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Nail designer turns manicures into artwork

February 28, 2013|By Gina Chinino | For RedEye

Move over Picasso, Chicago has a new artist in town. No, you won’t see this creative mastermind’s artwork on display at Daley Plaza, but somewhere less apparent.

Take a look down at Chicago ladies’ hands.

Those fingernails are the perfect-size canvas for professional nail artist Ashley Crowe, 23, a.k.a. AstroWifey, who brings her clients’ ideas to life and leaves them with a unique piece of artwork.

“If I blow up a canvas really big I feel that my details aren’t as great as if it were a super-small canvas, which is kind of opposite for some people,” said Crowe, who left her corporate job last year for a full-time career in nail art. “But, for me, this is my niche.”

It might be her niche, but it’s garnering her widespread attention. Crowe’s talent landed her a spot in a contemporary art pop-up dedicated to nail at New York City’s MoMA PS1, an art exhibition space affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art.

“It was just mind-blowing that someone would wait two to three hours just to get a nail set done by, you know, someone like me,” said Crowe while reflecting on her experience at MoMA PS1. “It was just really cool to see the support from girls who are really into what we do.”

Crowe’s birth as a nail artist came about as she combined the painting techniques she learned from an after-school program with her passion for doing nails. She quickly realized she had a natural talent for nail art. But she considered her discovery of nail art, a “very happy accident”.

“It just actually happened very organically, and it was very meant to be,” said Crowe, whose private nail studio is in Jefferson Park. “It was all right in my face and finally I’m like ‘Hey, I’m going to start blogging about this and sharing it with people,’ and I started taking clients from there.”

In order to please the increasing number of nail-art enthusiasts, Crowe and her friend, Isis Nicole Marshall, 22, co-created Tipsy Zine, a magazine dedicated to nail art. Even though the two are business partners, Marshall, a Columbia College graduate, also is one of AstroWifey’s biggest fans.

“I only let certain people do my nails, and she [Crowe] is No. 1,” Marshall said.

Marshall isn’t the only client who is passionate about her nails.

“Nail art is like the one thing I do for myself,” said Nicole Bouchier, 29, a River North graduate student and one of Crowe’s devoted clients. “I’m a little apprehensive to get tattoos, so this is a way that I can do art that I want on my body that’s only temporary.”

A typical manicure session with Crowe lasts a little more than an hour and begins with a collaboration of creative ideas with the client. The most unusual request she has received was painting an ultrasound picture inside of a nail. But, no matter the request, Crowe is ready to bring it to life

“There are so many things I love about being a nail artist,” said Crowe, a licensed nail technician. “I really love being able to exercise my artistic abilities every single day. I never feel like I’m lacking creativity because every day I get to create something on someone’s nails, and they get to walk around and flaunt it. It’s just so fun seeing my clients almost take on another personality when their nails are done. It makes me happy to see them happy.”

Gina Chinino is a RedEye special contributor.

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