Digital Art is Now at Hand
By: Georgina Gustin
Photo below: Nail Art
Photos by Alan Young
NEW YORK, Aug 17, 1999/ CNS / -- Some people would call them the 10 greatest masterpieces in
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Just two and a half inches long, they don't hang on the wall
or stand on pedestals, and are not rendered in marble or painted on canvas. Their asking price is a
modest $18 to $25.
These works of art are on the tips of 20-year-old Desiree
Henry is a salesperson in the museum's gift shop and every
two weeks she goes to a salon in her native Brooklyn where she spends up to two hours as a
technician files, molds, paints and stencils elaborate designs on her acrylic-reinforced
nails. This week, her nails are white with pinkish highlights, a stenciled purple geometric design
and stripes of silver glitter, but after Henry's next visit to the salon, her constantly shifting
digital exhibit will change once again.
"I can't compare my nails with the art in the museum,"
Henry said, modestly. "But some people say they should be on display."
Like thousands of women across the country, Henry puts a
great deal of time, effort and money into her nails. According to a study done by Torrance,
California-based Nails Magazine, the nail industry's largest trade publication, almost
$6.3 billion was spent on services in nail salons last year. And of the estimated 250,000 salons in
the country, 85 percent create what is known in the industry as "nail art" for their clients.
"Technicians have been doing nail art for the last 20 to 25
years," said Cyndy Drummey, publisher of Nails. "But in the last five or six years,
we've really seen a boom." Drummey believes this boom is the result of advances in nail art
technology. "Once the nails got longer with acrylics in the last 20 years, and the colors got wilder,
it gave rise to all the possibilities with nail art."
Nail art, painstakingly rendered on the tiniest of canvasses,
can range from the relatively sedate to the stunningly bold. Drummey has witnessed the often
spectacular results at hundreds of nail competitions held throughout the country where nail
technicians, most of them self-taught, have taken the developments in the industry to new heights.
"You name it," said Drummey. "I've seen entire jungle scenes
with animals and smoke, and a carousel with moving parts. You have to see it to believe it."
Drummey explained the categories in which nail art competitors
are judged. "At these competitions there is nail art and fantasy nail art," she said. "Nail art is
done on the surface of the nail," while fantasy nail art "is literally building off that platform."
Fantasy nail art, in which technicians use acrylic and
fiberglass to sculpt figures and shapes, yields some impressive, even architectural results, but is
not a practical adornment. People whose nails receive fantasy treatment -- models on the competitive
circuit -- need help with everyday tasks like going to the ladies room.
Chesley Phillips, president of Nails of America, an
1,800-member group which works to establish standards for the industry, attends 30 nail competitions
a year. Phillips says some industry professionals go from competition to competition trying to rack
up points for Nails magazine's "Top 25" list of prominent nail technicians. "They
travel around the country campaigning," she said.
Nanda Khin, a 33-year-old salon owner from Windsor, Ontario,
Canada, has been one of the most consistent competitors on the nail art circuit and often ends up on
the coveted Top 25 list. Windsor is a town of 200,000 people about half an hour's drive from Detroit,
the city that Cyndy Drummey calls the nail art capitol of the world. (Khin insists that
Windsor is in fact the true nail art capitol. "People know if you're from Windsor," she said. "They
can tell by your nails.")
But while Windsor may well be a paradise of nail art, there
are others. (The borough of Brooklyn is home to hundreds of nail art salons including Hope Nails,
Happy Nails and Love Nail, as well as the more ominously named Nail Attitude and Nail Trap.) And Khin
is easily lured across the border to nail competitions in the U.S., some of which are held thousands
of miles away from her home.
The designs in Khin's nail art oeuvre range from tropical
landscapes to safari-inspired wildlife, but Khin attributes her success on the nail art circuit to
her meticulous technique. "I like to be really, really neat," she said of her work. "I look at the
nails I've done, and I know they're mine."
Nail art is also a point of personal pride for Henry, the
saleswoman at the Met, who makes certain sacrifices not only to have her nails artfully painted, but
to live with such long nails. "They sometimes get caught in the register," she said. "And sometimes I
can't pick up coins off the counter or the floor." And once, said Henry, she slammed her front door
on one of her nails and broke it.
"If you like them long, you adjust your lifestyle," said
Drummey, the publisher at Nails. "There are creative ways to avoid breaking them." Some methods
include dialing the phone with the end of a pencil or using devices specially designed to open cans
or fasten buttons.
And, said Drummey, "You learn to do things with your