The realm of beauty is one of extremes. On the one hand, it demands conformity; on the other, it’s a place where creatives are constantly searching for new and provocative forms of self-presentation. The latter is where you’ll find Tanya Barlow of Hello Tanya, make-up and nail artist and mother of dragons (or of one, at least).
She’s famed for her impressive collection of pop-culture nail decals, glitter, studs and – as of late – hula-hoop tape (‘It makes your nails look like opals’). Fancy a tiny Queen Bey or maybe even Saint Dolly Parton on your nails? Tanya is your gal.
She started out as a video editor, and it wasn’t until she found herself doing make-up on a no-budget feature film that she realised she was in the wrong career. So she packed her bags and moved to London to train and begin working as a make-up artist, returning to Auckland in 2010. She didn’t branch into nails until 2012 when, during a quiet patch, she decided it was time to up-skill.
‘I honestly feel like I’m getting away with something because my job involves glitter and cats and Nicki Minaj squatting,’ she says. ‘I don’t feel like my work is work most of the time. I’m meeting new friends and hanging out and doing a cool thing and they somehow pay me for it!’
With Hello Tanya she wanted to create a business where people would feel more like friends than clients. ‘I called it Hello Tanya because you’re not getting a nameless, faceless service – you’re hanging out with me for an hour!’ she says.
‘I wanna be approachable and friendly and fun . . . because everyone needs fun in their lives. And glitter helps.’
She admits that although doing what you love is awesome being a creative freelancer has its tough moments, too. ‘Yeah, the quiet weeks can be really kind of soul-crushing. You’re like, “Is this what I wanna do? Is this actually sustainable as a lifestyle?” But, you know, I take pride in it and I believe that it’s gonna grow – I have that feeling in my stomach.’
The upside of these moments is that they provide the perfect opportunity to get re-inspired. ‘I am constantly looking to up-skill,’ she says. ‘In any sort of creative industry, I think you should seek out other influences and [be] learning new things.’
Instagram is one of her favourite haunts for inspiration. ‘One of my biggest influences is @thisisvenice [Lili Nguyen]. I ended up meeting her and interviewing her like two years ago. It was so cool! She showed me a technique that I couldn’t get my head around – marbling – which I’ve ended up doing heaps.’
This kind of creative collaboration is key to Tanya’s approach. She gets many of her nail decals from California-based artist and illustrator Sara Lyons. ‘She’s the one who did the Beyoncé decals, the 90s ones, Orange Is the New Black, Broad City, all of the cool ones. She’s wonderful.’
Tanya describes her collection of nail decals as ‘vast’ and something of which – alongside her equally impressive collection of lapel pins and phone cases – she’s pretty proud . . . and protective. ‘Sometimes I’m like, “Do you really want that one? Because that’s my last tiny dinosaur . . .”’ She laughs.
Of course, nails aren’t her only domain. ‘I love making skin look good. I never got on-board the contouring train. Everyone’s starting to look the same. That’s not cool . . . God, it would make me feel so uncomfortable if I were to apply make-up to make someone feel like they didn’t look like themselves any more. Unless, you know, they wanna look like Grumpy Cat or something.’
And don’t be lulled into the false notion that Hello Tanya’s services are just for 52 per cent of the population. ‘I love that men equally express themselves with nails and make-up. I’ve got a friend who would just get the decals on his natural nails – we called them nail tattoos!’
This profile, written by Kimberley Davis, initially appeared in The Seasonal #01 SPRING