For nail artist Diane Harris of Diane’s Nail Artistry in Bakersfield, Calif., even the sky’s no limit when it comes to nail art design. Her creative and unusual designs go beyond colourful mini paintings of the planets to include mythological and Disney characters, exotic animals, company logos, portraits of pets, and impressionistic art. Harris has developed her own technique---a combination of airbrushing and flat nail art---to duplicate anything a client wants. “Even as a child, I could take something big and shrink it down to miniature size,” Harris says of her talent. She listens to the dictates of the client, who may ask her to create anything from a family photograph to a mini-mural.

Harris began painting as an art major in high school. She says she ultimately went to manicuring school just so she could work as a nail artist. In fact, she has been painting nails for 10 years even though she has had her manicurist license for only eight.

Harris’ meticulous artwork doesn’t come cheap. A full mural, spanning across all the nails, costs $100 and includes stencilling, airbrushing, and freehand painting. But the results often last months. “I don’t believe in low prices,” says Harris, “because they cheapen our trade.”

Harris uses an airbrush to apply the base color on the nail, unless it’s a natural nail. The airbrushing doesn’t stick to natural nails. She never applies base coat. “I’ve had terrible things happen with base coat,” says Harris. “I start with a nice clean nail. The cuticles have to look good or the airbrush spray will stick to them.” Sometimes she starts with a white base and then adds colors, blending one color into the next. She then takes out the tiniest brush she owns, which she says is still too big, and hand-paints the design.

Innovative is the word Harris uses to describe her nail art. She copies from books of art (a favorite is The Fantasy Art of Boris Vallejo, from greeting cards, and from stationery. She usually charges $5 to do a simple design on two nails. For a longer job, the cost is 50 cents a minute, or $30 an hour. Clients ranging in age from 3 to 80 have had their nails graced with Harris’ elaborate artwork. “I’ve done Minnie Mouse on a 3-year-old. One lady brought in a greeting card that had a massive carousel horse on it. Although I charged $20 to paint it on her nail, she wore the design for months. I just kept extending the pole.”

Once, a naval officer who was going to New York to attend the dedication of the renovated Statue of Liberty wanted the Statue of Liberty on her nail. “The design was very detailed,” Harris recalls. “I did the torch in gold. The nail was beautiful. This lady was supposed to stand in line at the dedication and shake the hand of the President of the United States. I wonder if she really did shake the hand of the president while wearing my nail art. When she walked out the door, I felt very sad. You know you’ll never see your artwork again.”

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