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This page helps collect some of the more common questions — but if I’m missing something, feel free to drop me a line via the email link over there in the sidebar! If you’re looking for a technique for a design, from how to do french tips to pattern and design creation, check out the Quick Tutorials section.

What’s the best tape to use for nails?

I like to use masking tape for the taping method — it’s a little more flexible than scotch tape/can curve better, and doesn’t have the same stickiness to it so tends to pose fewer problems with removal.  Regular scotch tape works fine though, but you may want to tap the tape once on a piece of skin (lay it down really gently on the back of your hand and rub over it quickly) so that it dulls the adhesive a bit, otherwise it could stick to the polish below and pull at it.

Do you have any tip on how to keep your nails strong?

You bet! (with varying degrees of commitment)

  • Keep your nails polished, and go for a super solid topcoat like Seche Vite — this becomes your armor.
  • Vitamins! You can go whole-hog and hit prenatal vitamins, or just pick up some vitamin B/biotin.
  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.  There are special renewal creams especially made for hands (I like Orly Rich Renewal), but cuticle drops (or even just oil) go a long way too.
  • Keep a nail file on you.  Most of my breaks are from futzing with hangnails and snags when I didn’t have a file around, but if you can quickly file away any new nicks you’ll keep it from spreading.
  • Add more foods with folic acid to your diet: asparagus, broccoli, beans, sprouts, seeds, nuts, corn, carrots, etc.
  • Steer clear of using products with alcohol in it, that’s going to dry you out.


Where do you get the acrylic paint?

I (mostly) use the little paint jars that you get at the craft and hobby store, like the ones that would come with paint project kits you’d get as a kid — 8 little plastic tubs all strung together with flip tops on each.

They’re not as thick as the acrylic paints that come out of a tube, and you can just unpop one of the colors at a time whenever you want to use it without making a mess.  If it starts getting a little thick, just add a few drops of water and shake the crap out of it.

Here’s a link to some on Michaels’ website (not the exact ones I use, but I think they’re all essentially the same).


How do you draw so neatly on your nails? Even with the nail pens isn’t it quite hard to be neat on your nails?

For the really detailed stuff I steer clear of the pens and stripers and just use acrylic paint and a teeny tiny nail brush.  Like, TEENY, just two bristles left on it.  If you’re using acrylic paint and screw up, you can go in with a pin and scrape off any areas that you overshot, or just go in and correct it with another round of paint (whereas nail polish will want to slide around more, take longer to dry, have varying opacities to deal with, etc…)  You basically just have to sit down and go “ok, I’m going to take this bit by bit and really slow and not get impatient with myself,” otherwise you’ll go nuts.  :)  For the non-dominant hand you can use the DIY nail transfer technique that’s always the top item on the sidebar of the site under most popular posts, it’s a huuuuuge help!


I’m having problems with water marbling.  Any advice?

Water marbling, oddly, seems to have a huuuuuge trial and error curve of learning (which is why I’ve only done it a few times, since it strikes me as a monster waste of polish when it goes wrong).  Aside from some polishes just not working for marbling (and what all of those are I don’t know, but someone did mention that those new wet ‘n wild megalast polishes are actually really good for it), it also depends on the temperature of the water (cold seems to be best, but not *too* cold) and that you use a filtered water vs. tap, because apparently heavy/hard water can muck it up too.

When did you start doing nail art?

‘round about Mardi Gras 2011 — so not that long really, but lotsa practicing :)


If I want to get started with nail art what do you suggest?

If you’re just starting out, I’d focus on the taping and dotting first — I think it gives you a good base for other techniques and really getting to know how your polishes and paints are going to behave.  After you feel comfortable with those techniques, start playing more with the brushes (I think the stripers are a good first start on that end, and fun to play with since you can make a lot of different lined patterns).


Where do you get your stamps, and any advice on stamping?

I just got mine on Amazon.  With the stamping you’ve just got to make sure to clean the surfaces between each nail, and use a good polish — a lot of them work, but a lot of them don’t. I’ve found that the ones that work best are opaque, thick/creamy, and aren’t fast-dry… usually OPI, nubar, China Glaze, etc.  But you can get fun effects from using sheer and weird polishes (like crackles) too, so don’t be afraid to experiment!


What should I use for a topcoat?

Seche Vite, for *almost* everything.  Seriously, it’s the best.  The only time I won’t use it is when I’m working with a metallic or patterned foil; Seche Vite does have a tendency to sort of buckle and pinch up as it’s drying (it settles out as it dries, but there can be some miniscule shifting as it sets) which hasn’t worked with a lot of foils I have.  But otherwise, it’s perfect.

What’s the “proper” way to paint your nails?

Here’s the standard: you want to get it fully covered in three swipes.  The more you keep going over the nail with the brush the more opportunity there is for an uneven finish, so you want to get it done in as few movements as possible.  Licensed nail techs will tell you to drop a blob of nail polish just below your cuticle in the middle of your nail, then use the brush so slightly push up toward the cuticle (not touching it, but just below) and then drag down to the tip of your nail.  Same motion again, but this time you slide down the left side of your nail, and then once more on the right.

I’ve also seen — and done — this in the reverse.  Same blob at the top, but swiping down the sides first and then pulling polish down the middle of the nail as the last stroke.  I think it’s just preference depending on the polish really (mattes and thinner polishes are trickier, but thick opaques are pretty foolproof).  With your topcoat, you’ll want to use the same technique, but do yourself a favor and start first by using the applicator brush to create a bead on the edge of the nail so that you’re effectively “wrapping the tip” — you’re creating a bond right where the polish meets the edge of your nail, and is getting the most wear.  Then you just apply the topcoat over the rest of your nail and it’ll take care of whatever ridging the tip-wrapping might have created.

Where do you purchase your nail art brushes from?

I use the MASH nail art brushes — they last longer than any others I’ve used, and at $10/kit it’s a great price.  http://www.mashnails.com


I’m getting bubbles after putting my topcoat on my nail art designs.  What am I doing wrong?

I had that problem too when I first started — turned out it was a combo of the paint not being entirely dry, and using a quick-dry topcoat that was shrinking up and pulling on the paint.  If you make sure the paint is totally dry (shouldn’t take long if you’re using those craft paints/not piling it on insanely thick) and use a quality topcoat like Seche Vite (and not some “99 cent/60 seconds to dry” job) you should be fine.  You also don’t want to shake your polishes anywhere within 15 minutes of painting them; the agitation can create bubbles, so you’re justing setting yourself up for problems with some polishes on this one.


How do you clean your brushes?

I mostly use acrylic paint with the designs anymore so the cleanup is pretty standard: I keep them in a dish of water while working so that nothing ever gets a chance to dry up, then rinse them out thoroughly when I’m done (doesn’t take long since most don’t have too many bristles on them).

When I do use the brushes with nail polish though the process is a little different.  Instead of fully uncapping the nail polish, or even dumping polish out onto a surface to use, I’ll just leave the cap unscrewed, lift up the applicator and take some polish off of the brush stem with my nail art brush.  That way nothing is drying out on me and I can just dip back in to get more color when I need it.  Once I’m finished, I’ll load up a cotton round with nail polish remover and pull it from the handle to the tip of the brush until no more polish is coming off.

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Have an Idea? I looooove getting ideas from people for what to do for the more intricate nail designs — use the email link up above to shoot me a note and I'll add your idea to the list! (because yes, there's a list, but it's AWESOME.)