I Got A Calgel Manicure And Adorable Nail Art From An Actual Painter

My friend Aya took a break from painting, drawing and sculpting to do my nails in a way I've never experienced before.
Publish date:
February 20, 2014

I don’t claim to be the most talented nail painter. My unsteady hands can manage a killer cat eye but not much else. My nails are almost always bare, and the adult part of me (it’s in there somewhere) attempts to keep them clean and well shaped.

More so than being in a couple, being friends with other couples definitely makes me feel like an adult. Last month, we went up to Harlem for a dinner party at the home of our artistic couple friends (subcategories are important), Aya and Ian. While there’s nothing adult couples like quite as much as dinner parties, the playful and slightly demented style of the artwork covering their walls made me feel comfortably childish.

It was at this couples dinner party that I noticed Aya’s not-so-adult but absolutely enviable manicure: lilac nails with strategically placed gold glitter.

A month later, at a decidedly un-adult pizza party in a Brooklyn bar, I noticed her sporting the exact same manicure. When questioned, she told me she hadn’t changed it.

Witchcraft, obviously.

She told me her secret was Calgel. Unlike hard nail gels, Calgel is easily applied to nails without shaving them down, resulting in less damage to the nails. Calgel can also be removed with normal nail polish remover.

Aya invited me back to her place so she could paint some Calgel all over my nails, and I couldn’t turn down the chance to have an actual artist create some real nail art for me. I promised her free wellness guidance and a supply of delicious juices in exchange.

Being an adult and all, I hastily tried to shape up my nails and make them as presentable as possible before arriving for a paint job. I was shocked when I arrived back at the scene of our dinner party to see an entire makeshift nail salon set out on the table complete with wacky Japanese nail art mags.

Aya wasn’t playing around. It turned out a few years of working the front desk of a nail salon and multiple family trips back and forth to Japan had left her with the most enviable at-home nail art kit above 14th Street.

Aya cleaned, shaped, and buffed my nails while I was introduced to the charms of Mob Wives. She applied a clear coat of Calgel to my nails and made me put them under a UV lamp for a minute to harden and dry them. Each layer dried incredibly fast, and there was no odd odor I usually associate with nail salons.

Aya assured me this wouldn’t tan my fingers, but it did lead to a riveting discussion about I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

She then applied two coats of a color we dubbed “Sparkly Grapefruit” because Calgel colors are unnamed. Never having had gels put on my nails, I instantly fell in love with the translucent quality of the color. This was definitely an upgrade from my self-prepared slap dash pastel manicures from back in my party days.

Using a medium-sized nail brush and clear Calgel, she applied loose gold glitter in lines on the tips of my nails, creating a gradient effect.

There were so many goodies and decals to choose from--miniature cupcakes, crowns, lips, rhinestones, counterfeit Chanel logos, rhinestones in the shape of counterfeit Chanel logos--how could a girl pick?

I decided to forgo 3D add-ons and instead get Aya to show off her artist skills with something hand-painted.

As soon as this most recent blizzard of doom is over, I’m planning on skipping town and heading to a warmer climate for some much needed chill time (more on that later). Knowing this, Aya used a pin-thin paintbrush and her steady hand to paint gouache into a nighttime cityscape on one finger and a sunset beach on another, leaving me with a little piece of home and vacation.

So maybe it’s a little childish for an adult like me to have pink nails with pictures painted on them. In my opinion, nail art must be executed really well for a non-child to pull off, which is why I found recruiting an artist was essential for this process.

Plenty of people offer their bodies as models to artists all the time, and who out there doesn’t know a young artist in need of a canvas to paint on? As long as they aren’t going to glue a mini Duchamp Fountain to your nails, you may end up getting a lot out of playing canvas for the day.