Meet the South Korean nail artist turning 1cm2 of keratin into works of art
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
Park Eunkyung aka @unistella doesn’t just paint people’s nails, she creates art with them. The levels of creativity and innovation that go into her work make it feel far closer to jewellery design or sculpture, only using a single square centimetre of keratin as its canvas.
The attitude behind her approach is one similar to that of jewellery as well. Rather than having your nails “done,” Eunkyung hopes for a future in which we “wear” our nails, using them to express ourselves in much the same way as we use clothing or anything else to construct our personalities out of.
Her style ranges from intense block colours, whether hi gloss or matte, to abstract shapes which both ignore and enhance the shape of the nail. At the more extravagant end of the scale, we get nails embellished with pearls or gold and silver, as well as fashion-inspired designs like these fabulous Fendi nails. Across the board her designs always maintain a chic and relatively minimal aesthetic, even when they’re Gucci and dripping with jewels.
Park Eunkyung chats to Dazed Beauty about inspiration, creativity, the joys of making people feel good about themselves and her dreams of working with Travis Scott.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up.
Park Eunkyung: I grew up in Busan, South Korea, and I have loved beauty since I was little. As soon as I was old enough to go to high school and started learning about make-up, I knew I wanted to learn those skills at a beauty academy. After a while studying make-up at the academy, I realised I wasn't very interested anymore. That's when my teacher suggested trying nail art. At the time my parents didn’t want me to go to the beauty academy, they wanted me to focus on school, so I had to work part-time to pay for my tuition. It was a low paid job working as a beginner nail artist, but I was happy I could do what I loved while paying my tuition. Now that I think about it, I think it was my parent's disapproval that helped me get more hands-on experience.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty?
Park Eunkyung: Magazines were a huge inspiration to me. I would always look at the models' nails and often wondered why they didn’t have their nails done in the photos. Once the internet made everything more accessible, I started looking for resources abroad.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. From initial idea to final image.
Park Eunkyung: Someone once said it’s like I have nail-shaped contacts in my eyes: I have a habit of subconsciously applying everything I see onto nails. I used to carry a nail-shaped board around to practise designs and keep note of inspirations. I guess nails automatically come into my mind now even without the nail board. For example, there's a design called 'bracelet nails' which I came up with when my friend put her threaded bracelets on my wrist. I thought I could try the same onto my nails so I used thread and did the same exact design on my nails. I try to design with various different materials, I have one rule: try everything. If it’s difficult, I find a material that can substitute.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to “beauty”?
Park Eunkyung: I think the concept of beauty is simply an idea of self-care. Everyone can have a different standard of 'beautiful' or 'pretty,' so I think it's an idea of trying to present oneself according to their own standards. I guess it's all for the self-satisfaction.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Park Eunkyung:Simplicity is the core of all my nail art work.
What are the projects that you’re most proud of?
Park Eunkyung:Glass nails. It was a project that I got a lot out of.
What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
Park Eunkyung:I've learned that nail art is not only about caring for one's nails but it is also about caring for people’s wellbeing. People often feel happy and recharged when looking at their pretty nails. I've realised how important it is to give a person their confidence. That's why nails are so significant.
You use a lot of accessories, like nail jewellery, crystals, charms etc. What do they bring to your work?
Park Eunkyung: It came from the idea of introducing more freedom into nail art. It doesn't always have to be the polish or gel on top of the base coat, it could be jewellery or it could be clothes. I thought that would give people an opportunity to love their nails a little more.
Do you get a lot of male clients? Have you noticed a change in the years you’ve been working with regards to male clients?
Park Eunkyung: Men are certainly becoming more comfortable getting their nails done nowadays. It's just the process of visiting the salon can be uncomfortable for them. There are men who think nail art is only for girls, but there were also men who want to give it a try. Today it's usually the male celebrities who get colours and designs on their nails, but I believe soon many people will do so.
What is your dream project to work on/ person to shoot? Why?
Park Eunkyung: I’d like to work with male hip-hop icons like Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky because nails should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their gender.
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Park Eunkyung: It used to be something only a few people did but now it has become more common. Back in the day it was difficult to dry polishes but now we don’t even have to dry them anymore and we can also interchange them more conveniently using nail tips now.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Park Eunkyung: Some people could never get their nails done because of how long it took, now the development of gel nails has shortened the time it takes and so more people are able to get them done. I think beauty and nails are made more accessible as the technology develops, especially now when there are tips, stickers, and even nail printers.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Park Eunkyung: I would tell them to learn the basics properly. The most difficult thing is not the nail care nor the gel, but it is the way you control the polish.
What are you currently working on?
Park Eunkyung: We are continuously preparing to up-grade our nail jewellery and we are designing some products to collaborate with other brands. We have just made our sample of nail jewellery with 46 diamonds on it.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Park Eunkyung: I think everyone I know is already famous but if I were to choose one it would be @nailsbyjuan.nyc.