Sarah Grimes carefully paints her artwork on what you might call a micro-canvas.
She leans over her table, painting everything from flowers to tiny saguaro cacti onto a curved surface that usually measures less than an inch in width.
Grimes, a Denton resident, is a cosmetologist who specializes in manicures. Her clients — and her nearly 4,000 Instagram followers — consider her an artist. Grimes creates nail art from a small room at a Lewisville salon. And even with a steady stream of clients, Grimes has nearly 300 people on a waiting list. Earlier this year, CosmoProfBeauty, a company that distributes beauty products to licensed professionals and salon owners, named Grimes one of the top 10 nail artists in the country.
“Holy crap! I’m in love,” said fellow nail artist Alex Kleinman, who works out of a Utah salon.
Kleinman and more than 300 other Instagram users left their approval on a recent Grimes nail creation she posted. Grimes described the effect as “smoky matte marble,” with wavy bands of color giving the effect of the natural veins and texture of a marble countertop. But they also look like liquid opals — understated until the light hits them and an aurora borealis of color undulates before your eyes.
Grimes grew up in Denton as a homeschool student. When graduation approached, she decided to enroll in cosmetology. She thought she wanted to be a hairstylist, like her father. The Grimes family owns Hair Menders in Lewisville. (Grimes said her father is probably “the best corrective hair stylist in the area.” When someone falls victim to hair damage, Grimes said, her father can help.)
Even with all those years spent in the salon with her family, Grimes said it seemed like her dad’s talent for hair skipped a generation.
“It didn’t go well,” Grimes said. “I cut a girl’s hair two inches too short and she cried. Then I cried. It was too much anxiety for me. I realized hair wasn’t for me.”
Eventually, Grimes said, she finished her training at the Ogle School when it opened a Denton location. She found her niche doing manicures and pedicures. It was the creative outlet she craved, and she had a knack for it.
“I still remember painting a flower on a client’s big toe. It turned out really good, and they loved it. I thought ‘I think I might be able to do this,’” Grimes said.
She graduated, got her license and went to work for a while at Cold Creek Spa in Highland Village. She was at an appointment getting her own nails done when the nail technician made her an offer.
“She told me ‘I’m moving to Oklahoma. I met a man online and I’m going to marry him. I want you to take over my clients,’” Grimes said. “Well, that seemed like a big step. I didn’t think I was going to do it, but I talked to my parents and they told me I should definitely consider it.”
Manicures have long been a part of women’s fashion, and trends have come and gone. Grimes said she has been putting designs on nails since she started. But demand was simpler a few years back. The French manicure — with shiny, pristine white tips — was a perennial favorite. Grimes has filed and polished more neutral, squared-off nails than she can count.
Then the proliferation of social media — especially photo-centered platforms like Pinterest and Instagram — have spread new trends. With hundreds of photos at the touch of an unpolished fingertip, clients would ask for a snowflake painted on a single nail for a Christmas event — or a flower on a toenail.
“It kind of started with party nails, then everyone wanted them all the time,” she said.
Now, nails come in a range of shapes and styles. Square nails, ovals and almond shapes are classics. But Grimes can easily build up a client’s nails and then file them into coffin style — long nails that narrow into a square shape — or she can send you out the door sporting stiletto nails, which pretty much resemble a threatening set of talons.
And when it comes to nail polish, Grimes works with glossy finishes and newer effects. There’s a product that can leave nails looking velvety and matte. She can give clients glittering nails or animate them with watermelon slices and avocados. She paints stripes and chevrons, and recently made a client’s fingertips look like tie-dyed love from the 1960s. Right now, Grimes said “negative space is really popular.” Which means clients are asking for just part of their nails to be decorative, with the rest bare, save for clear gel and top coat.
“Instagram opened everything up,” Grimes said. “There’s so much out there, and you can find pictures of anything. And not just pictures of other people’s manicures, which is a huge inspiration for me and my clients. But pictures of things people want me to do.”
Grimes said she used to start by applying manicure gel to her clients and then painting them with nail polish. Then she discovered she can paint the art just as well with the gel products. Grimes’ station at the salon doesn’t smell like acetone or paints. She said she’s careful to use products that are considered healthier for the artist and the client.
“I want every nail to be healthy,” she said. “And I want every nail to be pretty.”
Grimes is booked through March. She posts cancellations on her Instagram page, where she goes by the name “sarahnailsit.” The cancellations are usually filled in 10 minutes. She shares her work on Instagram, posing clients’ hands against the white lacquered desktop where she works. She aims her iPhone at the finished product, and immediately posts it to her page. Every single post garners multiple comments from other manicurists and admirers.
“I’d say the majority of what I do is a collaboration with my clients,” she said. “We come up with a plan together. I love it.”