For many of us, the lasting appeal of nail art is that we can express our tastes (no matter how wild or subdued) without the aesthetic confines of hair and makeup. It’s a mini act of self-presentation.
“There’s specificity in how we choose to do our nails,” said Miss Pop, the artist who created these four looks. “Those choices are joyful.”
And now, the canvas is growing. The newest nail art, largely inspired by the giddiness of the 1990s, spills onto the fingers and hands. Glitter, rhinestones and beads make up most of the designs.
“This is a ’90s reboot,” Miss Pop said. “It’s an evolution of that excessive aesthetic we’re seeing all over fashion and beauty.” And as anyone who’s ever bedazzled a denim jacket knows, rhinestones create big visual impact but are surprisingly easy to wield.
“People find it very challenging to paint designs on nails,” she said. “But putting down some eyelash glue and sticking on a rhinestone? It’s so easy.”
Summer with its nonstop events — weddings, beach days, outdoor festivals — is the best season to introduce the nail-art-is-hand-art look. But before you get started, Miss Pop has a few general rules. Your hands should be oil free before applying hand art. Your work will last longer if your canvas isn’t moist. Be conservative with glue. If you apply too much, it’ll squeeze out at the sides when you top it with a bead. And it won’t dry clear. When considering designs, think about how your hand art can complement your nails. But don’t worry about overdoing it. “This is about being extra,” Miss Pop said. “No matter where you are, it’s a conversation starter.”
According to Miss Pop, this cheerful crystal design is an evolution of the bejeweled makeup and hairstyles seen recently on celebrities. She said she loves the jewels that Janelle Monáe has been wearing in her hair, done by her hairstylist Nikki Nelms.
To recreate this scattered pattern, mix about four crystal colors (any more than that won’t look cohesive). Miss Pop used both baguettes and round shapes, which you can find at a bead and trim store or order online. “I used fancier glass ones here, but plastic is more bang for your buck and will still look good,” she said.
To apply, dot tiny beads of clear Duo Eyelash Adhesive ($9) on your hand. Pick up each rhinestone with a wax pencil and press gently onto the glue, which takes five minutes to dry. Stagger the end points of each rhinestone trail. “The scattered pattern is so forgiving,” Miss Pop said. “When you start losing your rhinestones, no one will notice.”
On the nails, Miss Pop used a thin striper brush to paint each color of the rainbow and filled in the other half of the nail with white polish. The horizontal colored lines are the most difficult part of this manicure. “If the stripes are too hard, there’s no reason you can’t do some version of it, painting each nail a different color or applying color on just the tips of the nails,” she said.
If you can use a felt-tipped liquid eyeliner, you can do this hand art, Miss Pop said. The main idea here is to repeat the shape on the nail on the hand. To get an even rectangle cutout, use a striper brush to paint a thick horizontal line a third down the nail. Divide that line into thirds, with two vertical lines that end at the tip. Cross those two vertical lines with a second horizontal line slightly above the tip of the nail.
Polish around the rectangle created at the center. With a liquid eyeliner pen, like Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22), draw a rectangle starting at the cuticle. “The waterproof liner will survive several hand washes,” Miss Pop said.
Ombré glittered hands are the easiest and longest lasting of all. “It looks like it would come right off, but it isn’t going anywhere unless you really want it to,” Miss Pop said. This very fine glitter sets durably with spirit gum adhesive. Paint your nails first. Miss Pop paired baby blue (“a classic ’90s color”) and soft yellow with holographic silver glitter.
“You have to use cosmetic grade glitter,” she said. “If it’s safe for your eyes and lips, it’s safe for your hands.” Brush a thin layer of spirit gum all around the finger. Make sure you get the pads right underneath the nails.
Then, using a flat brush, press the glitter onto the glue. To get the ombré effect, add a second layer of glitter tighter around the cuticle and fingertip, then brush the excess up the finger.
To remove the glitter without ruining your polish, wrap your fingers in cotton soaked in spirit gum remover for a few minutes, then rub off.
A mix of the Costume Institute’s “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition and a trip Miss Pop recently took to Versailles informed this ornate design. She applied each bead individually, which she acknowledges is a time-consuming and delicate task, particularly for a nail art novice.
The best D.I.Y. option is to buy beads in ready-made clusters, then create your own design with those. “Then this becomes fairly easy,” she said.
Plan your pattern on paper before placing the beads on your nails or hands. For the nails, use a combination base and topcoat specifically designed for rhinestones and beads, like China Glaze for Rhinestones Only, ($7). Place the beads right into the base coat. If you make a mistake in placement, the beads move around easily in the rhinestone polish. Polish over the design with the same clear polish.
On the hands, apply the beads with eyelash glue. To get the design creativity flowing, Miss Pop suggests looking to jewelry designs for inspiration.