Friday, July 25, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things (Pic Heavy)

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Hello Loves.  Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m treating myself by not doing my nails.  Hilarious, right?  Instead, I’ve decided to dust off my pen and try my hand at writing music.  Oh how I crack myself up!  But seriously, today’s post is about a few of my favorite things.  ;)

(To the tune of “My Favorite Things” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II)

My Favorite Things by Manic Talons

Ok, so now that my cheesy song writing is out of the way, ready to break it down verse by verse (with photos, of course!)? 

Couture Gel Polish and Espree Salon Lamp
Great glitter toppers and holos and multis
Messy Mansion Stamping that makes my heart sing
These are a few of my favorite things!

Couture Gel Nail Polish

I’m often asked which gel polish brand is my favorite.  I actually have a top 5 that rotates around quite a bit.  Beyond #1, I can’t put them in order no matter how hard I try.  But my absolute favorite gel polish brand is Couture Gel Nail Polish (no surprise there, right?).  The polishes are highly pigmented, 99% of them apply easily, and they soak off super fast.  Not to mention of the 105 colors in the line, there are only a few that I don’t really like.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is the brand I reach for as a base for my art more often than any other brand.

Couture Espree Salon Lamp

Another question I get asked frequently is which lamp I use.  I have several lamps in my arsenal, but my go-to lamp is the Couture Espree LED.  It has yet to fail me, cures perfectly every time, and is compact so it doesn’t take up a ton of room on my desk.  The only down side to the Couture lamp is that it isn’t 5 finger cure for me.  5 fingers will easily fit, but if you have man hands like mine, it can be difficult to position your thumbs correctly.  If you have smaller hands, 5 finger cure won’t be a problem.  :)

Ok, so I mentioned glitter toppers, holos and multichromes.  Want to see my favorites?

Favorite Gel Glitter Topper:  Revel Nail Gel Polish in Disco.  Disco is like Gelaze Fairy Dust or Gelish Vegas Nights on Steroids.  So pretty and blingy! 
Revel Nail Gel Polish Disco Swatch

If you missed it before, check out my full Revel Nail review here.  Also, Revel has recently increased their prices just a tad (they're still super affordable), but they have extended a discount on the full collection to you!  Use code "manic" to purchase the base line of 24 colors plus top and base for just $150.  Here's a shot of Disco over Mai Tai.  I just love this topper!
Revel Nail Disco Over Mai Tai

Favorite RNP Glitter Topper (for the moment lol):  KBShimmer Happily Ever Aster.  I mean, seriously…purple and aqua?  Yes please!
KBShimmer Happily Ever Aster Swatch

Favorite Holo:  This is a toss-up between Girly Bits Bachelor’s Button and KBShimmer Stark Raven Mad.  Both are absolutely gorgeous with strong linear holographic effects.  I adore the blue of Bachelor’s ButtonYou know me and my blues.
Girly Bits Bachelor's Button Swatch

And KBShimmer Stark Raven Mad is the perfect black holo.  Just look at the rainbow!
KBShimmer Stark Raven Mad

Favorite Multichrome:  Girly Bits Wave the Sails.  Hands down, absolute fave!  The shift in this polish is so strong I don’t think I could take a photo without capturing it, and that’s saying something!
Girly Bits Wave the Sails Swatch

And Messy Mansion!  Oh my beloved Messy Mansion stamping plates.  I have a lot of plates from a lot of different companies (I stopped counting at 300 – oh the shame of being a hoarder!), but I tend to reach for my Messy Mansion plates the most.  I love the complexity of the larger images.  They fit my longer nails with ease and stamp perfectly every time.  The quality makes all the difference in the world, and the unique designs don’t hurt either.  ;)  Her direct shop is down due to technical difficulties at the moment, but several of the Messy Mansion plates are available on Amazon too.  MM44 pictured below is my current favorite from my Messy Mansion collection.
Messy Mansion MM44

Girly Bits, KBShimmer and Bliss Kiss Nail Oil Pens
Palmers Cocoa Butter and soft gloves to sleep in
Nail Tek Crystal Nail Files that smooth out the dings
These are a few of my favorite things!

