I grew up in the 80s. I remember watching the video for THRILLER when I was super young, and being in equal measure in complete awe, and terrified. Then, I remember watching the behind-the-scenes making of said video, and not only falling in love with it in a whole new way, but consciously marking the point at which I began developing a life-long love-affair with BTS and SFX work. There’s a level of depth, contour, and most importantly, feel, to practical effects that CGI will never replace. The thought, time, craftsmanship, collaboration, imagination and ability to think outside the box and conjure the bloodiest, goriest, most visceral and tangible special effects remains the major factor that sets the classics apart from the rest.
Enter, Jolandi du Preez, owner and creator behind the special effects nail company, Onyx Nails Design. Hailing from South Africa and now residing in Canada, du Preez is a trained esthetician and made her way to crafting these truly groundbreaking designs rather organically. “Three years ago, I decided I wanted to take a nail course, then realized that I don’t actually like doing nails on people – it’s not my jam. It was the nail art part that really got me hooked, instantly.”
That’s right. Three years ago. It’s only taken her three years to develop this level of her newfound craft with no former experience. “I wish I could say I have some really cool backstory, it’s just never something I got into. I would never say that I’m an artistic person – I think it caught me by surprise more than anybody, the process and thinking outside the box. I’m exploring myself as much as anything else.”
Which leads to the question – how are these nails even made? “It’s a crazy process sometimes – I have an idea in my head and have no idea how to get there. I do use mixed media – I will use whatever it takes to make the nails. Sometimes it’s definitely non-traditional products. For example, I found finishing nails in the garage and asked my husband if he could cut 50 of them for me. I literally used finishing nails to make a set of nails. In terms of a base – I have clear base nails, sometimes clay, or liquid plastic. Sometimes I do molding. I have a couple of sets made from filigree metal – they’re super sharp.”
This approach certainly seems outside the box, but maybe not as much as one would first think. “Don’t get me wrong – I doubted my own sanity on a daily basis – but as it evolved, I realized there is actually a market for it. I connected with other special effects artists and started doing costume work and it was great. I had to do a GAME OF THRONES set for a photoshoot – after that set, I was hooked. I didn’t realize there was such a thing as special effects nails. Now, the crazier the nails, the better. Like, someone requested a troll set and I thought, ‘Oh – blood and mud and dirt! Yes!’ These kinds of nails are just so much more fun than saying, ‘Let’s do a fairy nail with flowers,’ you know?’”
Having worked with Netflix SKIN WARS body paint winner, Natalie Fletcher, du Preez’s roster of collaborators range from Drag Queens, to make-up artists, to fellow creatives gathering to share and master their skills. While attending Monsterpalooza in California over the summer, du Preez found herself presented with a very specific, very unique collaboration opportunity. “I went to a SFX convention in LA a few months ago, and there was somebody there who needed a set for a hitchhiking ghost costume. That caught me a little off guard – I thought, so how are we going to do this? She had a very specific color scheme in mind. I actually went there and got to apply the nails on the person for the first time – it took my breath away to see the whole look together. I’m never there, because my products ship worldwide, so I’m never there to see it all come together. It was such an incredible experience.”
In terms of product, I’d like to share my favorites:
First, the Bloody Dracula nails, which, when held up to the light, actually emulate the look of dripping, oozing blood. There’s a coagulated texture accentuated by layered hues of deep, almost black red, a vivid sparkling red, and a translucent red which implies the flow of blood. These could be worn every day if you live that Halloween lifestyle, and would be fierce additions to any sort of witch or vampire-themed costume.
Second, the Medusa nails. This set is next level and definitely more geared towards cosplay, photoshoots and performance art, given their length. But talk about stunners – from the scaled texture, to the metallic green shimmer, to the winding, almost gnarled contour of the nail itself, these are true works of wearable art.
“They’re reusable press-on nails – they’re something you can purchase and apply for a short amount of time and reuse,” du Preez describes. “You don’t have to go to a salon and get them made on your nails. They’re like couture costume nails – it’s basically a fashion accessory.” There are also instructional videos on the website, and although du Preez is a one – (super) woman show, from sourcing materials to creation to photography to social media to shipping, she is always ready to answer any product or application questions you may have.
I had one final question for du Preez – if you had one wish for the future of your company and creations, what would it be? She didn’t hesitate with her response: “That Lady Gaga wears my nails, which is not that far fetched, because just this past week the agency for her makeup artist contacted me and they wanted samples. I sent the samples away and now we wait. If there’s one person on this planet that would absolutely rock these crazy creations, it’s her.”
I’d say we can expect to see a lot more from Onyx Nail Designs, and for one, I sincerely cannot wait for du Preez’s labor of gory, bloody, macabre love to start getting the recognition and exposure it so deeply deserves. You can find her on Instagram @onyxnailsdesign, and through her website, onyxnailsdesign.com.