I am originally from Korea, and spent most of my teenage life in New Zealand where I found my love and appreciation for art in general. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area 11 years ago and now California is my home. My multicultural background is very important, and I try to represent the best of both Eastern and Western cultures professionally and personally.
My main focus at the salon is practicing safe services for my clients’ natural nail and general health every day. However, coming from a fine arts background, my approach to nail art sometimes isn’t very traditional because I don’t have much experience in doing nails. But I find my lack of experience helpful to figure out my own way to recreate current and new nail trends. I am excited to challenge myself to overcome my own limits and grow with fellow contestants to raise the nail industry standards higher and better.
Final Challenge: CND
Night at the Museum
Petersen Automotive Museum: One thing that captured my eye was the low rider exhibit and El Rey absolutely stole my heart. What I wanted to capture was fiery colors with retro stripes, and I decided to create a hand painted salon set to go with a mural inspired by the El Rey using CND Shellac and gel polishes mixed with CND additives.
Musée D’Orsay: As for me, I really love heavy brush stroke textures from painting. I am by all means a texture and depth person when it comes to fine art paintings. So I chose to utilize the raw texture of acrylic, mimicking the liveliness of Van Gogh and soft touch of Monet. I incorporated CND shellac and Additives in the background to enhance colors and textures of overall design.
Museum of Modern Art: While researching for inspiration, I came across an exhibition called Items which ended early this year. I loved the concept of how fashion is now a form of art, and the exhibition featured rather classic and staple items around the world. Using mannequin forms as my motifs, I created numerous items featured in the exhibition, and created various patterns using CND Shellac and gel paints.
Hermitage Museum: My inspiration came from baroque style decor of the museum and their antique jewelry collection, particularly by Jeremie Pauzie. From emperor crown to snuff-boxes, a lot of jewelries were screaming luxury and mastery of gemstones. I loved arrangements of flower bouquets and diadem, so most of the design inspiration came from the bouquet-like arrangement. The background is painted partially black, inspired by the famous Black Square by Kazimir Malevich while leaving background clear to let my piece blend in with any wall. I created gold leaf-like textures using CND additives over different Shellac colors, and utilized BrisaLite sculpting gel to secure Swarovski Crystals.
Click here to watch a video diary for these nails.
Week 10: Wildflowers
Nails on Point
As NTNA reaches its end, I really wanted to focus on the future. This week is my 5 year anniversary of being a licensed nail tech, and I know this is just the beginning. For the last weekly challenge, I decided to paint my own portrait of future me. Everyone knows that I love cats, and I often see myself through my cats in terms of behavior and personality. But I’ve always wanted to become a tiger, the most dominant and fierce animal in the wilderness.
I was born in the year of the Tiger. My astrological sign is Leo. I believe I was destined to be a prominent and strong woman. For the past few months, I have been patient and focused to reach my goal of winning NTNA. I might have seemed to be having fun during the competition, but the truth was that I had struggled and I even hit the bottom from the very beginning. But I have not given up. About three years ago, a doctor told me I might lose my hands if I continue doing nails. After a year of physical therapy and readjusting to my body, I was finally diagnosed with a type of autoimmune condition and the first question I asked was “can I still do nails?” The truth was though, I had never stopped doing nails in the meantime. I didn’t need anyone’s approval or clearance to do what I wanted to do, because I had set my own goal for my future. After six months from my diagnosis, I went to a live international competition for the first time and won two medals, and here I am now competing in NTNA.
I know I have survival instincts and am naturally competitive. Maybe I was an underdog, but I’m still here against all the odds. But I am ready to roar and leap as far as I can to be closer to my bright future.
Week 9: EzFlow
Growing up in a building forest, my mom used to grow potted plants. She would make anything so fruitful and blossoming. So I dreamed of having a nice garden for myself as well when I was able to have my own home, but sadly enough, I just can’t keep anything alive (it’s a miracle my cats are fat and happy). So I have decided to plant my own garden of my dreams. I’ve always wanted to have a giant saguaro cactus and my own terrarium of those super trendy succulents like everyone else in the world — I really wanted to create an open air terrarium. The snake represents eternity and fruitfulness in some cultures (like Korean Confucianism). But also, you can often find snakes in the desert, hiding between some rocks and cacti.
