Tuesday Tutorial: Goof Proof (mostly) Nail Painting

Painting your own fingernails can be challenging, especially if you’re like me and are only coordinated on one side of your body. For years I just didn’t do it. If I absolutely had to have nail color I went to a salon and paid a professional to paint my nails. I was out a lot of money and, even with all the layers of special polish, my manicure never lasted more than a few days, Also, inevitably, my nails were damaged from overzealous buffing.

I am here to tell you, with only a few simple tricks you can paint your nails quickly and efficiently, with little muss or fuss.

First, you will need a few tools:


The cat paw is just an added bonus.

 -a color you like.

-a few paper towels.

-a cotton pad or two.

-a bottle of polish remover.

-a stable surface like a table to brace your hands on.


Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you get started:

Always begin with your pinky finger and work your way in.

Save your thumbnails till last, this means you’re going to put two coats on all of your other fingers before you so much as touch them. Your thumbnails will be the very last thing you paint.

Less is more! Thin coats of polish are less likely to chip, bubble or smear so keep the bare minimum charge of polish on your brush. It should never look like you’re about to loose a big drip of polish.

Roll the polish bottle between your palms to stir it. Don’t shake it, that creates air in the paint and a greater likely hood for bubbles.

Brace the hand holding the brush against the table to help steady the stroke.

Keep calm and carry on! Remember nothing you do here is the end of the world. You make a boo-boo? Don’t panic, we’ll fix it later. I promise you’ll live and your nails will be fine.

Note: You may have noticed a glaring absence in my line up of tools compared to the traditional wisdom. I don’t use a base or top coat. Today’s polishes offer good coverage and staying power. In my less-than-humble opinion you don’t need base and top coats. It is just an extra layer to chip or mess up. The thicker the polish, the more likely it is to get gouged or chipped.

The only drawback to skipping a base layer is: darker polishes will stain your nails. I don’t get too worked up about this, after you take your polish off dilute a little hydrogen peroxide in water and soak your nails for a few minutes this will usually correct any staining.

The other thing I never do is buff the top of my nails. Yes, they have ridges. So what? Once the polish is on you can barely tell and you haven’t compromised the stability or thickness of your nail.


Now for the mechanics:

Start with clean dry nails. This is where the nail polish remover and cotton balls come in. Wash your hands and then give each nail a quick swipe with remover. This will dry up any excess oil and allow your polish to set more tightly to the nail.

On to the polish, like I stated in the tips: start with the pinky nail of your dominant hand and work your way in. You will probably make the most mistakes on your dominant hand and it will need the most clean up so start with it. Painting your nails in this order lessens the likelihood of smudging already painted nails as you go back and forth to the bottle.

After you have wiped the excess polish from your brush on the lip of the bottle, position the brush in the center of your nail. The brush should be close to the cuticle but not touching it, allow the brush to fan slightly but don’t bear down on it and cause it to separate.  Now pull the brush toward the tip of the finger, leaving a solid line of polish in the middle of the nail. Lift the brush completely off the nail.


Start close to the cuticle don’t touch it.


Use a smooth stroke down the center of the nail.










Without recharging the brush reposition it to one side or the other of the center line close to the cuticle but without touching the cuticle or the edge of the nail bed. Again lightly drag the brush toward the tip of the nail. Repeat on the opposite side of the center line.









If you have not overcharged the brush with polish, these three passes are all you should need for complete coverage of the nail. If you find you have a ridge of polish in the center you may need to take one more light pass down the center of the nail. Now that the nail is covered. Wthout recharging the brush, lightly swipe the excess polish across the tip of the nail, this helps prevent peeling and chipping, because the polish continues over the edge of the nail instead of laying only on top.

Repeat this process on all eight fingers. Allow them to air dry for about 30 seconds and then using the same steps apply a second coat to all eight nails skipping the edging, you only need to do that once per nail.


First eight fingers finished.

If you have any spots where you’ve dripped polish, or where it has slid down into the side of the nail bed, use your clean thumb nails to scrape this off. Don’t get manic, this doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do want to remove any glaring excess.  Wipe your thumb nails off in between passes on the paper towel. Be sure to wipe as you go you don’t want to smear polish from one nail bed to the next.









Once you have neatened up the eight fingers it is time to tackle your thumbs. Again, paint the dominant thumb first this is the one you’re most likely to have problems on. Clean it up with the naked thumbnail and then paint the last nail. That last nail is the only one where you need to be sincerely cautious. You won’t have an unpolished nail to clean the cuticle with. Remember to give both thumbs 2 coats.


This is an example of edging in between the 1st and 2nd coat.

Now that you’ve painted all 10 nails let them air dry for 20-30 minutes. I don’t care what the bottle says about fast dry, if you start typing or sloping around in the kitchen you’re going to mess them up. So make sure before you start this process you’ve gone to the bathroom, gotten a drink and have your distraction of choice readily available with which to amuse yourself for the next 30 minutes.



Tada! Perfectly painted nails. (Ignore my beat up hands, I live with parrots.)

*If after your polish is dry you notice that you have any spots of polish left on your skin, run a bowl of cold water, add a couple ice cubes and soak your hand for 5-10minute.  When the skin starts to prune the offending polish on skin should easily scrape off without damaging your manicure. 


My name is Autumn and in my current incarnation I am a Features writer for the Charleston Gazette. I love fashion & step to the beat of my own inner design-team. My parents once told me, "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up." I misunderstood I thought they said, "You can be EVERY thing you want to be." and I've spent my life trying it all. I like to design and sew some of my own clothes and I enjoy playing with new makeup and I spend way too much time perusing fashion and DIY blogs. I also homestead so I am always reusing and repurposing things for fashion's sake.

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