A New Kind Of Gel Manicure

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Kelly McPherson

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Kelly McPherson

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Just when you thought nail art was dead, Madeline Poole and a bevy of other manicurists (including Miss Pop at Jeremy Scott, Juliana Kandelec at Delpozo, and the exaggeratedly wicked looks at The Blonds courtesy of Pattie Yankee) unleash a trove of looks to screenshot for reference during your next at-home manicure. But the editorial gang of nail artists aren't alone...lurking not-so-quietly on Instagram is another trove of nail art wonders—the people who would never put ���enough' and “inspiration' in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence. If you're looking for a good scroll, these are the people to add to your feed tonight.

As we've mentioned before, Insta Beauty-School artists (some amateur, self taught, or professional all the same) have the power to draw us in with hyperreal images of crazy-intricate beauty looks. Maybe more wearable than brightly hued ombré eye shadow, the alternative gel manicure is gaining traction with Kelly McPherson’s intricate, multi-dimensional, ultra-glossy nails. The LA-based manicurist and owner of Bakeneko Nails uses Bio Sculpture Gel in drips, swirls, and layers to create nail art that could be mistaken for hand-blown glass. This isn’t just nail art. It’s nail imagination.

Bio Sculpture is an actual gel, instead of a gel polish, that's breathable for the nail. “It's like painting with honey. It's very thick and levels out once it dries,” Kelly says. The gel formula 3-D water droplet designs she creates require her to spread the bristles of her nail brush, “and hope they don’t come back together quickly,” she says. She then drops the gel on the nail (an act not to far from throwing it on) and hope that it doesn't level off. For her paint-stroke nails, Kelly had custom, wooden-handled nail brushes made to execute the perfect blend and pattern of colors, without blending into the base and loosing the paint-brush effect. “You have to work fast,” she says about Bio Sculpture. “With nails, you kind of have to be a perfectionist,” Treating her nail studio with the precision and creative drive of a tattoo parlor, Kelly says all her designs are pre-planned and sketched out for the client before she starts. If she comes up with a color that Bio Sculpture doesn't make, she mixes others together or sometimes creates her own by adding cosmetic pigment to a base before topping it all off with the high-shine Bio Sculpture S-Gel. Part of starting Bakeneko was making sure she could offer cool, affordable nail art for all girls. Her prices are a flat-rate $50, which is less than some other places from which we haven't seen nearly as innovative designs.

Her catalog of nail art varies in textures and techniques. Right now, the manicurist says she's inspired by hologram paper, but tomorrow it can be leaves, or metal, or even plastic. “The crazier the better, or just anything different. I'm always happy to do designs I've already done, but I would love to do something different every time. I like the idea of taking something that’s not meant for nails and making it work,” she says.

She started Bakeneko in January 2014 for her friends and growing clientele aided by—what else—Instagram. Her last-ever nail appointment acted as a catalyst. “I had some bad experiences as a client going to some really popular salons in LA. They just treated us like cattle,” she said. “I was like, 'this is like my Christmas to myself once-a-month, and it doesn’t feel good.'' Her last manicurist was rushing to get through Kelly's nails because she was leaving for vacation and told Kelly she couldn't do what she asked for. “She said she didn’t have enough time, so I said, 'I'm going to do it myself from now on.'' She describes her nail studio to feel like having a friend over. “I cater music to who's here. My husband makes mixes, and we have tea and Japanese candy around,” Kelly says. “I think that can easily be lost, especially here in LA, because theres so many celebrities, and it's so easy to get caught up in that lifestyle,”

Each set of hands are different and the true joy, Kelly says, is trying to uncover an idea a client didn't even know existed in his/her mind. “It's kind of like when you're getting dressed. It's like 'What do you feel like, what color are you feeling—light or dark?' That will get them to open up a little to a point where I can see what they're thinking, and then I start,”

Photos courtesy of Kelly McPherson's Instagram.

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