“Bound to give you nails that make you feel super bad and boujee” is how the majority of Vancouver, at least the half that reads Narcity’s “Best Of” lists, knows double Blanche Macdonald graduate, Vanessa Stern. Nearly a Special Effects Makeup Artist, Vanessa’s life was turned upside down and forever changed when she discovered the world of Nails and she’s quickly working her way to being one of Vancouver’s best freelance nail techs. When she’s not cuddling her pooch, Mercedes, or creating a new set of nails, Vanessa is most likely researching Kylie Jenner’s latest manicure. Splitting her time between clients, TV and Film sets, and manicures on the hottest celebs to come through Vancity, @nailsbyvanessanicole is one nail artist you want to keep an eye on.
You made the Narcity list of 11 Talented Vancouver Nail Artists Who Will Step Up Your Nail Game. How did that feel?
I was SO happy. It came right after I’d had a bit of a difficult time, professionally speaking, and it made me feel so much better. It made be believe in nails, even more than I did. It’s so cheesy but it was basically validation for me following what I loved because I was and still am, so obsessed with nails. I didn’t quit even though other girls probably would have. I just kept going and this was such a reward for that.
That must’ve felt so good! Where do you work from mostly?
I work mostly out of my home studio right now.
What brought you to Blanche Macdonald?
I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. I went to UBC for, like, a day and I never went back. I sat in the one class I went to, did the homework that we were supposed to have done, handed it in, and peaced! I used to be obsessed with Vancouver FX Studio and because of that, I wanted to go to VFS for TV and Film Makeup. Their program wasn’t accepting people for a few months and so I wanted to do something in the meantime and I thought of nails. I’ve always gotten my nails done and loved it and I’m totally obsessed with Kylie Jenner and her nails. I wanted to be able to do nails like that. So what was supposed to be an in-the-meantime or ‘side hustle’ thing actually completely changed my life! I ended up taking the Freelance Makeup program a couple months after I finished the Nail program because I still wanted to know makeup plus—my parents had started an RESP for me to become a lawyer or something so I figured I might as well make use of it! But I consider myself a nail tech first, then a Makeup Artist.
That’s an amazing story! So were your parents supportive?
My parents were a bit hush, hush about it at first. They were kinda like “You’re not going to spend your life working in a nail salon. You’ll never make enough money.” But I loved it so much and I knew I was doing the right thing for myself. It only took a week for my parents to see how dedicated and happy I was for their attitude to completely change to “Do whatever you want!” They saw how much more there is to the world of nails than just ‘painting nails.’ My dad bought a nail-related domain, they share my work on their Facebooks, and they’ve started showing random people pictures of my nails – followed by pictures of my dog!
Was there any hesitation or nervousness on your part about pursuing a career in nails?
Not at all. I never had an end goal or dream for after the program, I just knew it would be OK. I remember Simona on our maybe second day of class going around and asking people what they wanted to do after and most people said work in a salon or own one and I said nothing! I just wanted to see where it would take me.
What memories do you have of our Nail program?
I was the class clown and teacher’s pet! I was such good friends with our teacher Christy Denton—we actually still text. But I was always taking up her time talking and asking questions—my classmates always joked about how I left no time for them! I do have a lot of appreciation for the detail we learned about sanitization and proper tool use in class. They covered so much about different nail conditions and cleaning. I remember it was so scary during exams because if you touched anything that wasn’t a tool or your client’s hand, you got major marks off! Even after working at salons all around Vancouver, including some of the best ones, Blanche Macdonald must be the only place teaching proper sanitization techniques! It’s something to be wary of, for both the client and the tech.
You’ve actually crafted a bit of a niche for yourself and your nails in the TV & Film world, haven’t you? How did that come about?
My initial connection to TV and Film wasn’t actually Nail related but I’ve made it to include my Nails now. I apprenticed for a Makeup Artist when I was 18 and thinking about getting into Makeup as a career so when I made the switch to Nails, I just let my contacts from my Makeup days know they could call me for Nail work. I’m not in the union yet so it’s not always steady but I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool manicures.
Can you give us some highlights?
