how to: palm frond mani

Updated: Aug 10, 2018

I was a nail biter in my youth. I kicked the habit but replaced it with picking off my nail polish. (PS. Both of those things are gross and terrible for your nails.) I am also not very good at painting my nails and am too impatient to take the time to do it properly.

I realized that I needed to do something about my nails when I went to point something out on a map in a meeting and realized that my chipping nail polish looked cheap and sloppy. Previously, this might have been the look I was going for (because Avril Lavigne), but it’s not really the ~*vibe*~ I’m aiming for right now.

Enter Maddie (@maddie.alvarez). I’ve known Maddie for a few years, and have always been way impressed by her nail design skills. (Just look at her current nail situation below!) I asked Maddie if she would be willing to walk a rookie through the do’s and don’ts of nail care and design. She graciously agreed, and we planned to meet this past Saturday. 

Maddie's current nail situation

In this post, Maddie and I give you the tips and tricks you need to manage your nails, and then a step-by-step for a DIY palm frond manicure (palm fronds are so hot right now).

Here. We. Go.

Set the ambiance. Because ambiance is a critical component of a DIY mani.

Do your nails while you’re watching Bachelor in Paradise (or whatever you want to watch, but you really should be watching BIP). Really lean in to the experience. Put on a face mask, put your phone on silent, give the dog a stuffed kong. Today I picked up donuts from Jelly Modern Donut and lit a candle called Cool Marine & Musk. Moody but fresh. I also asked Maddie what tunes she’s crushing right now. These are Maddie’s Summa Jamz 2017:

Ella Mai– She Don’t (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)

Humble & Blisse – Lately (ft. CYGNAEUS)

Marc E. Bassy – You & Me (ft. G-Eazy)

Aaron Taos – Off My Mind

Lorde – Hard Feelings/Loveless

The Temper Trap – Fall Together (ft. Harrison Brome)

Elujay – Golden

Sinead Harnett – Rather Be With You

Essential Tools

These are the basic things you'll need to give yourself a bomb mani.

Nice to Have

  • Nail primer

  • Sticky notes

  • Cuticle pusher or orange stick

  • Nail art brushes

  • Dotting tool

  • Add-ons (studs, gems, striping tape)

  • Cuticle oil

Must Have

  • Acetone (regular nail polish remover is fine, 100% acetone is best)

  • Good-quality nail file (use a glass one – DON’T use the sand-paper type)

  • Nail clippers

  • Base coat (we’ll talk about this later)

  • Nail polish

  • Top coat (this, too)

  • Small paint brush/eyeliner brush (for the palm fronds!)

  • Pallette or Becel lid (for the palm fronds!)

Spend/Save. What’s worth your hard-earned dough.

The nail polish aisle at Shoppers brings me great joy (colours!) but also great confusion. There are a thousand little bottles in that bright white space, all encouraging me to pursue my best nail life. I asked Maddie for some guidance. In her own words, here are Maddie’s recommendations for base coats, top coats, and colour.


I typically prefer to use a treatment rather than a regular base coat – if it goes under all my polish, and is the closest to my nail, it might as well give me better nails when it’s time to take the polish off.

Save: Sally Hansen Complete Care Extra Moisturizing 7-in-1 Nail Treatment. This stuff is GOOD, and I regularly reach for it over my expensive basecoats because somehow my nails hold up better when I’ve been using this regularly. Great if, like me, you have very flaky + breaky nails. Also great on bare nails for a bit of shine.

Spend:Nails Inc Nail Kale Superfood Basecoat. Gorgeous bottle, with a really wonderful, smooth formula…and a bit of shimmer to make naked nails look great.


These are interchangeable – I love and use both for different things, sometimes I layer them if I feel like a lot of volume and shine.

Save: Revlon Gel Envy Top Coat. In my opinion, this is the best gel-hybrid top coat at the drugstore. It give you a super glossy, “squishy” looking nail with a lot of flexibility. My nails last a lot longer with this guy and the double barrel brush is genius.

Spend: Seche Vite. This is the holy grail of quick dry top coats. If you like nail art, this one won’t smudge your designs. Very glossy. Only downside is shrinkage – sometimes, if the top coat doesn’t make it to the edge of the nail, it can pull up on the polish and leave lines. Requires a steady hand but you make up the time because it dries so dang fast. 


Colour is all about what floats your boat, but these are some great options.

Save:  Essence Costmetics Gel Look. DO NOT SLEEP ON THESE POLISHES! This European company only came to Canada a few years ago, but these squat lil’ bottles have a firm place in my heart. High quality polish, great colours (keep an eye out for seasonal displays!) and a curved brush that fits many a nail bed.

