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Top competition tips for nail techs

The 2019 Professional Beauty Nail Championship

Taking part in nail competitions is about bettering your previous entry, not about competing against others.

So said international award-winning nail stylist and educator, Tracey Owgan of The Image Cartel, in a recent Professional Beauty webinar moderated by industry professional, Sonette van Rensburg.

“It’s good to enter competitions to see how far you have grown,” commented Owgan, who won her first ever competition when competing against nail artists from 30 other countries.

“You are only as good as the last set of nails you have done,” added Van Rensburg. “I’ve found that you create a set and then look at it and think, ‘I could have done it better’. Nothing is ever 100% perfect. When entering a competition, preparation is everything. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”

Owgan concurred. “You need to start preparing months in advance for a competition, and you need passion and belief in yourself. During the competition itself, it starts with how you have set up your table and how you work in your salon environment. But obviously studio and competition nails are completely different. I’m OCD about table set up and working tidily, so if you do that on a daily basis in your salon, it will stand you in great stead in competitions.

“You need to have a personal checklist for competitions and to pay attention to factors like sanitisation and table set-up. Break everything down into the details and then break those details down, and so on. Have your end result in your mind and then work backwards to achieve that. And obviously, you must understand the rules and the regulations of that particular competition.

“Every time you are in your studio, work on your application technique to better your times and skills. Analyse each nail that you’ve created. A lot of people are terrified of competing but think about the fact that you are bettering yourself just by competing and that it’s not a bad thing if you lose. The fact that you are sitting in that competition chair at all is amazing in itself.”

Van Rensburg advised that competitors take everything with them to the event. “Take your own extension cord, two-pin plugs, your own bin, etc and get to the competition venue early. Practice at home and move yourself into other areas of your home or studio, so you are comfortable in any space. Don’t sit there and look at other competitors during the event. A competition is all about you so focus only that. Don’t fall into the trap of getting distracted.”

Mix ratios

As liquid & powder can be quite temperamental, Owgan stressed the importance of getting your mix ratio right, as you can’t work too wet or too dry. She continued: “You have to know how to pick up that bead and you have to keep yourself, your model and your products warm. Temperature can play so many roles. You have to practice beforehand by working in a warm room and a cold room.”

Van Rensburg pointed out that the model you source for your competition nail set is very important, as she should have healthy nails, slender fingers and must have the patience to sit still for hours while you work.


Owgan advised the correct use of the various different nail mediums. “Have accessories that are not overwhelming and that are complementary. The more techniques you display, the more you will impress the judges. Be self-confident, calm and relaxed and keep your table in check – product must be neat, tidy and clean.

“Remember that your hair line has to be thin. It’s all about practising and looking at surrounding soft tissue of your model’s finger. Check your pinching and fining techniques, take note of the apex, the C-curve, the upper arch and the underside of the nail. One speck of dust can throw a nail out. You have to allow yourself time in a competition to fix dust. Ensure that you keep product off the soft tissue. The smile line has to be consistent and neat. Check every single detail of each nail. Competition training is so important – this is true whether you are a competitor or a judge.”

Van Rensburg made the point that a nail is judged by looking at it from every single angle and taking every detail into account.

Step by steps

Owgan stressed the importance of meticulously produced step by steps for competitions. She continued: “Step by steps are really important, both locally and internationally. It’s important for you to do step by steps so that you know your process and what products you are using. And, having to work in a regulated manner is also important. Compiling the step by step helps you to be organised. Having a portfolio is great, as you need to know where your inspiration comes from, especially regarding competition themes. I put a lot of work into my portfolios and it helps me to win competitions. I list every single shade used and every single product, as well as the tools and implements I have used.

“The step by step process adds integrity into what you are building. And it helps judges to understand what you did, why you did it and how you did it. What we’ve seen in the NailFile Photographic Nail Design Challenges are some stunning nails, but then the entrants totally fall apart on their portfolios. You can lose points on a poorly executed and presented step by step.”

Van Rensburg made the point that the picture quality and resolution of photos submitted for the NailFile Photographic Challenges needs to be very high.

Owgan advised that nail techs research the theme of each competition they enter and ensure their storyboard works. “Find something that means something to you,” she stated. “Just have fun – as David Fowler of Astonishing Nails, says, we’re not doing brain surgery – we are having fun. Keep evaluating yourself. I like to do one nail and sleep on it and then next day, I will evaluate it. Remember that less is more a lot of time, but just make sure that each detail of your nails is done to be the best of your ability.”

Van Rensburg said nail techs should not just put their nails on a plain background. “The presentation counts for 10% of the overall mark, but it’s an important part. We often see a set of beautiful nails but then two or three nails that just don’t fit in with the rest.”

Owgan noted that the design and theme must carry through all 10 nails. “Every single tip must have the theme carried through so you have a story. That one single tip can lose you points. We want to see a detail on every single nail. Just putting a dot onto a nail doesn’t work.”

Van Rensburg concluded by saying that some of the best entries received for the NailFile competitions are those that utilised a number of techniques. “But, be clever how you use them,” she said. (Report by Joanna Sterkowicz)

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