Have you ever been curious about competitions or wondered what it would be like to compete? Have you ever wondered why some nail technicians like to compete so much? Well, I was curious. Here's the story of my first competition experience. I hope that it will encourage you.
Monday, Sept. 25
As luck would have it, the owner of the salon where I work, Rose Johnson, was thinking about going to the Great Lakes Beauty Show to compete in the Professional Sculptured Nail Competition. Another technician at our shop, Caroline Pawlow, told me that there was a first-timers competition open to anyone who hadn't placed fifth or better in any competition and that the competitors would only have to do one hand with just the thumb being polished. This would be the perfect warm-up competition for me — I HAD to go!
The show was less than four weeks away. After we booked our flights and our hotel rooms, I knew I had a lot of preparation to do. Rose offered to give Caroline and me a competition class. Rose is an incredible nail technician and experienced in competitions — I am very lucky to have her as a mentor.
Sunday, Oct. 8
The class was very intensive, a real eye opener. It really showed me all the things I needed to work on with my salon and competition nails. Rose went over all the points we needed to focus on. We studied C-curves (convex and concave), the placement of the arch, sidewalls, side grooves, and the smile line. Most importantly (and a big challenge for me) was keeping the consistency from nail to nail. Rose showed us application and filing techniques. The way I see nails now is forever changed.
In the year I have been doing nails I have used many different products, so when it came time to choose which one to use for the competition 1 had a tough decision to make. One product I've used in the salon was great in every way but always had tiny bubbles that a judge would surely detect. Another product I used in the salon had a perfect white and pink, was very easy to make crisp smile lines with, but set up too fast for me to pinch the C-curve. Luckily Rose is an educator for an acrylic line that 1 wanted to try, so she taught me that too.
One of the most time-consuming things was finding a red polish for just the thumb. I must have bought 12 polishes from various manufacturers. It had to be a red cream polish — not too blue, not too orange, and it could not have any shimmer. Then I had to test the color for coverage on pink-and-whites. I was looking for a red that would be opaque enough so that it would not show the white free edge through it. This proved almost impossible.
Friday, Oct. 20
Packing everything up the night before our flight was made easier by some articles that I had saved about competitions that included lists of supplies a competitor should bring.
During our flight I mapped out my timing during the competition. It was an hour and a half competition for one hand. 1 gave myself 30 minutes for the application, 30 minutes for the filing, and 30 minutes for the buffing and polishing of the thumb. I wrote this down on a piece of paper to keep at the competition table with me, along with a small digital clock to keep me on track.
Saturday, Oct. 21
The night before the competition we got off the plane at 7:30 and did not get to the hotel until 8:00. Our models were supposed to be in our room by 8:15 so we could practice on the other hand. They didn't actually arrive until 9:00 and we still had to eat dinner. So much for getting to bed early. When I finally did get to bed, I was so excited and nervous that I couldn't get to sleep.
Sunday, Oct. 22
Finally competition day came and the First-Timers Sculptured Nail Competition was scheduled for 9 a.m. I dressed nicely but comfortably as I think all competitors should. I had thought about wearing sweats so that I would be comfortable, but I wanted to look professional. I had to have coffee so I would not be a zombie, but then I worried about having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the competition. I decided being a zombie would be worse!
When I got to the competition room I was surprised at how small it was. The room was set up in classroom fashion — each table was the size of two stations. The front of the room had the judges booth with the closed curtain. I got more nervous just looking at it. My shoulders hurt badly from all the stress. As we were unpacking, it was warm in the small room. The lighting was slightly dim for our purpose. I was glad that 1 had brought my lamp, otherwise I would not have been able to see very well. I had barely gotten set-up when Sharon counted down the time and said, "Go."
After I had finished applying the thumb and was starting on the index finger, I felt it getting colder and the air conditioning was blowing right on me. My product was setting up so fast. 1 went to squeeze the C-curve on my thumb and it would not budge. I went on, applying the pink to the next nail and it was setting up before 1 could stroke it out. Once I got to the ring finger, the room started warming up again and I was able to pinch the C-curve (so much for consistency).
I purposely brought two brushes, in case one got gunked up. Well, they both got gunked up and I panicked. I wished that I had brought my heating pad. I heard people filing around me and 1 was not even done applying yet, which made me more nervous. When I got to filing I had to keep stopping myself because there was so much more filing to do but I didn't have the time. When it was time to buff, I was down to the wire and the finished look of the nails suffered because of it.
Because this was a one hand competition, we only had to polish the thumb. I think I had 15 seconds left when I got to polishing. I knew I'd better get it on perfect and thick because I did not have time for two coats or time to clean up the cuticle. Incredibly, my polish went on perfectly — now why can't I do that in the salon? When Sharon called "Time" I realized that I was not completely happy with my nails, but my main goal was to finish on time. I had at least done that, so I was satisfied.
When it came time for the awards, I brought my camera to take pictures of the winners. First they called fourth place. It was someone I knew from the Internet, Patti Schneyer. They called third place, but the tech was not there to receive the award. Then they called second place, Kimberly Lesser ... that's me! I was shocked and in disbelief when they called first place and it was my coworker Caroline Pawlow, I was so thrilled for her! Rose was so proud of us. We were all very excited because Rose came in second in the Professional Sculptured Nail Competition. That meant that all three of us were coming home with plaques for our salon!
Sunday, Oct. 29
Knowing what I know now, there are a few things that I would do differently: I would have started practicing much earlier. I would have planned to arrive at the hotel sooner so I could have received the proper amount of sleep, and I would have come prepared for the unknown (heating pad, two lamps, and a sweater for the cold).
I encourage everyone to take a competition class, to find a mentor, and to compete. Competing will give you a whole new way to perceive, evaluate, and enhance your salon skills. I'm so lucky to have such wonderful mentors and educators around me like La Shaun Brown-Glenn (NAILS' 1999-2000 Nail Technician of the Year) and Barb Wetzel . But most of all I have to thank Rose Johnson for her thorough training and support. It is professionals like these, industry publications, and competitions that continue to raise our standards and push our industry forward.
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