Art can be found on a variety of canvases. For some student artists, the canvas of choice is their nails. Lily Carson (junior) said nail art became a passion during her middle school years.
“I used to always love art and loved doing artsy things and painting and drawing whatever,” Carson said. “I think in middle school I started watching videos on how to do your nails, like all the fun little like pattern things you could do and how you could use tape on your nails, random stickers and such.”
Carson said her artistic tendencies, combined with good nail bed genes passed down from her grandma, enabled her to keep doing her nails all through high school and into college.
Meanwhile, Solvej Lee* (first year) picked up doing nails extensions as a much more recent pastime, having started up the hobby during this year’s winter break. Lee said that even though she had done her nails intermittently in the past, the extra free time gave her the opportunity to really dive in.
“I had a lot of time on my hands. I thought it would be fun and then I ended up getting fixated,” Lee said. “It’s one of those tasks that you can kind of just chill out and do for hours on end.”
Lee also said it was an easy hobby to keep up with, and she could spend long amounts of time working on any given set of nails.
“It got fun to try and find stuff on the internet that I could replicate and I [could] stay up for like five hours just doing that,” Lee said. “Most of the time I’m doing [nails] genuinely just to have fun or if I have an idea that I’m really excited about.”
Kassi Price (junior), who also took up nail art recently, said the hobby started as a bonding activity with her sisters and friends.
“We would literally sit down and set up our stuff at like noon and then not end up leaving until like four in the morning,” Price said. “We would be going around, doing four people’s nails at once [with] these crazy-intricate designs. It was super fun. It was such a little girls’ day and we just watched shows and ate food. We would take little cooking breaks and make brownies or cookies. It was super sweet.”
Price said she first brought her passion for nails to campus when she and her best friend were getting ready for a sorority formal. From there, others started to notice her talent which is when she began doing nails for others as well. Price said the social aspect of nail art is something she enjoys.
“It’s fun to do [nails] for people that I already know because you obviously talk about things that you would [normally] catch up with your friends,” Price said. “But it’s also been so fun meeting new people because then I just get to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, hi. What’s your major? What are you doing? Like what’s up?’”
While some of the nail artists like Lee enjoy keeping their nails long, Sarah Boulamaali (first year) said she isn’t always able to have acrylic extensions on her nails, even though she would like to.
“I grew up playing violin, so I never was able to have acrylics,” Boulamaali said. “I was able to do my own gel extensions, and then I could take them off whenever I needed to. So it was more economical and just made it an easier process. But I can only do short nails on myself, so I like to stick mainly to little designs or French tips or something like that.”
Meanwhile, Price said she loves to try out a variety of wild new designs, and often gets inspired by the nail designs she does for others.
“I’ve found that doing other people’s nails makes it hard for me to know what to put on my nails, because I get a taste of everything,” Price said. “But I really like to do doodle-y designs, very organic, like bright colors and kind of just like ‘a hot mess,’ for lack of a better term.”
Lee also said she enjoys tackling harder designs, and likes to reference her Pinterest boards for inspiration.
“Obviously there’s a lot of technical stuff I don’t really understand yet, but I just try to see what I’m really drawn to, like colors and shiny things,” Lee said. “While I’m not skilled enough to copy [the designs] exactly, I take what I like and then try and make it work.”
One thing all the nail artists agreed on was that doing their nails was a form of self-care. Price said that painting nails allowed her to take a mental break from her studies as a biology major and meant she could escape the often rigid world of science.
According to Boulamaali, doing her nails is one of her favorite ways to unwind after a long day.
“I’ll usually do my nails in the evenings after class,” Boulamaali said. “It’s nice to not think about everything else and just do my nails, [almost] like doing a face mask.”
Lee said that doing her nails also allowed her to rest, and is a way to stay connected to her passion for art that she carried with her through her younger years.
“I did a lot of art in high school and I think that’s another reason that I got so into [nails] is because I don’t draw as much now that I’m in college,” Lee said. “It’s something I can do artistically that feels functional and productive, and at the same time it’s just fun and pretty. It’s kind of been a good way to keep that in my life a bit.”
Carson said she also uses her passion for doing her nails as a way to keep up her creative spirit and stay in tune with her own moods. She said the art form has become a part of expressing her individuality.
“When I’m doing [my nails] I can think ‘Oh, what’s the mood on my end? Do I want stars on my nails or do I feel like I want a darker nail?'” Carson said. “It definitely feels like a creative outlet, and when I have my nails done, it makes me feel more creative in a way because it just feels like a little expression.”
*Solvej Lee is an illustrator for The Occidental.