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Interviewing: The Illustrated Nail

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When it comes to a creative manicure, illustrator and nail artist Sophie Harris-Greenslade has a steady hand and an eye for details. With a Diamond Jubilee pop-up nail salon, multiple editorials under her belt (her work has graced Elle, InStyle, and i-D) and a rising celebrity following (including M.I.A.!), Sophie’s at the forefront of London’s bespoke nail scene. Her complex, multi-layered designs earned her a spot in Nail Philia, the world’s first nail art exhibition, along with other manicure megastars Sophy Robson and Marian Newman. Sharing her incredible talent daily on her blog, The Ilustrated Nail, we were immediately fascinated by the illustrator turned nail artist at first click. Here, Sophie talks technique, the state of the nail scene abroad, and the hardest part about learning to paint with lacquer.

B: So...you're not a nail artist by trade?

I graduated in illustration and animation from Kingston University in 2009, and in the summer my mum encouraged me to attend classes in manicure and pedicure—mainly because I had struggled finding work. My mum has been in the beauty industry for over 15 years and has always been fascinated with nail art. Growing up, she would always paint my nails different patterns. I had Union Jacks when I went to see the Spice Girls in concert back in '96, and even little Powerpuff Girls! I loved doing it, but I never thought I was going to be a nail artist when I grew up.

B: What did you want to be?

To be honest, I had my heart set on becoming an illustrator. Although I had always loved nail art, I didn't believe that I could actually earn a living from it. But I really enjoyed my classes, and continued on to the nail technology course. I found a job in a London salon which did nail art—I worked there for about a year. Around that time, nail art became increasingly popular. I was bored of doing the same old designs in the salon, and decided to create a blog of my own designs. I wanted to be more creative. I went freelance in May 2011 after my blog gained popularity, and have been working as The Illustrated Nail ever since. Now I couldn't see myself doing anything else, I love it!

B: Describe your style.

Illustrative and intricate. I like really elaborate patterns and prints.

B: And your preferred medium?

I use nail polish for all my designs. I mainly use nail art pens, my favourite are Nails Supreme pens but I also use nail art striping brushes dipped in nail varnish.

B: Your art is a little bit unreal—tell us about the design process.

Using polish, you have to break the image down into layers—almost like you would when you screen print. So lighter colours go down first, then darker colours, and black outline last. I guess that's the way I work with all my nail art.

B: How on earth did you get so good?

It just came with practice. I like drawing intricate repetitive patterns, and I'm used to working on a very small scale. I guess my illustration work just transferred really well into nail art.

B: Any difficulties when you first started?

Getting used to squeezing the polish out of the pens—it's not like drawing with a normal pen. My hand cramped a lot in the beginning because I wasn't used to the constant squeezing action. Polish is also really thick, so it took me a bit of time to get used to that texture. It's kind of like icing a cake—you have to squeeze the pen and lay the polish down on the surface slowly. You have to be quite patient, and the pens can be quite unpredictable sometimes as they spit. But practice makes perfect, and you just get to know your material and tools really well so you can control them much better.

B: How long does it take to complete a full set?

It depends on the intricacy of the design. Simple designs can take half an hour, but something super complicated can take over two hours.

B: Your video collab with Saty + Pratha, "Discerning Taste", is really cool—how did that come about?

They contacted me through my blog! I love working with Saty + Pratha, they are amazing and always have the best ideas. I get to be really creative and make some really cool nail sets when I work with them. I've actually been working with them again...

B: London and NYC—do you notice a difference between the two nail scenes?

Yes, definitely. When I went [to NYC] last year I found nail art just wasn't as popular as it had been in London, and there were only a few girls doing illustrative nail art. Fleury Rose and Naomi Yasuda were the best nail artists out there. We all seem to have different styles though. The majority of nail salons in NYC were offering quite standard nail art like glitter fades and half moons. I think it's blowing up more over there now.

B: Nails are the darling of digital right now—what's your take on the pop culture phenomenon online?

Online media has played a big part in keeping people interested and aware of the nail industry. Nail blogs and online tutorials are big business, and the internet has made everything so accessible. Who would want to go back to plain nails when there are so many other possibilities. Not everyone can afford the new Louis Vuitton or Prada collection, but most people can have the print of the season painted on their nails. Celebrity collaborations and endorsements with nail companies have also helped encourage public interest in the nail industry.

B: But in the end, it's all just fun.

It gets people talking, and it’s something people can enjoy doing with friends—going to a salon or DIYing at home. It’s also a very therapeutic thing to do and have done. It’s relaxing, it’s ‘me’ time, and that’s what people need in their busy hectic lives. It’s a little bit of an escape.

B: Cliche, but we must ask: With a fine art background, do you think nail art is true art?

It shouldn't be overlooked. Nail art hasn't always been taken seriously, and I think that's such a shame. My mum—who has been in the industry for over 20 years—has always loved nail art, and I have watched its progression from when she first started to what it has become now. I am first and foremost, an artist. Being able to apply that skill to my nail passion is great, but to be taken seriously about it is even more fulfilling.

B: Any advice to our community of talented nail artists?

Work hard, practice lots, and make a blog. Remember to take pictures of everything you do! Expect to work for free for a long time and build up your portfolio.