100 Creatives

Scottsdale Nail Artist Sarah Waite on Why She Paints on Tiny Canvases

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 92. Sarah Waite.

Sarah Waite's one of the Valley's most popular painters. But her canvas is a little unconventional.

The 27-year-old Scottsdale resident is the mastermind behind the blog Chalkboard Nails, where she posts her jaw-dropping artwork that just so happens to appear on fingernails. Her website has found the national spotlight in Redbook and NAILgasm: The Nail Art Documentary and on The Today Show. And as anyone who's perused the site can attest, Waite's work (ranging from glittering galaxies and midcentury patterns to swirling tie-dye) is worthy of all the attention.

"Nail art is both completely open and restricted at the same time," Waite says of her work. "That is to say, you can paint anything — however you want, the only limit being your imagination — but it also has to fit within the canvas of the nail."

Which, naturally, makes for quite the challenge. "The nail artist’s biggest job is to figure out how to translate these ideas into a tiny, yet legible design," she says.

And that's what she does each day working as a nail technician at The Spa at Camelback Village with clients, who often arrive with big ideas that Waite makes, well, small. "When they want to do nail art," she explains, "we put our heads together to hammer out the details of their vision, and then I try to transform it into something even greater than they could have imagined."

While she continues pushing the bounds of cuticles, Waite's creativity goes beyond that. She has a degree in fine-art photography and says she's driven by a perpetual need to create. "I am constantly trying new things: a recipe for sourdough bread from scratch, making custom jewelry for birthday gifts, designing a new graphic for my website, sculpting miniature charms from polymer clay," she says. "The accomplishment I feel when looking back at something that I’ve just created from nothing is indescribable."

I came to Phoenix in 1988, when I was born.

I make art because nail art is a simple way to bring joy into people’s lives. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, when you’re wearing nail art you can always look down and see something beautiful — that was made just for you.

I'm most productive when I have a clean house. I think that people often have this image of artists working out of a studio, with their stuff strewn about, but I work best when I’m in a tidy space.

My inspiration wall is full of illustrated patterns. Nail art is all about the interplay of shapes and colors, and I am always curious to see the way other people arrange these decorative elements.

I've learned the most from making mistakes. I’m motivated by the desire to avoid failure.

Good work should always challenge your expectations.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more creatives that want to stay here! People are quick to jump to spots like LA or NYC because they have such a great, established artist culture. But I think we can, and should, nurture our own creative haven.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski