How to Ace a Nail Competition

by JoLynn Vensel | October 1, 2006

The secret to competing effectively is setting reasonable and attainable goals, writes Kupa’s Vicki Peters in her nail competition handbook, The Competitive Edge. This includes knowing what you want to get out of the competition and knowing how you want to use your wins to advance your career in the industry.

One of the most important things to do before committing to a nail competition, says Peters, is to read the rules and regulations, which should be available approximately three months before the show. If you need clarification on anything, call and ask. If the show management or the competition director can’t answer your questions, then that’s a bad sign for the competition.

Two Months to Prepare
The three veteran competitors we spoke with said they come up with their concept about two months prior to the competition and practice it regularly until the big day.

Once he has decided on a design, John Hauk, owner of Belle Á Rever salon in Centerville, Ohio, and a technical advisor for OPI, will practice it on a model and time it (most nail competitions last 2-1/2 hours).

Hauk is quick to point out, though, that preparing for a competition on a mental level is just as important as practicing your technical skills. Your mental preparation should begin long before you arrive at the competition, adds Peters. Plan ahead, visualize the day, and set the pace for you and your model, she says.

Lorena Marquez, owner of At Your Fingertips in Watsonville, Calif., and director of education for INM, also practices her design in the weeks leading up to the competition, but she doesn’t usually practice on the model she is going to bring to the show. She explains: “Either my model doesn’t live nearby, or if she does, I want to keep her nail beds in perfect shape for the competition.”

While she practices, Marquez is very cognizant of the time restraints during the competition, so like Hauk, she times herself to make sure she has enough time to do the type of nails she wants to.

Unlike Hauk and Marquez, what works best for Lynn Lammers, a nail technician at The Hairloom in Redlands, Calif., and a competitor on Kupa’s Team Vicki, is practicing on her own nails. She usually practices on one or two nails daily until the competition.

Beyond picking a model who has good nail beds, Peters says you should choose someone willing to participate, to put up with your stress level and help you by watching the clock, to assist you in pacing yourself, and to be your support team.

For Lammers, an ideal model has long, straight fingers and nails. Marquez looks for models with slender, long fingers, even-sided nail beds, an oval-shaped, natural smile line, and straight sidewalls.

Although it’s the nails — not the hands — that are being judged for perfection, adds Peters, your overall presentation looks better on a nicer hand. Every point counts. Try to choose a model with young hands who knows how to take care of them, she says.

Two Days to Go
Besides wrapping up the last-minute details, all three competitors say it is imperative to check your competition kit a couple of days before leaving to make sure you have all the supplies needed.

Peters recommends everything in the kit should be new with each competition. This way, you can get the maximum performance from your files, for example, and you know exactly what you can expect from everything in your kit.

Here is a checklist of items Peters suggests including in your kit:
• A lamp that can sit on your table or one with an adjustable clamp
• Extra light bulbs
• Terry table towels
• Paper towels
• Plastic bag for trash
• Manicuring bowl or container (big enough to submerge the entire hand)
• Water or a spray bottle (an alternative to soaking the nails)
• Soap
• Nail brush
• Files (have at least five of each file grit you use)
• Block buffers (have at least two of them)
• High-shine buffers (have one for each nail)
• Primer
• Dappen dishes (two — one for pink powder and one for white powder)
• Acetone
• Nail product (acrylic, gel, etc., depending on the application)
• Tips or forms
• Dowels
• Glue
• Red polish
• Base coat (always have thick and thin base coats, just in case the rules allow it)
• Top coat (in case you are allowed to use it)
• Corrector pen or polish remover

Peters also suggests bringing these extra items:
• Timer
• Clock
• Small portable fan
• Heating pad (to keep products from crystallizing and to keep your model’s hands warm)
• Pillow (in case you need a boost or the seat is uncomfortable)
• Camera (to take pictures of your nails and the winner’s nails, if applicable)
• Snacks for your model (be sure to feed your model after the competition to hold her over until the judging is done; bananas or energy bars are good options)

Remember, traveling with flammable liquids is also an issue, says Peters, so be sure to secure your liquids and acetone so they don’t spill. Wrap each liquid product in an airtight plastic bag, and then wrap it in bubble wrap. Peters recommends carrying your kit with you on the plane.

