Polish Tips and Tricks


Let me start this post by saying this: I am not an artist, I have never been very capable with a drawing implement and in my three decades I have never shown any particular aptitude for ambidexterity (my name printed with my left hand looks just as bad as anyone else attempting the same thing). All of this having been said, I am a firm believer that you can teach an old dog new tricks… so I’m giving it a shot.

I began attempting nail art on my own in January 2011. It started out with few attempts fit for public display but I soon learned some useful techniques and began expanding on them to create some simple but satisfying designs. When I started this experiment I did not know anyone else amongst my group of friends and acquaintances who regularly painted their own nails in more than just solid colours. I had no role models so I started by copying designs I saw on YouTube tutorials, I added a few tools of the trade and soon amassed a large collection of polishes and portfolio of beautiful yet simple designs. I am still learning but I’m happy to share my progress for anyone else who might want to embark on a little bit of painting.

Collect you patience
As with many things in life, patience and concentration are rather important requirements of nail art. If you don’t have either (I’m hugely lacking the first of these), find them! Give it time, especially at the beginning. It will never be a quick process but it will get better after some practice.

Properly prepare
Think ahead. Gather everything you will need and have it within reach. Nothing is more frustrating than putting on a coat of polish only to find out that you need a tool that is out of reach, in a plastic bag or worse, that you really should have taken a bathroom break pre-polish. You don’t want to have to start again if you can help it so try your best to think ahead. Here is a list of some of the tools I like to have handy before I start:

  • Tools of the trade
    Tools of the trade

    Nail polish remover, cotton pads, nail polishes

  • Nail art brushes and polishes
  • Orange sticks (for removing excess polish from edge of fingers)
  • Files and other instruments of preparation
  • Dotting tools
  • Light source
  • Proper surface for polish mixing

Start with your bad hand!
This has to be my number one tip for painting your nails, even if just doing a solid coat. It will make a world of difference for you if you are not doing this already. Start by using your non-dominant hand to paint the nails on your dominant hand. If you need to practice your design first, do so on paper, a toe nail, or even on one of your nails with your good hand – but when it’s time to start, do your difficult hand first when you are still in control of most of those important things: patience and concentration.

Paint thin layers
Whenever possible, try to apply your polish in multiple thin layers. It depends on the quality of the polish of course, but thin coats dry quicker and make additional layers easier to apply. Too much polish on your nail often results in nails that stay wet for hours and designs that run rather than staying in place.

Get yourself some tools
Every trade has tools that make the job easier. Even as an amateur polisher, that are a few things that can help your make some pretty impressive designs. Here are a few examples:

  • French tips on short nails are often easier with a piece of tape or a french polish guide.
  • Perfect dots can be achieved with a dotting tool, pencil eraser, bobby pin or toothpick. Dip the end of your implement in some polish, touch it to your nail and voila… a dot!
  • Makeup sponges are great for textured, layered polish application.
  • Stamps can help you get a more precise look if you are not able to hand paint your art work.
  • Some polishes come with thin, nail art brushes but any art supply store will also have small brushes that you can use to do the same job.
  • Other tools such as files, orange sticks, polishes and polish remover are all available at your local drug store. Take a look online and see what you can find.

Steady your hands
The best trick I’ve found for painting more finicky designs is to brace both hands on my work surface while painting. When painting lines with my non-dominant hand I hold the hand with the brush very still and paint the line by moving my finger instead. These tricks help but it is also probably best if you refrain from having a triple espresso before you begin. If you are feeling hyper or can’t calm down and let go of your day it might be better to wait a few hours and relax a little before you start working on your design.

Don’t worry about the oops
Every time I paint my nails I get some on the sides of my fingers along my nail bed. It happens even when I get a professional pedicure or manicure. If an orange stick doesn’t take it off just leave it and wait for your polish to dry. Trying to remove it when your polish is still wet often just results in ruined nails and an undesired do-over. Leave it until it dries and it will come off easily with some soap and water and a little bit of picking later.

Make mistakes and have some fun!
Practice makes it easier. I make plenty of mistakes and there is at least one throw-away design every few weeks. Just like any other skill, it is a process. If you expect overnight success you are probably best to leave it to the professionals. Learning is fun though and I’ve had some great satisfaction from my new found skills. Best of luck and happy painting!

Next week’s blog: Special designs for the holidays.