01-27 glass nail art

[Image above] Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía, pictured above, sported 3D glass sculpted nails in the recent music video she did with Billie Eilish. Credit: Billie Eilish, YouTube

I always enjoy seeing unique uses of materials in art. And I don’t just mean the pigments used to create art that you look at—I’m also intrigued by the use of materials to create art that you wear.

So it is no surprise that my interest was piqued by the music video for Billie Eilish’s new collaboration with Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía. In the video, both women sport unique 3D sculpted fingernail art made out of glass!

Credit: Billie Eilish, YouTube

Investigating the backstory of these glass nails led me down a rabbit hole on nail art history—which is older than you may realize.

A brief history of cosmetic nail treatments

The history of cosmetic nail treatments is an old one without exact origins, as it appears to have originated in different parts of the world around the same time.

In Babylonia, around 3200 BCE, it was the men, not the women, who decorated their nails. They would manicure and color their nails using kohl as part of a pre-battle ritual designed to intimidate their enemies.

In both ancient Egypt and China, around 3000 BCE, the color of a person’s nails indicated social status. High society citizens in Egypt would dye their nails with henna, while lower class citizens wore pastel and neutral shades. In China, people experimented with different ingredients to create nail polish, such as beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, vegetable dyes, and gum arabic.

It wasn’t until the 1920s, when the automobile industry developed new paints, that modern-day nail polish was born. The invention is often attributed to French makeup artist Michelle Menard, who is said to have been inspired by the high-gloss shine of car paint.

In the 1950s, the next generation of materials used for nail art came about accidentally when dentist Fred Slack and his brother inadvertently invented acrylic extensions while trying to mend a broken fingernail. However, it was twenty years later, in the late 1970s, that the professional liquid and powder system used in acrylics today was invented.

Since 2012, the United States has witnessed a surging popularity of nail art, with “nailfluencers” gaining increased status this past year as people attempt manicures at home. It is in this environment that we meet Sojin Oh.

Sojin Oh: Honoring nature through nails

Sojin Oh is a Korea-born, Los Angeles-based nail artist who is known for her otherworldly, three-dimensional manicures. She is relatively new to the art scene, having first enrolled in a beauty school in 2019. However, her sculptural press-on flourishes quickly gained attention on Instagram and led to celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Lil Nas X—and now Billie Eilish—sporting her designs.

Since the beginning of her art career, nature has formed the heart of Oh’s work. “I’m inspired by the beauty of Mother Earth, so I decided to mimic little nature creatures on my nail bed using building gel,” Oh says in an article by The Zoe Report. “I always was fascinated by clear gel. I loved the organic look of it, so I started playing with it in class.”

Oh has used various materials to create nature-inspired designs, including moss, seashells, and even dead bees. The 3D glass sculpted flowers that Eilish and Rosalía wore, which were created with the help of artist Grace Wardlaw, are a design Oh experimented with previously. She attaches the glass flowers to the nails using clear building gel.

Wardlaw created the flowers through lampworking, or flameworking. It is a type of glasswork in which a torch or lamp is used to melt the glass. Once the glass is molten, it is formed by blowing and shaping with tools and hand movements. The video below provides an example of how glass flowers are created through lampworking.

Credit: Plymouth College of Art, YouTube