Nail The Week: Abstract Skulls!

This week I decided to dig out my trusty sugar skulls stamping plate (featured in my original Skull Stamping post) to create another funky, spooky design, this time with a more mysterious feel to it.

To create this look, I used different parts of the GIANT skull in the centre of the plate to swipe electric blue swirls, flowers, teeth and moustaches onto my nails over a taupe base (Barry M Indigo over Barry M Vanilla). I decided to finish with a matte top coat to prevent any glare from obscuring the detail of this abstract design.

Once again I’m really pleased with the outcome of my stamping endeavour. The MoYou plates are fantastic value for money and great quality, plus the number of different designs which can be created with them is almost endless. With these plates I can also produce far more intricate and detailed designs than I could ever dream of doing freehand (steady-handed I am not). Creating a nail look with the large centre image was even easier than using the smaller, individual skulls because there were no concerns over image centralisation or alignment. That said, I do adore the little skulls and will probably incorporate them into a mani including segments of the larger one in the future.

A reminder of what the MoYou Explorer Collection Number 8 Image Plate looks like.

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Trailing Africa Vol. One: Tanzania (Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater).

Overlanding across Africa: navigating vast expanses of savannah, hitting the road in a giant truck, witnessing exotic wildlife going about its daily business and waking up to what you hope is nothing bigger or more dangerous than a monkey shaking your tent. Sound like your kind of holiday? For some, it’s the ultimate in adventure tourism; for others, it’s one long nightmare on a dusty campsite. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, or if you’re yet undecided, a trip to Africa can never fail to open your eyes to new sights, awaken your senses and introduce you to entirely different experiences and perspectives. Maybe you’re wondering what is it really like to live off a truck in the wilderness for weeks at a time? Isn’t it dangerous to camp outside in the bush? How close can you really get to the wildlife? Hopefully my ‘Trailing Africa’ travel log series (based on my original travel log of overlanding from Nairobi to Cape Town- an actual paper diary!) will answer at least some of your questions, so if you’re considering a trip to the world’s second biggest continent but don’t know if it’s right for you, keep reading!

Day 1: April 24th

Set off with a rucksack full of combat trousers, sleeping bags and Boots diarrhoea tablets (presumably they’re the same as the real Imodium deal). Caught the 10:20am flight from Heathrow to Nairobi (I’m joining the tour there and we’re driving to Tanzania tomorrow). It dawned on me at the airport that, should I be delayed or have any other problems, I’m going to miss the start of the tour, maybe should’ve allowed a bit more leeway there! Luckily landed on time, though. The airport is small for such a big city but quite efficient-looking, apart from the crates of lost luggage gathering dust in  the reclaim hall. Managed to find my bag and was met by a very smiley taxi driver. Endured an interesting journey to the hostel just outside Nairobi- driving style was speedy, if a little erratic. The hostel is a very comfortable bamboo barn-type building. I gazed at the Southern Hemisphere stars out my window for the first time ever before heading to bed.

Day 2: April 25th

Got up early and met the other people on my tour, there are nine of us in total, comprising many different nationalities; Brits, Australians, Canadians and Germans, as well as our driver Henry, who is Kenyan. We embarked on the long drive to Tanzania during which we became accustomed to our home for the next seven or so weeks, a huge truck with roll-up plastic sides, a space to lie down and inward facing seats so you can watch the scenery out of the opposite window and/ or chat as you travel. It carries everything we need for the trip, including tents, sleeping mats and lots of cooking equipment.

Our truck and some of our tents.

At the border, bureaucracy held us up a bit and we were approached by some Maasai women selling amazing beaded jewellery. Across the border we made our very long way to Arusha. We went past several tribal villages with circular mud buildings and Maasai men in traditional dress, herding cattle. Arusha was a wake-up call, from what we’ve seen it’s basically a city of ramshackle huts. The campsite was very comfortable, though. There was a bamboo bar, hot showers and guinea fowl wandering around. We were split into teams to cook and ate outside by the truck. Some of the others helped me to put up my tent, which was nice, apparently these are military-grade tents, and definitely not a one-man job! After dinner we played darts in the bar and went to bed.

