When we talked to Elaine Watson about this month’s cover, we weren’t completely sure how she was going to achieve the look of the leaves. At first we thought maybe she’d embed actual leaves into clear gel or acrylic. Then Elaine mentioned a technique of etching veins in colored acrylic powder. But on the day of the shoot, Elaine showed us these delicately sculpted, overlapping leaves and we knew that was the one.

A nail tech for 16 years, Elaine has educated for several brands over the years, but four years ago she moved into the corporate side of the business and became the global education director for Star Nail International.

She’s picked up so many interesting techniques in her world travels. “I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica,” says Elaine. “I’m not so sure nails are hot down there just yet!” (The technique she used for sculpting the leaves on the cover are inspired from techniques she learned from Mi-Won Kim in Korea.) And while she loves creating art and doing nails, the last few years have taken her a step further. “I’ve really found a love for research and development. And now that I’ve been doing this for a few years, I’m getting to see more of my ideas become real products.”

Here's how you can do these nails:

1. Prep the nails. Apply nail forms. (Note: The following is a list of colors to use for autumn leaves look: yellow, gold, brown, red, orange, blue, green, as well as several metallic colors: bronze, gold, yellow, red, and opal.)


2. Dip your brush into different combinations of opaque colors. Starting on the free edge, drop the ball onto the form to create the free-edge leaves. While the ball is wet and more like liquid, drag the general leaf shape with your brush. Press the center line down the leaf, and then make veins by pressing from the center line out.


3. Layer the entire nail leaf by leaf, being careful to mix up the colors so they don’t all blend together.


4. Continue to add leaves, overlapping them as you go back toward the cuticle area.


5. Once the leaves are all placed, covering the nail, use small amounts of glitter powders to fill in the spaces between leaves. (It also gives it a bit of reflective property.)


6. Lastly, use a super wet consistency of black acrylic to paint the vein lines on the leaves.


7. Pinch a C-curve. For the cover we opted not to encase the design. So no finish filing or shaping was needed.


8. As just a little extra strength for the tips of the free-edge leaves, apply a thin layer of clear acrylic on the backs of the nails. (We did this so we wouldn’t have to worry about the paper-thin leaves breaking during the shoot.)  


Elaine used Star Nail's Nail Evolution Acrylic Liquid with an eclectic mix of colors that she's collected over the years.

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