31 Day Challenge Wrap-Up

31DC2015 Collage

Hmm, that should probably read “33 Day Challenge Wrap-Up,” because I was never, not once, on pace with the challenge themes, and as such, ended the whole thing two or maybe even three days beyond everyone else. I had a hard time motivating myself in the early days when the challenge prompts were overly broad (blue? dots? florals?) but I like to think I kicked it into high gear in the final two weeks, producing some of my favourite manicures ever, actually.

As always when I complete one of these month-long challenges, I like to look back on the past four weeks to see what I did right (fun new designs using a wealth of different techniques and tools), what I did wrong (um, pretty much never keeping pace with the challenge schedule) and what I can do differently next time (stop procrasturbating – intentional spelling mistake – and just do the damn blue, dotted, floral nails already!)

These are eight of my own designs (and one homage) that I think rocked this challenge. And why nine? Well, because nine photos make for a more visually pleasing collage, for one, and why not be all random when the original challenge is pretty random in itself (as in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge takes place every year in a month with only 30 days. Huh.) Enjoy!

1. Lacey, floral nails inspired by a Monique Lhullier dress for day 14’s theme of flowers.Floral Hand

2. Time rip nails inspired by the Stephen King novella, The Langoliers, for day 24’s theme of a book.Time Rip Front

3. A striped, Cheshire Cat manicure for day 21’s theme of inspired by a colour.CC Hand

4. A glittery, rainbow-on-rainbow jelly sandwich manicure for day nine’s theme of rainbow nails.Double Rainbow Hand

5. Attack the Block nails, featuring actual blue, glow-in-the-dark monster jaws, for day 23’s theme of inspired by a movie. Ratings!Attack the Block Collage

6. Another Alice in Wonderland-themed manicure, this one inspired by the Queen of Hearts’ preference for blood red roses for day one’s theme of red.PaintedRosesHand

7. Super detailed Halloween Town nails from The Nightmare Before Christmas for day 29’s theme of the supernatural.NBC Hand

8. A recreation of Chalkboard Nails’ delightfully adorable circus cookie dotticure for day 31’s theme of honouring nails you love.Circus Crackers Hand

9. Another watery water marble, this one featuring a little cucumber and mint accent nail, for day 20’s theme of a water marble.WMHand

If You Want to Destroy My Sweater (31DC2015)

Sweater Pull Fingers

The 31 Day Nail Art Challenge ended two days ago, and befitting my status at every step of the challenge, I am two (or more) days late with this final entry for day 30’s theme of a tutorial. Over on Instagram there’s a Dutch nail artist I follow by the name of Narmai (you can find her excellent blog at PiggyLuv.com.) Technically proficient, but also creative, whimsical and sort of cheeky, Narmai’s designs are so much more than your standard dots and flowers and branded characters. Her work is the very definition of “use what you’ve got,” and she uses everything at her disposal to create the most gorgeous, intricate designs, from the glow-in-the-dark polishes she used in a series of silhouette-style, nail art fairytales, to the actual light-up filament she strung across her nails to help E.T. phone home. Best of all, she posts quick, terrifically informative video tutorials of her work, which pull back the curtain a bit on her beautifully high concept work.

And speaking of pulling back, check out this cheeky little bugger peeling off all my hard holo work! I can take *some* credit for this design, but the bulk of the praise goes to Narmai for this cute and so easy 3D design. Following along with a quick little video she made of this manicure, I think I nailed the polish snag (it was as easy as just building up the little “pulls” and then painting over them) – the rest was as easy as attaching the little string for that evil piggy down there to pull (and the piggy himself, of course. Narmai’s design featured a little guy who looked like Baymax from Big Hero 6 pulling the string, but I like pigs better, and it’s been too long since I’ve painted evil pork on my nails. It also seemed nice to show the Piggy some Luv.)