Day 3: April 26th

Some of us headed to Serengeti National Park (it’s an optional side trip.) During the drive there we saw several antelope with twisty horns and some zebras. We were a little delayed getting into the park because one of our driver’s colleagues had rolled his Jeep, so all the other trucks went to help. In the park we saw wildebeest, more zebras, giraffes, hippos and lions as well as some colourful crows. We set up camp near Ngorongoro Crater. This campsite is more basic-squat toilets, which take a bit of getting used to! We ate dinner with some other tour groups around the campfire. There was a lightning show in the sky- both sheet and forked at the same time, and the stars above were spectacular. Saw the Southern Cross for the first time!

Day 4: April 27th

Woke up early to find a pair of buffalo just a few feet away from our campsite, we then braved the (surprisingly bearable) cold showers and headed for an early morning game drive. We saw a cheetah almost straight away- great start! The cheetah almost caught an antelope but was thwarted by it jumping over a stream- apparently big cats don’t like water just like domestic ones! We then saw a couple of buffalo at a drinking hole and after an urgent radio call we were rushed to a rock formation where we saw the rarity that is a leopard! As we were driving away, a herd of giraffe wandered in front of our Jeep , which held things up a bit. We then witnessed a herd of wildebeest migrating and later I spotted a pair of lionesses in the long grass. We stopped to get pictures and they passed right under our Jeep! We were awe-struck and pretty nervous! The lionesses looked hungry and were eying up some nearby elephants but eventually vetoed that idea, presumably on account of being vastly outnumbered and much smaller than them. We also spotted a chameleon hiding in a tree. As we sat around the campfire in the evening, a full-grown bull elephant wandered into our campsite and started drinking from the water tank, putting paid to the idea that ‘animals cannot get into the camp’, as we had previously been told!

Day 5: April 28th

To further disprove the theory that animals cannot get into the camp, I was confronted by what I thought were two donkeys when I got up in the dark this morning. After the sun came up, it transpired that they were actually zebras (which in hindsight was kind of obvious.) This was our day of game driving inside the crater and it was absolutely teeming with animals; the concentration of wildlife here is one of the highest in the world. Our guide managed to spot a cheetah from very far away as soon as we entered. We also witnessed an elephant having a mud bath and some hippos playing in a lake plus a pair of lions, some rhinos, wildebeest, warthogs and countless other animals and birds. After the game drive we left the National Park and drove back to Arusha to rejoin the rest of the group. Tonight’s campsite is known as Snake Park because, somewhat horrifyingly, it subsidises the existence of a reptile sanctuary. Having sat in the camp bar for a while reading newspaper cuttings about giant man-eating serpents, we paid a visit to said sanctuary, which was made even creepier by the fact that it was dark and there were gruesome snake attack illustrations on the walls. There were also some tortoises though, which were cute.

Day 6: April 29th

After a night of turbulent reptile-infested dreams and imagining hissing sounds outside our tents, we had a lie in (by which I mean we got up at 7:30am), made pancakes for breakfast and swiftly hit the road.  My team did some grocery shopping as it’s our turn to cook soon. We reached the White Parrot campsite at about 5.30pm. Henry warned us that it was pretty basic but it turns out he was having us on, it’s really nice! There are bearable showers, a nice thatched roof area for cooking and box hedges around the camping areas. The journey today was very scenic- lots of mountains covered in trees and little colourful towns. We had lunch on the way overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro and, aptly, tucked into Kilimanjaro beers upon arrival at the campsite.

