3 Nail Artists on How Intricate Work Has Made Them More Mindful

It is an empowering part of the job.

nail art

@glosshouse

In conversations around mental health, "mindfulness" seems to come up again and again. Why? Mindfulness is a scientifically validated practice that maximizes emotional wellness. Research has shown that the elements of mindfulness, particularly awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of one's moment-to-moment experience, are regarded as potentially effective antidotes against common stressors like anxiety, worry, and fear.

Part of the reason there are campaigns and discourse around the concept, though, is because we live in a very-not-mindful culture. Social media can sometimes feel like mania, and many of us have a hard time keeping up. If you struggle to be mindful, you're not alone, and there's nothing wrong with you. 

I like to remind my counseling clients that mindfulness doesn't always mean yoga, moments of silence, or meditation (though those are awesome options). Finding hobbies—or even career paths—that facilitate mindfulness can be a wonderful entry point. As someone who loves to sport fun nails, I've always wondered if nail artists experience mindfulness when they are engaged in the particularly detail-oriented demands of the craft. I asked three artists, all of whom could confirm: mindful practice is an empowering part of the job, and it's helped their mental health. Read everything they had to say on nail artistry and mindfulness ahead.

Christine Doan


Tell me about your journey to becoming a nail artist.

I grew up with my parents owning many nail salons. It was also the first job every family member held after immigrating to the U.S. As an immigrant, I always wanted to break the mold and stray from the "family business." I joined the U.S. Navy at 17, right out of high school, and became qualified to operate Naval Nuclear systems as an electrical reactor operator. After a few years of strict guidelines and a crazy work life, I left.

 I was working in retail to form normal social relationships while attending outpatient therapy (I was diagnosed bipolar type 2). My boyfriend noticed I would paint my nails every few days because I often got bored of the colors; he suggested that I try nail art since my other hobbies were detail-oriented. My coworkers soon took notice—as well as the paying customers at Madewell (where I was working) and would ask me to do theirs on my off time. 

Eventually, I had to enroll in cosmetology school to get my license since I spent more time working on nails than working at my retail job. I was licensed and working in the industry, teaching and taking clients before Covid-19 hit. Because the industry came to a complete halt so suddenly, it allowed me the time and space to be creative again, and I began to grow my content creation goals and continue to self-educate.

 Have you experienced any mental health benefits due to your craft? 

When I first started on my journey, painting my nails was my daily ritual. I had just been diagnosed with Bipolar type 2.  During my 8-month outpatient treatment plan, I told my psychiatrist that I wouldn't be ready for medication until I was able to form better thoughts and opinions on my own because I usually have racing thoughts. Practicing daily self-care by painting my nails allowed my thoughts to slow down immensely; I found myself reflecting on my day and thinking about my actions and interactions twice over. Working with clients allowed me to practice self-awareness. I was the one asking reflective questions and allowing for an open-ended conversation.  I think that it not only helped my clients to let their emotions out, but it also taught me empathy and kindness, something that I often lacked growing up in an immigrant household where mental health awareness was a faux pas.

Kara Krevier


Have you experienced any mental health benefits due to your craft? 

Doing nails is a soothing and relaxing process for me. I  love starting with a blank canvas and using my creativity and detailed skills to create something beautiful. I also find that it's a fun hobby to have where you can start and complete it within a short amount of time—it's satisfying in that way! 

 What part of your craft most often generates that special experience of "mindfulness" or "flow?"

Painting is where I experience "flow" the most because it's the same process time after time, and it's so satisfying. I think it's relaxing to go through the repetitive motions and come out with a beautiful result each time.

What does "mindfulness" or "flow" mean to you? 

Mindfulness and flow occur when I'm in my zone and not feeling stressed or distracted by anything else. Whenever I'm painting my nails or doing nail art, I feel so content and energized by the motions and the outcome, and it's really unlike any other hobby or work that I do. I leave this state feeling relaxed, content, and energized.

Nina Park

Have you experienced any mental health benefits due to your craft? 

One major mental health benefit I've experienced from nail art is the relationships I've developed. Nail art has allowed me to connect with people all over the country and the world—something I never expected. When I first started painting my nails, I reached out to and booked appointments with nail artists I admired. It was such an incredible experience to pick their brains and understand the craft and business on a deeper level. It was refreshing to meet people who were so open about their passion for nail art and experiences in the industry. You'd think that people would be more guarded, but I've only ever experienced openness and candor. It's been so incredible and humbling to learn from such incredibly talented people.

What does "mindfulness" or "flow" mean for you? 

"Flow" and "mindfulness" are states of being for me. I often find that I get my "flow" when I am sculpting and shaping my nails. This is when my muscles work from memory, on autopilot, going through the motions I have gone through so many times before. I liken this experience to the moment in a long run where you don't even realize you're running anymore—the thoughts of your lungs burning and the feeling of the gravel crunching below your feet just disappear. My muscle memory takes over, and I just go. It's an awesome feeling. 

 "Mindfulness" comes when I'm able to visualize what my plan is before it's complete, understanding the concept before it has manifested itself. I'm always working on being present in the moment, but I've found that I'm best able to experience mindfulness when I'm painting my nails. That's when I can see the nail art I'm working on in its final form before it's finished. I generally find experience peak mindfulness when I'm about midway through a design and I can see all the pieces clicking—the colors work, the proportions are perfect, and the linework is spotless. I can move through the nail art knowing everything is aligned.

Article Sources
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  1. Keng S-L, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(6):1041-1056.

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