Nail Art

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Who Will Be Named NAILS Next Top Nail Artist 2016?

Season three has been a record-breaking shake-up of international proportions. After 10 tough weeks, three nail artists are left standing. On March 13 at America’s Beauty Show in Chicago, only one will be named NAILS Next Top Nail Artist. 

Over a year ago Lavette Cephus was named our second season NAILS Next Top Nail Artist winner. Her grit and determination brought the competition to a whole new level. Since the top prize is truly fair game, this year’s three finalists won’t be slowing down, even as the competition comes to a close.

In the summer of 2015 we started off season three with 24 semi-finalists. To narrow it down to 12 we asked our top 24 to create hand painted nail art inspired by a past NAILS Magazine cover. Once we had 18 contestants remaining we challenged them to illustrate their own three-word tagline through sculpted nail art. The 12 artists who were left endured rigorous challenges from September through November that ran the gamut of gel, flat art, pink-and-whites, unconventional materials, and fantasy nail design. Each week someone packed their paintbrushes while another advanced in CND’s Last Chance Design Lab.

Congratulations to Celina Rydén and Sarah Elmaz, who made it through 10 weeks of stiff competition without getting eliminated. And a special congrats to Winnie Huang, who won the final CND Last Chance Design Lab challenge to earn her spot in the finale.

As of press time, these three extraordinary women are busy working on their final challenge. The sets of nails they are producing will be on display at the NAILS booth at ABS Chicago. One set will even be worn by a model and walk the runway at the Beauty Changes Lives Experience at Soldier Field. More importantly, these final five sets will determine the winner of season three. Read on to learn more about these three talented techs, one of whom will be crowned NAILS Next Top Nail Artist.

The Record Holder: Celina Rydén

Representing Sweden, Celina shattered the NTNA record for most wins in a season previously held by Lexi Martone of season two. With six wins under her belt, she is the one to beat. Celina has done nails for 10 years; she had never done 3-D art before entering NTNA, but now she has proved her mastery of it. Celina found herself in the top every week in the competition, save for week two. With over 160,000 Instagram followers it’s no wonder she has championed the popular vote week after week.

How does it feel to make the Top 3?
Celina: I was in shock just making it to the Top 24, and every step after that has been even more surreal. I’ve always felt that NTNA is the elite of the nail industry. Being here now is still hard to believe. If I let myself think about it, the pressure might set me out of balance. But I feel proud, grateful, and happy thinking back on all the things I’ve learned and all the pieces I’ve created.

What’s been your favorite NTNA challenge so far? Least favorite?
Celina: My favorite was “Easily Enchanted” by EzFlow! I’ve always dreamt of doing a piece like that; I just love Swedish forest myths with elves and trolls. Also, it proved that I do know how to do 3-D now. My least favorite was “Sky’s the Limit” by Gel II, just because I think we all panicked a little.
What do you think is the greatest strength of each of your two final fellow competitors?
Celina: Sarah’s eye for perfection is out of this world. Her work is always so clean when it comes to things like hand painting and nail shaping. And I’ve wished so many times that I could borrow a little piece of Winnie’s brain. Her creativity and imagination floors me. They both know how to take and use creative criticism and be supportive of other competitors. It’s an honor to be in the top three with them.
What has it been lke being in the Top 12?
Celina: It has been like nothing else I’ve ever experienced before. I love pushing my limits and that is exactly what I’ve had to do. I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better and I’ve grown as a person. And I’ve learned all these amazing techniques that probably would have taken me forever to learn if I wasn’t pushed.

What has been your best NTNA moment so far?
Celina:  Winning the first challenge, “Pure Diva,” sponsored by Dashing Diva. I was at a restaurant celebrating a friend’s birthday and when I saw that I won I struggled to not cry. My mind was just a big happy blur the rest of the night. The second was winning the last challenge with EzFlow and getting the record for most wins in NTNA history. I was at our vacation house in the Swedish archipelago, watching the sun set over the forest and water when I got the results. It was overwhelming.

Who have been your biggest supporters?
Celina: I’ve had so many amazing supporters through social media, my salon, etc. But the biggest ones are my mom and dad, my boyfriend, my dog Martin, and my nail model Elin. Sarah has also been a very important supporter. Without them, I never would have made it this far.
What’s your advice to future NTNA competitors?
Celina: Planning your time is everything! Having time to change something or work with my video helped me to not break down. Don’t compare yourself to other competitors and try to do things that you think that they would have done. You were chosen because you are you, so stay true to your own style. However, don’t be afraid to think bigger and try new things, otherwise you will keep yourself from growing.  

Finish this sentence: “If I win NAILS Next Top Nail Artist…”
Celina: I would probably do the ugly cry right on stage! Then I would call my boyfriend and parents. Then I would use this amazing journey to be a source of inspiration for other nail techs all over the world. I live in a small country in the middle of nowhere. Most nail techs in small places are afraid to dream big and I want to be that glimpse of hope. If you can dream it, you can do it, so dream big!

The Queen of Clean: Sarah Elmaz

Representing Australia, Sarah is perhaps equally well known under her salon name, Get Buffed Nails. Here at NTNA we know her for her character art, color, and a squeaky clean finish. Sarah’s precision and attention to detail has landed her in the top four times and secured her wins in weeks two and six. A nail tech for 13 years, this Aussie’s social media has definitely helped her get her work out there. With over 180,000 Instagram followers, she has proven to be a crowd favorite from the start.