Day 7: April 30th

Today was a very early start- we all got up at 4am and put our tents down in the dark which, unsurprisingly, ended in disaster when I trod on an ant’s nest, resulting in what can only be described as the total annihilation of my feet and lower legs (I later counted more than 50 bites on each limb and yes, I was wearing shoes and socks!)  We drove the whole day, stopped off for lunch in a bustling ramshackle town where I felt incredibly conspicuous due to being European, tattooed and a female in trousers! In the evening we eventually hit a campsite with hot showers, which was hugely exciting! The campsite is on a farm and eerily empty. We went for a walk to the lake and wandered past several men in full on chemical suits spraying some flowers, it was like something from a zombie apocalypse movie! This is the darkest campsite we’ve been on and it’s very creepy. There was, however, a little thatched hut with straw mats and candle lanterns where we could enjoy a beer and a chat and the stars appeared to shine even more brightly in the darkness. Best of all- no snakes!

Day 8: May 1st

Henry apparently has an (apparently mild) form of malaria and as a result has adopted an even more gung-ho approach to driving than usual. We’re talking approaching bumps at 60mph in our giant truck- so there was many a ‘face-might-get-smashed’ moment. This turned out to be no bad thing though, as we hit the infamous Dar Es Salaam traffic at about 1pm and finally arrived at our campsite a mere couple of miles away at 3:30pm, although it seems we got off lightly; legend has it that it can sometimes take up to 7 hours to get across town, as there is only one road in and out of the city! Our campsite is not on the mainland as it’s not deemed very safe to camp there, instead it’s a short ferry ride into the harbour (please refer to the very accurate map which I drew on the bus).

The site itself is right on the beach, it has a thatched bamboo bar overlooking the Indian Ocean.We had a quick dip in the pool before my group cooked for the first time. We created some pasta and veg idea, not the most creative but safe and it did the job. After dinner we took a quick (salt water) shower which left us feeling less clean than we did before it and had a couple of beers in the bar before bed. It was an extremely hot and humid night and I woke up to find giant millipedes crawling over my tent! To make matters worse, some of us have ended up with ‘runny tummies’- just what you want when you’re in a toilet with no roof, swarming with (presumably malarial) mosquitoes. I have mozzie spray, mozzie roll-ons, mozzie nets and mozzie sticks, and it’s still not enough here! Even better, tomorrow we leave the affluent and well-connected metropolis that is Dar Es Salaam and will all be stuck on a toilet-less truck in the traffic for at least three hours! I am really beginning to wish I’d gone for the real Imodium now! Well, come what may, we set off for Zanzibar tomorrow, so let’s hope the promise of the white sandy beaches and glorious sunsets just across the bay can see us through!

Overall, Tanzania has been incredible, in particular with regard to scenery and wildlife. I honestly think that Serengeti and Ngorongoro will be hard to beat when it comes to safari and game drives. It’s the perfect place to get in touch with nature and experience the flora and fauna hands-on. One or two things I learnt along the way:

1. Never, ever scrimp on diarrhoea tablets.

2. Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are truly unmissable.

3. A reptile park after dark (or arguably at any time) is not a pleasant place to be.

4. A salt water shower is not, in fact, better than no shower.

5. You can never have too many anti-mozzie devices.

Keep an eye out for ‘Trailing Africa Vol. Two: Zanzibar-Stonetown, Spice Tour and Nungwi’ to find out if we recover from our bout of ill health, and what happens when we cross the bay!

I’ve started sharing my travel photos on Flickr, follow me for updates!

Nail The Week: Being Watched!

 

So those around me are cottoning on to the fact that my nail art obsession is here to stay and I recently received my very first request, courtesy of my cousin Samantha! She recommended I recreate this nude eye design, seen on Emmy Rossum. As you can imagine, I was hugely excited at the prospect of this challenge, particularly as I immediately spied that it involved one of my favourite nail art techniques, the half moon!

Creating this design was much simpler than it first appeared. I started off with a white base and used the technique described here to create a half moon. I chose to switch the design up by using grey polish instead of nude. I decided to incorporate brown, blue and green eyes, so after the half moon stage I used a large dotting tool to create the colourful iris of each eye (I was going to add one red eye for extra quirkiness but I forgot.) I then added a blob of the darker colours with a medium dotting tool for the pupil and finally a tiny white dot to give the image dimension. Of course I finished by sealing with a top coat.

