29 September 2013

Ethereal Dreamcatcher Nails and a Tutorial

Hi everyone! Do you ever do a nail art design where you feel you've pushed the boundaries of your skills and creativity? Something that feels like it opens new doors and possibilities in terms of what you are capable of doing? Well that's how I feel about this design. If you follow me on Instagram you've already seen a sneak peek of this, I just couldn't wait to share it!

Ethereal dreamcatcher nail art (with top coat, not matte)

I wanted to create a tutorial for the dreamcatcher nails I did earlier this month. Browsing through images of dreamcatchers online, I came across this image on deviantART. There were two aspects that really appealed to me - the sunset background and the faded look with black border. It reminded me of a photo filtered through Instagram. I wasn't sure I could replicate these aspects, but in the end it worked out better than I had hoped. :)

Ethereal dreamcatcher nail art (with top coat, not matte)

I know the tutorial is long, but it's not the kind of thing that can be explained quickly. If you just want to know what polishes I used, here they are:

  • OPI My Vampire is Buff
  • Sally Hansen Lightening (yellow)
  • Sally Hansen Firey Island (orange)
  • OPI Can't Find My Czechbook (light blue)
  • Essie Midnight Cami (midnight blue)
  • Orly Liquid Vinyl (black)
  • China Glaze Charmed, I'm Sure (dark eggplant)
  • China Glaze Goldie But Goodie (gold foil)

Ethereal dreamcatcher nail art (with matte top coat)

For this look you will also need the following:

  • A fine detail/liner brush, not a long liner brush, but something short to mid-sized in length
  • A makeup sponge
  • Nail polish thinner

Ethereal dreamcatcher nail art (with matte top coat)


This tutorial is very long and may seem daunting, but it essentially involves two parts - the background/border with the "worn" look, and the dreamcatchers.

Two techniques must be explained first that are essential to this design:

Drybrush: like the name suggests, a drybrush technique involves having very minimal paint/polish on your brush and painting very lightly so that you have a line that is broken, not solid or complete.

Scumbling: Very similar to drybrush, you start with very little paint/polish on your brush, and you lightly drag it across a surface. It's best done on a surface with a light texture because you will end up leaving polish only on the raised surfaces. This creates a film of colour with the colours underneath peeking through.

Step #1: Start with your base. Paint your nails with a white or a light neutral base. Here I'm using OPI My Vampire is Buff. You do not need to paint your nails to full coverage - I'm using 2 coats, where I would need 3-4 for full coverage.

Step #1

Step #2: Start your "sunset" gradient. Choose 3-4 polishes in the orange-red-violet-blue colour range. Here I'm using Sally Hansen Lightening (yellow), Sally Hansen Firey Island (orange), OPI Can't Find My Czechbook (light blue), and Essie Midnight Cami (dark blue). Paint the polishes directly on your makeup sponge.

Step #2

Step #3: Finish your gradient. To do the gradient, gently press the makeup sponge on your nail. Move it lightly up and down to make a good gradient. Do not worry about getting a smooth gradient. You will need to do approximately 2 passes on each nail, adding more polish to the sponge as necessary. Do not worry about fully covering your nail - in fact you want to have some of the base colour (the white or light neutral) peeking through.

Step #3

Step #4: Tone it down. Take some black polish and dilute with nail polish thinner. Using a makeup sponge dab some of the thinned polish on your nails, very gently. This will tone down the colours and add a bit of grunge effect.

Step #4

Step #4

Step #5: Add your black border. Use black polish diluted with nail polish thinner, and work slowly, building up the dark areas towards the edge. To make it look faded start with very thinned polish, and use a drybrush and scumbling technique to work out from the edge. Then use less thinner for the polish used around the edges. In other words work from light to dark. Finish by cleaning up around your nails.

Step #5

Step #5

Step #6: Start your dreamcatchers. Using a darker polish - but not a black polish - lightly paint your design using a fine liner brush. Here I'm using China Glaze Charmed, I'm Sure diluted with some nail polish thinner so that it is more fluid and not so dark. You want to start out with lighter lines in case you make any mistakes.

Step #6

Step #7: Darken your lines where necessary. I darkened the frame and the strings of the dreamcatcher using a black polish and Charmed, I'm Sure.

Step #7

Step #8: Work on your feathers. Remember my feathers are just sketched out lightly using a dark purple that I've added thinner to. I then added some strokes of OPI Can't Find My Czechbook - a light blue that is one or two shades lighter than the purple. After that, I added one or two strokes of the darker purple around the edges. This creates a feather that has some light and dark areas, giving it a whispy look.

Step #8

Step #9: Add your gold highlights. Using China Glaze Goldie But Goodie (a gold foil) I added a few strokes on the feathers and strings to create highlights.

Step #9

Step #10: Whiten the background. The last step is to lighten the background which helps to heighten that worn "Instagram filter" look. To do that, take a lighter polish, I'm using OPI My Vampire is Buff, and using only a bare minimum of polish on your brush, scumble it on the surface. Basically you're using a very, very light touch and dragging your brush across the surface. Because the surface is rough (from the gradient) it catches only the raised surface. Make sure to dab any excess polish on a paper towel first, and if your polish is very opaque, thin it with nail polish thinner.

Step #10

Step #11: Finish with top coat and pat yourself on the back. I finished with KBShimmer Clearly On Top, which is excellent and doesn't smear nail art (wait 10-15 minutes after finishing your design). Then I mattified them with Essie Matte About You.

Ethereal dreamcatcher nail art (with matte top coat)

I hope my tutorial makes sense. If there's anything that is not clear or needs to be explained more, please let me know!

What do you think of this? Is this something you'd like to try?


  1. This is some stunning nail art. That amount of work you put into this really shines through. Beautiful!

  2. U r right this s something an artist eud be poud of, I love whole look n tut as well,,, good job

  3. This is so amazing! I love that you pushed your limits on it because its so great!!! And thanks for the tutorial! Xoxo

  4. Oh how lovely!<3 I have to try this!

  5. These are beautiful, Meghan! Definitely will have to try these!

  6. woooww this looks stunning :) thank you for the great tutorial :)

  7. This is a fantastic manicure!! And your tutorial is very detailed!! I really love it!!

  8. WOAH! You rock girl. I am loving this worn out look and will be definitely trying this :) Thank you for a great tutorial <3

    Paulina's Passions

  9. I am absolutely gobsmacked, Meghan. Bookmarking just as soon as I can pick my jaw up off the floor...

  10. This is so amazing I can't even imagine trying to replicate it.

    1. p.s. I hope you don't mind I'm going to pin this?

  11. THis is so freakin awesome! Is scumbling a real word? Never heard that term before!

  12. wow.. This is the most awesome mani, I´m so impressed! and the tutorial just made me love it more <3 I totally understand that some manis can make you feel like you´ve stepped up one step, and that feels great! great work!! *applause*

  13. Wow, these are beautiful! Definitely going to have to use them as inspiration.

  14. Hall of Fame!! Wow!!! Thanks for taking the time to write out the tutorial - it's incredible!!!

  15. This is absolutely amazing! I never would have thought of doing half of those steps! And you made a tutorial - that is dedication. :)



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