Yeah! I did Anna Kendrick’s nails. She is super, super nice. Everything is ‘perfect’ for her. The whole time I was doing her nails, she was texting Robert Pattinson and my 13-year old heart was freaking out! I did Shirley MacLaine’s nails in her room at the Sutton Hotel – she’s super cool. I was on the set of X-Files and Bates Motel. I was actually supposed to do Rihanna’s nails on Bates Motel and I was SHOOK. But she ended up flying to Barbados so I did her stunt double. No matter what though, whether you’re excited or not, you have to be so professional. I’ve been offered a lot more film work than I’ve been able to take because of my salon schedules, though. The saddest one for me was that I was recently hired to do nails for Madelaine [Petsch] but I had appointments at the salon. I was crushed. That was a job I got from being persistent and tenacious too; not from my makeup contacts.
What’s your favourite thing about nails?
I love how you can do nails every day. People get their nails done just because. It’s not like other creative things where there is more times than not, a specific event surrounding these services. I also like how everyone has different nails. When I first started, it was tips, acrylic gel, and go! But now I really look at the nail shape and what I can do. Sometimes someone who bites their nails will come in and I will extend and shape then and completely change their life. I especially love doing nails for people who are self-conscious of their nails. People talk about it, people rap about it—“Get my nails did”—it’s a whole thing!
If you could name something as a career highlight so far, what would it be?
My first successful set of nails that none popped off! That was a big worry for me. Starting something new is hard but it’s especially hard when you don’t get to see the progression and wear of your work because it’s on someone else’s hands.
What’s been your favourite set?
I did these nude/pink holographic nails that I really liked. I do a lot of good nude sets because that’s what is most popular with my girls right now.
If you could be anywhere, doing anything, where would it be?
Omg that’s a gooooood question! I’d probably say, it would be summer and I’d be at the beach my dog watching the sunset. That’s my happy place. I don’t feel like I have to ‘be’ anywhere else. Some people go halfway across the world to be happy but I’m so happy here! And I’d be so sad if I had to leave all my nail stuff!
When you aren’t doing nails, you’re. . .?
Doing a lot of Pilates. Shopping, or hanging out with my friends.
Upcoming trends you like or want to try?
I don’t know about trends but I have a friend who is also a Nail Tech who trained in Russia and she is teaching me this Russian design—I don’t even know what it’s called in English. She taught me in stages and now I think I’ve finally got the perfect polish to brush ratio so I’m practicing constantly. I’m always working on a set though. I was almost done a set the other day and decided one nail didn’t fit in but I liked it so I started a whole other set for that one nail!
Would you say you have a specialty? Or signature?
I’m in the process of developing a signature I think. That’s why I haven’t thought too thoroughly of owning my own place yet, because I want my own style of doing everything. I want my nail place to be something special. I would want my signature to be a way of incorporating the ‘Kylie Jenner’ manicure with good, healthy, nice cuticles. I want my clients to know me for their beautiful manicures and the health of their nails. Right now, I’d say that my cuticle work and nail shaping is my signature. My bread and butter. Or bread and vegan butter!
You’re vegan! Is that why you use the Evo Bio nail polish?
It’s part of it for sure. I want to make sure I can cater to almost any client. I don’t do Bio Sculpture nails but I love the Evo polish. It’s like finding a good foundation, I just love the formulation.
Where do you get your inspo?
Instagram 1000%! I used to use Pinterest but I like the Nail community and posts that I’ve found on Instagram better. I feel like it’s becoming more and more prominent on Instagram because people are getting to appreciate and think about nails more, thanks to a lot of celebrities. Like Cardi B’s newest manicure. And is Kylie [Jenner] accidentally going to poke her baby with her long nails? It’s not as popular as Makeup but Nails are definitely getting some respect and recognition.
Any accounts in particular?
My two nail gods are @nailsbybano and @fiina_naillounge. I also love @jolene.b.nails. I saw that she was going to be at Coachella last year and I messaged her to meet up so I could pick her brain. We didn’t end up getting to meet but through reaching out to her and making that connection, we’ve got an Instagram relationship which is so cool.
Do you have an Instagram strategy?
I’m at the stage where I’m still trying to build my following but I think the thing is, like my career in Nails so far, never give up! Even if you change your esthetic or what you do, keep posting, keep being you, and keep going! And, one day, your Instagram will just GO. OFF.