Seven hairstylists signed up to learn the art of creating a look for a photo shoot at the Takara Belmont showroom in Manhattan. While this wasn’t the first Artist Session for many of the stylists in attendance, it was the first time a nail tech was on set to collaborate.
Joanne Sorbello of Stone Ridge Salon (@stoneridgesalon) has contributed artwork to the pages of NAILS before, but was motivated to sign up for the program in an effort to step outside of her comfort zone. Sorbello is used to challenging herself. Before enrolling in Artist Session, she took a class with Gina Silvestro and set her sights on mastering new techniques and styles of art. “It’s important to always improve upon what you do, so you don’t feel stale. It’s an ever-changing business,” says Sorbello. Prior to the workshop, Sorbello hadn’t done any session work. And while she is married to a barber, she had never collaborated on a photo shoot with a hairdresser before.
The first day of the workshop consisted of guest speakers and model casting. Sorbello examined the models’ nails in an effort to aid the stylists in choosing the women with the best nails for her to work on. After the models were cast, six guest speakers shared their take on creating quality editorial photos. Vice president of marketing, creative, and education for BabylissPRO, Luis Alvarez was one of the speakers who impacted Sorbello the most. “His views on what makes a picture come to life were interesting to me. I believe his line was ‘exposure = drama.’ I loved it!” Model Jennifer Daniels also provided important takeaways for casting a model that fits an artist’s vision. The tip Sorbello recalls is looking at a model’s ears when planning a profile shot.
Day two of Artist Session was when it all came together. Being the only nail tech meant that it was up to Sorbello to consult, prep, and execute the nails for all seven models. Due to the time constraints (the shoot wrapped at 5 p.m.) and the state of some of the nails on some of the models, Sorbello had to make crucial decisions. She determined to not touch the nails on one of the models who had just gotten a manicure. For two of the other models, she settled on a solid color of lacquer instead of a design to simplify the process. The four remaining models would wear nail art. Sorbello brainstormed with the hairdressers, makeup artist David Maderich, and fashion stylist Rod Novoa to come up with concepts she could execute. Sorbello had to work quickly, as models were rushed between hair, makeup, and wardrobe. She also had to use lacquer, as models have to change their nails depending on the assignments they take. Luckily, she came prepared. Since Sorbello had no idea what the hairdressers were envisioning, she had to pack a sampling of art supplies and a range of lacquer colors. The space and range of motion within it was also a challenge, since Sorbello figured she wouldn’t have a fixed location. “I was treating it like an off-premises bridal party. Watching and figuring out who might be finishing their look first was key. You have to be able to read the room and the personalities in it,” she says.
The results were true works of art. By the time photographer Roberto Ligresti snapped the final looks Sorbello had completed negative space, plaid, sequined, and gold foil manicures. Coming up with these particular designs was a collaboration, but it’s also part of what Sorbello does best. “My clients are always getting dressed up for something. For 18-plus years it’s been, ‘I’m going to a party. Can you come up with something to go with this outfit?’ Nails are another key accessory to the whole ensemble. I’m just used to creating on the fly,” says Sorbello.
Communication with the other artists was also key. “Talking briefly with the stylist is the beginning. Do they want edgy? Minimalist? Something era specific? Seeing the stylist at work is the middle. Looking at the wardrobe and speaking with the fashion stylist is the final piece to the puzzle,” she says. Her favorite look was the punk rock plaid collaboration with Beverly Hills-based airdresser Nanci Lee Randolph.
Sorbello’s favorite part overall was being inspired. “Every stylist involved was truly professional and talented. Being able to assist in someone’s vision is a blessing. Everyone was very positive and encouraging,” she says. Sorbello acknowledges that nail techs can get caught up in their own insecurities and overthink, but this experience reaffirmed for her that she can accomplish anything she sets out to do. “We have to remember that at the core, we are nail artists. The people who come back into our salons every day or the people who call you to come do freelance work like what you have to offer. Always be true to yourself,” she advises.
The hard work and collaboration paid off. In addition to the feature here, Sorbello’s work will also run in Modern Salon. She has already landed a paid gig working on another Modern Salon shoot as well. “I think now that I’ve dipped a toe into this world, I’d like to see where it will lead," she says. We do too.