Our new favorite way to wear our inspiration? On our nails. Taking cues from what design ideas we're loving right now (geometric influences, Pop Art palettes, and minimalist shapes), we teamed up with the RISD-educated nail artist Kelly Ornstein at NYC's Valley Nails to get a primer on how to take a mood image and translate into (tiny) wearable pieces of art. Sit down and take notes: this is Nail Art 101.
Photos by Michael Persico
Valley was one of the first salons to put nail art on the map — now they're a go-to for whipping up some of the coolest, most intricate designs out there, executed by true artists whose palette just so happens to be your fingernails. Featured everywhere from The New York Times to Vogue...trust these people! They are experts. We asked Valley nail artist Kelly Ornstein (who has a formal background in illustration, jewelry, and metalsmithing...plus an obsession with color and design) to give us a lesson on how to take a mood image and translate it into a feasible nail design.
Using two concepts we've been inspired by in UO pieces, we went with two styles here that are maybe a little tricky if this is your first time attempting nail designs, but that definitely don't require an art degree to master (though on your non-dominant hand you may need a friend to help!)
A springy palette meets angular shapes. Give us all the bright colors!
Above: the inspiration— Magical Thinking Geo Quilt
First things first: get a (pre-)manicure
Having your nails well-manicured before polishing will not only improve the final look, but also improve wearability. It's most important to remove all skin and oils from the surface of your nails using a cuticle remover and nail buffer. Then, using a lint-free wipe, clean your nails with rubbing alcohol or acetone. (A little known fact is that the cuticle is not the ring of skin at the base of the nail, but actually the skin that grows along the surface of the nail plate. So when you remove the cuticle you are actually cleaning the nail's surface.)
Having a variety of nail tools is key, and think outside of the box: everything is fair game! From common household items to art/makeup brushes, to dotting tools...you can also use plastic wrap, toothpicks, old jeans, or pointed cotton swabs for both surface design and clean up. Kelly's toolkit also has tweezers (for adding any embellishments) and fabric swatches, which she uses as a sponge to create pattern or texture.
When you're working with color, mix nail polishes like you would a painter's palette. To make the largest variety of shades you really only need five colors: primary red, yellow, blue, white, and black. Almost all colors are derived from these! For the palette base, use tinfoil, old picture frame glass, a mirror, or wax/parchment paper. Just remember that the surface should be non-porous so it doesn't dry out too quickly.
The steps of nail-to-art
1. Study at the inspiration image and pinpoint which aspects are most important to the final look: What colors or shapes do you like the most? Is the image as a whole what you want to capture, or the details?
2. Draw out your ideas to get a sense for how they'll look.
3. Build your layers: background, middle ground, foreground. Add little by little so you can see how your nails look altogether, not just one by one.
Above: Arpana + the final result.
The inspiration: black and white geometry, modern shapes, and using negative space as a design cue...
For a super-fine brush tip, use an art paintbrush and trim down the bristles until it is SUPER thin. In general, it's good to have three or four different sized brushes for getting different types of line weights, strokes, and details.
About Negative Space
This mani plays on the idea of negative space to add an extra layer of dimension. Negative space nails are really having a moment right now, but for the uninitiated it refers to using unpainted space as if it were its own color — it's not always blocking out the shape so that the natural nail peeks through, but rather about redirecting the focus to the shapes made between the more prominent points of the design. Being unexpected is always in.
Above: Anna + the final product
Above: Mountain Ocean Almond Oil
Adding almond oil, olive oil, or cuticle oil after the polish is completely dry helps rehydrate your fingers. Manicures last longer when hands are well kept.
Now go out there and try it! There are no rules other than making it your own. As Kelly explains, "I've always thought of nail art as an accessory...your very own personal, customizable, accessory."