The Morning of
“It’s important to get plenty of sleep the night before the competition,” says Lammers, who wakes up early and eats a good breakfast before meeting her model. If need be, Hauk will do a trial run on a sculptured form before the competition. “It all depends on my comfort level at the time,” he says. During this warm-up, Hauk will find his rhythm so he can pace himself while competing.

Marquez arrives at the competition area before registration begins so she can pick an ideal spot if allowed to. “You don’t want to sit under an air vent,” she says, “because your product won’t set up as well and it gets cold.”

Peters offers these tips for the day of the competition:
• Dress comfortably, but professionally. Wear a jacket or layer your clothes; it may be warm or very cold. As the competitor, you will usually end up too warm from working so hard and your model will be cold, so have her dress warmly. Advise her to wear long sleeves, pants or a long skirt, and shoes (no sandals). Black is the preferred color for your model, since it allows you to use her as a backdrop when checking the nails.
• Check in and register early so you can concentrate on the remainder of the day.
• Position yourself. Sit at the end of the table for space. If you don’t want the attention, sit away from the audience. It can be distracting to sit close to the audience and spectators tend to interrupt you with questions. (Some competition directors make you sit in numerical order or in the order you arrived in, so you may not have a choice.)
• Get your table set up. Remember, everyone is watching, and you should demonstrate perfection in your table setup, sanitation, and professionalism.
• Take it easy and socialize a bit with fellow competitors.
• Turn off your beeper and cell phone.

It’s Show Time
Timing yourself during the competition is critical for success. In the first 90 minutes, Lammers puts the forms on the nails and applies her product. She spends the next 30 minutes filing the nails. During the final 30 minutes she finishes the nails and then applies polish on one hand.

Marquez has a similar routine. “I allow myself more time to sculpt because if I perfect my sculpting technique, then less time is required to file.”

When she used to compete, Peters spent one hour applying the product, working on each nail for five minutes, which allowed her a 10-minute cushion. She spent one hour filing; again, working on each nail for five minutes, which allowed her a 10-minute cushion. At the two-hour mark, she began polishing and then spent any remaining time fine-tuning the unpolished hand.

Be sure to schedule spare time for unexpected challenges such as redoing a nail you don’t like, and double-checking like crazy, says Peters. Ask the competition director if time is a factor in determining a tie-breaker, she adds, and if it is not, use all the allotted time for finishing. Sometimes, taking the extra time can make or break a placement.

Judgement Day
The moment of truth has arrived — it’s time to be judged. Peters says placement in the line to be judged doesn’t always matter as a good competition director will instruct her judges on the overall quality of work without disclosing where the best work falls in line.

Always ask for your scoresheet. This is probably the most important part of the competition, says Peters, because it should tell you where you excelled and where you need improvement. Once you receive your scoresheet, take it to the judges with your model. They will go through the scoresheet with you and show you what they saw.

Although Hauk definitely scrutinizes his scoresheet, he says he usually knows if he could have done better. “I have no room during the competition to make a mistake, but if I do, I have to continue because of the time constraints. You have to let it go.”

The value of the scoresheets, says Marquez, is sometimes you don’t see the imperfections in your own work.

Lammers agrees: “You compete to make yourself better, and a lot of times you can’t see where you need improvement. I also like to ask other competitors for their critique.”

If you’re unhappy with the results, don’t attack the judges or ask what you did wrong, says Peters. You obviously did a lot right, and you don’t want to put a judge who has worked hard all day on the defensive. If you are truly unhappy, Peters suggests talking with the competition director so she can evaluate what has happened and look at the nails on the spot.

Whether you win or lose, competing should always be a learning experience. As for what it takes to be a winner, Lammers says you need to be committed to yourself and see it through. “You must have the desire to win — you have to want it.”

For Marquez, confidence in your work and determination to have that winning attitude are important.

Perhaps Hauk sums it up best: “You need to have a passion for competing. If the passion is there, everything else will fall into place.”

JoLynn Vensel is a freelance writer based in Redondo Beach, Calif.

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