Creating good nail art, for the average Jo, can seem to be hard – nay, impossible – work.
1. Dotty for Retro – Brit Nails
Let's start with an easy design, I thought. All that's needed is a few different varnishes and a ~dotting tool~ – how hard can it be?
Expectation: simple, clean...2D
Brit Nails' tutorials are really easy to follow with both step-by-step pictures and instructions.
All you've got to do in this particular tutorial is paint a white base, then build up a series of dots using three different colours, and you're done. What could go wrong?
Reality: messy and bulbous
Whatever a dotting tool is, it ain't stocked in the local Boots. Or Topshop. Or any other normal high street cosmetics counter, apparently. So I opted for a nice little wooden cuticle stick (£1) which, as it was housed in the nail aisle, I assumed would be up to the job.
I also came to realise that white varnish does few people favours. Even if you're swarthy-skinned, you still end up looking like you're heading for a night out in Basildon.
The cuticle stick will forever leave your nails 3D and wet.
2. Gradient – The Nailasaurus
It seems like Instagram is awash with gradient nails so you'd think it'd be pretty easy to recreate, right?
Expectation: not as easy as it seems.
OK, the tutorial steps seem pretty simple.
Just paint a base colour coat, then pour two different coloured varnishes onto something plastic. Dip in your makeup sponge and dab over fingernails. But anyone who's ever done potato printing can appreciate that doing a similar kind of action over a much smaller area was never going to be easy.
It's actually quite a cool design but with my novice skills it's best viewed from afar where no one can actually see the crazy texture that has built up.
3. Pencil – Nail Lacquer
Because who wouldn't want their nails to resemble stubby little pencils?
Expectation: basic but ineffective.
Perhaps it's pessimistic but I just don't know how much like a pack of pencils my nails can become. They are short and rather weak – unlike Nail Lacquer's pointy, strong talons.
Basically you just paint a strip of pink at the base of the nail (the rubber), then a thin line of silver (the metal surrounding the rubber), followed by a chunk of yellow (the pencil body), and finished with a bit of beige (the wood). And a dot of black ~lead~.
Reality: fun-looking if not totally pencil-like.
With acrylics or filed, long nails, this tutorial would be great. It's so easy and quick to do, even with shaky hands – but with rounded nails, they just don't look very much like pencils!
You'd have a very ~deft~ hand to do those little lines as quickly and smoothly as the magical hand in the video. For those of us with just a standard over our fingers, it might be best to use a paintbrush as well as the varnish bushes – particularly for the silver bits.
4. Perfectly Pastel Aztec – One Nail to Rule Them All
Although nail artist Alice runs One Nail to Rule Them All, this particular tutorial was a guest feature on divinecaroline.com. These nails look like a handful of sweet little Easter eggs. There's no harm in channelling springtime pastels in November.
Expectation: tricky and probably disastrous.
Sure, the shapes are pretty simple but it's all so intricate – particularly if you don't have acrylics or particularly long nails. Mind you, the tutorial uses short-cut, rounded nails, so it must be doable.
Start with a nude base and then build up with a range of pastel-coloured stripes and fill in with fine, white paint.
Reality: fiddly but worth it.
I used a small WAH London makeup brush to paint on the white Aztec patterns and it was OK but a weeny paintbrush would be better. It was really hard to be as precise as the tutorial pictures are.
One hand took about 25 minutes. Nail art is great but it is so time-consuming. I'm not even attempting to do the other hand.
5. Summer Sunrise – Lucy's Stash
This blog is absolutely chockablock with life-hacking tutorials, from freehand painting to tape manicures.
Expectation: for it to be as easy as it seems in the tutorial.
All you have to do is paint a tricolour on your nails, stick some tape over the top, paint a black layer and then peel away. This is a proper life hack and seems like the kind of activity they really should teach kids in a primary school art class.
So much could go wrong – the tape (I only have Sellotape and parcel tape) could pull off all the base colours. The tape might get stuck forever on the nail by the strength of the black varnish. Can it really be as easy as the tutorial promises?
Reality: after an initial blip, amazing.
6. Cow – Nuthin' but a Nail Thing
Cow print is a much-maligned pattern in the fashion world, and unjustly so. And this tutorial is about to prove it.
Expectation: outrageously finicky.
If past attempts are anything to go by, drawing cow-print spots and ACTUAL COW FACES with little more than a cuticle stick and a prayer seems rather too ambitious.
So, you just paint three nails blue and two nails white. Then paint on your black cow print and start building up the cow faces bit by bit – starting with a plain white face, then adding drops for the ears before adding some cow print and building up dots for the nostrils and eyes.
Bizarrely, it's not actually that difficult or time-consuming. The cuticle stick came into its own, providing a good slanted base to make little dots within dots for the eyes and ears. It's also such a ridiculous design that it just works.
At first, the prospect of painting ACTUAL COW FACES is overwhelming but the tutorial is as meticulously effective as an army operation.
As with all things, practice makes perfect.
Nail bloggers are literally painting nails all day long and they have all kinds of equipment that normal people have never heard of. Your nails aren't going to look exactly like theirs – or at least, not straightaway.
Getting used to how thick your varnish is and how much to apply is something that you start to get used to after a couple of attempts. I used pretty standard brands like Topshop, Rimmel, Boots own brand, Barry M, and a couple of bargain-bin polishes – the quality doesn't make a great deal of difference. In fact, most of these bloggers are using similar things. Just make sure you've got a base and top coat ready!
The great thing is that, for the most part, you can improvise and designs like the Lucy's Stash "Summer Sunrise" can be done using ordinary household material and take almost no effort.
It is time-consuming but there's no reward like a constant stream of compliments.