I met Tanya Barlow (a.k.a Hello Tanya) in Alleluya of St Kevin's Arcade (given it's the cultural epicentre of Auckland and all...), our coffee sandwiched between her hectic morning errands of trying to feed her cat painkillers, and heading out to an appointment at Baristacats (yes, it's exactly what you think it is).
It's not hard to see why she's managed to amass such a sterling reputation, diverse client base, and masses of word-of-mouth. Training as a hair and make-up artist in London in 2008, she's long been walking the line of deciding whether people want to yarn about the weather or the war in Iraq as she wields pointy things near their eyeballs. Trust and communication a skill she's artfully transferred into her nail "business" (she says she wouldn't really call it that), which provides a plethora of srsly cool options for folks looking to express themselves to the tips of their fingers.
Her first pinky-toe (no, she won't paint your toenails) dip into the world of nail art came after long hours working makeup on a film set in Wellington, where after long days she'd come home, collapse onto the couch, and "paint stupid things" on her nails. An off-the-cuff remark by an actress regarding Tanya's eye for detail subconsciously stuck, and two years later, in 2012, she found herself enrolling in Monaco Nails Academy to see where a bit of raw talent, and a passion for upskilling, could take her.
This ignited a passion. Tanya now no longer does make-up bookings, unless it's big bucks (hey, girl's gotta pay the bills), or creatively satisfying (the last music video she worked on was Chelsea Jade's). She dedicates all of the rest of her time to her nail art - and an artist she truly is.
Factoring in 'decision time' in each of appointment so clients can thoughtfully decide the aesthetic fate of their fingernails for the next two-three weeks, Tanya's just as excited to bring to life the scrapbook/Pinterest collections, as an idea tapped into in the moment (she's just as comfortable free-balling Patty and Selma as she is applying abstract vagina decals). Her favourite part of the job, she told me, is when people walk away glowing with excitement at their unique mani, delicately pawing their hands in friend's faces to show it all off.
Whilst Tanya's known for her extensive and colourful decal collection, many people froth customs, and when I asked just how she goes about creating such highly-detailed unique pieces, Tanya laughed. When it comes to painting on the tiny canvasses that are nails, she thinks everything's gonna look impressive - you know, much like those little carvings made out of pencil lead.
What Tanya's really trying to do is give people an international flavour and feeling in our nail scene, finding inspiration in the likes of Instagram superstars like This Is Venice (who she's subsequently met). Uniquely, and unlike so many creatives who'll try their best to ensure others aren't able to produce their work, she doesn't see any ownership in this inspiration, nor even her techniques. Tanya openly and consistently tags all of the products she uses and ideas she's developed on, even going so far as to share a comprehensive step-by-step to anybody who wanted to know how to do "Sharpie nails". She shook her head at the 'gross'ness of trying to create a monopoly out of the fun form of expression that is painting your nails, recalling mid-laugh a friend telling her that Hello Tanya's trend of 'shatter nails' had made it to Buzzfeed, only to have Tanya educate that the style actually came out of Korea.
Despite colourful nails perhaps being perceived as extremely bold, brash and youthful, I was delighted to hear that the largest portion of Tanya's recurring clientele are discerning older ladies. On the other side of the coin, she sternly despises any kind of attempt to gender her artform, loving the work she gets to do on the digits of a large number of men who also pass through her doors.
Oh, and they really are her doors. Working mostly out of her house, Hello Tanya has by-and-large shunned all of the traditional trappings of a nail business, runs the gig predominately out of her own home.
Having recently done a pop-up within Matchbox studios, working non-stop for 11 days, and digging every exhausting minute of it, Tanya's proved herself to be really the only option when it comes to getting your nails done did in Auckland. I mean, what nail salon can you think of walking into and having the lady at the counter gush over your idea of painstakingly painting Pikachu on your pinky?
We're beyond stoked to have nailed (#baddadjokes) Hello Tanya in as part of The Goods Pop-Up, 14th - 20th December, St Kevin's Arcade. She'll be set up in our Art Gallery window, taking bookings and walk-ins from Monday through Friday - to save forreal disappointment in missing out, however, we'd recommend you get yourself sorted ASAP with the former. Click here to book.