Tucked into the corners of dark ballrooms at nail shows, some of the best nail technicians in the world compete against one another, sculpting dazzling nail art designs and perfectly precise C-curves. But what is it like to be a competitor? NAILS takes a quick look at the competition schedule of one veteran and one novice competitor at ISSE Long Beach this past January.
The NOVICE: Amy Oung, educator for Akzéntz; Years doing nails: 12; Years competing: 1
A first-time competitor, Oung decided to compete at the International Salon and Spa Expo (ISSE) after the encouragement of fellow competitor and Akzéntz educator, Gina Silvestro. “Gina had been competing for a little while, and she told me about this whole other world to nails outside of the salon,” says Oung, “and after watching how competing improved her skills and speed in the salon, I decided to try it.”
Oung chose only to compete in the Mirror Image category of the competition, because she had more confidence in her skills as a nail architect with an eye for structure, than as an artist for the more creative categories.
The VETERAN: Lynn Lammers, independent nail artist; Years doing nails: 20; Years competing: 5
Lammers is the current reigning champion of the nail competition arena. She has won major titles in countries across the globe and currently sits atop the NAILS Top 25 competitor ranking with a 15-point lead. (She’s also the champion two years running for the Top 25.)
She competed in three categories at the Long Beach show, Mirror Image, Salon Success, and Sculpt, coming in first place for all three. “I always love competing at the Long Beach show,” says Lammers. “The previous year had been good for me and I was motivated to start the new year off with some big wins.”
PREPARATION BEFORE THE SHOW
Oung: The first thing I do is read the rules very carefully, which was a bit tricky for Mirror Image. Basically the guidelines were you had an hour and 40 minutes to do two tip-and-overlays (gel or acrylic), two acrylic sculpts or two gel sculpts (your choice), one sculpt of whatever product you did not already do two of, and then finally polish two nails. These rules were a bit flawed, because the requirement of two polished nails meant you could theoretically “cover” up your weakest sculpting job.
A recreation of Oung’s Mirror Image entry. (Left to right starting at thumb) Acrylic sculpt, Tip with gel, Gel sculpt, Tip with acrylic (polished), Gel sculpt (polished).
Lammers: I practiced a lot for the Mirror Image competition this year because it was a brand-new category. I hire hand models to come over so I can practice my application on real hands. I try to schedule practice sessions every other weekend starting about six weeks before the competition, and I give myself the whole day to practice.
I’ll usually do a Saturday or Sunday when I don’t have clients. When I compete, I always try to travel with my two hand models, Jenny Tam and Jen Heard, so I can work on hands I’m familiar with.
NIGHT BEFORE THE COMPETITION
Oung: The night before the competition I check to make sure I have everything I need. The one item I cannot compete without is my clear clip. It’s small and cheap, and I get it from Japan because I don’t think they sell them here. I treasure it dearly, because without it, it is very difficult for me to achieve a C-curve on gel.
I then size up my forms, make sure all of my items are in my kit, and try to get to bed early. At this point, I felt practice runs wouldn’t help much because by this time, either you have it or you don’t.
Oung’s plastic clip lightly bends the gel into a C-curve. The clips come exclusively from Japan and are not currently sold in the U.S.
Lammers: I always try to get checked into my hotel by 5 p.m. so I have time for dinner and to prepare my models. I remove any nail enhancements they may be wearing and give a pre-competition manicure where I cut the nails, push back the cuticles, and trim any non-living tissue from the nail plate.
I might do a couple practice runs by applying product to flat forms, and then I’ll try to be in bed by 10 p.m. to get up by 4:30 a.m. the next day.
Lammers often practices smile lines the night before using a form before getting a good night’s sleep.
Lammers’ competition entourage consists of (left to right) hand model Jenny Tam, husband Brett Lammers, and hand model Jen Heard.