Steph Stone is one of LA’s most trusted nail artists—and there’s seemingly no manicure too ambitious for her capable hands. Craving an intricate, glittery ombré paint job? Steph can do it. Want Harry Potter themed nail art? No problem.
This mani-maven turned her lifelong passion for art and creativity into a flourishing business doing nails, even working with the great celebrity manicurist Jenna Hipp at one point. Steph realized early on how valuable social media was as a marketing tool, and her Instagram continues to be an important part of her brand—not to mention a destination for us beauty enthusiasts look to for inspiration. Here, she tells us about some of her favorite looks from set, her artistic process, and the biggest nail mistakes women make.
How did you get started in your career?
I had always painted or crafted growing up, but I never considered that it could translate into a profession made out of nail art! My career started when a friend who knew I loved to paint was working as an on-set manicurist. She had told me “You should come do this. You’d be really good at it!” So, I assisted her on a couple creative test shoots before that yes, it was something I could do and actually enjoy. Once I knew I was interested, I enrolled in nail school, completed the program, got licensed and things kind of just fell into place from there.
How did you work to differentiate yourself in order to break into such a competitive industry, and how do you continue to make sure you stand out?
When I first started, nails were really starting to take off. I remember even when I wasn't working on set, which wasn’t much when I first started, I was just experimenting with nail looks on my friends or on my own hands. I became extremely committed to creating “nail content” and used Instagram as a free form of advertising. I looked at is as an online portfolio more than a social media platform. The experimenting was also good practice. I wasn’t great immediately and didn’t always like what I painted. Trying out different looks was a way to better my craft.
Now that I feel established in my career, I’m not as concerned about standing out. There are so many incredible artists out there and if I was constantly trying to keep up I think I’d drive myself crazy! At this point, I feel that I’m known for what I am good at, and I hope that by maintaining the quality of my work, people will continue wanting to keep me around more than if I felt like I was constantly fighting for my spot. I think keeping true to yourself and your own style is what makes an amazing artist in any department.
Whether you’re on set for a shoot or working directly with a client for an event, how do you go about creating the right nail look?
Though nails may seem like such a minor detail, in actuality, so much thought goes into picking the perfect color! This is one of my favorite things about the job, though. On set we consider a variety of factors: What season are the pictures coming out in? Will this color clash or distract from the make up? What kind of clothes are the models wearing? Is this color going to work throughout the day, or will it require nail changes?
For red carpet we consider a lot of those same things. The stylist and photographer will often have strong opinions about the nail color, so we kind of collectively decide as a group. We want to make sure every aspect of the photo is cohesive.
Do you have any particular projects you’re most proud of?
I am proud of all of it really! I can’t believe this is my job. Any time I see something in print or on a billboard of something I created I feel extremely proud that I got to be a part of that team.
What’s the craziest nail design you’ve been tasked to create?
Some of Steph's most memorable manicures:
What’s the biggest mistake women make when it comes to their nails?
Biting! Whether it’s the nails themselves and the cuticles around them. This leads to a cycle of repeated biting and picking, and no manicurist can really redeem them to their full potential.
If you know you have this problem it’s best to keep a mini mani-kit in your purse that contains lotion and cuticle oil, cuticle nippers, and a nail file. Keeping your hands and nails hydrated will prevent hang nails all together and the nippers and file are handy if you're desperate to rid your finger of a lingering piece of snagged skin.
What’s your most requested nail look at moment?
Nude! Always nude, honestly. I think nail trends come in cycles, but I go to work every day and mostly manicure and then paint clean nails.
My two favorite nudes that look good on pretty much everyone are Essie's Topless + Barefoot and also Chanel’s Ballerina. The Essie shade is an opaque beige while the Chanel color is more sheer and clean looking.
What are some of your favorite nailcare or polish brands?
Essie and Chanel and Tweezerman and Patchology, to name a few. A lot of different brands have my favorite products, catering to different needs.
What are your tips for maintaining strong, healthy nails?
Avoid gels and acrylics. Moisturize. Trim and file nails on a regular basis. Sticking to the basics goes a long way!
Do you have any insight or tips when it comes to pairing your polish color with your outfit?
It really is such a specific thing, which is why so much discussion happens when choosing a nail color on set! If you’re looking for something that is safe and going to go with everything, stick to a neutral. Or trust your instincts. Pick a color that accents one of the colors that is in your outfit. Otherwise just wear what you like and that is going to make you happy when you look at it.
What are some nail trends we need to know about for the upcoming season?
I truly feel that trends are an irrelevant trope of the past. There are always going to be certain styles everybody gravitates to for a moment, but that should never affect your personal decision-making process. Nail art is going to come and go in waves. I think it’s more important that the nails complement your look as a whole as opposed to fulfilling what the “hot nail trend” of the moment.
Do you have any rules when it comes to pairing the color on your hands with the one on your toes?
I feel best when my fingers and toes match. If I am going for two colors though, I generally put the heavier or bolder color on my toes and keep my manicure more neutral.
What is the best part about your job and what you do?
Seeing the final product come to life when the images are finally published is without a doubt my favorite part of the job!