Meghann Rosales Will Make You Feel Good as Hell About Your Natural Nails

This is an extended version of A Day in the Life: Meghann Rosales of Nails Y'all from Issue #02, out now.
Grab a copy here.

I arrive at Meghann's studio near the end of her first appointment—the gorgeous, witchy hands below—with popcorn and my camera in tow, expecting to spend a few hours shadowing one of Austin's most requested nail artists. Instead, I leave 7 hours later with a whole new perspective on art and my own sad nubby digits. 

Over the course of the day, I watch Meghann paint perfect circles, logos, florals, and beloved pets. An 11-year old comes in with her parents in preparation for a Taylor Swift concert; she wants holographic nails with holo-foil tips. At the last minute, she changes her mind—this T-Swift fan now wants a Jigglypuff. (You know, the chubby pink Pokémon.) 

I immediately scan Meghann's face and make a note in my journal: Rosales is completely unphased. 

That moment, that's her in a nutshell—fearless, hilarious, and brilliantly skilled. 

She's also a confidant to her clients, the people who trust her with personal stories about heartbreak, illness, and family. Meghann's last appointment of the day is a first-time client who gushes about her poodle, Bella. They decide on a pet portrait with a floral motif and fall colors. At a glance, this seems like an ill-fated request—too much to do in the time allotted. An hour and a half later, I am proven wrong and Bella is immortalized in a sea of gold-accented roses on a berry-red background (seen below). 

The following is a small portion of the day's discussions, wherein I asked Meghann Rosales everything and anything to do with nails, the industry, & her identity as an artist. 

What got you into nail art? 

I’m a cartoonist, so that’s how I started. I always did it kind of on the side because it’s hard to make a living doing cartoons or comics. I was working in education; I was a teacher. I moved back to Austin from New York, and when I came back, I had a really hard time finding a teaching position. After awhile, I started kind of playing around with nail art—this was 5 or 6 years ago. 

I would take these designs that I found online, like kind of cool geometric, minimalist designs, to places and no one would do them on natural nails. So I just started doing them myself. I realized, ‘The line work, the small size—this is very similar to cartooning.’ 

Since people wouldn’t do it on my natural nails, I figured I’m probably not the only one that wants this. So I drew up a business plan and I went to nail school. I did a 6 ½ month program and I got my license. While I was still in school, I started doing Ladies Nights at The Mohawk.

What are some common misconceptions about the nail industry that people should know are totally bogus? 

The New York Times came out with a series of articles last year that were really interesting. It was a two-part series about, essentially, exploitation and human rights abuses. In New York—and you can do it here to some extent—you can literally walk in somewhere and get a $10 pedicure. Which is cool for the consumer, but you’ve got to really think that through and figure out, if this is $10, how is that being paid for? How is the 45 minutes [to an] hour that I’m sitting here being compensated by $10? In terms of supplies, are they using supplies that are healthy? If they’re skimping on the pricing, are they also skimping on cleaning and sterilization? How is someone being fairly paid if that $10 is split into the rent, overheard, or supplies, plus paying these women—mostly women—and men, too, that are doing these manicures?

It’s one thing for you to come in and sit for an hour and get your acrylics put on and it’s another for the tech who is sitting there all day long, 6 or 7 days a week, breathing that in. That stuff can be linked, at the very minimum, to respiratory problems and nosebleeds. And that’s the low end of the spectrum, if you’re lucky. So, you’ve just got to consider all of those conditions. 

What do your nails look like day to day? 

I keep [my nails] cut off completely because I just don’t like having long nails. Also, I rock climb. Living life is easier with shorter nails, for me. 

A lot of girls are like, ‘Oh my god, I bite my nails, I pick my nails.’ I have so many people that come because it helps them when they sit and get their nails done, or pay for it—whatever that is that makes them less prone to picking or biting. When people are like, ‘My nails are so short.’ I’m like, ‘Girl, so are mine, it’s totally fine.’

So, do you do your own nails or go to someone else? 

When I travel, sometimes I will go to Instagram buds and get my nails done. I think that’s also another part of it, too. It’s nice to be on the other end of it and kind of remember what that’s like.

Otherwise, no. If I’m here, it’s really hard to justify. [laughs] Even my toes. I’ll go get a pedicure every few months and my husband [will say], but you literally have a license for that! I’m like yeah, but it’s different.

What nail shape is the most en vogue right now? 

Almond. Hundred percent.

True or false: Every nail shape works on every person. 

