Life & Culture

Could painting your nails be good for your soul?

Nail art is at the heart of the current fashion zeitgeist. But is there more to it than talons that make you smile?


I love manicures. And I’m not alone. Look up #nailart on Instagram, and you get 52,000,000 results. When Kylie Jenner got cow print talons, the internet nearly broke.

Having my nails done is indulgent, fun and a way to show off my personality and creativity. But that’s it. There’s no deeper meaning. Or is there?

“Doing my nails has always been a spiritual experience”, says Rabbi Yael Buechler, 33. For Buechler, a her nails are, quite literally an extension of her Judaism.

She has been creating her own nail art since she was a teenager, long before it became fashionable or mainstream (she taught herself using toothpicks). From Israeli flags for Yom Haatzmaut or the ten plagues for Pesach, her designs are inspired not by the catwalk or magazine articles but by the Jewish calendar. “I found it a very powerful form of Jewish expression.

“Eventually I started using nail art as a way of expressing a theme from the upcoming Torah portion and after a while people would come up and say ‘what’s on your nails this week for the Torah portion?’. At the request of many friends I started a blog posting pictures of the ‘midrash manicure’ for the upcoming [week].”

The blog took off “ in a way I never anticipated. I saw a desire to use the Torah and Jewish holidays as a form of self-expression beyond just me”. She’s even created a range of Torah-themed decals (or stickers) that people can use when recreating her designs.

She took the idea one step further a few years ago, in her role as in-house rabbi at a Jewish school, in Westchester County, New York.

“When I started at the school I began a club for the middle-schoolers. For many families this was an exciting opportunity for their daughters to engage with the Torah in a creative way. There are multiple modes of studying Torah and experiencing one’s Torah.”

She now works with other Jewish educators at shuls and on summer camps to help them run their own midrash manicure workshops.

So, nail art can be good for the soul. And you can also build an impressive career from it.

Nail-technician-to-the-stars Lucy Tucker has amassed an impressive celebrity clientele — including Gal Gadot, Sienna Miller, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore and Anne Hathaway. When we first speak she is fresh off a shoot with the Spice Girls, at which Mel B requested a different design for each nail. “I’m going to have to get a pen and paper and design her nails; she’ll probably want to change them every two weeks while on tour.”

“Nail art has been around for years,” says Tucker, “but I’ve noticed a massive increase in actresses having nail art now – for press junkets, for example, which is lovely to see. Now places like the Pound Shop are doing nail art kits – so it’s accessible for the younger generation,” she says, pointing out how easy it is to upgrade your manicure, from nail decals like Buechler’s and at-home nail art kits to affordable professional manicures and inspirational editorial shoots. While these designs are a far cry from the detailed art that professionals like Tucker can produce (often taking hours) it does explain why we are seeing nail art everywhere from the high street to the front cover of Vogue.

Like Buechler, Tucker also started out young, recalling piercing her nails with a compass when she was 11 before going into school with an earring hanging out of her nail. After 20 years in the industry — she now runs her own salon at home in Cockfosters alongside working with celebrities and on editorial campaigns — Tucker has seen a lot of nail trends.

Currently the smartest nails are clad in leopard print: “I’ve been doing so much leopard, it’s crazy,” she tells me as I spot her own gold, purple and green leopard talons, ready for a trip to Cannes at the behest of an anonymous A-lister.

Jewish-themed nail art isn’t top of the list for Tucker’s clients but she has been asked to paint Magen Davids for one client at Chanukah. “It was really refreshing and nice because it’s not something you usually get to do.”

“I love being creative which is why this job, for me, is a perfect job,” she says. And it’s not just the art, Tucker just loves nails. “I love building up a nail that’s broken with acrylic or gel. It’s amazing that you can do that.” She extends that love to toe nails, but she won’t adorn them with art. That’s “tacky” she says.

Nail care runs in the family. “My whole family do hair and nails so it was inevitable I was going to do one or the other.” Her children Guy, 6 and Scarlett, 8, both students at Wolfson Hillel, like hanging out at the salon, and Scarlett’s already adept with a nail brush herself.

With clients that range in age from 18 to mid-70s, Tucker says that younger people go for wilder nail art, but even her oldest client insists on having her two ring fingers accented at every manicure.

Most of her private clients are Jewish, and are just as devoted to her as they are to their nails. “They understand [the rigours of my schedule] if I have to move their regular appointments for a shoot”, Tucker says, adding that she has been known to do a manicure at 1.00 am for “a client in need.”

I’m lucky enough to be getting a small taste of the Lucy Tucker Nails experience and so when she asks what I’d like on my nails I have to go with leopard — and of course I defer to her colour choices: fluorescent pink with black and gold leopard spots.

She works at a lightening pace — telling me that when she does more intricate designs she needs silence. She has to work quickly as women are no longer happy to sit in a salon for hours having their nails painted and then waiting for them to dry. This is one reason she now only works with gel rather than traditional polish.

She changes her nails every 
three weeks and posts all her manicures on her Instagram page, which has over 7,000 followers. Many of her clients request designs they have seen on her page, and have even coined a hashtag for her: 
#YouvebeenTuckered. As Buechler says: “Instagram and nail art is quite the shidduch!”

So don’t dismiss the art of the manicure. Take a closer look and a person’s nails might give you a glance into their spiritual or artistic soul.

Lucy Tucker is on Instagram at @LucyTuckerNails

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