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These aren’t your mother’s nails

Nail artist Desiree Gibson uses finely tailored brushes to apply acrylic paint to a client’s nails. (Photo by Tom Lindfors) 1 / 6
Nail artist Desiree Gibson prepares Halloween-themed nails for Rose Pratt. (Photo by Tom Lindfors) 2 / 6
Nail artist Desiree Gibson’s award-winning design from the Summer Fun Nail Art Contest. (Submitted Photo)3 / 6
Nail artist Desiree Gibson uses her own nails to display samples of her artwork. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)4 / 6
One scary nail in a Halloween set, designed by nail artist Desiree Gibson for client Rose Pratt. (Photo by tom Lindfors)5 / 6
A Halloween hand, designed by nail artist Desiree Gibson for client Rose Pratt. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)6 / 6

She admits she wasn’t really “girly” as a kid. You’d be more likely to find her playing in the mud than painting her nails a lady-like shade of pink. There was no inkling she had any artistic talent either.

“I sucked at drawing,” said Desiree Gibson, owner of Painted Paradise Nail Design (PPND).

When she got married, the $80 she had to pay for artificial nails with a design and a pedicure stuck with her. A year ago when she officially started PPND she was determined to keep it customer friendly.

“I like to keep it cost friendly, work with the customer. It’s more about my love of the artwork than it is about making all of that money. That’s why I keep my other job,” Gibson said.

She works out of her home for now, but travels to most of her appointments. She keeps appointments relaxed. A typical manicure takes half an hour to 45 minutes. She charges $17 for manicures and pedicures, $28 if you buy both. For simple design work, Gibson charges $2 to $7 per design. More complicated designs cost more.

By day, Gibson works as a medical assistant at Aurora Health Care, where her nails routinely take a pounding.

“I’m constantly washing my hands, so my nails might last a week. But under normal conditions, nails can last up to two weeks,” Gibson said.

It’s no surprise when you consider her normal pedicure involves five layers.

However, before she even gets to the painting, there’s soaking, cuticle care and filing to be done. She starts by applying a base bonding coat, followed by a layer of color, and quick dry top coat. Then comes the custom design, topped off by another clear coat for protection. Of course, there’s always a little therapy thrown in on the side.

“Some of my designs are done in nail polish. The really intricate ones, I do in acrylic paint using specially cut brushes,” Gibson said.

By intricate, she means a process which can take up to five hours. Her award-winning design for It’s So Easy Nail Art’s Summer Fun Nail Art Contest, depicted her favorite memories of summer vacations spent camping, all told on a single nail! Other contests may allow up to five designs providing even more tiny canvasses on which to tell a story. She just finished an entry, “Nightmare on Elm Street,” for a horror-movie-themed contest.

“I enter a lot of online contests. There’s a whole nail art community out there,” Gibson said.

When it comes to her creative process, Gibson finds inspiration everywhere.

“I look at a lot of stuff online. Sometimes, people come to me with ideas and sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and think, “‘Oh I need to write that down,’” Gibson said.

She sketches her ideas to scale.

“I like doing intricate artwork. I enjoy the design aspect of it and the uniqueness. It’s all original. Nails make great little canvases,” Gibson said. “I like working with acrylic paint better because it doesn’t dry out as fast as nail polish.”

Because it remains fluid longer, Gibson can alter designs as she works and correct mistakes.

Gibson used to do most of her practicing on her own nails, but acrylics take a toll on natural nails. However, she has plenty of willing canvases to practice on, including plenty of friends, hand models and even her husband and son.

“Sure, I have guy friends that do manicures. But I haven’t painted any designs on men’s nails yet. They actually do make a top coat made specifically for men’s nails,” Gibson said.

Gibson has only been painting nails for a year officially, but she’s got her eye on the future. She supports the 3-Free movement in her industry, which endorses polish formulas that do not contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene or formaldehyde.

“There’s a whole other world out there of indie polish makers. They make all their own polishes. That’s what I’d like to get into eventually. I’d like to make my own formula,” Gibson said.

She’s also concerned about protecting her ideas.

“It does happen online. I see it a lot with other girls on Instagram. They’ll remove someone’s watermark and then claim the design is theirs,” Gibson said.

Gibson has come a long way with her art and she attributes her success to hard work.

“It’s all about practice and finding the right tools,” she said.

If you’re expecting an interesting, original design, be prepared to be patient.

“It’s not going to be your ordinary 45-minute appointment,” Gibson said.

You can find Gibson’s work on Facebook at