Subtly Magical Nail Art

A glitter-gradient manicure so easy even Marie could do it.

If there’s one beauty tip I want to shout from the rooftops, it’s to engage in nail polish therapy. I’m not saying you should whisper your life’s problems to a bottle of Justin Bieber’s One Less Lonely Glitter (amazing by the way), but there’ve been times when I’ve been down in the dumps and immediately felt better after a pink polish pick-me-up. It’s the little things, you guys! Whether you spend your time intensely Internetting or doing finger puppetry, it’s always nice to care for your darling digits.

Gradient nails were given that name due to their fading color effect. Although it is an unsexy mathematical moniker, I prefer calling it that instead of the obnoxious-sounding “ombre” (please say that in Tim Gunn’s voice), which is, yes, like the hair trend. I will admit on one hand that I kind of like that hairdo since I’m from California and it reminds me of cute surfer-boy locks, but I also think of it as a rude trend since it is basically an expensive version of the popular and cheap “roots grown out” look. Anyway, gradient nails have been popular for a long time, but they were usually only seen on acrylics. I used to longingly gaze at my BFF’s freshly done gradient manicure with touch of envy, thinking my natural nails could never display that kind of art … UNTIL NOW. There are different ways to achieve this look, but I’m going to show you the easiest, especially for those who are not Picasso with the polish brush, like yours truly.

What you will need:

  • Three different shades of the same color of nail polish: I am a bit of a nail polish hoarder, especially when it comes to girly colors, so I grabbed all the purple shades I had in stock to see what would work. I have a no-name polish that is a deep shimmery purple as my first color. I used Jordana’s Royal Velvet, a shimmery plum that’s a tiny bit lighter, as my second color. They don’t make it anymore (OMG VINTAGE!) so I suggest using Milani’s Wild Violet instead. My bottom color is OPI’s Do You Lilac It?, a nice lavender shade.
  • A subtle base coat: I chose a silver polish since it would blend well with my main colors.
  • Two types of glitter: a chunky one for the tips and another as a top coat. I used OPI’s Show It and Glow It from their Burlesque collection, inspired by the movie, as well as my favorite glittery top coat, Nina Ultra Pro in Opal Elegance.
  • Foundation sponges
  • Your favorite clear top coat
  • Nail polish remover
  • Cotton swabs
  • Optional: an inspirational photo (see below)


1. Start by painting your nails with a good yet subtle base color. You want this first layer to dry quickly, so apply just a single, thin coat.

2. Once your base color has dried, take your foundation sponge and paint a thin layer of your darkest polish at the top of the sponge, drawing a line like you see below. Then add your second color directly underneath the first one, taking care not to overlap. You will finish with the lightest color at the bottom. Try to do this quickly, before the paint dries up and the sponge begins to laugh at you.

3. The width of each line will depend on the size of your fingernail. Since everyone’s nail beds are different, you will have to play around and do some estimating. Just make sure that the total length of all three layers covers only about 2/3 of your nail and not the whole shebang.

4. Once you are all set, it’s time to apply! Make sure the top of the sponge is aligned with the top of your nail and carefully roll the sponge over onto it, from one side of your nail to the other. It should almost feel like you are rubber-stamping your nail. Lightly dab any spots that are missed with the sponge. Repeat for each nail. You will probably have to add more paint to your three lines as you go along. Remember, it does not have to be perfect! Any mistakes will soon be fixed with the magical antidote known as GLITTER! Glitter fixes everything.

5. Once you are at this step you should already see the gradient effect. A single tear will probably roll down from your eye at this time. The next step is to add the chunky glitter to the tip of each nail. Since the one I used was from OPI’s Burlesque line, I made sure to sing a Cher song (“Half Breed,” if you need to know) while doing it. I was going to sing a Christina Aguilera one, but was scared I’d get too passionate and out of control.

6. Next, take your glitter top coat and paint each nail completely. This will help blend the gradient even more. I told you glitter fixes everything!

7. Finally, finish with your favorite top coat and clean up any stains on your skin with a cotton swab dipped in polish remover. Ta-da!

Just remember, it may not be perfect on your first try, but it’s all about having fun like you are in your own personal nail salon. You will totally get the hang of it, girlfriend. If Ol’ “Clumsy Hands” Lodi can do it, anyone can. I believe in you.


