I’m sure everyone’s got their own way of doing this sort of technique — mine was just born out of curiosity/dinking around, and this process works really well for me (it’s also the base for all of the acrylic designs… same technique, just acrylic paint on a white base and a painfully small scale). For supplies, you’re going to need a smaller detail brush and whatever colors of polish you want to use. For this mani I pulled out the Orly Viva! mini set that includes Fiesta (pink), Bailamos (turquoise), Ole (orange) and La Playa (purple).
First, get a white polish base down: don’t worry about the finish or making it look perfect, it’s only there so you have a high-contrast canvas and the colors you put down don’t need to be built up a ton.
Next you’ll go in with your black (or whatever border color you want on your design, black is just always my go-to for this stuff) and start putting in the outline of your design. If you were doing the Tetris nails, you’d create a grid; if you were doing a cartoon character or something, you’d paint in the outline and the dominant features (eyes, nose, lips etc.); or, like in this example, if you’re freehanding your way around you’ll put in whatever angles and lines strike you. Your lines don’t have to be perfect! You’re going back in soon to fill all those areas anyway so if something’s not right you can fix it in a minute; focus on getting the lines where you want them and know that you can trim them down later.
Also, and this is sort of important: if you’re trying to work around the system by using a regular pen to draw things in, consider that a) ink on your nails doesn’t stay where you put it and smudges like crazy (run a pen over your finger and see how long that streak holds up) and b) if you do manage to somehow keep your ink drawing intact on your nails while painting in the colors your topcoat is going to RUIN it. Yep, speaking from experience — I thought I was being super clever and drew some little funny faces on my nails with a felt tip pen but as soon as I put a coat of polish over it the ink went nuts, bled like crazy and had this weird reaction to the polish where it turned a sort of ash grey color. If you want to use a pen or pencil or something for this first round to get comfortable with it that’s totally cool, but know that later on you’re still going to have to go over those same paths again with nail polish or paint, so you’re sort of delaying the inevitable and cheating yourself out of an opportunity to practice more, ya dig? Like with small lines: even if you feel like your brush is too big, try really focusing on just dragging one part of the tip of the brush over your nail so only some of it is catching and you’re not bearing down with the full width of the brush.
If you’ve built up a fairly thick bead of polish doing your outline (this will happen if you’re using a dense polish or have gone over lines a bunch) this would be a good time to put down a topcoat to seal it down and help balance the surface a bit (for the sake of this tutorial I’m powering through without it).
Now you get to start filling in the areas you blocked off. Using the small brush again, start by putting your color somewhere in the middle of the shape you’re trying to fill and then draw it out to the edges — if you start right on the line with your polish it may come on too quickly and create a bubble of polish that you didn’t intend, so keeping your first-touch of the brush in the safety of the middle of the shape will help curb mistakes. Some colors you’re going to need to go back and repeat fill so you’ve got a couple of coats (or to effectively cover up some mistake lines from the outlining step), but have fun with it… it’s sort of fun to zen out on this stuff (yep, I’m a nerd). And then you keep repeating that for each color you’re trying to fill in.
For the last step you’re going to go back in and touch things up — if you accidentally bumped some color onto your outline you can fill it, or just even out any application issues. Cap it all off with a topcoat and you’re done! Pics are without topcoat & cleanup (ew) so you can still see the brush strokes/layers; just know that a lot of the texturing will go away with a topcoat, but you can always pre-buff it down too if you’ve got some out of control ridges somewhere.
Even if you don’t feel like you can doodle… try it. You totally can, it’s like riding a bike, the kid in you definitely knows how to make some goofy squiggles and lines (plus it’s a fun way to get a bunch of different colors on one nail if you’re trying to compare them).