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How Do I Become a Nail Artist? Feat. Julie Kandalec

After a series of backend issues, I’m back in action with some great content for you. Let’s kick it off with a “How Do I.”

“How Do I?” Each month, I’ll share how tos with an expert’s help. Let’s learn about the journey to this dream job, and pro tips and tricks for perfecting the at-home manicure!

This month’s “How Do I” features celebrity manicurist and beauty traveler Julie Kandalec! You might know her as the founding Creative Director of Paintbox, Founder and CEO of Masterclass Nail Academy, and author of Nail Art Design Book. Julie is a powerhouse nail artist with over 25 years of experience, and I’m so excited to share her story. With that, I’ll let her take it away!

What do you love about being a nail artist?

I have always loved manicures and I’ve always loved to paint. Something about the texture and the way the colors swirled together always fascinated me. So combining the two things led me to nails! I also love how it makes my clients feel – you look at your hands dozens of times a day.

I love the way the hands are expressive and nails and nail art can be anything you want to tell a story about either on a private celebrity client or for a photo shoot – from a simple one-color mani to wild, 3D nails. And I love how it has allowed me to pair it with my other love – traveling the globe.

I’m able to learn from other cultures what their skills and nail trends are, and then parlaying it into teaching everything I know at salons, schools, hotels, and resorts around the world with Masterclass Nail Academy

I’m able to learn from other cultures what their skills and nail trends are, and then parlaying it into teaching everything I know at salons, schools, hotels, and resorts around the world with Masterclass Nail Academy

JULIE KANDALEC

What’s a common misconception about becoming a nail artist in editorial/fashion?

That you will make a lot of money right away. I’m sorry, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! You may get one ad job with a big day rate, but that’s it: a day rate. Most jobs are editorial ($100-200 max) and many have no rate at all. People think it’s all glitz and glam, and it can be fun – but there are more days that I sit on the dusty floor doing a pedicure in 10 minutes than I do creating nail art for celeb magazine covers. 

Do you need to purchase anything to become a nail artist? What are your go-to products?

Yes, and I can’t stress this enough – you MUST invest in the absolute best tools, polish and products. You can’t charge three figures for a house call and show up with your products in Ziploc bags. 

Cleanliness is absolutely crucial – never, ever re-use a nail file or buffer. Think of what products your clients would be impressed with seeing in your kit – the best hand cream (I love Chanel La Creme Main for hands and Essentiele by Adele for all over and massage). 

For implements, spending here is also crucial. Many companies manufacture using cheap labor and materials, which is not only bad for the workers, its harmful to the environment. My tools are from Germanikure

Also having a huge range of polish is crucial. As fun as bright colors and glitters are, they won’t get used as much as reds, pinks, nudes, plus black and white. Have a mix of luxury brands like Chanel and Dior, plus fan faves like Essie, and throw in a few indie brands like Floss Gloss and Lights Lacquer. I never carry less than 100 bottles with me at any time. 

If you also do enhancements (hard gel, gel polish, or acrylic), make sure that those products are clean, not glued shut or messy as they can get that way very easily. And of course, the basics like cotton, cuticle oil in a dropper (never a brush as it’s not sanitary), pedicure slippers, polish removers, gel polish remover, files, buffers, the list is endless!

nail artist, How Do I Become a Nail Artist? Feat. Julie Kandalec
Photo courtesy of Julie Kandalec

What would be your recommended steps for people who want to switch careers and become nail artists?

Passion speaks louder than anything. Practice is so important – and take photos of your work. You’ll never see how far you’ve come if you cannot see where you started. It’s expensive to switch careers, so cut back on as many expenses as you can to save for your new nail career.

Learn all you can, both online and in-person – learning in person is crucial as most creative people learn by doing. Shameless plug – I also offer private classes where we can laser focus on whatever your area of weakness is. 

nail artist, How Do I Become a Nail Artist? Feat. Julie Kandalec
Photo courtesy of Julie Kandalec

You’ll never see how far you’ve come if you cannot see where you started.

Julie Kandalec

What’s a tip to really nail (get it?) the at-home manicure during this time until people can return to their manicurist?

I love a good nail pun! The first thing is this: do NOT rip your nails off! Taking your nails off improperly will cause months of nail damage, and also cause your next gel or acrylic manicure hurt or lift prematurely. If you need help, I made a removal video here: Damage-Free At Home Dip and Acrylic Removal

Want more? Check out these resources!


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nail artist, How Do I Become a Nail Artist? Feat. Julie Kandalec



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Just a blogger exploring the world, tinkering with my camera's aperture and seeing through the lens a bit differently every time.