One of the things I really liked about this challenge was using EzFlow Ethereal Blossom colored acrylic powders as pigment on top of enhancement surfaces. Because of its superfine grain and duochrome properties, I was able to press the powders onto the tacky layer of the top coat over the white extreme stilettos, and it instantly shifted the whole color palette of the nails. I also used a sugaring method with the combination of white acrylic powder and colored acrylic powders for the swirls to symbolize open air.
Click here to watch a video diary for these nails.
Week 8: KUPA
All Dali'd Up
The eye on the index finger is the key piece to tie everything together. I was inspired by Dalí’s eye jewelry, so I wanted to create a see-through design that reflects the whole design. Melting clock pieces, the couples, and dreamy scenery are all inside the eye. Each side is a different scene because I wanted to accentuate the dream-like feel of Dalí’s many paintings. I added an aurora scene with couples because it reflects my dreams — I often remember different lights in my dreams. My entire design carries vivid dreams that you can recall, which is pretty much what surrealism is about. The dripping liquids are part of surrealism to me. I used different Kupa ArtFinty Triptych color powders with clear to mimic a lava lamp, which to me is surreal because of the bright neon colors and anti-gravity feature. The thumbs are violin nails, which I carved into a blade shape using the Kupa ManiPro Passport. The carved parts are shaded with black so it blends in while contoured, and I added a clear liquefied handle. The inspiration came from the painting “Daddy Longlegs of Evening…Hope!” The middle finger is a recreation of Dalí’s “Couple With Their Heads Full of Clouds” painting with the human figure frame. The background is a dreamy surreal scene in which you can’t tell if it’s sky or water, but it also can be both. I carved one side of the clear nail with the Kupa ManiPro Passport, then painted inside the other to create a little distance and illusion of movement. The ring finger is butterflies and a skull, which are both made to look like butterflies. The skull details were carved with ManiPro Passport from the pipe shape. It is meant to not look like a skull at all because of the lava lamp sculpting as a base. You have to really look into it to see the shape from the top down view. Lastly, the pinky nail is a recreation of the infamous melting clock from Dalí’s many paintings like “Persistence of Memory.” The back of the clock has little metal parts that relates back to the eye, and the clock base is painted like the couples background.
Week 7: Gel II
For this week’s theme park challenge, I was inspired by the candy colors of Gel II 4D gels and decided to make a sweet theme park. Since French macarons are my favorite dessert, I used 4D Orchid to make a French macaron merry-go-round in kawaii style. I mixed Orchid, Extreme White, Plum Perfection, and Flora Bora to make bubble gum pink and lavender to decorate the merry-go-round with a giant bow and a bunch of hearts. I used cut-out LEGO pieces to create the turning roof, and embedded a little tea light in the middle for an extra accent.
The next piece is a giant soft serve, and this is actually inspired by 4D Gel itself. 4D Gel self-levels beautifully and it creates a beautiful soft ripple effect when pressed firmly with the brush, and the texture is very creamy. So I wanted to incorporate melting soft serve to the design for extra fun and sweetness. I used Cream Couture, Peppermint Pony, Mango Tango, and Plum Perfection to mix a mauve color to make the cone part, then detailed with a mix of Gel II Reaction After Dark and Shark Bite to bring the cone to life. Using foil and saran wrap, I made the soft serve shape, then squeezed the 4D Extreme White directly onto the base just like soft serve. I added shading using Cream Couture between the crevices for better blending of the two colors.
I wanted to add an extra Hemi touch, so I added a little cat with goggles and a helmet, like he fell into the soft serve from his thrill ride accident. I made the cat look like my yellow tabby, Tiger, because he is the clumsy, adventurous one. Then I added little propeller leaves made out of nail tips for extra silliness just like my kitty. The propeller spins as well, and I used LEGO pieces and wire to put it together.
I decided to add a little bold graphic as the hand painting part and the base for the design. Because I wanted the soft serve to be melting, I immediately thought of a licking mouth, but with sparkle. Using Gel II Poison Apple, I added glitters and volume to the lip part, and made the tongue 3-D by adding layers of Gel II Top Coat because I wanted the graphic to really pop. Then I sealed everything with Gel II 4D Top Coat. After the base was all done, I added layers of melted soft serve over the licking mouth, and topped it with assembled soft serve and with the cat. To finish everything and continue the sweet theme, I made jelly beans and candies using 4D Gel, because some of the semi-transparent colors were really reminding me of jelly beans.
