Nail Art
Techniques, Materials, Methods of Decorating Nails.

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Nail Art


Introduction: A Type of Body Art
What's Involved? Materials and Methods
Origins and History
Other Types of Art


Introduction: A Type of Body Art

Call it body painting or simply another branch of cosmetics, nail art is the latest example of personal body art to hit the beauty salons and catwalks. Like face painting, it's another instance of how a woman gets to enjoy art in her everyday life. Poor men, no wonder they drink beer and start wars - they need to get in touch with their artistic side. I mean, if Hitler had painted his nails, would the Second World War have started? I doubt it. Nail art is yet another of those types of art that sound modern but actually dates back to the ancient art of early civilizations (c.3000 BCE). Today, due to the range of commercial nail varnishes, gels, nail-extensions, nail dotters and strippers, and French manicure treatments, nail art is big business. And since nails grow at an average rate of 3mm (0.12 inches) a month (faster in hot weather), they need regular treatment. Nail art is also very personal, unlike most other new forms of postmodernist art which are aimed at the public. Whatever its niche, it's becoming hugely popular: there is even a Museum of Nail Art, called Nailpolis, to encourage nail artists and designers to share their designs.

What's Involved? Materials and Methods

Nail art embraces any technique of decorative art applied to fingernails and/or toenails: including various overlays of nail polish or UV gel, or hybrid coatings like Shellac. It can also involve artificial nails or extensions. Other decorative techniques include water marbling and stencilling.

NOTE: (A) Nail polish typically consists of an organic polymer [nitrocellulose] with numerous additives to enhance lustre and suppress flaking and cracking. Such additives include plasticizers, like dibutylphthalate and camphor; dyes and colour pigments, like chromium oxide greens, carmine, ultramarine, and manganese violet; glittery opalescent pigments, like mica, bismuth and aluminum powder; ultraviolet stabilizers, like benzophenone-1; and many others. There are 9 main nail polish finishes: Creme, Duo-chrome, Frost, Glitter, Iridescent, Lustre, Matte, Opalescent, and Shimmer. (B) Nail gels are longer-lasting types of lacquer. A gel is painted onto the nail like a regular polish, but does not set dry until placed under an ultraviolet or LED lamp. (C) French manicures are decorative treatments which are designed to resemble natural nails. Allegedly originating in 18th century Paris, in a French manicure the tips of the nails are painted white while the rest is polished in a pink or an appropriate nude shade of lacquer.

Nail surfaces can be decorated with a wide variety of colours, glitters, patterns and textures. Unusual "effects" include: the "caviar effect", marked by tiny microbeads; and the "Thermo chromic effect", in which the colour hanges according to the temperature. In addition, there are hundreds of different adhesive stickers, while other items like fake rhinestones can also be applied in order to customize nails. All these decorative effects can be applied as part of a manicure or pedicure, or simply as embellishment. Alternatively, thanks to nail art pens, you can create your own lunula and nail designs in the comfort of your home.

Origins and History

To begin with, painted nails were exclusively an expression of social status. Then, from about the mid-19th century - coincidentally, the beginning of modern art - it became more of a personal fashion item.

In the history of art, the earliest known instance of nail decoration was in ancient Babylonia around 3200 BCE, when men coloured their nails with kohl (an ancient cosmetic obtained by grinding galena [lead sulfide] and other materials), in order to indicate their social standing: upper class males wore black nail polish, middle class males wore green. (Note: Babylonian men also curled and lacquered their hair and tinted their lips.) This is according to discoveries made in a royal tomb in the city of Ur, in Southern Babylonia, where archeologists discovered a solid gold manicure set. The Ancient Egyptians were also avid users of nail polish. Queen Nefertiti (1370-1330 BCE) wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten painted her fingernails and toenails a rusty red, using the juice of the henna plant. As in all types of Egyptian art, strict rules applied. Thus Egyptian women of lowly rank were permitted pastel colours only.

Nail art also started in East Asia at about the same time: first in India, where they also used henna, then in China. During the era of Zhou Dynasty Art (1050-221 BCE), the development of nail polish coincided with the golden age of Chinese lacquerware. Nobles used gold and silver nail polish. By the era of Ming Dynasty Art (1368-1644) nail lacquers and varnishes were made from a mixture of beeswax, egg whites, vegetable dyes, gelatin and gum arabic. Black and red were the aristocratic colours.

In Europe, nail decoration continued through Antiquity until the Dark Ages (c.400-800), after which it resumed largely among the nobility and at the royal courts. However, it wasn't until the age of Absolutism (c.1600-1815), notably in Paris and at the Palace of Versailles, that the use of nail varnish became more widespread, along with other cosmetics, whigs and fine clothes, and it wasn't until 1916, when Cutex produced its first colourless nail polish - its first coloured polish (rose-tinted) appeared in 1917 - that the average woman began to colour her nails. By 1939, an estimated 86 percent of all women in America were using nail cosmetics. Today's big brands include Revlon, Chanel, Lancome and Mac. The late 20th-century has seen a number of new inventions in the field of nail art, starting with Fred Slack's invention of the first artificial nail in the mid-50s. Now known as nail enhancements or extensions, these false nails involve acrylic or gel preparations, or fiberglass or silk wraps. Other recent developments include decorative techniques like water marbling and hybrid products like shellac. Lastly, by allowing users to share pictures of their nail art, social media companies like Facebook have given a massive boost to the art of decorating nails, and may well trigger the same sort of competitive response that we see today in body painting and tattoo art.



Other Types of Art

Here are a few of the slightly more offbeat types of art

Jewellery Art (3000 BCE - 1900) (See also: Faberge Eggs)
History & Techniques of Goldsmithery

Kinetic Art (1920s onwards)
Works involving movement and self-destructing installations!

Performance Art (See also Happenings)
A postmodernist discipline involving a live performance by the artist before an audience

Computer Art
Also known as Digital, Cybernetic or Internet art

Sand Art
Meaning, Types, Characteristics, Competitions

Ice Sculpture
The ultimate "process art"

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