Doing what you love and loving what you do is sometimes easier said than done. Being relentless and focused — while still going with the flow — is an art that can be a lifelong process to master. However, having the utmost fulfillment and joy in how you spend moments working is truly just as important as breathing.
Having fun on the job was at the forefront of Denver nail artist Ashleigh Owens’ mind when she decided to take her almost decade-long hobby of nail design into a full-fledged business. Though she doesn’t necessarily consider herself a traditional artist — strangely finding it difficult to draw or paint on paper, despite creating almost anything on a nail — she’s found immense artistic growth over the past two years after getting her nail tech license in 2018. Today, as an established and talented creator, Owens finally has her dream job.
The love and support from her parents, sisters and nieces over the span of five years have helped her tremendously on her path.
“Being a nail tech fulfills me because it’s fun and I can make other people happy. I love every aspect of my business. Buying supplies is a good time because I like shopping anyway. I compare it to being a kid getting new toys. Doing nails feels like getting paid to play,” Owens shared.
Just scrolling through her Instagram account makes it completely evident that all that Owens has built — so far — has taken tenacious persistence. And, for good reason. Owens gushed, “I am a single mom of the best 5-year-old in the universe!”. Everything that she’s building is for August, as written in an Instagram caption late last year.
You’re now probably wondering about what the creative process looks like for Owens. For starters, she told us that most of the designs you see on social media usually come from the inspiration of both her clients and fellow nail artists. It’s a process that requires the fluidity of adding her own flair with the vision of others.
“One of my favorite designs was one where a client asked me to paint an image she often sees in her dreams. It was fun to interpret her description and make it into something tangible.”
Conversely, sometimes “aha” moments move Owens to conjure original designs that are uniquely her own.
“After that [“aha” moment], I’ll take a day or so to picture the details of what I want. When I sit down to work on my ideas, I usually listen to music because it helps me flow, and everything becomes automatic — where I don’t have to think hard about what I’m doing,” she described.
Some of her favorite nail trends, at the moment, are clear encapsulated nails, designer brand decals, matte finishes and nails that look like stones, such as rose quartz or jade. Take the butterflies made from hard gel and gel polish for example. “I’m very proud of them because I made them from scratch,” Owens explained.
The subtle act of a tiny brushstroke of paint goes such a long way for Owens. She claimed that witnessing her art come to life is the most fun aspect of her craft. However, regardless of mastery, there are challenges as a nail artist. “Having to start over when something doesn’t come out how I pictured it, whether it’s the structure of the nail or the artwork on top,” is one small caveat to her job.
The good news is that art, like most expressive things, is malleable. Continuously transforming into an evolving masterpiece.
This is exactly why Owens is a firm believer in trusting your intuition.
“I hear from a lot of beginning nail techs that they’re worried they won’t get better. That’s not true if you don’t give up. When I started to trust myself, every aspect of my work — artistically and professionally — improved tremendously because I wasn’t limiting myself with doubts.”
Owens even confided that she’d previously thought people wouldn’t trust her to do their nails because of her race. With time, she’s grown to realize that these assumptions were incredibly wrong and that being unique makes her a trailblazer. “I hope more black women will feel welcome in the nail industry. I’m here with open arms,” Owens kindly stated. She’s even taken it upon herself to compile a list of local Black licensed nail techs to spread the love.
Knowing that her passion for nail artistry has helped another person feel more confident and beautiful is the cherry on top for Owens. “I love my clients and I get to meet the most amazing people almost every day,” she said. Many of her clients have become her friends after simply sitting with each other for a couple of hours talking about life, love, art, parenting and so much more. “It’s amazing what a new set of nails can do,” said Owens.
When it comes to the future, Owens is optimistic.
“I envision Nails With Ashleigh to become Art Official Nails, a name I came up with in one of those ‘aha’ moments. It’s special to me because it’s punny and it has my initials. I’d like AO Nails to be a trendy and fun salon where the focus is on the art aspect of doing nails. I’d also like to become an educator in the nail industry. I love showing what I know, and watching people grow and thrive.”
In the meantime, you can find Owens working at Denver’s The Beauty Collective and can be booked for an appointment online or via text. And — if you’re lucky — she’ll sometimes go to a client’s house if she’s built up trust and friendship.
Photography Courtesy of Ashleigh Owens and Andrew Morris