  • Chimdi September 26th, 2011 7:05 PM

    Ii don’t really paint my nails, but telling my secrets to a bottle of nail polish still seems appealing

  • linnea September 26th, 2011 8:34 PM

    I am so going to try this out! I mean having therapeutic sessions with my nailpolish bottle. How rad is that?!

    Hehe, joke aside, really great tip! I’m already imagining different polishes I have that could work together… hmm :)

    Your nails look great, though on a first look it might appear you accidently shut a door on all your finger ;) Na.. they look awesome!

  • Whatsername September 26th, 2011 8:37 PM

    Loving the Project Runway reference!

    I totally need to try this. Like, now. Once I finish my homework. Or, like, now.

    • back2thepast September 26th, 2011 9:34 PM

      Agreed. I’m in the middle of an English essay, it will have to wait. I picked off all my polish today during bio so my nails need some treatin to…..

  • Thepunkrocker September 26th, 2011 8:45 PM

    Sounds like something fun to do with girlfriends while watching chickflicks and talking about guys.

  • Cerise September 26th, 2011 8:57 PM

    That’s pretty cool. I’m only just getting into the idea of doing my nails, but this looks like fun. Thanks!

  • Anna F. September 26th, 2011 9:02 PM


  • taylortarantino September 26th, 2011 9:15 PM

    I never paint my nails, but I have to try this. Anything that’s girly or Vomit Pink. I’m there!

  • Coco September 26th, 2011 10:11 PM

    oh woah cool idea. ive been slowly collecting nail polish in colours that are actually appealing to me lately so ive been wanting to try everything new under the sun. great tips :3

  • Tessa September 26th, 2011 10:28 PM

    I don’t really paint my nails often anymore due to the fact that I am in food service and have been since 17 years of age. Before that I was doing all sorts of funky stuff on my nails. The fade idea is really cute, good inspiration, too bad I hate to work tomorrow. I cannot wait until the days of food service are gone and I can attain painted nails for more than 2 days!

    Each time I paint them, I feel it does make a big difference and can be a huge contribution to femininity. Always a perk!

    • Marie September 28th, 2011 1:33 AM

      You can always give yourself a fun pedicure in the meantime!

  • junebuglove September 26th, 2011 10:47 PM

    I paint my nails every two days. I will totally do this I have mad nail skills because I always color block paint my nails.

  • vanessa September 26th, 2011 11:23 PM

    so cool, I’m going to try this tonight while I watch the lifetime movie the bling ring!

    p.s. your nails are so pretty, do you have a secret life as a nail model?

    • Marie September 28th, 2011 1:37 AM

      In fact I am! I wear a glass dome over my hand for protection just like in Zoolander.

  • Stephanie September 27th, 2011 2:07 AM

    This is the coolest thing ever!!!!! I suck so bad at doing my nails, but I think it is totally therapeutic to do them so I’m totally going to try this and since glitter fixes everything maybe I will succeed!!!! I think I might have to go blue to match my newly blue dyed bangs.

    • Marie September 28th, 2011 1:38 AM

      DO IT!! Believe in the power of the glitter!

  • julalondon September 27th, 2011 9:44 AM

    Really love your article, “A single tear will probably roll down from your eye at this time.” Genius!! Love the rings on the first picture!

  • coco-maggie September 27th, 2011 10:21 AM

    im so going to try this!

  • Anaheed September 28th, 2011 2:23 AM

    You weren’t lying about your nail beds, girl.

    • Marie September 29th, 2011 12:53 PM

      hahaha ok thanks. Now I know the ladies at the nail salon aren’t just kissing my ass!

  • Toni September 28th, 2011 8:59 AM

    Love this! Definitely going to try it soon.

  • Greer September 29th, 2011 12:21 AM

    I just tried this (I only have two blues, but c’est la vie) and it looks RAD

  • AineFey September 30th, 2011 9:14 PM

    I definitely want to try this. I love having my nails painted. My color of choice is purple. But I also love dark blue, dark green, and black.

    When I was younger, I used to pain my nails lighter colors and then paint designs (simple like flowers or Mickey Mouse heads) with darker polish using a toothpick.