of the nail, she advises laying it flat and keeping the tip of the airbrush parallel to the stencil, which will prevent overspray.

Trigger Happy

From rich and vibrant to soft and romantic, awarded nail artist Judy Jensen of Studio 302 in Las Vegas, Nev. what to use to effect she’s after. For example, the softly colored nail (below, left) was achieved by basing the nail with white, then spraying the nail in thirds starting at the cuticle with fuchsia, then yellow, then purple. To soften the colors, she laid down netting and lightly sprayed over it with purple before layering on the white and purple flowers and green leaves. You can really see the difference the netting makes by examining the bright, day lily design. Note that she used very similar colors, but they’re much brighter without the toning down effect of the netting. According to Jensen, who says she’d love to educate airbrush students, the key to airbrushing lies in the control of the spray. “It’s getting the trigger just right so you spray just a tiny bit,” she advises.

Metallic Madness

Owner of Virtu Nail Studio in Newhall, Calif., California sales rep for Safari Airbrush, and mother of four young children, Laura Scott still finds time to just sit down and create. Here, she shares a few designs sure to be popular in her salon this spring and summer. All four of these nails are painted over a metallic pain background, which gives the images some dimension. Scott says she usually uses metallic paints for the background and flat paints for the images, or vice-versa, for this very reason. She says clients often choose some variation of a French manicure (which she offers free as part of her value-added service). However, she notes those free French manicures more than pay their way in the amount of referral business they bring. For her three multi-colored designs above she says she would charge about $15 for all 10 nails. “This is the way to go for anyone who wants a raise,” Scott asserts. “It takes half the time of a fill, but you can charge just as much.”

Designs To Go

With virtually every customer coming in for maintenance and airbrushing in a one-hour appointment, Lynn Montero, co-owner of Snip & Tip in Red Bank, N.J., generally creates a “design of the week” that she puts on her nails at the beginning of the week, and she finds that most clients request it. Her “style,” Montero says, is to just pick up a stencil, take a deep breath, and start layering images and colors until she is pleased with the effect, and then she applies a coat of gold to give the nails a shimmer effect that she and clients love. She says she rarely does an intricate design on just one nail. Instead, she uses one or two design elements on each nail. With just about 20 minutes of the appointment left by the time she gets to airbrushing, Montero says lately she has been trying to convince clients to switch from having all 10 nails airbrushed to just have the middle three nails on both hands done. She charges clients $40 for a fill and airbrushing, and $25 for just a polish change and airbrushing.

Star-Spangled Striping

You can almost see the flag ripping in the breeze on this Fourth of July design by Too Much Fun educator Joyce Mourer. To create the illusion of the stripes moving, Mourer first applied Crystal white Base Coat, applied pre-cut stripe masks and sprayed Polish Red over the entire nail, and then airbrushed Violet lightly across the curves of the stripes to create some low lights. She then applied Too Much Fun’s Field of Stars positive pre-cut mask and lightly sprayed them with black. Then she moved the mask slightly to overlap half of the sprayed image, airbrushed white to mute the underlying colors, then airbrushed blue over the stars. For the Watermelon Slice design, she provides a few helpful hints: Always airbrush white paint before layering a color over a dark base color to prevent bleed-through, use a French Manicure mask to create the curve of the watermelon ring, and use tear drop of seed shapes to create the seeds.

Baby Looks

While Janene Bushey of Nail Elegance in Shelby, Ohio, develops most of her designs as she works, she spent much time composing these designs in her mind before picking up the airbrush. She hadn’t intended to experiment with them until later in the summer when her two grandchildren are due to arrive just seven weeks apart, but here they are. She also notes she did each at least three times to get it just right. The designs’ next stops are in their honoree’s respective baby books. When airbrushing clients’ nails, Bushey says she tries to allow at least 30 minutes to airbrush. When airbrushing, she works with two guns, one for white paint only and the other with colors, so she doesn’t have to keep cleaning her guns.

Marvelous Masks

Using both pearlescent and flat paints, Jodi Donaldson-Lufsey, a nail technician at Jaggered Edge in Glendale, Ariz., layered the colors using masks to create these designs, one of which a client wanted her to reproduce as a wall mural in his home. On the pink and green nail, she says she first sprayed the entire nail with pink, then green pearlescent paints. Then she applied several geometric masks to the nail, sprayed an opaque pink, and pulled the masks up. “I love to spray three colors, apply a mask, spray a few more colors, then do another mask and add a few more colors, and then peel up all the masks,” she says. “It’s exciting to peel them all off because you don’t know what it’s going to look like.” Like many technicians who use masks that we talked to, Donaldson-Lufsey charges clients 50 cents per mask, per nail, and $3 per color.

Daisy Power

When Dawn Marie Scheper, owner of Nails by Gunpoint in San Jose, Calif., first began airbrushing the retro daisy and peace sign design five years ago, she did it as a special request for a client with very long nails. But since she brought it back a few months ago, both it and the Energy Attracts design (above, right), clients can’t get enough. For the daisy design, she recommends basing the nails with a silver paint, which she says makes them look more vibrant. The happy face stencil is from Safari, but the daisy and peace sign stencils she burnt herself because she couldn’t find ones large enough to suit her needs. For Energy Attracts, she uses all pre-cut stencils from Safari Airbrush. Scheper charges $20 to do all 10 nails in a 30-minute appointment.

Simple Complexities

Airbrushing can be as simple or as hard as you want to make it, says Nina Miller of Air Source One Ltd., illustrating her thought with these two designs. The pink and white nail is one of countless variations on the French manicure that you could offer clients, and is quickly and easily done. Air Source One offers a variety of French manicure graphics on Mylar stencils, and designs like these can be applied to a full set in just 5-10 minutes. For those clients wanting a more complex design, Miller recommends using design netting and a variety of stencils and colors. “Just one template has many cuts, and you can use bits and pieces of each cut and reverse them to come up with 50-60 different designs,” she says. “This particular design takes about 10 minutes to do on one nail, or 30-40 minutes to do on all 10.”

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