Ok, so I guess we’re moving on to my hand and nail care favorites.  To be completely honest, my absolute go-to for cuticles is Adobe Photoshop Elements.  Just kidding!  But not really.  Thing is, I’m human.  And I’m a klutz.  My cuticles are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  I do follow a rigorous hand and nail care routine, but there’s no magic potion out there that will fix my constant paper cuts and hang nails from my job.  But I have also gotten funny about my photos, so I do use photoshop to erase cuts and hang nails that would distract from the polish and nail art.  With that said, photoshop can only do so much without creating alien hands, so I rely on my oils and creams to keep my hands mostly photo ready.

Manic Talons Favorite Cuticle Oils

I rotate three different cuticle oils on a regular basis.  I don’t know that one is better than the other, but they all have their great points and all seem to really help keep my cuticles in line. 
  • Bliss Kiss Nail Oil is my go-to for getting my hands back in shape when I have neglected them or had a particularly rough week.  A few days of constant application tames the madness.  Bliss Kiss is a little pricey, but it’s worth it in my opinion! 
  • For photos, I use KBShimmer’s Lemongrass Cuticle oil.  I don’t know how she managed to create an oil that isn’t oily, but this stuff is like magic for fixing dry spots without creating major sheen in photos!  And it smells wonderful.
  • Finally, for regular maintenance, I’m loving Girly Bits Frazzle Fixer cuticle oil.  I have the sangria fragrance, and it is simply divine.  It reminds me of sweet tarts.  I like this one because it soaks in nicely but seems to stick around longer so I don’t have to constantly reapply.

Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula

For a hand cream, I’m a bit old fashioned.  I’ve tried a lot of different creams, but nothing seems to work quite as well as Palmers Cocoa Butter Formula for deep moisturizing.  Plus it really helps smooth out my skin tone.  Bonus: It keeps my skin plumped up and wrinkles less noticeable (I’m no spring chicken, you know).  I apply it a few times during the day, but my biggest tip is to use it at night with moisturizing gloves!  I apply my cuticle oil, then slather on the palmers and slip my hands into my gloves before bed every night.  When I wake up, my hands are smooth as silk and as close to photo ready as they will ever get!

Moisturizing Gloves

Speaking of gloves, if you've never tried moisturizing gloves, you HAVE to try them.  The light weight cotton makes them easy to sleep in without being irritating or hot, and the results are just fabulous.  These from Spa Sister are the ones I use.  I have several pair.

Nail Tek Crystal File

Finally, my new found love is my Nail Tek Crystal Nail File.  I have no clue why I waited so long to try a crystal file.  I guess I just didn’t believe the hype and the price was a bit of a downer.  But I finally broke down and bought one a few months back, and I swear I will never use a regular file again.  This thing rocks!  Not to mention it makes quick work of filing down my length when these talons get out of control.  I hate filing my nails, so any file that works quickly without causing spits is an A+ in my book.  Best $10 I ever spent.  There may be other files out there that are even better than this one, but the Nail Tek file is the one I use.  :)

A Monstrous light box and black velvet backdrops
An Old Canon Rebel - fast shutter low f-stops
Craig Gum for tips and for tweaking my lighting
These are a few of my favorite things!

Ah, and here we are at my favorite part of my favorite things.  I get a lot of questions about my photos too.  Photography is a hobby for me in itself.  I am constantly tweaking my setup and improving my photos.  I enjoy this part of blogging as much as I enjoy swatching and creating the nail art itself.  I take all of my photos in a comically large light box from Cowboy Studio with a custom black velvet backdrop.  This box is way bigger than anyone would ever need for hand photography (30x30 cube), but I do product photography on the side as well and need the larger box for that.  Plus I love that I can climb inside the box to get the perfect angle for my shots if needed.  It can also double as a play tent for children.  lol

I use four (yes, four…remember, huge box) light sources for my photos.  One from the top, one from each side, and one shining directly into the box from the front to highlight shimmers and the gloss of the top coat.  The lamps all hold compact florescent bulbs in the 6000 kelvin range (in other words, they mimic natural daylight in the shade). I picked these up at a local specialty lighting store, so I don't have a link to share.  Here's a shot of my setup (taken with my iphone).

