Los Angeles-based nail artist Kelly Heralda is making a name for herself as @bakenekonails. The term “Bakeneko” actually refers to a mythical changing cat, and with an ever-changing portfolio, Heralda keeps her designs fresh and true to her aesthetic by hosting a private Instagram account just for inspiration. It’s this account she sends to clients so they can choose a design from there. 

NAILS: How long have you done nails?

Heralda: I did some minor experimenting as a kid with polish, but nothing too serious. I’ve been doing nails professionally since 2013. 

NAILS: What got you into nail art?

Heralda: I would say that two major realizations helped me to understand the importance that nail art could play in my life. The first had a lot to do with being broke in New York. My husband and I had to work long hours at dead-end jobs just to scrape by. It was pretty rough. We barely got to see each other. That combined with a particularly bad stretch of gloomy weather made it really easy for me to get down in the dumps about life. A good friend ended up convincing me to go get our nails done to help lift our spirits. It was so empowering to do something nice for yourself. It gave me something to look forward to when I really needed it. My hubby had a hard time understanding at the time why it was so important to try and squeeze this expense into our tiny budget, but I made it clear that getting my nails done was not a luxury for me. It was a kind of medicine. 

Eventually, we moved back to Los Angeles. We again found ourselves working dead-end jobs and that sinking feeling started to creep it’s way back into my mind. I again turned to the nail world for salvation in a manicure and it worked …for a little while. I started to realize that the “top-notch” international nail salon I was going to was not treating me the way I wanted to be treated as a client. I would come home complaining about the experience to my husband rather than feeling happy. There was no love being put into my nail sessions. I was always being rushed and made to feel expendable as a client. One day after a long session of whining about my last nail appointment, my husband suggested that maybe I should look into doing nails myself as a business idea. I thought he was crazy at first, but he kept pushing me to be open to the idea and eventually I bought into it. I enrolled in nail school and have not looked back since. 

NAILS: How did you perfect your nail art skills? Your nails always look SO clean. What are your tips for achieving that?

Heralda: I was lucky enough to be exposed to art in school at an early age. Having access to art programs and teachers that could help unlock my potential as an artist has allowed me to be confident in expressing my creativity. Also, being able to take a step back from my work and be critical of where I am and where I want to end up has really helped me to progress. Having my husband as another set of objective critical eyes has also been a great asset. As for tips, I would definitely say practice practice practice. Also, setting realistic goals and spending as little time as possible beating yourself up about the time it’s taking you to achieve them has been extremely helpful for me.

NAILS: How long does it take you to do a set? What are your time-saving tips/tricks for nail art?

Heralda: It takes me about three hours to complete a gel manicure on natural nails for a client. One hour of that time is dedicated to removal, prep, and design consultation. I have been able to save a little time by utilizing an e-file and also getting more comfortable with consulting about designs while doing gel removal. It’s definitely something that takes practice. One advantage I have over typical salons is that my clients are generally coming to me for original artwork and comradery so it’s understood that these kinds of things shouldn’t be rushed. The clients that become my regulars understand the difference between nails as an expendable luxury vs. a medium for the exploration of art.

NAILS: What products do you use?

Heralda: I have purposely chosen to only work with soft gel on natural nails mainly because I like the consistency for doing nail art. I use Bio Sculpture Gel and Nail Labo’s Presto gel. These are two brands that have proven to be safe and healthy to use on both mine and my clients nails. I love both brands. I also use a Valentino Beauty Pure tabletop nail dust collector and a Kupa Manipro Passport. I have also had a lot of fun incorporating glitters from Wildflowers into my arsenal of tools recently. I use brushes from Bio Sculpture Gel, Tati, and some from our local art supply store that my husband has custom cut for me.

NAILS: You’re based in L.A. How does Los Angeles influence your design aesthetic?

Heralda: I would say that the majority of influence on my work is coming from such a broad spectrum thanks to the worldwide web. I am able to explore and be exposed to so much thanks to the times we are living in. I am definitely grateful for the accessiblity to nature in this wonderful city of Los Angeles. We are so lucky to be able to reach forest, desert, and ocean so easily here which are constant springs of inspiration for me. The sky here also helps me pick color palettes quite often. I can’t in good conscience take all the credit for what is being produced out of the Bakeneko Nails studio. I definitely consider the artwork I do to be collaborative art. My clients' ability to understand the opportunities we have when we sit down at the nail table have been a big part of my success as a nail artist, and I would say that a big part of their openness to new ideas can be attributed to living in this particular city. This collaborative process I’ve been able to embrace is why I insist on tagging my clients as well as any and all inspirations in my social media posts. 

NAILS: What are your tips for taking amazing pictures for social media?
Heralda: My husband has been a big help in deciding what we present to the world as Bakeneko Nails. At some point we realized that Instagram was really working for us as a way to get exposure and lure future clients in, so we really took a hard look at what other people were doing and what we wanted to present. We decided that our philosophy would be about really focusing on the work and allowing the viewer to clearly see a full set of nails. We try and present the nail art as clearly and distraction-free as possible with the hopes that people can really have a chance to appreciate these tiny canvases. My tip to people interested in the presentation of their nail art is to really be critical of themselves as much as possible. If you scroll back far enough on our Instagram page you can see the slow evolution of both our nail art and photography. The iPhone 7 and a good full spectrum lamp have also been great tools for taking the nail pics we are proud to present.

NAILS: How do you find quality nail art-loving clients?

Heralda: It definitely started with friends and family members being brave enough to let me learn and practice on them for free. It wasn’t too long before interest in my work outside of my small friend circle began to grow. The power of word of mouth marketing was definitely evident. Now, with a little help from the universe and social media my clients are finding me and it is so encouraging and wonderful.

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