Overall I’m very pleased with how this design turned out. I’ve received lots of compliments from all sorts of people from friends and family to the lady in Superdrug and even, oddly enough, the radiator delivery man, although he might’ve been hankering for a cuppa! If I were to change anything I would use a grey polish with a thicker opacity than the Ciate as it’s almost impossible and certainly outside the constraints of my patience to do two coats on a half moon. I’d also definitely add the red eye next time. I thoroughly enjoyed my first nail request, though, so if you have any ideas you’d like me to try, send them my way!

 

The colours I used are as follows:

– Barry M Matt White

– Ciate Pillow Fight

– Barry M Navy

– Barry M Cyan Blue

– Rimmel Beige Babe

-Barry M Copper

– Bourjois Bleu Model

– Barry M Watermelon

Nail The Week Sugar Skull Stamping, An Alternative Approach!

I was delighted with the effect of my first sugar skulls nails but it can’t be said that they weren’t labour-intensive. I was keen to re-create the look minus the time commitment, so when I stumbled across these adorable floral skull water decals on the Born Pretty website it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back one of my favourite manicures.

Using water decals couldn’t be simpler and is achieved in 5 easy steps:

1. Paint your nails with a suitable base colour. I went for white to offer a fair comparison to my original skull manicure and because I thought that the decals would show up best against a white background. Wait until the base colour is completely dry.

2. Select the decals you want to use and cut them out. I also laid them out in the order I was going to use them to prevent any mid-mani confusion.

3. One by one, dip the decal in a small bowl of water for a few seconds until it slides off the backing paper and dip the relevant nail into the water.

4. Using tweezers, position the decal onto the nail and blot off excess water.

5. When all the decals are in place and the nails are dry, add a top coat. This is vital to prevent them from rubbing away.

I love how the  finish decal mani has turned out, the skulls have dried really flat and, two days in, are looking good on the durability front. The decals are not as bright as they appear on the website but I’m still pleased with the overall effect.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of both techniques:

And finally the pros and cons of each technique:

Stamping

Pros: freedom of colour choice, a rustic/ hand-painted look, many different skull designs.

Cons: a lot of materials required, fiddly and time consuming, higher start up cost when buying plates, stampers and scrapers.

Decals

Pros: a sheet of decals is very cost-effective (less than £1), lower risk of a design going awry, fast and easy.

Cons: limited to the existing colours on the decals, higher cost in the long run as decals can only be used once.

Which look do you prefer?

Nail The Week: Sugar Skull Stamping!

I absolutely adore skulls and everything associated with them so when, hot on the heels of my first stamping experience, I spied this sugar skull image plate on the MoYou website I knew instantly that I had to make it mine.

One of the best things about stamping is the number of different looks you can create with one plate; colours can be changed up endlessly to create a variety of designs. For this mani I decided to keep things simple but striking with a range of strong, vibrant colours standing out over a white base.

Unlike a large, whole-nail design which can pretty much be planted on anywhere and then cleaned up around the edges, the small, individual designs on this plate require more precise placement. I decided to practice a little on paper first but in a way I wished I hadn’t because it gave me misleading ideas about how easy it would be to line up the skulls! I was originally aiming to have each skull in the centre of the nail, but I’m actually glad it didn’t quite turn out that way, as slightly off-centred, skewiff skulls gave a funky, asymmetric feel to the manicure.

After my first use of this MoYou plate, I can safely say that I’m delighted with it. It’s affordable and good quality and I love how each little skull has different features, such as flowers or stars for the eyes and assorted headpieces (my favourite is the little pirate!) I worked out that you could do almost two manicures without using the same skull twice and many more using portions of the large skull to create an abstract effect. My test run on paper also proved that the use of this image plate is not limited to nails; it could also be used to adorn letters, cards and invitations. I’m not usually one for repeat manicures, but I loved this look so much that I might just have to bring out the plate again for my next nail design.