Halloween Town (31DC2015)

NBC Hand

I recently celebrated this blog’s second anniversary, with my second nail art-iversary also coming a few months before that. One of my favourite memories from those very early days was the afternoon I decided to tackle a super detailed mani depicting Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was such a cocky little twit, overly confident in my still fairly non-existent nail art abilities – it never occurred to me that working with a dark, predominantly purple palette in itty bitty micro detail would be, you know, difficult or anything. So was it? Yes, of course! Hair-pullingly difficult, actually – the tufts I ripped out above my temples are only just now growing back. 😉 It was an exercise in pure crazy, and as proud as I was of them at the time, I was in way over my head. Observe:


So nearly two years to the day that I did those original Nightmare nails, I decided to revisit Halloween Town for day 29’s theme of supernatural in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge, just to see how much my technique had (hopefully) improved. And guess what? It improved a lot! Behold the learning curve on two years of nearly daily manis, friends – practice really does make perfect (or perfect enough for now.)

And really, in the case of these two manis, it’s not so much the difference that time and practice have made – it’s just being confident enough in my abilities as a nail artist and a blogger to know what will work (a matte topcoat, because glossy topcoats throw too much glare) and what won’t (shitty bathroom lighting, wonky hand positions and dry, chapped hands!) It’s the little things. Glad I had the opportunity to try this design again and do it up right.

NBC Fingers

Frosted Circus Animal Cookies! (31DC2015)

Circus Crackers Hand

Although I still have two more prompts to tackle in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge, I thought I’d jump ahead to the final day’s theme of honouring nails you love. Well, actually, it’s honOring nails you *heart*, but I’m Canadian, so it’s O-U, and also, I don’t speak emoticon.

The manicure that I love and chose to honour is a simple, but adorable and delicious-looking, sprinkled animal cracker design by Sarah Waite of Chalkboard Nails. It was one of those manicures that when I saw it, I just about whacked myself in the forehead in annoyance – “Oh cripes, why didn’t I think of that?!” I mean, I have painted foodstuffs on my nails hundreds of times now – how did I miss super cute frosted animal crackers? And Sarah did such a fabulous job on them, too – while they may *just* be random dots in a clutch of rainbow brights over a base of frosty pink and white, the dotting work is excellent; very random and natural-looking. I have the aggravating habit in my nail art of wanting things to be perfectly symmetrical, which is just not how things like sprinkles work! So I really admire her “little bit of this, little bit of that” approach to an otherwise pretty basic dotticure – let the sprinkles lie where they may and all that. 🙂

I admire her approach so much, in fact, that eagle-eyed readers may notice that my interpretation of her manicure is no such thing – it’s actually a dot-by-dot recreation of her animal cracker design! I wanted to get a feel for a more randomized approach to dotting work, and the only way to do that was to “trace” her design, a practice I used to employ quite frequently in the early days of my nail art obsession, but less and less over the past two years as I’ve developed my own eye for design.

A quick word about that “tracing”, however. It’s fine to draw major inspiration from another nail artist, or even to just flat out copy somebody else’s design, right down to the colours used – sometimes that’s how people learn how to do something, like me! When I first started nail arting, I’d often find a design I liked on Pinterest or, yes, Chalkboard Nails, call it up on my tablet and then get down to work, copying it brushstroke for brushstroke to the best of my ability. Simply DOING it was the only way I was going to learn, and I wasn’t yet confident enough in my skills to just strike out on my own all willy nilly.

But! I never, ever published those early, copycat manicures in any form, and if I was ever asked, all due credit for the design went to the nail artist in question. It’s just good form. And if you’re going to publish inspired-by or copycat manis to your blog or vlog or Instagram, like these circus cookie nails, it’s best form to link back to the original post and creation. Okay, class, lecture on proper attribution done. 😉

Circus Crackers Fingers

Old Glory (31DC2015)

Camacho Hand

Coming at you hard and fast with the posts in these final two days of the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge as I play catch-up to a schedule that I managed to stick to not once! And these are my second red-white-and-blue nails in as many posts, although this manicure, which is my submission towards the theme of a flag, is probably the most common way you see that colour combo. I love the American flag – strong, bold colours, authoritative stripes, adorable little stars. It’s a good flag.

