Taking top honors in a nail competition is no small feat. After all, there are a lot of rules that pros must heed, and even the slightest mistake can mean leaving the event empty-handed. But with so many skilled participants vying for the prize, certain details set a true champion apart from all the rest—and, on the flipside, some mistakes can immediately knock an otherwise talented tech out of the running. Here, we talk to the judges about the “wow” versus the “woe” factor in those make-or-break moments.
“The first set of nails that stopped me in my tracks was back in the early ’90s. They were the most amazing nails I had ever seen: a set of pink-and-whites done by the one and only Tom Holcomb. The ratio was exact; they were slightly longer than usual and they were so thin you could practically cut your finger if you touched it the right way. For many years, Tom created what we still to this day refer to as “the perfect set” of sculptured nails. It was an honor to judge them. I didn’t want to stop looking at them; they were a work of art! I have seen great work since, but I still live to see that type of perfection in a sculptured nail. Sadly enough, we see lots of work that could be better. Often, the nails that don’t make the cut aren’t finished or they’re not filed well. It’s maddening for judges to see nails unfinished; one of the first things you should work on is your timeline!”
—NAILPRO Competitions global director Jewell Cunningham
“I love the entries with lots of astonishing detail—those hand-painted designs that you can look at and see something new every time. They tend to have a realistic feel, which is the style I love. The thing that devastates me with a set of nails is the lack of care and attention to detail. Also, I get frustrated when nail techs don’t edit, but instead keep adding so many design elements onto the nail that there is not enough time to refine it. When a competitor combines colors and elements randomly, and doesn’t think about balance and the aesthetics of the nail, you can tell they have just emptied their brain of ideas rather than pulling them together into a story. Even if the skill is there and the design is tidy, they fall short because it’s just a bunch of things on a nail and not a theme that sings.”
—NAILPRO international judge Sam Biddle
“I’ve seen so many competition nails that have taken my breath away! Some that stand out include a set of pink-and-white sculptured nails by Azumi Kanene. Those gave me chills because I felt like I was judging Tom Holcomb’s work! Also, a set of Salon Success nails that Amy Becker created using gel was so good, you couldn’t tell whether they were gel or acrylic. I have never seen someone create C-curves like that with gel! Then, there were the nails Marina LoPresto created for It’s All About the Bling. The quality of the stones and the sleek placement of her design made it look like something you would buy at a luxury jewelry store for millions of dollars! The things that will take a novice out of the running include not following the rules, such as leaving jewelry on the model or using too many enhancements (more than 25 percent) on the hand-in nail art. Choosing the right model can also make or break you. One of the biggest things, though, is not finishing your work. Time management and practicing how long each step takes is so important!”
—NAILPRO Competitions judge AnnaMaria Paty
“I had only been judging for a few years when Tom Holcomb competed. His pink-and-white sculptured nails were magnificent, and they are so difficult to do! I’ve rarely seen any like Tom’s since—only at a competition in Japan, where the finalists were all given a 10; the nails were all so thin and the moons, which had to be sculpted, were flawless. For hand-painted nail art, the first time I saw a set by Pisut Masanong from Thailand, I was blown away. Everything he paints looks as if it’s been photographed because it’s so detailed and perfect. On the flip side, when competitors don’t finish, that immediately takes them out of the running. If you make a mistake on a nail, you have to let it go and get to the next. If you don’t finish, you will not make it into the top 10. Also, when picking our top 10, sharp smile lines will grab our eye every time. If they’re off or they’re not popping, that can definitely be a deal-breaker.
—NAILPRO Competitions head judge Carla Collier
“I have seen many wonderful sets of competition nails in my 12 years as a judge, but especially in the NAILPRO competitions. Carolina Wolak-Tworzidlo has already been named Grand Champion of NAILPRO Eastern Europe in 2016 and 2017. For me, her most impressive work was in the French Twist category at the NAILPRO Lithuania competition. Her work was accurate, clear, beautiful and elegant. In the Salon Success category, Nadiia Uzun’s nails at the NAILPRO Ukraine 2017 competition demonstrated very clean work as well. I was so impressed with the clarity and uniformity of the smile line, material control, shape accuracy and surface structure. There are many factors that can take competitors out of the running, but one of the main ones is not paying attention to the rules. Sometimes, participants might perform truly excellent work from a technical standpoint, but because they used a color that wasn’t permitted or did not stick to the theme, they don’t place. It can be so disappointing to see that!
—NAILPRO Eastern Europe partner & competition director Viktoriia Klopotova
“I had the privilege of judging Lynn Lammers in a NAILPRO Sculptured Nails competition. Her consistency from nail to nail in all categories was amazing. I even gave her a 10 on lateral structure, and I’ve never given a 10 in a Sculptured Nails competition before or since! Also, one of the most incredible 3-D Nail Art pieces I’ve ever seen was by Yire Castillo at the Premiere Orlando show a few years ago. The theme was “Early Bird Gets the Worm” and the detail on Castillo’s set was mesmerizing—just when I thought I had seen everything there was to see in his design, I’d spot something else! The No. 1 thing that will take a competitor out of the running, every time, is not finishing. A close second is not carefully reading the rules.
—NAILPRO judge and competition ambassador Amy Becker
—Alexa Joy Sherman is a freelance writer and editor in Los Angeles.
What’s the best set of competition nails you’ve ever seen? Tell us in the comments, below.
[IMAGES: Courtesy of nail techs.]
This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of NAILPRO.