//Yurintzi SerrattoCano speaks with her client at Reign Rituals in Denver on Dec. 2. Photos by Madison Lauterbach | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the beauty world, tattoo artists, hairstylists and makeup gurus are often lauded as artists, creatives, the movers and shakers of the industry. And yet, one area that typically gets overlooked is nail art. Often considered something that can be done at home or a cheap salon, nail artists don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
As ready-made press-on sets and nail artists on social media become increasingly popular, Denver artist Yurintzi SerrattoCano is cutting through the noise with eye-catching custom designs.
Setting out in the world, like many children of immigrants, SerrattoCano felt pressure to do something with her life that would equal financial security; this seemed at odds with her love for art.
“I went to university to study fine art, and my parents said I need to do something different,” she admitted. “I started as an artist, but I made sure to double-major in mathematics. At the time, being a graphic designer, having a ‘real’ job in art, was not a thing.”
Luckily SerrattoCano was equally skilled at math and science and ended up with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Her degree landed her a government job, which she said was not the right fit. From there, she went on a journey of self-discovery, over-educated and, according to the tenants of late-stage capitalism, under-employable.
“I tried teaching and tutoring, and I really suck,” she laughed. “I don’t have the patience for that, and realized I needed to do something totally different, so I went to nail school. I found out about nail art and realized there was more to it than the gaudy, airbrushed style of art. I discovered hand painting and the type of detail you can do on nails. I got inspired by that and got my license.”
Still, even after finding her calling, it wasn’t an easy road. At more corporate nail salons, she witnessed shady behavior like nail artists stealing tips, gossip and a lack of fair pay due to the structure of the businesses. She decided to go the more holistic route, only to realize there isn’t truly a “natural” way to do nail care since gel manicures involve chemical reactions. But throughout her journey, she discovered something that inspired her to stick with it: the lack of inclusive spaces in the nail industry.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Am I going to be comfortable in your space?’ And the fact that they’re worrying about their comfort makes me really sad because that means that they have gone elsewhere and they didn’t feel welcome or comfortable,” she said. “More masculine people, men, they just don’t feel comfortable in nail spaces, and they’re not made to feel welcome.”
While nails may be a rite of passage in certain queer circles, she understands how hard it is for queer folks to get the beauty care they deserve with confidence.
“It takes a lot for people to walk into a space and ask for certain things,” SerrattoCano said. “I have a client who’s in his 50s—he’s transitioning—but can’t get everything he wants done because of his age. There could be dangers with the hormones. He’s doing a mental transition, though, and I gave him his first set of straight-up, ‘90s Barbie-pink nails. It made him so happy.”
In addition to serving the LGBTQ+ community, she has made it a point to get certified as a medical nail technician to work on older folks, people with diabetes and bleeding disorders, and other disabled folks who deserve nail care.
“At the newer salons, the nail techs really do feel like they’re too good to service the older people. They don’t want to touch their feet because the nails are too long,” SerrattoCano said. “They deserve to get their nails done too.”
She’s also run into stereotypes about people who work in the nail industry, ones that women of color often face regarding their intelligence. Her biggest message for nail clients? Don’t assume the person doing your pedicure is dumb.
“People don’t realize how many college-educated people are in this industry,” SerrattoCano said. “The owner of my salon now is college-educated. I went to nail school with a woman who got tired of being a lawyer. And a lot of intelligent people don’t have college degrees. To be a nail tech, you have to be smart; like, you have to do your own taxes, figure out your own numbers, know chemistry and how not to give people fungus and all sorts of other things. So, when I see parents who point to a nail tech and go, ‘You don’t want to end up like her,’ they’re so wrong.”
These days, you can find SerrattoCano at Reign Rituals in Whittier, doing gel manicures and creating press-on sets, generally living her best life. Her books are currently closed to gel manicure clients, but she’s always taking on new press-on commissions.
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