Here’s a look at my practice run on paper and a close-up of the image plate:

And lastly the materials I used:

– Gelly Nail Paint in Watermelon, Pomegranate and Satsuma and Nail Paint in Matt White, Bright Purple and Navy, all Barry M

– MoYou Explorer Collection Number 8 Image Plate

– Konad Stamper and Scraper Set

– Sally Hansen Diamond Strength Base Coat and Insta-Dri Top Coat (not pictured)

Nail The Week: My Debut Stamp!

 I’ve been wanting to try nail stamping for a while now and when my Konad m57 image plate and scraper and stamper set dropped through the door a few days ago I knew that the time had finally come. I’d heard mixed reviews about the difficulty of this nail art technique, so rather than risk ruining a good manicure with a smudgy stamping episode, I decided to err on the side of caution and carry out my debut stamp over polish that been on for a few days and was in need of a freshen up. That way, if things didn’t go according to plan I could happily wipe it off with no ruined mani frustration.

For those of you who don’t know, the process of stamping itself is pretty uncomplicated. You simply chose whichever design you like on the plate, add a blob of polish, brush firmly across the design with the scraper, roll the stamper over the design to pick up the polish and then roll onto the nail. The most common problems people experience are picking up only half the design on the stamper, issues with design alignment on the nail and of course the dreaded smudging.

With the associated risks in mind, for this ‘trial run’ stamp-a-thon  I selected my Barry M Black polish to stamp with because I knew that it had sufficient colour opacity to do the job and I didn’t want to splash out on stamping polish only to find that I was utterly useless at it.

Once everything was ready, I took the plunge and indulged in my first stamp. Like many things in the world of nail art, I found that stamping was nowhere near as problematic as expected. My first stamps turned out by no means perfect, but my fears about smudging and problems with picking up the image were largely unfounded and the end result was ultimately exactly the look I was going for!

Overall, I was really happy with my first stamping experience, especially as the design still looked fab several days afterwards, therefore almost doubling the life of my original mani! I will definitely be trying out more stamping designs soon (probably next time on fresh polish!), so keep you eyes peeled for blog entries about it!

Here are  the materials I used for stamping (the original mani was done with a bright pink shade from Dior’s Bird of Paradise collection.)

Seven Deadly Beauty Sins Tag

Here’s something a little bit different- my answers to the Seven Deadly Beauty Sins tag!

1. GREED: What is your most inexpensive beauty item? What is your most expensive?

I find it best to not to keep too much of a track on what I spend on beauty, but I remember my Dior nail polishes were quite steep. As for least expensive, many of my Barry M polishes were only £2.99, which you can’t argue with- especially as they are brilliant!

2. WRATH: What item do you have a strong love/hate relationship with? 

I’m going to have to join the crowd here and say liquid eyeliner. When it’s good, it’s brilliant but when’s it’s bad, it’s a disaster. I also hate how, if you do mess up, you can never properly correct it- it’s a case of starting again completely or putting up with wobbly lines all day!

3. GLUTTONY: What brand takes up most of your collection?

Without a doubt Barry M.

4. SLOTH: What product do you ignore the most due to laziness?

It’s not really laziness but I rarely bother with concealer because I find that it cakes over blemishes and draws attention to them rather than hiding them. I find foundation applied with a small brush more effective. If someone would invent a concealer that actually conceals they’d be a billionaire!

5. PRIDE: Which product gives you the most confidence?

In an ideal world, I’d never have to leave the house without my Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions foundation. Or mascara (any mascara really). Or pressed powder. Or perfume. You get the idea- I’m not really a ‘less is more’ kinda gal.

6. LUST: What item is at the top of your list?

I’d love to find a perfect ‘signature scent’ but, no matter how much I search, there’s just nothing out there I’ve fallen in love with yet. Plenty of fragrances are alright, but I’m yet to find ‘the one’!

