Bling It On: Expert Advice on Succeeding In NAILPRO Competitions Bling Category

ShioriDurhamIBS Las Vegas 2016 NAILPRO Cup Finale-1stPlace (2)Shiori Durham awarded 1st Place at NAILPRO Competitions IBS Las Vegas, 2016

There are a lot of good reasons to enter a nail competition, and the fun factor ranks high on that list. But for many, the event that really kicks the good times up a notch is It’s All About the Bling. “This category is particularly popular because it’s fun and sparkly,” confirms NAILPRO Competitions global director Jewell Cunningham. It also helps pros hone the skills needed for an increasingly popular nail service. “So much bling is being done in the salon today,” notes Cunningham. “The designs techs do in the competition can give them ideas for smaller versions to use on clients.” Guin Deadman, who has been in the Bling winners’ circle no fewer than nine times agrees: “It challenges you to find creative new ways to lay out stones and come up with looks that can inspire simpler designs for salon use.” So, how can you ensure an enjoyable and career-enhancing experience? Read on for all the dazzling details.

Prep Pointers

One of the nice things about the It’s All About the Bling category is that you can create your model’s nails, on which you’ll place the bling during the competition, ahead of time—and make no mistake, even if they’re covered in adornments, the canvas must still look its best. “The nicer the nail, the better the structure, the smoother the surface and the better the design adheres,” says Cunningham. Seasoned Bling competitor Iryna Gross agrees, adding, “There’s no design that can hide poorly sculpted nails.

The nails can be any shape and color, or even have a different color on each, so long as they’re all solid hues (no nail art or designs)—and this is where the creativity begins. “When I won first place at IBS Las Vegas, I made a coffin shape and chose a pale blue-gray color,” says 2016 NAILPRO Cup champion Shiori Durham. “I thought that most people would choose black or white, but I wanted to be different and that worked very well for me.”

Other practical matters when creating your canvas include ensuring that you have room for the perfect amount of bling. “I try to choose a nail shape that will accommodate the design without too much empty space,” says Deadman. Indeed, points will be deducted if there’s not enough ornamentation. Flattening enhancements also tend to be a good call. “I didn’t make deep C-curves because it would have been hard to apply the stones to a surface that was too round,” says Durham of her winning nails.

When selecting your bling, check the rules carefully—in most cases, only certain kinds are allowed, and occasionally you can only use what’s provided at the event. For the NAILPRO Pasadena Bling competition in May 2017, for instance, only metal bullion was allowed. Meanwhile, at the ISSE Long Beach event in January, each participant was given the same amount and type of Swarovski crystals 15 minutes before the competition started, and they had to come up with a design on the spot.

How do champions plot the placement of their gems? “I usually look for a starting inspiration—possibly a color or larger stone and build around that,” says Deadman. Gross sketches out ideas on paper in anticipation of the event. “I draw realistic size nails and then I try to map the design on them with the crystals,” she says. “Then, since crystals are expensive, I practice with cheaper brands to improve my skills.”

But perhaps the most important part of preparing is experimenting with different types of adhesive. “For some of the bling, I prefer gel, but for others a glue works better, and acrylic works well for bigger crystals,” says Gross. “You want to make sure that whatever you use dries transparent without leaving any whitish residue.” Deadman adds that she prefers a fast-set, brush-on nail glue—and for Jessica Briarmoon, who took second place in the Bling competition at ISSE Long Beach in January, Akzéntz Bling On is her adhesive of choice. “It’s a super thick gel designed to stay put for stone application,” she explains.

IrynaGrossNailapalooza2016-3rdPlace (2)Iryna Gross awarded 3rd Place at NAilapalooza, 2016

Timing Tips

Most NAILPRO Bling competitions give participants 45 minutes to complete one hand, unless otherwise noted on the schedule. “I spend seven or eight minutes on each finger,” says Durham. “After all fingers are done, I use the final minutes to add more crystals.” To stick to the time limit, ISSE Long Beach 2017 Bling champion Amanda Lenher utilizes headphones. “I make music playlists that are the length of the competition or close to it,” she explains. “It really helps a lot.” 

When using her own bling, Deadman also saves time by placing the gems in five separate containers, labeled for each nail. “I also bring extra stones to add to the design if time allows,” she notes. If something doesn’t go as planned, Deadman adds, it’s important to keep moving. “Sometimes a large stone will refuse to adhere to the nail, so after a few tries I will set it aside and choose a different stone for that nail and move on,” she explains. “You have to be prepared to improvise.”

JessicaBriarmoon-ISSE 2017 2nd PlaceJessica Briarmoon awarded 2nd Place at NAILPRO Competitions ISSE, 2017

Gear Guidance

You won’t need a ton of supplies for this competition. In addition to the bling itself, if you’re providing your own, have your favorite adhesive options on hand and, above all, tools that make it easy to pick up and apply your stones. For that, most competitors are fans of the Crystal Katana by Crystal Ninja—a tool with a bamboo handle that’s easy to grip, along with a wax tip on one end for picking up stones and a chrome piece on the other end that allows for precise placement. Deadman also likes to use a pair of eyelash tweezers, and Durham is a fan of sharp tweezers as well.

Arena Advice

Although being extremely organized is important regardless of the category, it’s especially crucial for It’s All About the Bling. “Before the competition starts, I lay out all of my stones in front of each nail,” says Deadman. “I then organize extra stones around the edge of my work area, so they are close but not in the way where they could get spilled.”

Indeed, because bling tends to slip around at your station, Gross also brings a silicone mat to the arena. “I put the crystals on the mat so they don’t go anywhere and it’s easier to pick them up,” she explains. Durham likes to use a pallet, too: “I got it from a bead store and it has a rough surface, so the crystals don’t slip off.”

The other big concern for competitors is the chilly temperature inside the arena. “It tends to be cold and that can cause the glue to dry slower, so I like to use an aerosol activator,” reveals Deadman.

bling nailsGuin Deadman awarded 2nd Place at NAILPRO Competitions Pasadena, 2015

Winning Wisdom

When it’s time to crown a winner in the Bling competition, the judges are looking for a lot of things, including an original and creative design, symmetry, and clean and precise application (no adhesive should be visible). “I always take a couple minutes at the end to clean any glue from my stones and to polish away fingerprints,” says Deadman.

Above all, like so many things in life, balance is essential. “Bling looks like a total mess when it has no direction, so each stone needs to be somewhere for a reason—any stone floating around will make the entire design look in disarray,” explains Cunningham. “The design needs to have structure; it needs to be different, but it needs to make sense.”

Specifics: It’s All About the Bling 

For this category, competitors have 45 minutes to apply bling to one hand, unless otherwise noted in the rules or schedule. Nail enhancements and color can be applied ahead of time, and there can be different hues on each nail. However, the colors must be solid—no designs. There is no preferred length, and any shape is allowed so long as it is done with a file, by hand. Additionally:

• No hand-painted nail art, designs, decals or stamping are allowed at any point.

• Nails may not have art or embellishments applied prior to the start of the competition.

• No drilling holes are allowed prior to the competition.

• Cleansing products (soaps, etc.) and moisturizing products (oils, creams, lotions, etc.) are allowed, but excessive use of oil is not advised (points will be deducted at the judge’s discretion).

• Top coat and/or UV gel sealant may be used.

• Competitors may not use any copyrighted art, designs or logos.

For more specifics, visit

-Alexa Joy Sherman 

What’s your best takeaway from these expert tips? Let us know in the comments below! 

This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of NAILPRO

[Images: Courtesy of Shiori Durham, Guin Deadman, Jessica Briarmoon, Iryna Gross]

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