When it came to making her way in the art world, Tacarra “Spifster” Sutton started out small – like, pinky-nail small.
But today, Sutton’s intricate nail art, uniquely designed on the spot for each client, is a big deal.
“Coming to Spif is to know that you kind of got to sit back and let me do what it is that I do,” Sutton said of her approach to nail design. “At the end of the day, you’re here for the Spifster experience.”
Today, Sutton’s bold and bright nail art has helped her reach deep into the design world, where her work now graces apparel, home décor and more.
But back when she was a teenaged graphic design student, Sutton says she created her first designs on her own nails just to keep herself from biting them.
“At that point my design tool of choice was a Sharpie marker. I had like maybe one polish that I had bought from Walgreens,” she said. “I still remember to this day, it was a Sally Hansen product, a pretty slate blue.”
Soon, Sutton’s friends were clamoring for her to spiff up their nails too and her bespoke manicures were in high demand. She says that’s when she realized her nail designs could grab attention just about anywhere.
“I just knew that I wasn’t going to be at those ad agencies just yet, so how am I going to get my stuff out there? So doing nails in that capacity — it was like, OK, I’ve got friends at Columbia, that are in these different spaces that I would like to be in, so if I can't be there, at least your nails can be there,” Sutton said. “So now the word is starting to circulate, the name is starting to be formed around it.”
Fifteen years later, Sutton is a trendsetter in her own right, and she sees the hand of Black culture in nail design’s emergence as an art form.
“Black girl magic does have a very big influence on where nail art is today. I’m even seeing a lot of nail artists embracing like nail jewels and stonework,” she said. “Growing up that was ghetto, that was seen as something that was like, ‘oh that’s gaudy, she's not gonna get the job.’ And now you’re seeing these women out here who are the head of companies that got stones on their nails.”
These days, Sutton is turning her hand to growing her visual design practice through collaboration.
“It’s launched me into conversations that I, your ‘average nail tech,’ wouldn't have. I’ve got CEOs of companies that are consulting me about different design elements,” she said. “I want to embrace the season of collaboration. I know a lot of the best of the best in what they do and I'm the best of the best of what I do so — hey, best of the best — let’s make some better stuff.”
Sutton’s latest project was creating press-on nails inspired by the women of the Black Panther movies for the Chicago polish brand Pear Nova.
Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 8 and updated on Nov. 17.