That covers my setup, but I’m often asked which camera I use.  My camera is a Canon Rebel XS.  It has served me well in the 4 years that I have owned it and has all of the features I really need, but I’m looking to upgrade soon.  Why?  Because new toys are fun!  My little Rebel is a great camera and I love the photos I take with it.  As a starter DSLR, I can’t fault it at all and highly recommend it.  I’m simply ready to move on to bigger and better things.  ;)
Canon Rebel XS
Excuse the weird color cast.  My iphone takes strange pictures.  Oh, and excuse the nail polish on the shutter button!  But I guess that proves that this is a picture of my actual camera.  ;)

Finally, my absolute favorite blog/photography “thing” is this guy:
Seld Portrait by Craig Gum
(Photo Credit: Craig Gum Photography)

No, that’s not my husband (though he does deserve an honorable mention for putting up with my blogging shenanigans).  The gentleman pictured above is Craig Gum of Craig Gum Photography.  To call Craig a photographer is like calling the Eiffel Tower a building.  He’s so much more!  He’s an artist, a visionary, and a master of light.  Seriously amazing talent.  Check out his website and I’m sure you’ll agree (warning: his website contains nudity and may not be appropriate for work – so you might want to check out his facebook page instead.  His images on facebook show a bit of skin, but have been edited to meet facebook's requirements.) 

So, why do I list Craig as one of my favorite things?  Well, aside from being an inspiration, he’s also a hell of a nice guy.  How many established, internationally published artists do you know that you could walk up to and say “Hi.  I take photos of nail polish and post them on the internet.  Will you help me improve my photography?” and not get laughed out of the room?  I met Craig through my brother’s former business of mixed martial arts promotions.  I knew his name and had said hello in passing, but that was about it.  When I was struggling with a few photos, I took a chance and fired off a message to him on Facebook.  I didn’t really expect him to answer, but he did!  He walked me through the tweaks I need to conquer my nemesis - Couture Spa Day.  I later attended a photography class he offered at his studio and learned even more tricks.  I still pick Craig’s brain from time to time, and I always learn so much more than I ever imagined.  Seriously, y’all, Craig’s kindness and willingness to help a crazy hobby photographer took my photos from this:
Old Swatch Photos

To this. 
New Swatch Photos

I am eternally grateful to Craig for all of his advice and patience with me over the past year!  And I fully credit my success as a hobby photographer and blogger to his instruction.  :)  But I’m not finished yet.  I’m planning to book at least one one-on-one session with Craig in the near future, so expect my photos to get better still!

When a nail breaks, when my art fails,
When I just end up mad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad!

So there you have it – my favorite things.  :)  I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and my silly attempt at song writing!


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  1. Great picks, I love KBShimmer's oils too! Messy Mansion's site is working for me, though. I know she was adding some new stuff a couple days ago I think, so it may have been down just temporarily but it's up now.

    1. Thanks Kirby! When I checled it on Wed, none of the MM plates were in the store.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. Full of great information. Thank you for sharing!!!!

  3. Great post Michelle! Now I want to go order some things... ;-)

  4. It is different but I liked reading your article. Is it your birthday today? If it is Happy Bithday.

  5. What a great post! I loved reading it. :)

  6. This is possibly one of my favourite blog posts ever. In the whole world. I 'sang' my way through it a few times and have had everyone around me read it too so they could sing it :P (sorry husband)
    Thank you for the great tips in here as well.

  7. oh wow im totally gonna have to check out Craig's page... id love to learn how to take decent photos! i am a hobby photographer too but always outside!


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