I was not looking forward to this 28th prompt. Unlike Dr. Sheldon Cooper (and sometimes Amy Farrah Fowler, or perhaps Wil Wheaton) I’m not down for Fun With Flags – they bore me silly. But I love how these nails turned out, and although I have many more lacquered miles to go before sleep, I really don’t want to take them off! Like the American flag itself, I wanted to keep the lines on these nails sharp and crisp, so I used some star-shaped nail vinyls I’ve been hoarding for just such an occasion, and laid out my red and white diagonal lines with striping tape. I also like the darker, more true-to-life colours I used here (baby blue and pink flags are fine, but I wanted to keep things more traditional and maybe slightly less treasonous?), including KB Shimmer’s navy blue Soul Deep and blood red Such a Vlad-Ass.

Voice of Fire (31DC2015)

Voice of Fire Hand

These nails, my entry toward’s day 27’s theme of artwork in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge, may require a bit of explanation, as they’re slightly more conceptual in nature than usual. When I was in high school, I spent a couple of weeks one summer baby-sitting eight-year-old twin boys. One morning we biked downtown to the National Gallery to take in a bit of air conditioning and culture. One of the big draws at the Gallery then – and indeed, to this day – was the Voice of Fire, an abstract painting by American artist Barnett Newman that proved to be quite the controversial acquisition. Purchased as part of the Gallery’s permanent collection in 1989 for $1.8 million, the Voice ignited a firestorm of controversy surrounding mismanagement of taxpayer dollars in the arts (I’m sure it wouldn’t have been such an issue were the painting more than three vertical stripes on a canvas), while igniting that other age-old, endlessly debated question of how we measure a work of art’s true value. All anyone could really agree on was that there wasn’t much there – seriously, two acrylic blue stripes with a red stripe in the middle, standing about 213 inches tall.

The boys and I got to the Gallery that day just as the doors were opening, and we were the only ones in the cavernous room where the Voice of Fire is housed, but for one seriously unimpressed guard (do they come in any other variety?) The gallery where the Voice hangs is gigantic and bare – it is the dominant centerpiece of the room. As we approached the painting, dwarfed by its towering blue and red stripes, I bent down and asked the boys how much they thought the Gallery had paid for it. Knowing that it must have been a lot based on the way I asked the question, they came back with what was a lot for them – 1,000, 10,000, 100,000? No freakin’ way they paid over 100,000 for that! When I bent back down and stage whispered, “Nearly $2 million” there was this weird, loaded pause as the boys looked at each other, and then they burst out laughing, the sound echoing in the cavernous room like twin shotgun blasts, before falling on the floor in a fit of “adults are so stupid!” The guard, who surely had seen this kind of behaviour before – I refuse to believe the twins were the first, since I pretty much wanted to get down there and roll around myself – was not terrifically amused, so I hustled the guys on out of there, but they continued snickering throughout our gallery visit, and had a lot to tell their dad at the end of the day about how they were going to go up to their bedroom and dash off a couple of Voice of Fires for pizza money. Heh.

So these nails are a representation of that day – the Voice of Fire, standing tall in all its overpriced simplicity, surrounded by bare white walls and laughter.

A Rip in the Very Fabric of Time (31DC2015)

Time Rip Front

Right, so these nails might look a bit more Eye of Sauron than I had originally contemplated. This manicure, which I did at the behest – the BEHEST, I tell you! – of day 24’s theme of books in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge, is supposed to be the rainbow-hued rip in the fabric of time that a plane of passengers encounters in the 1990 Stephen King novella, The Langoliers. King employs a lot of his favourite linguistic tropes in describing the time rip (“It filled his mind, his nerves, his muscles, his very bones in a gigantic, coruscating fireflash” and “The place where life is freshly minted every second of every day; the cradle of creation and the wellspring of time”) but the bottom line is it’s gigantic, lined with flashing rainbows and if you fly through it, well…I won’t spoil this 25-year-old story for anyone, but it’s a Stephen King tale, so go in knowing that at least 60 percent of your favourite characters will die horribly. Happy reading!

