Saturday, September 17, 2011

Nail Art: Nail care, tools, tips, tricks, setup, photography and more!

Hi everyone, I had a request earlier from the lovely Vita to do a tutorial on nail art tools and how I use them to do my blog posts. I have been meaning to do something like this for a while (e.g. a video or more specific 'action' type shots but dang I'm lazy :-) I might start with my setup which is pretty basic:

Yup, I do my nails in my computer room, right at my desk :-) Nail art is time consuming so being infront of the computer is the best place for me. I can google image things I want to draw, play games or watch videos. I *try* to keep it clean and clear but many times it is cluttered with new polishes to swatch, notes and scribbles of planned art on paper. I am a messy person.

I keep my nail art brushes (and a few files) in these IKEA stationery baskets filled with Pyssla Beads. I have 3 Orly nail art tools (2 brushes and one double ended dotter) and these other cheap nail art brushes that don't last very long. For example, the handles are wooden and painted white. Two dips in nail polish remover and the paint comes off and the brush falls off. I've had to wrap my go-to nail art brush in scotch tape to rectify this. Or you could splurge on the Orly brushes which are all metal and are much higher quality ;-) Or even better, more professional ones. But these do the job fine! The basket idea was taken from my makeup organisation area which has 3 of these baskets already for makeup brushes and mascaras:

Ah yes. My obsession with makeup shown above. Luckily for me, I've moved onto nail polish and am less obsessed with makeup. But in case you are interested, those drawers are really kitchen drawers from IKEA. I can't remember what they are called but I think you are meant to mount them to walls. I found them useful for makeup :-)

This is a close up of my desk setup. I keep a lot of minis (cremes usually) and other useful full size creme colours close by. It gets dusty but I can't stand having to get up mid nail art and open drawers or cupboards to retrieve colours or tools. So they sit there. A bit of everything is in that basket - base coat, top coats, cuticle pens, cuticle oil and even some nail art stickers on the side :-P

I always begin nail art with a cuticle treatment of some sort and my favourite is this Sally Hansen Massaging Cuticle pen. A quick cuticle brush is ideal for me as I'm already going to be spending so much time on the nail art.

I find this also works better than brushing and massaging cuticle oil due to those little prongs on the end of the pen. I really go to town and brush the hell out of my nails. I don't know if that is a good thing, but it's what works for me :-D

Next I *always* use a base coat. You never know when a blue or green polish is going to stain your nails blue or yellow and you end up kicking yourself for being so lazy. 30 seconds of quick base coating never hurts! I use the Sally Hansen Double Duty as a base coat only.

So to demonstrate some nail art, I'm going to attempt to recreate my African Sunrise Nail Art that I posted earlier. After I paint my nails with the base colour, I try to (sometimes I am too lazy) use a nail art brush to clean around the edges with nail polish remover. I am currently using Acetone free removers. They don't work as well but sometimes I just don't want to sniff nasty fumes all the time. I don't think these are much better though. The brush shown above is a fairly stiff flat brush but you could use a soft one if you work with wet nails and go over the edges repeatedly. I alternate between this brush and my small tipped 'does everything' nail art brush :-)

Alternatively you could use corrector pens. I own both Essie and Sally Hansen ones. As you can see the Essie one is of much higher quality as the tip keeps its sharp shape and remains useful for tiny corrections. The Sally Hansen pen feathers out with repeated use and eventually becomes unusable and you go through you spare tips more quickly than your corrector fluid. The Essie one is much more expensive in Australia though - I think it is close to $30 if not that! But I must point out the formulas are slightly different - the Sally Hansen one does say it is conditioning and it is and if you don't need precise corrections, the Sally Hansen one is fine.

Back to the nail art! While I normally use a fan shaped brush (see basket of brushes above) to do gradients, I thought I'd go buy some make up sponges from Priceline and get into this sponging business. The effect is slightly different and quite pretty.

