I've gotten lots of questions about nails so I thought I'd put together a little series of posts about some of my favorite basic products and tools, along with some tips on how I get the most from my mani. There are loads of nail blogs out there with far more detailed information as well as step-by-step instructions ranging from simple to the complex, and of course tons of nail art on Pinterest. One of my favorite nail art blogs is Chalkboard Nails, you can get to lots of others from there. A very comprehensive Pinterest collection can be found here, with a HUGE nail art board specifically found here.
My favorite is the 3-stroke technique, a great visual and explanation can be found here. All of the tips listed in that post are excellent as well, especially starting with your non-dominant hand; she's also got a great little tutorial about nail cleanup linked at the bottom, though I usually just gently peel off anything that strayed onto my skin in the shower. I've found that the key to keeping the lines clean, off your skin, and out of your cuticles is don't be afraid to go slowly. I find it especially helpful as my hands are a bit shaky, so taking that extra time helps stabilize the lines.
The other thing that will help your manicure last longer, especially with longer nails, is to wrap the tips (photo #1). By this I mean to swipe a bit of polish along the tip of your nail so that the polish is wrapped around your nail, from above to below; use another finger to gently pull the skin away from the nail. I usually paint the nail and then wrap the tip, but I don't think the order matters. If you wear your nails short, it's difficult to do this without smearing polish all over your skin, so I skip this step when my nails are short and just make sure that I extend the polish all the way to the tips. Hopefully my photo helps make sense of wrapping for you, it was tough getting a picture of both hands by myself ;) After using Seche Vite as a topcoat, this is the second most important tip I can share!!
Specialized Effects Polishes
I'm not going into much detail about the myriad effect top coat options out there, just a couple of the most unique and helpful (photo #2).
The first is a matte top coat, many of which are available out there. I use an inexpensive one from Essence, you can find them at ULTA. While there are some matte finish polishes out there, using the top coat will transform any polish into a matte version of itself. When using this, I'll do the manicure as usual including the Seche Vite top coat and then follow that with the matte top coat last. The matte effect will wear off as the days go by, so I'll sometimes pop another coat on to refresh the matte look a couple days in.
There are also many types of nail stripers out there, most often in crème or glitter finishes. These come with a long, thin brush which allow for finer detail work, the most common of which is, as the name implies, striping.
And though not a topcoat, one other really fun polish I showed dries to a matte sandy finish; I'm especially fond of the ones with sparklies in them. When worn alongside normal polishes you can get some really interesting effects. No top coat used on these, so you definitely have to let them dry a good while. I like to do 2-3 VERY thin coats with these as opposed to fewer thicker layers, which speeds the drying time up a bit as well.
Beyond these, some of the other common effect-type polishes you'll find are: glitters (in all shades, shapes, sizes, and densities), flakies (color shifting transluscent shards, found in silver/clear, yellow, red, green, and blue), duochrome polishes (both standalone and topcoats) that shift colors depending on the angle, and shattered top coats.
I'm happy to answer any questions, and would love to hear your own tips!