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For New York-based nail artist Mei Kawajiri, staying true to her creative inclinations is what makes her successful. Whether it’s creating a custom nail look for her celebrity clients or just taking photos of her and her friends – she knows the importance of remaining true to herself.
As part of our Go Create project, we gave Mei a Polaroid Go camera and hung out with her at her downtown Manhattan nail studio to delve into her creative process, how she’s stayed inspired this past year, and to catch a glimpse of how she always stays herself.
Developing: When do you get inspired to create?
Mei: When I get inspired about nails, it’s usually when I am doing mundane things like showering, walking outside, or whenever I do yoga. I find that when I focus on myself, I get so inspired.
D: How do you start your creative process?
M: First, I have to think through what I need to do in my head, and once I have a plan I JUST DO IT!
Developing: What is your dream project?
M: My dream project is to someday work with the movie industry. For example, working with a director like Tim Burton would be amazing. He makes such creatives films; I would want to collaborate with him on a movie by creating special nails for his characters.
D: How have you stayed inspired over the past year?
M: This past year I have been more creative than usual because my brain was so much more open to new ideas. Even during the pandemic, I was creating so many more crazy nails because I was inspired by my feelings or the world situation. I also started drawing to keep the creativity flowing.
D: Is there anyone or anything that has helped you stay inspired?
M: So, my bear has nails… Well, now that I think of it, this bear is probably my icon. I got my bear before the pandemic and we have spent all of quarantine together and since I don’t have a roommate, I just created nails for my bear and he has given me so much inspiration!
D: How do you get unstuck from a creative block?
M: When I have a creative block or just stuck in my head, I usually take a bath or play music super loud and dance around to change my mood. Then I usually get my creativity back.
D: What’s the most important part of your creative process?
M: For me, the most important part is the way that I transfer my ideas onto the nails. For example, if I love an ornament, I will start thinking about how to transfer this larger format into a smaller canvas a.k.a. someone’s nails. Being able to reframe things into a smaller canvas is really at the forefront of what I do. Since I am dealing with ten fingers, I try to spread my designs evenly across all of them and not get too focused on one.
“If you are a creative person, it’s important to do what you believe in. What makes you special from other people is how you are different from them.”
D: What recommendations would you give to your fellow creatives seeking inspiration?
M: If you are a creative person, it’s important to do what you believe in. What makes you special from other people is how you are different from them. Never be afraid to do something different – it’s so important to remember this.
D: What is something you wish that people understood about your creative process?
M: I wish people understood that I do everything by hand. When I am doing nails some people will ask me, “are you using stickers?” And it’s like, I would never use a sticker for my clients – I do everything by hand.
“I wish people understood that I do everything by hand.”
D: Is there an example of something that has inspired you?
M: Every moment I have in my life gives me inspiration. Whether I am at the arcade, shopping, or even when I see a colorful sculpture or piece of art, I just think, ‘Oh this would be good for the nails’. Or even when I see something like cabbage at a restaurant, I will get inspired and then create a cabbage nail.
D: How has your Polaroid Go helped you with inspiration?
M: My Polaroid Go is so small and easy to carry everywhere I go. Even when I am walking along outside and see something that inspires me, I just take a picture and I get to use it later! It helps a lot.
D: Is there a special feeling that using Polaroid cameras and film gives you?
M: When I take a Polaroid picture it’s a similar feeling to my nail art. It captures a moment, but there’s only one of them, and that is the way I do nails. Each client will get something different no matter what. No one thing will be like the other. I like the idea of something being the only one of its kind in the world.
D: What will you continue to use your Polaroid Go for?
M: I am going to keep taking Polaroid photos of all the cool nails that I make and I want to use some of my favorite ones to create a coffee table book of nail art that’s all created by me. It would be so cute – and I would even include photos of myself as well.
D: Where do you think the Polaroid Go will take you?
M: I will continue to bring the Polaroid Go everywhere. For instance, my bag has so many charms on it – stuffed animals, smaller bags, ornaments – and I am going to keep my Polaroid Go on it now as well. This way it’s easy to take photos when I meet up with friends or get inspired. I think it’s more special than taking a photo on my phone. Plus, it’s more meaningful to give to your friends.
D: What’s next for you?
M: My next project is to create a stronger brand for myself. You know, I have been doing nails for almost 18 years – and it’s time for me to build up my brand!
See more of Mei’s work on Instagram @nailsbymei or go meet some of our other creators like Steffen Grap, Madrona Redhawk, Quinn Whitney Wilson and Arlo Parks. Looking to stay inspired like Mei? Pick up one of her favorite creative tools – the Polaroid Go camera. We can’t wait to see what you’ll create.