So unless you’ve been in space, sequestered in an anchorage hermitage or actually have more important things to do than browse fashion blogs, you all know that wildly creative nail art is a widespread, awesome and super accessible trend these days. After all, we can’t all afford hideous designer handbags but if you have a few bucks and a nearby drugstore, you can learn to paint your nails like a boss.
Confession: I was a huge nail polish fanatic as a tween. My collection contained between 30 and 40 different colors at its peak, and my enthusiasm cultivated fine motor skills and a creative use of household implements like safety pins and scotch tape. So if a twelve-year-old can do it, so can you. Let’s get started!
What you’ll need:
- An assortment of 5-10 different colors of nail polish
- A good top coat and an optional base coat
- A very, very tiny brush. I use a specialty nail brush by Quo that I got at a drug store, but any small synthetic bristled brush from an art store will do.
- A dotter. My nail brush came with a metal tool with a small round tip for making dots, but you can easily use the head of a pin.
- Nail polish remover
- Cotton balls
- A wad of paper towel or toilet paper
Step 1: Inspiration
Cruise a nail art Tumblr or blog, like Fuck Yeah Nail Art, to get your creative juices flowing. Or just look around you for ideas — my nails this week are inspired by millefiori glasswork beads, and last week’s were inspired by stained glass windows.
Step 2: Setup
Set out your supplies, get something to drink and go pee, because the last thing you need is your wet nails smudging all over your underwear when you try and get them down. (You could also rig up some kind of bathroom contraption like in that episode of Kenny vs. Spenny when they can’t use their arms.) It also doesn’t hurt to have a girlfriend, boyfriend or well-trained monkey around to get you snacks while your nails set.
Step 3: Prep
Even if you’re not wearing nail polish, clean your nails with remover to get rid of any oils on your nails that will keep the polish from adhering. Trim, file and buff your nails as needed and then apply your base coat (this is optional, but it will make your manicure last longer).
Step 4: Base color
Choose five different colors and paint each fingernail on your hands a different color, just like you did when you were ten. Do two coats on each nail.
If you’re not particularly dexterous with your left hand (ha, Latin etymology pun!), don’t worry. It’ll be slow going but don’t give up — your steadiness and control will increase every time you use your left hand. If you’re having trouble, rest your left hand on the table and don’t try to hover while you’re doing the detail work. Keep your hand still and instead, move the nail that you’re working on rather than the hand that’s holding the brush.
Step 5: Outlines
To create a millefiori bead pattern, use colors that contrast against your base colors. With your tiny brush, paint roundish outlines of the “beads” on your nails, some centered and some askew, whatever you prefer.
It takes a while to get the hang of using the brush: coat the tip thoroughly but make sure the polish doesn’t bead or else it will screw up your thin lines. You’ll need to clean your brush with nail polish remover and wipe it on the paper towel between colors. But it also helps to do this every five minutes or so to remove the drying, caking nail polish from the brush so it’s easier to control.
Step 6: Filling in
Using one color after another, fill in your outlines with more colorful lines and shapes, and then take the pinhead or dotter and create details inside and outside of your lines. When you’re satisfied with your patterns, let your nails dry for 5-10 minutes.
Step 7: Finishing
Take care when you apply the top coat: if you’re not careful, you’ll smear the colors underneath together. Coat the brush thickly and then draw the brush quickly in one stroke across the nail. Recoat before you swipe again or you’ll pull the colours with the brush. Let this top coat dry for a good 20 minutes — or, better yet, an entire episode of Fringe.
There, you’re done! Your hair may be a ball of frizz and you may smell like old cabbage, but I guarantee you that you’ll get compliments on your nails from pretty much everyone you meet.
(If you want to know how to do the stained glass look in the picture at the top, proceed through Steps 1-4 and then take a black polish and paint irregular lines dividing the nail in triangular sections. Then take complementary nail polish colours and fill in the shapes you made in each nail.)