Pointilist Nails

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

For most of this summer, I’ve sported the “barely there” manicure—i.e., Essie’s slightly pink-tinted Grow Stronger Base Coat on top of buffed, filed, and clean nails—but earlier this month, I found some nailspiration in an unexpected place: The Art Institute of Chicago. Some of you might remember I'm not usually on the hunt for nail art references, but sometimes you just can’t help it when the light bulb goes off, right? Anywho, while in Chicago for Lollapalooza, I indulged my nerdy art-historian alter ego with a quick jaunt through the museum, searching for one of the finest works of the Post-Impressionist era: Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884). It's incredible. (A note about the French painter: Seurat’s claim to fame was a technique known as pointillism, wherein he would apply tiny dots in varying colors to small areas of the canvas; the clustered dots, when viewed from a distance, formed a single hue and further away, entire shapes.)

Apparently, it only—ha! Only!—took Seraut two years to create this large-scale pointillist masterpiece, so I was pretty sure it would be a cinch to apply the technique to ten much smaller canvases. Minor disclaimer: I wasn't aiming for an exact replica of Sunday Afternoon, but rather a stylistic inspiration.  On to the paint!

1. As always, prep and prime your nails. This means it’s time to take out the nail filebuffer, and moisturizer.

2. Base coat! I’ve been hooked on Essie’s Grow Stronger; my weak nails need all the help they can get.

3. Choose your colors. While Seurat tended to use complementary and/or opposite colors to enhance the depth of the chosen hues, I’ve gone a little off-book and decided to play with an array of pinks, reds, and oranges (but any color family will do—even a grey-scale pointillist manicure could work).

4. Dot dot dot… Here, things can get a bit messy. Use a paper plate, paper towel, or yesterday’s newspaper as a safety spill zone. Grab some bobby pins, a pen/pencil you don’t mind throwing out, or toothpicks to function as your “brushes.” Dip your chosen instrument’s tip into the polish and begin dotting away.

5. Dot some more… I stuck to one color at a time, applying the shade to each of my nails before moving on to the next one. The diversity of color is up to you: if you’re feeling ten shades for ten fingers, or an easier three shades to complete the look—or maybe five on some fingers, two on others, fifteen on one—get wild. Who's gonna stop you?

6. Clean up. This is an unconventional manicure, so touch-ups après vernis will likely be in order. Grab your nail polish remover and pour a bit into the cap. Dip a pointed Q-Tip into the solution and erase any imperfections.

7.  Top coat! The always-important final step to any great manicure is a shine-bright-like-a-diamond topcoat. I stick to my trusty high-gloss version from Jin Soon to keep me chip-free for days to come.

8. Look cooler than everyone else. Don’t sweat it, you’ve already completed the necessary steps to achieving this goal. Congratulations!

—Elizabeth Brockway

Elizabeth is wearing Essie's Hip-Anema, Tom Ford's Fever Pink, OPI’s Suzi’s Hungary Again!, Deborah Lippmann’s Groove is in the Heart, RGB’s Pansy, Dior’s Délice, Sally Hansen’s Firey Island, MAC’s Riot Gear, and Clinique’s 70°and Sunny.

Photos by Zoe Ruffner.

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  • http://enzaessentials.wordpress.com/ Kristina

    Cool! What an awesome idea. Must try.
    xx http://enzaessentials.wordpress.com

  • Smitty

    those rings, though. spill it! all of them.

  • Chantel

    Nice nails, thanks for sharing!

  • Kleidermaedchen

    Great nail art idea! I love dotted nails and yours are gorgeous. Must try.

    Kleidermädchen Beautyblog

  • thejulia

    The nails are pretty cool but the rings are to die for.

  • http://www.beautibop.com/ Rebecca

    Have you tried the Ciate nail caviars? They give a similar effect, but I think your version will have much better lasting power! Nice :)


  • sashi

    Elizabeth, we should have met up! I live in Chicago and since seeing this painting on a grade school field trip, I always have to stop by it when at the AI. It was moved from its' usual gallery but that fashion exhibit was worth it. Did you see the "undressed" exhibit also? It featured women in various scenes of preparing to go out or their beauty rituals. So, basically, vintage TopShelf pictures!

  • Ava Azlin D’ Rossi

    skip the moisturizer on the nail itself. use a nail polish remover to remove ALL excess oil on the nail, this is to prevent the polish from peeling prematurely.. and ultimately makes your manicure last longer ;)


Ultra Violet Nail File
Tweezerman Nail Buffer
Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream
Essie Grow Stronger Base Coat
Jin Soon
Jin Soon Top Coat
Sally Hansen
Sally Hansen in Firey Island
MAC Nail Lacquer in Riot Gear