Monday, February 13, 2012

The "Perfect" Nail

I was really nervous about doing a nail for an article called "the perfect nail." That's a very tall order, and technical skill is not as much my specialty as artistic interpretation. Still, it got me to thinking about what a perfect nail should be, who gets to decide when it is, and how to tell when you've done it:

Being tasked with creating an example of "the perfect nail" was stressful, knowing that my work would be used as that example and published where it will be scrutinized as such by my peers; I have visions of nail techs all over the world reading the article and looking at that nail thinking, "Who the hell did that nail and where do they get off thinking they know how to do a 'perfect' nail?!"

On one hand, the "perfect nail" has very  much been defined for me-- and the entire industry-- by sculptured nail competitions that set forth specific criteria to be met in order to achieve an ideal that has been preconceived for us. That concept is very finite and clearly spelled out. I think much of the industry's own idea of the "perfect nail" is based on the competition paradigm.

On the other hand... I started thinking how "perfect" applies in real life. It's so subjective. Some people love sharply squared nails, some people loathe them. Take, for instance, the growing popularity of the flared nail. More and more, I find myself coming to terms with this trend and learning to appreciate it for its own beauty. So, as demand for the look grows, I've decided that if that's what's going to be the trend, then at least I can do them as well as possible. So I'm working on making my flares stand out as at least still having technical skill behind them; with straight lines and clean edges. I can definitely look through photos and see the difference between well-done stilettos and nails that are simply filed to a point, and now I find myself also looking at photos of nails and telling the difference between nails that flare because they suck and nails that flare because someone took the time and effort to create an artistically flared nail.

Ultimately, our clients are the ones who determine "perfection." And I am fortunate to have an eclectic clientele that allows me to practice many different styles, and that drives me to keep an open mind regarding these ideals so that I am able to see the same perfection in a sleek stiletto or a extravagantly flared duckfoot: square, squoval, oval, almond; pink and white, rockstar, 3D, natural nails and even distressed manicures-- "perfect" is in the eye of the beholder, and it is achieved each time your client leaves the salon in love with her nails, and returns to have you do them again.

Cover Artist

Nails Magazine, April 2012: cover by Maggie Franklin
this is my mounted and preserved copy.

It might be safe to say that it is every nail artist's dream to do the cover for a trade magazine.

Here in the US, we have Nails Magazine and Nailpro Magazine to feed the obsessions of the professional nail industry. Abroad, magazines such as Nailure (Russia) and Scratch (UK) capture my attention and make me drool... sadly, the cost of an out of country subscription is a tad steep so I have to drool over the photos and articles online.

I have been blogging for Nails Magazine since 2008 now. I hope to keep this sweet gig for several more years (crosses fingers) mostly because it's a super fun blog to write, and also because being able to say that I'm a "professional blogger" is to girls what being a professional video game player is to boys.

But, in 20 years of doing nails, and 20 years of subscribing to both the US trade magazines for the nail industry, I had never been invited to do the cover nails of either, despite my obvious superior talents and personality.

Ok. Well, I looked into it many years ago: the thing is, the mags don't really reach out and invite people to their cover shoots.

The magazines tend to work with local artists (both magazines being headquartered in southern CA,) with artists who represent major product manufacturers or have connections with one. They offer those coveted cover shoots to the winners of competitions, or nail artists who are already accustomed to working on professional photo shoots.

This means that it's not uncommon to see the same artists credited for the covers over and over again.

For one thing, that can get boring. I've seen year after year of covers and when you use the same talent over and over again, it shouldn't be a surprise that the covers start to look like you're using the same talent over and over again.

Another thing that I came to understand from the git-go is that the cover art is rarely entirely representative of the cover artist: The magazine editors are the ones who put the magazines together and they are often the ones who conceive the issue's theme and tone. So when they select an artist to do the cover, it's less about showcasing that artist's style and talent than it is about hiring labor to bring the editors' visions to fruition.

I don't particular think this is the way it ought to be-- not for the magazines that serve the nail industry! These are supposed to be OUR magazines, about US, and OUR trade-- getting the opportunity to do the cover nails for should be all about the cover artist! The editors should select the artist, say, "You'll be doing the July issue, wow us!" And then the artist should come in, guns ablazing (metaphorically speaking) and get to show off!

This should be that artist's chance to really do something amazing that illustrates their individual style.