7. ENVY: Which makeup product/look looks great on others but not on you?

False eyelashes. On the few occasions when I’ve attempted to wear them I’ve felt, and doubtless looked, like a clown.

Logbook: Venice in Wintertime

Trinket shops on the Rialto Bridge

Venice has been near the top of every European traveller’s wish list for many years. Most elect to go during the region’s busy summer period, but how many have stopped to consider how the charm and beauty of the place come across in the colder months? I decided to check it out for myself and I was more than pleased with what I found!

The fact that the city is lot less crowded than in summer gives your  visit a much more ‘authentic’ feel and the opportunity to move freely around the winding streets and alleys allows you to get really absorbed into the atmosphere of the place. The great thing about Venice is that, despite all the tiny lanes and passageways, it’s almost impossible to get lost (don’t take that as a challenge) because there are signs to the three main landmarks (Rialto Bridge, San Marco and Piazzale Roma) at almost every turn.

Piazza San Marco

Even during winter all of Venice’s main tourist spots are still open and in many cases far more easily accessible than during peak season! Obviously all the notable buildings are still there, the museums and hotels are open and, best of all, there’s always a chance to hitch a gondola ride, which is a must when visiting the city, as you get to see many of the tiny side canals that you can miss when sticking to the vaporetti (water buses) on the Grand Canal- plus your gondolier will regale you with a wealth of intriguing facts about Venice’s landmarks and history!

Possibly the world’s most elegant mode of transport?

Many people are concerned about ‘acqua alta‘ (seasonal flooding in Venice), but it’s not a problem as it happens every year and the Venetians are well prepared for it. If an area of the walkway becomes completely submerged they usually lay down raised platforms so you won’t get your feet wet! Far from being an inconvenience, acqua alta somehow adds to the uniqueness and charm of the place, making a stay there even more of an experience.

Venice is a special place to visit at any time of year, but a trip in wintertime really shows a different side to the city which not everyone gets to witness. Whenever you choose to go, be sure to try delicious Bellini (peach juice and champagne)- Venice’s fruity and refreshing signature cocktail! Arrivederci!

Bellinis by the Rialto Bridge: cin cin!

Nail The Week: Studded Sunset feat. Sephora Tie Dye!

In a break from tradition, I’m going to begin this week’s Nail the Week post with my materials list, which is as follows:

-Sally Hansen Diamond Strength Base Coat

-Barry M Nail Paint in Copper

-Ciate Mini in Hopscotch

-Sephora Tie Dye Top Coat

-Metal Stud Stickers in Copper, by MissLyn

-Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Top Coat

-Barry M Corrector Pen for clean-up

Is this list shorter than you were expecting? Well, I really haven’t forgotten anything; thanks to Sephora’s nifty and versatile Tie Dye Top Coat I was able to incorporate three different orange shades into my mani using just one colour polish! Best of all, Tie Dye is so easy to use- to create this look I simply painted my index finger and thumb with Copper and the remaining nails with Hopscotch and waited for the colour to dry thoroughly before layering on two coats of Tie Dye to my ring and middle finger, followed by a further two to my middle finger. After this had dried I attached the copper studs and added two coats of top coat to make sure that they wouldn’t budge.

I’m really impressed with how well Tie Dye worked. You could use it to create an ombre effect across several nails like I have here or paint coats of it onto the tip of each nail for a dip dye effect. It’s also brilliant for matching your polish to an outfit if it’s a couple of shades too light! You can expect to see more of what I think will soon become a cult product on my blog soon!

As a side note, I was also pleased with how well the studs stayed on my nails. I haven’t used metal nail decorations before for fear that they’d fall off very quickly but these stayed on for a good three days before I had to carry out emergency top coat repairs. I’ll doubtless be featuring these in my future Nail the Week posts as well!

And finally, my thumbnail polish hasn’t gone blobby, that’s a raindrop (English weather strikes again!)