How does it feel to make the Top 3?
Sarah: Amazing! At first I was just hoping to make the top 10, but once I had a taste of being in the Top 3 on the weekly challenges, my sights were set on making the finals, and I’m ecstatic to have made it here.

What’s been your favorite NTNA challenge so far? Least favorite?
Sarah: I like the hand painted, flat nail art most, so the French haute couture and the Picasso challenges were my favorite. I struggled the most with the Hollywood and Tippi Hedren sets, but I was happy with the final result.

What do you think is the greatest strength of each of your two final fellow competitors?
Sarah: Winnie is super creative. Her mind is full of crazy off-the-wall ideas no one else would think of! Celina is extremely artistic and her ideas are always original and unexpected. I think she has an amazing ability to create exactly what she envisions in her mind.

What has it been like being in the Top 12?
Sarah: Definitely “tough” is the first word that comes to mind! This competition has been challenging but at the same time rewarding. There are many highs and lows. I just tried to be myself and enjoy it. I focus on the positive, not letting the negative feelings affect the next challenge.

What has been your best NTNA moment so far?
Sarah: The two challenges that I won, especially because they were the ones that I least expected and the furthest from my comfort zone.

Who have been your biggest supporters?
Sarah: My parents, family, friends, and my followers have blown me away with their support and votes; there is no way I could have kept going without them. Celina has also been a great support to me. We were acquainted through Instagram before the competition and having someone to talk to who understands what NTNA life is like is such a huge help.

What’s your advice to future NTNA competitors?
Sarah: Be prepared! You will need to put your social life on hold for a while. There will be plenty of sleepless nights, but the connections you make and things you will learn about nails and yourself are priceless.

Finish this sentence: “If I win NAILS Next Top Nail Artist…”
Sarah: I may pass out on stage! I would be so happy to win, but at the same time I feel Celina and Winnie deserve it just as much. I am content no matter what the result is.

The (Awesome) Wild Card:  Winnie Huang

Don’t let those funny videos fool you; Canada’s Winnie Huang of The RAWR Shop takes competing very seriously. So much so that this competitor found herself in the top for the first weekly challenge and scored second highest in the ninth challenge. Despite not winning a challenge until the final CND Last Chance, Winnie has produced some of the most memorable designs this season, including a glowstick-infused set and a Capitol Records-shaped tip. Though she has been a nail tech for only a few years, Winnie has already appeared on two art-focused reality shows and placed fifth in season one of NTNA. A proven risk-taker, she knows her way around this particular competition and continually surprises and amazes the judges with what she can pull off.

How does it feel to make the Top 3?
Winnie: Like Jasmine while on the magic carpet ride with Aladdin. The feeling is indescribable! I am so overwhelmed and over-the-moon happy that I have achieved my goal!

What ‘s been your favorite NTNA challenge so far? Least favorite?
Winnie: Part one of the final Top 3 challenge was my favorite. I really noticed my growth from the past challenges! Also I really pushed myself to execute cleaner techniques. The skyline challenge was my least favorite. I was suffering from a creative block that week.

What do you think is the greatest strength of each of your two final fellow competitors?
Winnie: I highly suspect that Celina’s an undercover nail-bot, who constantly produces amazing work and requires very little sleep. Her videos are beyond entertaining. I truly admire her artistry and attention to detail. Sarah is the queen of clean! Her unique style shines through in all the challenges and her work is mesmerizing. The way she uses color and the amount of restraint she exercises is commendable. To be in the Top 3 with them is truly an honor.

What has it been like being in the Top 12?
Winnie: Being Top 12 has been a roller coaster ride! One week you’re up, the next week you’re at your lowest low. I remember running on 1.5 hours of sleep after completing a challenge, and all I wanted to do was cry. I had an idea of what to expect going into this, but it is definitely more intense than I imagined. Regardless of how tough it has been, I wouldn’t trade it for the world! This was exactly what I needed to push myself to the next level. I am extremely grateful for what I’ve learned throughout the challenges and the 11 special friends I’ve made along the way.

What has been your best NTNA moment so far?
Winnie: I would have to say when Jan picked me to be one of the Top 3. I literally flail-frolicked everywhere all weekend.

Who have been your biggest supporters?
Winnie: I have established an awesome support system! Going into this the second time, I knew I would be extremely weak when it came to self-confidence. Without this group of important people, I would not be where I am today. My best friends, my boyfriend, and my family — I am so grateful for them! My sincerest thanks to Janine, my hand model. She made herself available to listen to me whine and sat through countless hours of NTNA challenge sessions. We ate a lot of pizza.

What’s your advice to future NTNA competitors?
Winnie: Time management is key. This may be difficult if you have a full-time job, etc., but it will prevent you from crashing and randomly bursting into tears because of a cat video. While we all want to do well in the competition, be sure to not lose yourself in the process. Your art should represent who you are as a person, so let your personality shine through. Find your inner Beyoncé, and establish a good support system.

Finish this sentence: “If I win NAILS Next Top Nail Artist…”
​Winnie: I would have a weekend-long pizza party! You’re all invited

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