Click here to see a video diary for these nails.
Week 6: Bio Seaweed Gel
Two Negatives Make a Positive
The theme “Two negatives make a positive” struck me as I was preparing for this week’s challenge. I have been feeling really high-strung every day since the competition has begun. I am agitated and rushed almost every moment, knowing there’s only more work to do. I have been feeling very restless. Doing nails has been my comforting ritual since I don’t even remember when, but for the last few months, it became the cause of sleepless nights. So for this week’s challenge, I chose spiritual energy symbols and natural crystals with healing energy, as well as a mandala for the unity symbol for my negative space design in search of positivity for myself and my NTNA sisters. Even though NAILSNTNA has been a huge blessing in my career, I have been very stressed out. As we are about halfway through this journey, I wanted to reassure myself and my fellow NTNA sisters that the outcome of this intense competition, no matter what the result is, will lead to a positive impact on our lives and career. Each nail symbolizes a different energy — creativity, trust, happiness, spirituality, awareness, communication, love, and healing — but two thumbs come together as a complete circle, which symbolizes unity, our sisterhood, and the friendship we have built.
Week 5: Orly
For this week’s Orly Pastel City challenge inspired by street art, I decided to go back to my roots in Korea. My favorite area in Seoul is called Jongno, and it’s where the royal palaces are located along with many traditional buildings and fixtures alongside modern buildings and high rises. I always loved how traditional buildings in the urban city coexist while keeping its timeless beauty. And the ancient venerable buildings of Seoul are what make the streets of Seoul unique and special. I was particularly inspired by Hanok, which means traditional Korean building in general, and while there are many different forms of buildings, I wanted to focus on what makes these buildings artistic. The roofs are generally curved because the Korean ancestors emphasized harmony within nature. The undersides of the buildings of temples or palaces are uniquely painted with bright colors, and each end of the cross beams are decorated as well as the end of the shingles. Also, the walls of buildings are carefully decorated when they’re built. My design showcases how these sometimes neglected components of buildings can also become a form of art that makes streets enchanting, as well as create innovative designs on the nails.
Week 4: ibd
The story is simple. Ariel asked for legs, so she got her legs, but she only got legs. She’s a fish with very pretty legs. Fortunately the prince has a foot fetish, so Ariel the legged-fish was close to getting her kiss to break her curse from Ursula the evil octopus. Ursula, who wanted to mess everything up, decided she too can have pretty legs to seduce the prince, but she got only six legs and her two tentacles remained in her body. I guess she wasn’t being specific. Super freaked out by the six-legged seafood person, the prince was in shock and ran away. But my nail art also tells the story of what happened after — Ariel falls in love with her two little legs. Ursula couldn’t turn herself back to the octopus because she lost her shell necklace, so she’s always digging through deep sea sands. Ariel eventually learned to love herself for who she is, so she lives happily ever after with her pretty legs under the sea.
I wanted to tell a fairytale love story but not the same princess story. Because love doesn’t have to come from being in love with someone, but you have to learn to love yourself first, even if you may think you’re not pretty and worthy of love.
I used ibd builder gels to create 3-D shapes on form backing papers and using wires and Play-Doh. After filing my 3-D pieces into the shapes I wanted, I painted them using IBD Just Gel Polishes. Because this is an under-sea-themed fantasy piece, I created seashells using the nail tips by gluing them together, then finished with ibd Just Gel Polishes.