Spend: Nails Inc. Truly luxurious polish without the Chanel/Deborah Lippman price tag. Colour range is unique but wearable, and keep an eye out for celebrity collections. Lovely rich formula and a beautiful, weighty bottle that feels fancy and looks good on a vanity.

Nail care and shaping. Tips for caring for and shaping your nails

  • Remove your old nail polish by soaking half of a cotton pad in acetone/polish remover (you can soak and use the other half when you need a fresh pad). Hold it against your nail for 20-30 seconds before pulling it straight off the front of your nail. (Note: this means that my aggressive scrubbing technique is horribly flawed.) If you still have polish stuck in the edge of your nail, dip a tiny/eyeliner brush in acetone and get into the corners.

  • Use a base coat or treatment. A base coat is the nail equivalent of wearing sunscreen everyday. You might not see a spectacular overnight change in your nails, but using a treatment or basecoat will help prevent nail staining and keep your nails strong over time. Use two coats if you have deep groves in your nails, or are using a dark colour.

  • Avoid cutting your nails. Your nails are actually made up of tiny, thin layers of keratin, and cutting those layers can often make your nails more prone to breakage. Use a good quality file instead to sand down length. If you must snip, file after.

  • File the right way. To avoid peeling edges, never use a file perpendicular to your nail. Try filing at a slight angle. Don’t pick your polish.If your mani is looking worse for wear, don’t resort to biting or scratching the polish off. Sure, we all have nervous habits, but a tiny chip in your mani shouldn’t be a cue to scratch all your polish off. You’re also creating microscopic damage to your nail, which will lead to brittle, cracked nails as they grow out. Take a multivitamin or supplement. Your nails are great indicators of what’s going on in your bod. If your nails are weak, brittle or yellowing, talk to your doc about taking a supplement. Iron, vitamin D, fish oil and even prenatal vitamins can support nail health.


We’ll keep this brief. The ~*~magic~*~ formula for painting your nails: 1-2 coats treatment/basecoat, 2-3 coats colour, 1-2 coats top coat, cuticle oil.

Hot tips:

  • Let each coat dry for 2-3 minutes (patience, grasshopper)

  • Don’t overload your brush. Wipe all of the colour off the brush on the neck of the bottle, and then scoop up a small amount from the neck of the bottle.

  • For narrow nails, paint two thin layers on either side of the nail. For wider nails, paint two layers on either side of the nail, and one swipe to join them in the middle.

  • Dip a small brush in acetone and clean up any craggy edges or polish on your skin and cuticles.

  • Instead of painting on top coat, put a small blob of colour at the base of your nail and push it over the colour to make sure you’re not dragging the colour around.

  • Add a small amount of cuticle oil to each nail after it’s painted, and pat it around the cuticle.

  • Be gentle on your hands for at least an hour to avoid denting the polish.

Painting your dominant hand. (I’ll believe it when I see it.)

  • Start by painting the pinky nail so you can rest your hand without smudging.

  • If you’re shaky, rest your hand on something. Ain’t no shame in the nail game. If my hand is wobbling, I roll up a hand towel to support my wrist.

  • My end all, be all tip for the non-dominant hand: move your hand, not your brush. Can’t quite get an edge? Roll your finger as you paint. Can’t get a straight edge? Hold your brush steady, and pull your hand away slowly.

Palm fronds DIY! Palm fronds are so hot right now.

Colours used in this DIY:

  • Zoya – Blu (basecoat)

  • Marc Jacobs – It’s Not Easy Being Green (frond base)

  • OPI – Greenwhich Village (frond accent)

  • Essence – Dream On (frond highlight)


  • Prep, shape and paint your nails with your base colour of choice. Here, we used

  • Do one hand at a time so your polish doesn’t dry out in your pallette.

  • Put some dark green polish on your pallette. Using the dark green, paint a thin, curved diagonal line across your nail with a striping (longgg, thin) brush. This is the “stem” of your palm fronds

  • Using the same colour and brush to paint small curved diagonal lines, evenly spaced, from the stem. These are your leaves.

  • Clean your brush with acetone.

  • Put some light green polish on your pallette, and add some acetone to thin the colour.

  • Using the light green, add a thin line up the stem, and on top of each leave. Try to leave the space in between green-free.

  • Clean your brush with acetone.

  • Using the dark green colour, paint a thin green line up the stem, and on random leaves. This will add dimension.

  • Wait until your design is completely dry, then top coat.

The results are in.

Full disclosure: this pic is of the hand Maddie painted. My first try wasn’t terrible, but I definitely need more practice!

The end.

If we do another nail design DIY, what would you wanna see? Leave a comment below so we can help make your nail dreams come true.


© 2018 by Small Blonde Blog