For the African Sunrise sponge effect, I painted the rounded corner of the sponge with my orange OPI Flit A Bit then stamped the excess paint on the tissue below. If you don't remove the excess, the spongey look doesn't happen.

I found it best if you work from the base and move up towards the top of the nail. The spongey gradient look becomes more apparent that way.

Shown above is the look after one colour used with a sponge. You could get different sponges with bigger holes (e.g. washing sponges!) and the look would be different - hmm note to self: must try that!

Final look (pre-clean up!) with the yellow added over the orange.

So for the black tips I started with a long flat brush (shown above) to get the base down but I didn't get good coverage so I filled using the actual polish brush.

Now for the tricky part! And tricky to photograph :-) Through my own experience I have found that I can do most art with just one brush - this one shown above (with the aforementioned scotch tape repair job). I use nail polish remover to clean it and my fingertips to squeeze it so that it dries to a fine point. Then I very lightly dip the end of the brush into nail polish colour. For really fine details like the trees in the sunrise nail art, this is a must.

I think I've mentioned this before but the trick to getting fine detail is to not press the brush onto the nail. The brush must not touch! Only the paint as you lightly drag it down/across/wherever. I am doing a very light stroke downwards above. It takes a steady hand and a lot of cleaning/reshaping/reapplying paint but that is it! And practice :-)

My apologies for the angle. I busted out the tripod and timer for these action shots (instead of balancing on my knee for the early shots LOL). Honestly if my bf had taken a photo of me... sigh. I simply repeated the steps above and continued painfully with one tree.

And there we have it! African Sunrise take 2! Boo! I just realised I forgot the sun. OK, presenting African Sunset take 1? Sigh. That wasn't the whole point of this post anyway :-)

Moving onto the Photography of nail art! I am currently using a Nikon D90 DSLR with a Prime Lens in Aperture Priority mode. I was previously using the standard 18-55 lens that comes with the camera however it was increasingly frustrating to bring everything into focus at once. The Prime lens fixes that for me and while I have only just started using it (we picked it up in August in the USA) I am already loving it. It is inexpensive as far as lenses go (200 USD) and is very lightweight. Great for portraits also. I'm no photography expert so I'll leave the googling to you but I found Aperture priority works best. If your camera has that setting, have a read of your manual and play with the f numbers to bring more into focus.

And of course when close up nail shots are being taken - a tripod is crucial. Unless you're lazy like me and end up balancing a camera on your knee :-) I use it and sometimes I don't.

So this is my latest photo light box/light tent. I received a much bigger one for my brithday this year and it was just too big so we bought another overseas from a great camera store in LA. Calumet Photographic in Hollywood. Oh they are on twitter, lol! Anyway, I use this for taking shots of the bottles themselves, or in the box if they are in one. For quite a LONG time I was using this self made light box (now don't laugh...):

Heeey I said no laughing! The lens cap of the SLR is partially in there to give you an idea of size. It's basically good for a few bottles of polish. I had no lights so the sides are pointless but oh well! I made do with this for over a year! Weeee.

Well that is everything I think? WOW I think this wins longest nail art post ever? Well from me! I really hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful, whatever your interest in nail art/polish is :-) This post has been long due and I'm glad I finally did it. Thanks again to Vita for motivating me. There was no dotting for this look so I will try to go into more detail the next time I do it. Hope you are all having a wonderful weekend and I'll see you next time!


  1. so many lovely products!
    it's nice that you have a light box!!!
    Miss Starshiny

  2. Oh wow! What a comprehensive post. I need to build myself a lightbox too. Thank you! xoxo

  3. I want to have a lightbox too and those great colours. Added your blog. Love it!
    (Sorry for my English, I'm from Austria ;))

  4. @Miss Starshiny Thanks! The light box is a recent addition and I don't yet have a good space for it! They take up so much room haha.

    @Vita No worries :-) Yeah, it's not too hard to do, I just googled a how to and went from there :-P

    @Kosmetographie Thank you! You have a very cute blog, I love seeing brands of make up and nail polish from around the world :-)


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