Remembering Tom Holcomb

Carla Tom HolcombI was sitting at my kitchen table writing a blog about models on Friday when I heard the news about Tom Holcomb, and all of a sudden that blog seemed completely irrelevant. You see, Tom wasn’t just a friend; he was a legend, an icon and a very important part of my nail career. He was the nail world’s Michael Jackson.
I first learned of the legendary Tom Holcomb while reading a magazine. He was in a Tammy Taylor ad with his two little girls, and I thought, “Wow! A guy that does nails!” (In the ’80s that was unheard of, at least in my small town.) I was so impressed with his work that I studied photos of his nails, taping them to my nail station so I could refer to them and try to copy his style. If I saw him doing a demo at a show, I would lurk around his table and soak in as much nail knowledge as I could.
I witnessed Tom’s tremendous competition work firsthand in Long Beach, California, years ago. It was my very first nail competition, and I wanted to compete against the best to see where I measured up… and I certainly found out, let me tell you! Yikes! It was so damn hard!
If you haven’t been involved in the competition world before, you might not know that a perfect pink-and-white sculptured competition-style nail is the most difficult thing to achieve for the nail artist. There is no way to hide flaws except for the use of oil and camouflage powder, which, in my personal opinion, have no place in a sculptured nail competition (but I am a Nazi when it comes to this). Creating the sculpture as thin as a business card, with moons, no air bubbles, sharp smile lines, complete structure from sidewall to sidewall and free edge to cuticle, while at the same time making sure the product covers all edges and is entirely flush is something very few nail artists can achieve. But Tom somehow made it look easy, and he took home BOTH the nail and hair competition trophies that year. He was the master; anyone that has witnessed him work will attest to that. Furthermore, I don’t know of anyone that has competed and won that wasn’t influenced by his work. I don’t believe we’ll ever see skill like his again.
Those of us who have been lucky enough to study alongside Tom will recognize him as the greatest talent we will ever know. We absorbed as much of Tom’s genius as we could and tried like crazy not to forget anything he taught us. A little over a year ago Tom, his best friend/assistant Christina and I held his last class in Los Angeles. I think all of us will hang on to every last detail of that day forever.
Tom was incredibly humble; he knew he was good—great, even—but he had no idea how much he was loved. And his sense of humor was one of his best qualities. Sometimes shocking (OK, let’s be honest, most of the time shocking), he could make me laugh every time I spoke to him, even when he was down or not feeling good. His take on people and life kept me in stitches. Tom had this way of making strangers feel as though they were the most important people in the world and he encouraged you to soar. He was a very special person; we are all so sad that we’ve lost him.
My last conversation with Tom was one week ago today. He told me how ready he was to get back out there and teach the world again; that he wanted to train and help every nail tech that never had a chance. I can’t help but keep thinking, I’ll never see his name pop up on my cell phone again or get to watch him work. But while we have lost an amazing talent, the angels in heaven will now have beautiful nails. They are so lucky.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” –Dr. Suess

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