A Glittery, Cloudy Manicure, Because Shouldn't Clouds Rain Glitter?

Yes. Yes, they should.
Publish date:
February 10, 2016
manicures, nail art, glitter, techniques, illamasqua

I follow a lot of nail art blogs. Instagram is bursting with swatches and tutorials. There are bloggers and nail technicians with skills that are out of this world! The looks they create are perfect pieces of design, applied with seemingly flawless technique! Their nails are long and strong and their cuticles are never ragged!

After a while, the streams of perfect nails and perfect nail art can get a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I look at my own nubby little nails and despair.

And then I remember that it's just nail art, ya goof — no need to get crazy about it.

Even after six years of doing this as a hobby, I still can't paint in a straight line on my nails. I have never bothered to try stamping plates or newspaper nails or even made a manicure last more than three days. But I still love using my nails as little canvasses. I think every manicure I do says something about me and my style. I'm pausing to look at my manicure every now and again as I type this, and enjoying the sight of a job well done.

With that said, and please forgive me for shoe gazing, today I have a tutorial for another super-simple but effective technique for creating awesome nail art. This look is imperfect and abstract but it will be distracting you from typing and household chores for as long as you keep it on, I promise.

Here's what you're going to need:

  • A neutral, light-toned base colour of your choice. I used a peachy-pink called Monogamous by Illamasqua. White, grey, beige or even very pale blue would also work.
  • A selection of accent colours. I used three greys, a white, and I threw a fine silver glitter in there because glitter.
  • A cosmetic sponge. Wedges work really well, but I happened to have a flat, round sponge on hand.
  • A surface on which to mix your colours. I use tinfoil, but a spare bit of cardboard or plastic would do.
  • Cotton buds or a small paintbrush dipped in nail polish remover for cleanup. You’ll get messy with this one!
  • Top coat.

Step 1: Prep

Good prep equals a great manicure. File your nails and push back your cuticles. Clean your nails with nail varnish remover to remove dirt and oil. Paint your nails with a base coat if that's your jam.

Step 2: Base Colour

Apply your base colour. If you think you can get away with it, only do one coat. This will significantly cut the time it takes for your manicure to dry. Any patches or streaks are going to be masked by the sponged layers, so cut a corner for once and use the time you saved to something else. You're a busy woman!

Step 3: Sponging the First Layer

I wanted to create a sort of abstract cloudy sky, so I started with my lightest grey. Decant a small amount of polish onto your foil. Take your sponge and dab it in the polish. Continue to dab on your tin foil until the sponge is distributing only a small amount of colour.

Gently begin to dab the sponge on your nail. Go slowly, pinching or folding the sponge a little to improve your accuracy.

Here's the important bit: when the sponge starts to stick even a little, stop dabbing and dip it in the polish again. If you keep dabbing when the polish has started to dry up, you’ll find that the sponge will start leaving little bits of itself behind, which is super-annoying.

Step 4: Build Up Your Layers

Once you've created a rough shape you like with the lightest grey, go back with your darker shades and add some definition. No need to be too exact, but imagine you're painting a stormy sky on a canvas. Focus on the bottom edges of your cloud shapes and add depth there. Then again, if you just sponge willy-nilly, that will look great, too.

Step 5: Highlight

Grab your white and add a few highlights to your beautiful abstract creation. Then put some glitter on, too. Real clouds aren't glittery, but we all wish they were.

In the photos, I have done this in reverse or order. I put the glitter on first and then realised I needed white to lift everything. Full disclosure: it's okay to make it up as you go along with this technique. As long as your sponge doesn't dry out, you can dab as much as you want.

Step 6: Clean-Up and Top Coat

You can see from the pictures that the polish does get around your fingertips, but clean-up shouldn't be too difficult. Much like the dry-brushing technique I showed you, sponging only uses very thin layers of polish that should be easy enough to remove.

Allow a little drying time, and then apply your topcoat.

Step 7: Admire Your Hard Work

Go around to everyone you know and show off your creation.

  • Do you have a hobby that you secretly worry you're not very good at?
  • Do you plan your nail art or makeup looks carefully, or do you make it up as you go along?
  • Do you wish all clouds were glittery in real life?