False. I think there’s a lot of factors into what makes a stronger nail and what your hand ‘wants to do’. If you just let your nail grow wild, that’s obviously what your hand wants and that’s it at its strongest, usually most flattering look. 

Everyone has a nail threshold. You can’t force my hand to make Rihanna-length stilettos. It’s not happening—I’m going to break those immediately. Generally, a square or squoval nail is considered the most stable, the strongest.

Do you think that square nails are dated? 

No, I don’t think they’re dated. I don’t think it’s necessarily the most flattering look. Depending on what you do with a square nail and the hand that it’s on, it can look real 90’s mom. 

It sounds corny but when someone leaves, I want them to be happy with what they look down at, not just the job I did but what they see. So, if that means that they love a square french tip—although that breaks my heart—if that made them happy, that’s what I do.

What is your main piece of advice for people, regarding their nails? 

From a very practical standpoint, I would say moisturize. 

But in terms of feeling good about your nails and your hands: decorate them. Even when you feel that they’re at their worst, I think that’s the best time to do them. If you’re not feeling great about your hands, why don’t you put your dog’s portrait on them? What would be better than that? Of course you’re going to love them after that. Yeah, you can grow them out until they are shapely and beautiful and you feel like Rihanna, but anything will look good on them at that point. 

But also, moisturizing. [laughs]

So, do you sleep with the gloves? 

No, I have a life to live. [laughs] No, but sometimes I do sleep with socks; I’m less fancy. I do tell people that my favorite method is applying almond oil (or whatever oil you have) and finishing that with a nice, thick balm. And yeah, if you’re fancy and you have the gloves, that’s great. I literally use socks.

Can you save a gummy bottle of polish with acetone? Is that a no-no? 

It’s a no-no. Think about what acetone does. It’s to remove polish from your nail, right? To break it down. So if you’re adding a thinning agent like acetone to your polish, it’s essentially doing the same thing in the bottle.

What is your holy grail nail polish? 

Floss Gloss* is my favorite. Color-wise, it’s really hard to choose, but I might say Faded. I’m so into these inky grays. It’s like a faded tattoo. If you don’t want to do black nails but you want something kind of dark or you just want something sort of chic, this is my go-to.

The thing I like about Floss Gloss is that [they create] all these colors that I had dreamed of, like, ‘Oh it would be cool if I had a color that was like a bruise.’ Like OPI is not making a ‘mascara dripping down your face’ color but [Floss Gloss] does. It’s a little edgier, a little cooler.

*Editor's Note: We are still researching whether or not Floss Gloss is palm-oil free.

Do you suggest that nail artists take art classes as well? 

I still go to life drawing [classes] to keep my skills up. I still sketch at museums just to keep things kind of fresh. I think you can draw inspiration from anywhere, but translating that is kind of hard. So because I do have the art background, I do pull on [those skills] every day. 

Even like painting techniques—I’ve taken a few informal painting or lettering classes. I’ve found those super helpful, too. 

I see a lot of tools by your workspace. You have way more than, I guess, most people would expect. 

Yeah! My favorite tool, that I use all the time, [is] a painter's knife. There are a lot of different [colors] of gel in the brands that I use but not the exact shade of whatever I might need. Because my focus is more on the art part of it and having different colors in my designs, I have to mix a lot of colors together. In that way, it does feel very creatively satisfying because it is like painting.

What are your most favorite requests or themes? 

I love pet portraits—that’s kind of my jam—because I like when people show me pictures of their animals. I also really like galaxy nails because they always come out differently. Generally, people come in like, ‘I want galaxy but also, I love Prince.’ So, galaxies are fun because they’re a good background and you can put anything in space and it’s funnier. Like Joan Crawford in space. 

Anything that’s kind of funny, I like. I had a client who used to come in—I did his and his fiancé’s nails—and every time he came in he would ask for the ‘saddest nails in the world.’ So they would just get more sad and that was always, to me, the most fun—to be totally ridiculous. Because then you’re just cartooning; you’re drawing comics on hands and it’s super fun. 

What’s the craziest thing anyone has ever asked for? 

One time I had a girl—this was in my old shop—and the receptionist came in and said, ‘This woman is coming in, she’s a new client, and she wants Popeye nails.’ I was like, ‘Awesome, I’m going to do those muted reds, navy, and olive. It’s going to be very vintage, very cool.’ 

And he’s like, ‘No girl, the restaurant.’ There was more to it, but at the core of it, she just loves Popeye’s. So, I made a hell of a biscuit. 

So, nothing is really off limits? 

No, nothing is off limits. Well, I’m sure something is off limits but I haven’t gotten there yet. ▲