Time Rip Side

Attack the Block (31DC2015)

Attack the Block Collage

NO ONE f**ks with The Block, ya hear? Oh my gosh, you guys, I loveity love love Attack the Block, a British creature feature released in 2011 to tons of critical acclaim and regrettably little fanfare. Starring a bunch of foul mouthed and nearly unintelligible kids you’ve never heard of (excepting John Boyega, who is probably best known these days as “the black Stormtrooper” from the new Star Wars films), Attack chronicles one chaotic night in one of London’s most impoverished and dangerous East End neighbourhoods and the mini gangbangers who rule its streets. Or ruled – the power structure that governs the cluster of low income towers known as The Block gets upended mightily one night when aliens descend and the boys go on the defensive.

Oh man, and the aliens themselves are SOOOOO well done. I respect the crap out of practical special effects in film, and but for a little CGI polish, the eyeless, loping, needle-toothed, alien-gorilla-wolf-motherf**kers are 100 percent dude-in-a-suit, and I freaking LOVE IT. So when day 23’s theme in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge called for nails inspired by a movie, I decided to get my own brand of practical effect on and honoured the B-L-O-C-K (*brruup brruup!*) with these nails that, like the movie monsters that inspired them, have actual blue, glow-in-the-dark teeth. I am so proud of this perfect little touch, I wanna tool up, grab my bangers and hit Ron’s weed room. 😉 Or perhaps I’ll settle for another viewing – it’s been a while. A small note for newbies, though: Turn on the subtitles. Unless you speak degenerate East End shithead, you’ll be lost.


Red Carpet Fashion (31DC2015)

Emmy Hand

Last Sunday’s Emmys brought all the usual fashion choices to the yard (and Gwenyth’s, like, “My cape’s better than yours.”) Mostly, I find that award show red carpets bring the beautifully predictable – the naked dress, the gossamer ballgown, the men’s-style pantsuit, the jewel-toned mermaid. I may have just described nearly all of the outfits that made their way down the Emmys red carpet last week – pretty, but also pretty boring.

There was one dress, though, by designer Naeem Khan and worn by Ellie Kemper (of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is so weird and irreverent and sweet and funny and why are you not watching it on Netflix right now?) that I just adored, and so I chose it as the inspiration for these nails that I did in service of day 25’s theme of fashion in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge. Ellie Kemper is just the cutest, pluckiest thing ever (I can’t help but think that in real life she and Kimmy are actually quite a lot alike) but she sells the hell out of this slinky, 1970s-style number – the tailoring is exquisite, and she carries what has to be a 30 pound dress with admirable ease (all those sequin chevrons = heavy.) You can see a photo of the dress (and Ellie Kemper!) here, once again courtesy of the fine ladies of Go Fug Yourself (who were likewise wowed – hard not to be; this dress is fabulous, and I think these nails are, too!)

Emmy Fingers Sun

Welcome to the Black Parade (31DC2015)

Black Parade Hand

Semi-embarrassing musical confession: About a decade ago, I was hopelessly in love with the ultra theatrical screamo band My Chemical Romance. I say semi-embarrassing because I was perhaps a tad too old to be rockin’ out among the teens who were their core audience, and also because no matter how much I loved their Queen-tinged brand of super dramatic, high concept rock (The Black Parade is an entire album about cancer, for pity’s sake), they were cheesy. Oh my gosh, so cheesy. Although that didn’t stop me from adoring them for at least a couple of years there, and their show I saw in support of The Black Parade ranks right up there as one of one my all-time great concert experiences. They were magnificent, and of that I really shouldn’t be too embarrassed.

Day 22’s theme in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge was inspired by a song, and I chose the Rose Bowl parade in hell that is The Black Parade, an ash-covered, dystopian nightmare about encroaching death. Cheery AND cheesy are My Chemical Romance – and I wouldn’t want them any other way.