Sarah Waite's 5 Nail Art Essentials

Nail artist Sarah Waite in her Arcadia home, accompanied by Chowder.EXPAND
Nail artist Sarah Waite in her Arcadia home, accompanied by Chowder.
Lauren Cusimano

Nail art may be today’s mosaic, and nail artists the new impressionists.

We may be a tad dramatic, but just take a look at nail artist Sarah Waite of Chalkboard Nails. Go there now; we’ll give you a minute. Impressive, we know.

Years ago, Waite was browsing the Internet at a completely unrelated job when she came across a DIY leopard-print nail tutorial on Hello Giggles. Waite went straight to Walgreens after work and grabbed a “crappy nail art pen and some joke polishes,” she says.

Waite remembers looking down and thinking, “I’m the greatest nail artist of all time,” but in hindsight, “mmm, not that hot.” Regardless, a talent had awoken. She started off with simple designs using nail art pens, re-creating other styles to get her footing. She was changing her nails almost every day, and started a Tumblr to keep track of her manicures. “I loved the way it made me feel; looking down and having a fresh set of nails that I was really proud of,” she says.

The Tumblr got so much attention she created a full-on domain at chalkboardnails.com. The website got into the meat of things, detailing some of her processes. “I started blogging at the end of 2011, and it just kept growing and growing,” she says, “I had to keep up with the blog; it was not keeping up with me.”

Since then, her work has been featured in Nailpro Magazine and Nail It! Magazine, and on the Oxygen channel’s Nail'd It! series, and NAILgasm: The Nail Art Documentary. Her hand was even on The Today Show.

In 2015, Waite was awarded a Beauty Changes Lives scholarship, attended the Academy of Nail Technology, got her license, and became a nail tech at The Spa at Camelback Village. She even had her own nail column back at HelloGiggles called Nails of the Day. Talk about full circle.

Of course, she wouldn’t be where she is today without her essentials: polish, brushes, a background in photography, promotion, and some entertainment.

Waite has four filing cabinets full of nail polish and nail art tools.EXPAND
Waite has four filing cabinets full of nail polish and nail art tools.
Lauren Cusimano

Nail Polish
We’ll get the obvious essential out of the way: nail polish. Waite has four filing cabinets full of the stuff. “I’ve worked with tons and tons of brands, I do have my favorites,” she says. Waite favors LVX Nail Polish, and Presto when we’re talking about gel polish.

Waite has collected an astonishing amount of polish and tools during her years as a nail artist.EXPAND
Waite has collected an astonishing amount of polish and tools during her years as a nail artist.
Lauren Cusimano

Tools
It starts with having the right instruments – or as Waite would put it, “super, super thin nail art brushes.”

She started off buying brushes that were cheaper but thicker, and discovered how cutting them down with cuticle nippers can produce the ultra-skinny lines needed for more complex designs.

Waite remembers looking at stunning examples of nail art and asking herself: Why can’t I do what they do? “Then as soon as I trimmed my brushes down, I was able to get these really thin lines,” she says, “so the tools are really important for the results that you get.”

Brush brand doesn’t necessarily matter, as she’s done some pretty elaborate stuff using “joke brushes off of eBay,” but if she had to choose, the Tati Artchocolat Brush Set can get the job done pretty well.

Waite using her Foldio2 lightbox for professional shots to post on ChalkboardNails.com.EXPAND
Waite using her Foldio2 lightbox for professional shots to post on ChalkboardNails.com.
Lauren Cusimano

Photography Experience
Waite also has a background in photography; she graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in it in 2010.

“I think that’s a big part of why I was able to find success in the beginning,” she says. “I did have my degree in photography, so all my photos displaying my nail art always looked really nice and well put together.”

Her primary image editing software is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – which is like Photoshop but “faster and easier,” meaning it streamlines her workflow.

Waite also uses a lightbox to create the professional look of the "after" photos on Chalkboard Nails. She had made her own out of cardboard and tissue paper, but recently upgraded to a LED-lit Foldio2 lightbox from Orangemonkie.

One of the most popular posts of Waite's found at ChalkboardNails.com.
One of the most popular posts of Waite's found at ChalkboardNails.com.
Courtesy of Chalkboard Nails

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An Accessible Portfolio
What we mean here is the Internet. To promote work artistic or otherwise, creative types usually need items like laptops and phones, a well-to-do website, and of course social-media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Waite’s site — with the tagline “The Only Time You’ll Enjoy Nails on a Chalkboard” – must have more than a thousand posts, but Waite long ago lost count. At this point, there’s no way to describe the array of impressive nail art featured there. You’ll just have to check it out yourself.

Waite says Instagram is like an ongoing working portfolio, where she can document finished sets from work and publish it to a platform versus creating an entire post for CBN.

Toy Story-inspired nail art, possibly with Toy Story on in the background.
Toy Story-inspired nail art, possibly with Toy Story on in the background.
Courtesy of Chalkboard Nails

A Little TV
“You name it, I’ve watched it,” Waite says.

Well, watch is a strong word. In the early days of changing her nails daily (now she does so once every week or two), Waite was sitting at a table in her living room for hours – designing, drying, photographing, and promoting. During this, some good TV was on in the background.

A flat screen is turned slightly toward Waite and her Bichon poodle mix, Chowder, running movies and programs like Survivor (she loves it though embarrassed to admit), original Netflix series, and most comedies, including her favorite, 30 Rock.

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