But it isn't-- at least, not usually.

But knowing this never dampened the hope that I would someday get the chance to do the nails for a magazine cover. It's a pretty fancy feather for the cap of a nail tech!

Several years ago, Nails Magazine started doing a cover competition. This might be the closest thing a cover artist really has to being able to go wild and do whatever they want. You do the nails, you set up the photo shoot, you get really high quality photos, and you enter them in the contest. Originally, the magazine editors chose the winner and the photo appeared on the January issue of the magazine.

I'm proud to say that it was actually one of my blog posts that helped to further the concept of the "reader-written" January issue combined with the cover contest so that now the readers are the ones who determine the winning photo for the issue each year (after the editors narrow it down to the top 10 finalists.)

But I've never entered the cover contest.


Oddly enough-- because I wanted my first cover to be at the request of the editors. I wanted them to want me to do the cover.

Maybe it's an ego thing? I wanted to do the cover, but I wanted to do a cover shoot too. I wanted the whole experience. And I wanted it to be because I had earned the exposure and respect in my industry to warrant enough celebrity to get invited to do a cover shoot.

Let me tell you right now-- if this is the way you choose to go about pursuing a goal, it is going to be a long, hard ride!

Nevertheless! Shortly after the 1st of the year, I received a phone call one afternoon from editor Tim Crowley of Nails Magazine.

I was in the process of rockstarring up Brenda's toes and I tried very hard to sound totally nonchalant on the phone while I was doing my happy dance when Tim said he was calling to ask if I could come do the cover nails.

First I was ecstatic. Then terrified. Then nauseous. Then I spent a week battling the impulse to run away and hide under a rock.

Not only would I be doing the cover nails, but also the nails that would accompany an article called "the Perfect Nail."

*Gulp!* "Perfect" nails is not my forte! I do stunning nails. I do creative nails. I do fabulous nails. I do artistic nails. I do nails that my clients love... but "perfect" to a nail tech (especially one who competes) is a different animal altogether than what you might envision!

Nothing like making my first professional photo shoot a horrifying experience! LOL!

But I didn't run away and hide. I drove to Torrance (a 3 hour drive-- I actually lived there briefly in the late 90s,) I got up early in the morning and arrived for my photo shoot around 8 a.m. ( and we all know that my personal clock has no A.M.!)

I was totally prepared for a high-pressure day of creating nails according the editor's vision, on a professional hand model, working with editors and art directors and models and photographers in a setting that is totally new and alien to my daily work environment. I had myself all psyched out to remember that I was not the top of these food chain, that I was merely there to get the job done according to the needs, desires, and time restrictions of a crew that has experience doing this stuff.

Which turned out to be a lot like when I psyched myself up for my state board exam! (Best advice I can give anyone who is headed for their CA State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology licensing exam is that it is NOT as scary as you've been led to believe!)

In fact, my first photo shoot with Nails Magazine was very relaxed. And I wish I'd been prepared for that.

I did not have to rush. I could have taken more time to get my bearings. I could have taken more time to talk with the editor, the art director, and the photographer about the nitty gritty details of the process outside of just doing the nails. So many things that I didn't consider when I sat down with my model.

I knew I would most likely be the only one on the set who hadn't done this before (and I was right,) I didn't want to get in anyone's way by needing someone to hold my hand during the process. I wanted to be independent and be ready to just do what was needed of me-- I could have relaxed and asked for a little hand holding, just a little.

Overall, it was a great experience. I had fun. I met awesome people. I learned a lot about how Nails Magazine does a cover shoot, and I hope that I get the opportunity to use what I learned to do it better the next time.

I have not seen the cover yet. I saw the photos that were taken, and have an idea of which shot will be chosen, but I have to wait with everyone else till the April issue comes out to see the final result-- after the photo editing!

The nails that I did are not indicative of my style, the don't look like the nails in my portfolio, they are largely the manifestation of Hannah's vision (editor of Nails Mag,) but they are beautiful, they were fun to do, and I think they fit into the theme of the cover and will look beautiful in print.

Currently, I am awaiting the arrival of the March issue-- which I believe is the one with the "perfect nail" article in it. I am terrified! I repeatedly made the art director assure me that she had mad skillz with Photoshop and would make my less then "perfect" nail look perfect in print!

my photo shoot crew