The Color Smear Manicure: No-Skill-Needed Nail Art That Looks Amazing Every Time

For when you can't decide on just one (or two or three) colors and want to be pleasantly surprised with the results every single time.
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Wendy
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For when you can't decide on just one (or two or three) colors and want to be pleasantly surprised with the results every single time.

Sometimes I look into the depths of my nail polish drawer and I become paralyzed with the potpourri of liquid colors staring back at me. In these moments--when I can't decide between metallic purple or neon pink or buttery yellow--I just begin grabbing whatever bottles beckon to me with the greatest fervency.

While I'm grabbing colors, designs or schemes may pop into my head. Other times, it takes me several moments, even hours or days, to finally begin painting. I've learned that settling on a design too quickly can lead to what I call "nail shame," the opposite of "nail pride." A lady who's proud of her nails (or hair or skin or eye makeup…) is a confident lady. And that's the best kind of lady, am I right?

Anyway, it admittedly took me a while to find the inspiration for these "color smear" nails. It also took some experimentation to get the smear-y finished effect. With that said, every time I do this design my nails end up looking different, even if I use the same colors. That's kind of why I love them. Different as they may be from one application to the next, they are always startlingly pretty, if not a little mesmerizing.

I'll walk you through the steps, but promise me one thing: you won't try to replicate the exact look here. The key to color smear nails is A) arbitrary, brainless strokes and B) following your artistic intuition, even if you think you don't have any.

The colors I used.

The colors I used.

To begin, pull four to six contrasting nail polishes that speak to you most, including a neutral base (gray, beige, nude or black). I used Zoya "Dove" as the base, Londontown Lakur "Chelsea Porcelain," Floss Gloss "Wavepool," Sinful Colors "Neon Fusion" and Londontown Lakur "Purple Reign. You'll also need one nail art brush.

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Apply a base coat--I used Floss Gloss Baseline--and your base color, then let it dry about 10 to 15 minutes. Next, create a little pool of your lightest nail polish color on some scrap paper and dip your nail polish brush into it.

Notice that the strokes are all different lengths and widths.

Notice that the strokes are all different lengths and widths.

Make arbitrary strokes starting about 3/4 of the way up the nail. Quickly stroke downward to the tip of your nail. You want the opposite of perfect strokes, so don't worry about precision here. Quick, fast movements!

In addition to experimenting with length/width of your stroke, also experiment with the amount of pressure you apply.

In addition to experimenting with length/width of your stroke, also experiment with the amount of pressure you apply.

Repeat with your second lightest color, allowing some of the white to still peek through. You do not need to rinse your brush between colors. The slight mixture of colors helps add to the smear effect.

Getting the hang of it?

Getting the hang of it?

Follow up with your third lightest color, allowing some of the other two colors to still peek through.

FIY: I'm doing all this with my left hand and I am totally a righty.

FIY: I'm doing all this with my left hand and I am totally a righty.

Keep going until you get to your darkest color. In this case, mine was purple. Remember: quick, fast and arbitrary strokes.

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Now that you've applied all your colors, here's where your artistic intuition comes into play.

Go back in and reapply some of the colors you've already used with your brush. I like to dip my brush into more than one color (for example, the teal and pink) and then apply to the nail. This also adds to the smear effect.

Before the nail polish dries, apply a top coat. I used Seche Vite (duh). Make sure you paint from the cuticle to the end of your nail for an even better smeary finish.

The finished look!

The finished look!

To show you what I'm talking about when I say this look ends up different every time, here's another set of color smear nails I did a little while ago. I used more colors for this one and did a lot of revisiting.

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