Nail Tutorial: How to Give Yourself an Amazing Hand Job

When I was eight we had an exchange student from Japan come live with us. Setsuko brought a whole suitcase (it seemed like it at the time, though it sounds like a ridiculous eight-year-old’s exaggerated memory when you type it out), anyway, a whole suitcase (!!) full of tiny candy-colored bottles of nail polish. An addiction was born. By the time I reached my senior year of high school, the salon in town had to order new tips called “Dragon Ladies” to satisfy my desire to have the longest nails in Shiawassee County, Michigan. Luckily, I grew tired of dialing the phone with the side of my knuckle and spent a good number of years just getting pretty French manicures on my natural nails.

That was until last summer, when I was sent to Georgia on an assignment and drove by a Kroger’s grocery store in Macon and of course had to stop, because, as you all know, Kroger’s has the best angel food cake. Anyway, as I was leaving I walked by this nail salon inside the grocery store. There were no customers, just three women sitting around a TV watching Matlock. I went in and browsed the mannequin hands and one was just so bananas, like neon splatter-painty in a controlled way, that I had it done, and it looked beautiful. I was so glad to have my old “friend” back. So I came right home, went to the beauty supply store on my block and bought about 20 of those two-dollar skinny bottles of polish with the little skinny brushes like the lady in Kroger’s had used. About every week or two I experiment; you can check out some of the better results in a slideshow below, but first!

As a Valentine’s Day gift to you, and let’s be honest, to me too because these things look AMAZING on my hands, here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can do three of my favorite styles yourself. There’s a themed look with pictures or characters, the splatter painting one like the grocery store lady did, and a French and Reverse French both on the same nail.

Step one: Choose a color scheme. Here’s what you definitely need no matter what: black, white, gold sparkles, and silver sparkles. You’ll use at least one of those every time. Colorwise, pick the main polish color. This is one that comes out of a normal bottle with a normal brush. Then choose accent colors. I usually pick two or three colors in a similar hue and one accent color that’s often complimentary (color-wheel wise). Also, invest in some really good base and top coats (I like Seche brand) and your manicure will last forever.

Let’s get started! Okay, for each look start by applying your base color like so:

You’ll see for the splatter painty nail I’ve only colored half of it. If you do this look on all your nails try to cover half of each one in a different way. Like some the top half, some the left half and so on. Mix it up. Okay, the next step is to get outlines going.

Then add some accents and fill in your outlines.

Now for the middle one, to get those flicky swooshy things, you just literally take the tip of the brush, touch it to your nail and haphazardly flick it. It’s waaay easier than it looks. And for this look, the more colors and flicky things and dots and craziness you add, the better. Have fun with this part! Fill in negative space!

Now go over the flickys and the filled in areas on your other looks with GLITTER! For the middle look, it’s best if you come back in after the glitter and redefine some of the dots and swooshes with black or white; your choice. Add diamonds! (If you can work fast, just put them on wet polish, or if it’s dry, add a drop of the glittery stuff and stick them on top.) Add pizazz! Add hidden messages to your lover! And then add top coat.

And seriously — don’t be intimidated! It’s just like a zit in that you notice the imperfections way more than anyone else does. Just be brave and go forth in the world, and people will ooh and ahhh and not be like, “That line is crooked. I don’t think I want to be your friend anymore.” (I’m also not ambidextrous, and you don’t have to be, either — I just have a lot of practice.)

Now for the gallery!

(Bonus nails by Jane: Emily, a bassist — people with short nails can do this, too!)

Previously: How to Shop Online.

Jane Feltes is a VERY CLASSY LADY and produces the radio program “This American Life.” She can be seen regularly on stage at The Talent Show in Brooklyn and also blogs about cooking awesome meals for that special someone — herself — at ReadyMade.

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