How To Give Yourself Paint-Splattered Jackson Pollock Nails


Why not freshen up your nail game — and/or document your Jackson Pollock/Abstract Expressionism fandom — with this DIY manicure that mimics the effect of spattered paint? Like all the best things in life, it looks a hell of a lot more complicated than it actually is. All that stands between you and getting just the right amount of streaky spatter on your fingertips is a little nail polish and a drinking straw.

For this DIY, you’ll need: 1) A base color, and as many feature colors as you want to use. 2) A base coat (I use OPI’s Nail Envy, just ’cause — I don’t happen to think it’s amazing but it gets the job done). 3) A top coat — Sally Hansen’s Insta-Dri is by far the best. 4) Some packing tape or painter’s tape. 5) A couple drinking straws. I stole these from Starbucks and the bar I was at last night. Click any photo to enlarge.

First, prep for your manicure. Many of the things you can do to extend the life of your nail job take place before the first coat is applied — for general at-home manicure tips, check this out. When your nails are ready, apply your base coat and let it dry.

Next, do 1-2 coats of your base color. Don’t worry if it’s a little streaky, because all the spatter will provide plenty of added coverage.

While your base coat is drying, snip the drinking straws into 2-3″ pieces.

Once your first coat is dry, mask off your cuticles with the tape, just like you would an area of wall you didn’t want to paint if you were painting, well, a wall. (You could probably also use a thick coat of Vaseline as a mask.) Painter’s tape is good because it is sticky enough to adhere but you can rip it with your fingers. Protect the surface you’re working on with some newspaper, a paper bag, tin foil, or whatever floats your boat.

Open your first feature color. Wipe off the applicator brush and set it to one side. Dip one end of one of the straws into the color as shown; the nail polish should form a seal across the bottom. (Alternatively, because the top coat we’ll apply later will seal and harden your manicure, you could forego polish for the spatter, and use acrylic paints thinned with a little water.)

Position the straw over your nails, and blow through it. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it — how hard you have to blow, the correct distance from straw to nail, and so forth, will depend on the thickness of your feature colors. (Use a little nail polish thinner to thin the solution if necessary, or, if you are using acrylic paints, water.) Holding your nails farther from the end of the straw results in a smaller pattern, but also increases the area that will be hit when you let rip — so make sure that your newspaper is sufficiently extensive. You can also blow through a clean straw to turn drying spatters into little runnels of color. As the straws get gummed up, it also helps to suck the feature color up into the straw, just gently, before blowing. (Don’t inhale polish fumes if you can help it, and work in a well-ventilated area.)

Switch feature colors, then switch back, then add some base coat spatter if you feel like it, until you like how your nails look. When you’re done, things will be pretty messy looking.

I think my left hand, which I did second, looks a little better than my right; the spatter patterns are generally finer. The right is a little more splotchy. When everything’s done, wait for your nails to be dry to the touch, and carefully peel off the tape. At this stage, either use nail polish remover to clean up your fingers — and your cuticles if any of the spatter has seeped under the tape — and then apply top coat. Alternatively, do the top coat before cleaning up, wait for your manicure to dry completely, and then under warm running water peel the misdirected polish spatter, along with any excess top coat, off your skin.

Ta-da! There are dozens of ways to take this idea — red spatter would be evocative for Halloween, a fine light yellow spatter on a dark base would suggest the night sky, lots of crazy colors would be full-on Pollock, black or navy blue on white would look like ink blots, you could do warm browns for speckled eggshells — but no matter what your fancy, the technique is the same.

If there’s something you’d like to see as a DIY project, you know what to do. In the meantime, to check out past DIYs — including how to turn a T-shirt into a pillow, how to make a fascinator, and how to dye a scarf — click here.

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