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). 

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.

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 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.

Lammers’ competition entourage consists of (left to right) hand model Jenny Tam, husband Brett Lammers, and hand model Jen Heard.

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COMPETITION

Oung: Well, as it turned out, I had decided to be my own hand model for this competition, which is not typical and not something I’d recommend or do again — you live and learn right?

I remember vividly messing up on gluing the tip. I don’t ever glue tips — I sculpt — and didn’t practice gluing on tips prior to this category. So it came out off-center and too close to the nail bed.

I also forgot my Trilite gel from Akzéntz, which is a very thin one-step gel that makes bending the C-curve a breeze. I had to use a clear builder gel instead, which is too thick to really bend into a nice C-curve.

The competition nails Oung was going for would have looked more like this. With a perfect halfcircle in the free-edge.

The competition nails Oung was going for would have looked more like this. With a perfect halfcircle in the free-edge.

 

Lammers: I think I was at the top of my game at ISSE this year with the three wins. After four or five hours of competing and being crouched over the table, I started to feel a little tired and sore, but I stayed focused on my time and my task at hand. (If I start having thoughts on how nice a Bloody Mary might be, I know I’m in trouble.)

But for whatever competition I do, I like to split my time in half, with the first half to apply the product, and the second half to finish. And I always have an alarm clock on my table so I know exactly where I am with my time.

Lammers tries to visualize every application part before she sits down so there are no surprises. And her trusty alarm clock, which she calls her “heads up display,” keeps her aware of the time remaining.

Lammers tries to visualize every application part before she sits down so there are no surprises. And her trusty alarm clock, which she calls her “heads up display,” keeps her aware of the time remaining.

 

JUDGING

Oung: Because I was the model, I ended up staying in the room to be judged. We were divided between novice and veteran, with only five novice entries compared to the 15 or so veteran.

In a way, it was encouraging to see the large amount of veteran entries because that meant they were once novices who placed first (that’s how you move up to veteran), and it was at that moment I promised myself that my hand model would one day make it to the veteran side.

I already knew my results, seeing there were only five entrants. I knew I’d either place last, or by chance, second to last. But I was not disappointed at all because I knew my work that day was way inferior to what I usually do at home. If I were to win, I want to win because of skill. After all, it was my first competition ever and I just wanted to try it for fun and see if it was for me. I absolutely loved it — even with all the technical difficulties, and I can’t wait to try competing again.

During the judging phase, models place their hands under a curtain while the judges inspect each hand. Sometimes the judging process can take up to three to four hours for one category.

During the judging phase, models place their hands under a curtain while the judges inspect each hand. Sometimes the judging process can take up to three to four hours for one category.

 

Lammers: I always stay around the competition area afterwards. I feel I need to be there in case my models need anything. We don’t have much time in between competitions, so, if I’m competing in the next one, after the models line up I get right back to my area and get set up for the next competition.

My results were exactly what I expected. That might sound arrogant but I’ve been doing this for a long time now and know what the judges expect, and I can judge my work against everyone else in a matter of seconds. I knew I had won all three competitions after the line-up.

But I don’t think I’m special in that respect. Every top competitor knows where they stand in any given competition. It’s something we learn in order to win and stay on top.

Lammers stands with hand model Jen Heard after the Mirror Image category was judged. Lammers carefully selects her hand models so they each have long and well-shaped nail beds for her to work on.

Lammers stands with hand model Jen Heard after the Mirror Image category was judged. Lammers carefully selects her hand models so they each have long and well-shaped nail beds for her to work on.

 

THE COMPETITOR’S KIT

Every competitor brings his or her essential products and favorite assortment of tools and implements to get those perfect applications. Here’s a quick look at what Lynn brings to her competitions.

Clockwise from top middle: 1. Roll of forms, 2. polish remover, acetone, brush-on glue, acid-free primer, red polish, monomer, 3. acrylic powders, 4. diamond file for sidewalls, assorted buff ers and files, 5. sculpting brush, detailed polish brushes, 6. two dappen dishes (so colors don’t mix), 7. C-curve sticks with emery paper for filing the underside, 8. nippers, scissors, pusher, 9. electric file (if it’s allowed), 10. travel clock, 11. manicure brush and water bowl to clean nails, 12. and lots of towels.

 

Lynn Lammers has her own personal blog on NAILS’ website — the Competitor’s Blog — where she tells stories of her travels, competitions, freelance nail work, and giving advice to budding nail techs and experienced artists as well. Check it out at http://blogs.nailsmag.com/competitioninsider.

 

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