Week 3: LeChat
Hand in Hand
For this week’s challenge, I was inspired by one of my favorite pairings: desserts and tea. There’s nothing more scrumptious than aromatic tea and divine desserts to satisfy my sweet tooth. Dessert is one of my favorite parts of a meal, and I really enjoy pairing a warm pot of tea with my dessert. So my design is all about cup o’ tea and perfect dessert pairings. Also inspired by the bright colors of LeChat Perfect Match gel-polishes I received, I have decided to create each nail in a different colored palette, and create color gradation across the entire set. The colors I was particularly inspired to use were Harmony (brown), Divine Wine (merlot), Flirt Alert (coral-red), Cherry Cosmo (cherry-red), Lollipop (orange), Lemon Drop (yellow), Lily Pad (green), Free Spirit (light teal), Dive In (blue), and Hi-Voltage (purple). Using LeChat Perfect Match in Innocence as my base color, I created base nails that fade to a clear tip for dimension on each nail. I then used Flawless White to create bases and Black Velvet for shading each component of tea and dessert to enhance the colors. The hand painting techniques I used mainly are contouring, blending, and highlighting. I added each layer of color to contour the shapes of each design components, blended them for dimension, and added highlights for contrasts Each design is created after repeating these three steps for about 10-20 very thin layers of Perfect Match gel-polish. As gel-polishes is one of my favorite mediums, I really enjoyed using Perfect Match gel-polishes, because each color is very vibrant, yet with thin viscosity, making blending very easy. All the little design components like tea cups, macarons, petit fours, and take-out cups are obviously carrying my chosen theme, but I added my favorite tea like hibiscus flower, peppermint leaves, lavender, lemon, rose, and peach. I hope my nail design tickled your fancy for some delightful tea time with your favorite dessert.
Week 2: Akzentz
This week’s challenge is to create a set of nails that was inspired by vintage fashion or time. When I think of vintage, my mind often goes directly to antique China because my mom loved collecting antique china when we used to live in New Zealand. The one thing that I still absolutely love from her collection is Jasperware from Wedgewood. It was first created in the late 16th century and the style became popular among with Rococo style in late 17th century in Western Europe. It’s also the same era when Marie Antoinette was queen of France, and even though her fashion became controversial, her fashion style influenced Europe. So I have decided to incorporate these components into my design. Wedgewood Blue is one of the most iconic and distinctive colors, and incorporating pastel lavender was to highlight Rococo style as well as gold chrome accent pieces on the free edges. Colors were custom mixed with Akzentz Gel Play Paints, Options Color Gel, and Luxio Gel-Polishes for consistency and to match the shades of what I wanted. Drapes, laces, and bows were borrowed from the 17th century gowns like popular Marie Antoinette style. I mixed Akzentz Gel Powder and Gel Play white to create 3-D effects in different ratios for right consistency for each components. I wanted to add Rococo style leaf/feather designs to complement the overall design, then very minimal Swarovski Pixie and crystals were added among the edges of gold decoration to accessorize nail design but not to overwhelm the overall look. For hand painted designs, Akzentz Gel Play was the perfect medium to draw fine lines and to build up the thickness for different depths, and some designs were topped with Akzentz Matte On for texture. For the gold free edge accents, I built up Gel Play over thick clear builder gel, coated it with Akzentz Black on to apply Gel Play Pearlescent Gold pigment to add chrome effect, and then topped it with Akzentz Shine On.
Week 1: CND
Runway to NTNA
The set of nails on the Libertine runway from NYFW S/S 2018 were mostly very elaborate 3-D designs with lots of colors and nail jewelries. I wanted to transfer the vibrant and whimsical looks of those designs on to a flat surface to still be reminiscent of the fun and crazy feel of the Libertine runway. I have decided to create pop art-inspired wearable sets in shapes and shades of colors from the Libertine runway nails — my very own Haute Pop nails.
For the black-out background shapes, I chose to recreate the shapes of the Libertine runway nails. Bird skulls, spoon nails, skeletor nails, and Gaga claws were my major inspiration for these shapes. The backgrounds are created over clear tips for dimension, with white as a base for the bright colors for more contrast. I also cut the tip of a couple of nails into reverse V shapes for the accents. One pinky nail was created with an extra-long stiletto tip with a reversed spoon-shaped background. The purpose of the different nail shapes and lengths was to create a little haute-drama for the entire look.
I added bright colors using a fine striping brush, dotting tool, and makeup sponges, and used small hex holo glitter chunks to mimic crystals to add extra dimension to the design. Then I outlined some designs using black, white, and silver as a finishing touch to give a little more depth to my designs and give the illusion of a 3-D look for the overall nail design. For the jewelries, I used safety pins, wires, chains, seed beads, and crystals to recreate runway nails in jewelry items to complement and tie all my nail designs together, while they still remain very Libertine-crazy and fun. My final look, in my opinion, is a great interpretation of Libertine runway nails in everyday nail design for anyone around us, including myself.