Doing Your Nails: The Basics

Doing Your Nails: The Basics
Ally, from Nail in the Coffee, has had some great tutorials up her sleeve, but today she is taking things back to the basics. If you don’t exactly feel like painting your nails is your forte, this will give you the extra nudge to try, try again. For those of you that feel pretty confident in your nail painting skills, Ally will give you the rundown on nail care and painting tips. I’ll let her take it from here…

Before you paint your nails, before you begin your nail art, there are some things you should do to take care of your nails – let’s call these The Basics. I’m going to go over my basics (Steps 1-5), and then reveal the method I use to paint my nails nicely – without having to clean up (Steps 6-10)! I recommend taking a peek at my Top 5 Must-Haves so you know the products I love to use, that I’ll be referring to in this tutorial.

Nail in the coffee.jpg
Be inspired to get creative with your nail art by checking out Ally’s Open Heart and Delicately Dark nails, along with these four tutorials above.

Check out Doing Your Nails: The Basics and these four tutorials after the jump…

More Nail Art from Ally:
1) Add gems to your nails with these garnet gemstones nails.
2) Pick pastels to make your springing into summer nails perfect for spring.
3) I think these buckle nails could be perfect for Leprechaun buckles for St. Patrick’s Day.
4) Go nautical with these striped nails.

Doing Your Nails: The Basics

Doing Your Nails: The Basics

1. Choose your work area – nicely lit with some ventilation – and protect your work surface (that nice marble table, or wooden desk) from the dangers of nail polish and remover by placing a sheet of wax paper down. You’ll want to gather all your supplies now so you don’t find yourself running around with wet polish, looking for a cotton ball halfway through.

2. Once I’ve got my mise en place, so to speak, the second thing I do is remove any old nail polish. Not only does layering over leftovers alter the color you choose, it can’t be very good for your nails to have ancient bits of polish hanging around anyway, so start with clean bare nails.

3. Now give yourself the spa treatment. You can skip this step, but it’s great to do every few manicures to really keep your dita (that’s Italian for fingers!) in tip top shape. I put a pump of hand soap into a bowl, add some hot water, then soak my hands for a few minutes – this will wash away any residual polish remover, and soften your skin up – perfect if your cuticles are a little out of control.

4. My cuticles? Yep – take a look at them – dry, cracking or peeling, or growing out with your nail? That’s going to ruin your mani right off the bat. So step 4 is take care of your cuticles. I suggest picking up some “cuticle remover” – it doesn’t actually remove them per se, but it softens them and helps you be able to push them back. So apply cuticle remover, and follow directions – leave on, push back (with an orange stick or your fingernail, wash off. If there’s still excess skin after this is done, you may use cuticle nippers to remove some, but be sure not to nip too much – your cuticles go from “I don’t feel that” to “YEEEOOOOWW!” in the blink of an eye.

5. Filing your nails: not only is this the time where you buff out any sharp or uneven edges, and file them down to the same length, but more importantly, this is when you shape your nails. There are so many different nail shapes, from square to oval, rounded to pointy, just pick the one that you like best. So long as you give this shape to all your nails, they’re going to look great. And if you don’t like the shape you chose? It’s just nails – they’ll grow in before you know it, and you can change the shape later! So file gently and create uniform even looking nails.

6. Your nails are prepped, so prime them with a base coat. A good base coat will not only keep your nails from yellowing, or getting stained by polish, but also strengthens your nails and makes reduces chipping of polish. Base coat is clear, so you don’t need to worry about doing a perfect job – anything that dries on your skin will come off when you wash your hands.


7. Now you’re ready to paint! Apply your color with a few strokes as possible. Why? Because the more you touch it, the worse it looks – blotchy and inconsistent. You’re going to apply a second coat of color, so anything that’s uneven, or needs more coverage will be taken care of on the next go-round. I do about three easy swipes, starting at the cuticle – BUT not all the way AT the cuticle – I leave a little breathing room. This is the key! If you hit the cuticle with nail polish, it inevitably bleeds across and looks uneven instantly. But if you leave a tiny bit of room, it’s easier to get a clean line and have it look flawless without having to clean it up. So start at the cuticle, swipe down one side, then start again at the cuticle and swipe down the other side, and finish by filling in the middle.

8. Wait about 30 seconds, then repeat with your second coat of color. If you’re painting all 10 of your fingers, you can go from finger 1 to finger 10 on your first coat, and by the time you do finger 10, finger 1 is basically ready for coat number 2… you get it, right?

9. Now it’s topcoat time. What’s the big deal with top coat? Well I suppose if you like waiting around for polish to dry, then nothing. But if you’re anything like me, you don’t have that kind of time! A great top coat dries in seconds flat (for REAL), makes your polish extra shiny, and keeps it on longer… it’s win-win-WIN! If you’re using my preferred topcoat, then by the time you’ve completed your second coat of color, you’re ready for topcoat on finger 1 again. Careful not to go over just-barely-set polish too many times with topcoat or you’ll end up with color transferring to the brush, and the whole bottle when you replace the cap. Again, it’s clear, so don’t worry about doing a topcoat carefully, just swipe it on!

10. After your speedy topcoat dries (about 30-60 seconds), if need be, come back with an angled brush dipped in remover and clean up any bits of polish that aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Finish by applying cuticle oil to each finger, rubbing it in and…

Doing Your Nails: The Basics

Voila! Mani-perfect.

As you become more and more familiar with the process, a full manicure will take you under 20 minutes. In a rush? Nails already in good shape? Just do steps 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. I hope you enjoy pampering yourself with a full-on manicure – the right way!

Till Soon,


**Zine Fest nails were done in honor of the LA Zine Fest which took place February 16th at Helms Bakery. Local (and not-so-local) artists come together to show their hand published works, paintings, screen prints and more. Such a success!




I always love seeing your nail posts!

Somewhat related: Can you identify that gorgeous big blue ring for me? I’ve been searching for something like that for quite a while. It looks so great on your hand!

Thanks 🙂


Hi Donna -So glad to hear you’re enjoying my tutorials! My ring (a prized possession) is Lapis Lazuli. You can catch many glimpses of it, and even some manis inspired by it, on my website, and instagram. See you there!

Arnette – I love using an angled brush to clean up when necessary – it never leaves lint behind (unlike Q-tips) and is so tiny that it really gets in there… it’s SUPER precise! <3

Nail In The Coffee


I just recently moved to a new area and I have been battling with getting a new nail tech. My finding this article couldn’t have come at a better. I will at least stop having crusty nails now while I look for someone who will do my nails the way I want them.


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