‘I had $20 to my name’: How a Phoenix nail artist found Instagram fame and his own lane

No one does nails like Jimmy Nguyen does nails.

The self-taught Phoenix nail artist went from working in warehouses to garnering more than 25,000 Instagram followers who fawn over his unique nail designs.

On his Instagram (@buddhasnails) Nguyen showcases hispainterlyversatility with nail art inspired by artists Keith Harring and Junji Ito, spikypink stiletto nails that ombre into gold flake tips and transparent coffin-shaped nailsflaunting his signature Old Englishtypeface.

Starting at $70 a set, Nguyen’s work ranges from Frida Kahlo portraits and intricate bumblebees to lifelike pathos vines. He freehands all his work using nail polishes and acrylic paint. No stencils. And abstract pieces that would usually cover a large canvas are resized to fit nails short, long or stiletto.

Nguyen planned to open his own nail salon, Slain Studios, earlier in 2020, but the opening was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. After two years of getting the shop ready, he now plans to open in July.

“I’m just thankful I’m able to like to take care of my family,” Nguyen said. “Back in the day, I couldn’t do any of this.”

No one does nails like Jimmy Nguyen does nails.

The self-taught Phoenix nail artist went from working in warehouses to garnering more than 25,000 Instagram followers who fawn over his unique nail designs.

On his Instagram (@buddhasnails) Nguyen showcases hispainterlyversatility with nail art inspired by artists Keith Harring and Junji Ito, spikypink stiletto nails that ombre into gold flake tips and transparent coffin-shaped nailsflaunting his signature Old Englishtypeface.

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Starting at $70 a set, Nguyen’s work ranges from Frida Kahlo portraits and intricate bumblebees to lifelike pathos vines. He freehands all his work using nail polishes and acrylic paint. No stencils. And abstract pieces that would usually cover a large canvas are resized to fit nails short, long or stiletto.

Nguyen planned to open his own nail salon, Slain Studios, earlier in 2020, but the opening was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. After two years of getting the shop ready, he now plans to open in July.

“I’m just thankful I’m able to like to take care of my family,” Nguyen said. “Back in the day, I couldn’t do any of this.”

How Jimmy Nguyen got his start in nail salons
Nail artist Jimmy Nguyen stands in his studio in Phoenix on May 18, 2020.
Nail artist Jimmy Nguyen stands in his studio in Phoenix on May 18, 2020. (Photo: Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic)

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Art came naturally for Nguyen, he said he’s always been an artist but didn’t start applying his art to nails until 2008.

“It’s crazy when I was a kid I always would draw something really tiny. It’s weird,” he said. “I was fascinated with like tiny things like, I’d make tiny paper cranes or I try to draw something really small. I guess it worked out.”

Nguyen grew up in nail salons in metro Phoenix. But when he was younger, he didn’t want to grow up to become a nail artist.

“In Asian households that do nails, they don’t want their kids to do nails,” Nguyen said. “I embedded in my head that I never wanted to do it.”

After high school, Nguyen worked in an Amazon warehouse to make ends meet, but he hated it.

“I moved into my mom’s and slept on the couch. I had $20 to my name,” Nguyen said. “I just couldn’t take it anymore working crappy jobs.”

Then he moved to Florida to spend a year managing his aunt’s nail salon. That’s where he began to develop a following and a clientele who noticed his work. Eventually, he returned to Phoenix to be closer to his daughter, doing nails on the side.

His name is out there now and on the radars of celebrities like “Basketball Wives” star Evelyn Lozada and “The Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo.

Nguyen is far from letting up.

He is currently preparing for the grand opening of Slain Studios, at 19th Street and McDowell Road. COVID-19 halted his businesses for a while, but he’s currently taking a few clients a day by appointment only.

Being an independent nail artist during a pandemic is complicated. In March, his phone filled up with messages and calls for appointments. But after taking a few private clients, he made the tough decision to stop and stay home.

“It was rough, I did a couple of house calls, which I know I shouldn’t have, but I have a wife and kids to feed,” Nguyen said.

When Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order ended on May 16, the calls flooded Nguyen’s phone again. With social distancing in mind, he took one client at a time.

“I’m busy, I don’t even get a chance to use the restroom,” he said. “I see about nine people a day, nine hours of work.”
(AZCentral)

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