cre·a·tive krēˈādiv/ adjective: relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
It was my first year in Chicago, my first year out of the nest, and I was forever looking for ways to spend my first salary. Skimming Google Reader, I stopped on a post written by Afrobella raving about a local nail artist known for her geometric, avant-garde designs. Since then, that artist has been sculpting a national brand and cementing a name for herself as one of the top nail artists in the city. It’s been almost 10 years since I last visited Tacarra Sutton, better known as Spifster. I left her then with caviar nails in ten different varieties, one on each finger.
How have things changed since? “First, no one gets caviar nails anymore.” Shade. “It was the hottest thing back then,” she laughs. “It was so cold.” It sounds cliché (which in itself is a cliché, I know) but Spifster is the most down-to-earth, laid back professional-creative you’ll ever meet. “I travel more for sure. Now, I can say I have clientele in New York. I have a clientele in Miami. Going outside of the city, I can pick up ten girls right away.”
How long did it take to reach this level of success? “I would say two strong years.” My face reads incredulous. “I’ve been doing this for a while and I think people have been wanting me in other cities for a long time, but things really popped off about two years ago when I started going to Atlanta.” Atlanta is one of those cities where styles I’d describe as intrinsically Black will never die. Like rainbow weaves and finger waves. Bless Atlanta.
During the week of my appointment, marble designs are $10 off. For her, this is a new technique but plenty of hopeful guinea pigs have been filling her appointment book, allowing her to craft and perfect her method. “Marble nails have been around for a while, but not really in Chicago. I hit up Rose, who was the coldest at it, and was like ‘Let me see what you doin’.” Rose is a Miami based nail artist with a cult following of her own. “It’s fun, really. Any specials I ever do are just enjoyable for me. I’ll also do specials like black and yellow because those are my favorite colors together.” Keep up on current specials by following Spifster on IG.
Speaking of Miami, last year was the nonconforming painter’s second attending Art Basel, the international art world’s Lollapalooza. “It was my second time there, but my first time not struggling. The first time, I was doing nails just to make money while networking. But it was last-minute. I couldn’t promote myself properly. This time we planned it way in advance.” Shervan owns the salon where Spifster works and they collaborate often on other projects. For Art Basel 2015, they created a space that was both salon and living art studio. “Shervan found an artist from Chicago [via] Instagram. While the artist painted, I did nails, and the salon team performed quick hair services. We’ve been talking about attending Art Basel this year…plotting. This year I want to really brand myself as an artist.” The only thing separating her from most other painters, of course, is canvas.
Spifster’s talents aren’t confined to only one medium. “I’m planning a home décor line. It’s been in the works for a year. I’m doing research, networking, pulling together photo shoots.” But creative minds and deadlines have never been BFFs. “There’s no telling when the home line will launch. I can be good with deadlines but I have to wait until it feels right. I’m not rushing anything.” If you’re worried her nonchalant attitude could mean missed opportunities in the future, your concern is hopelessly misplaced. “Who am I competing against? No one but myself.” #Facts.
What does it say about us if the expressions of artistry we favor are decided by mainstream media? Discussing the purpose of creativity, we’re likely to throw around words like eccentricity or rarity. Never generic or trending. So while nail art isn’t riding high on the wave of popular opinion, it is an essential element of my aesthetic. It’s one of those things I’ll never not be in to.
Photos are my own via Tumblr.