The “How Does a Nail Artist Work?” Edition

Vivian Cam paints elaborate designs on her customers’ nails.

Vivian Cam
Vivian Cam.

Jacob Brogan

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For more than a decade, Vivian Cam has been working as a nail technician, providing countless pedicures and manicures along the way. Today, she works out of Nail Saloon in Washington, D.C., where we visited her for this episode of Working. As other technicians bustled around—preparing their stations and readying their tools—we talked about the full range of her daily efforts, from the pleasure she takes in extracting ingrown toenails to her strategies for chatting with customers.

Cam also practices nail art, painting often elaborate designs for customers and colleagues. As we spoke, she walked us through her Instagram page, where she posts many of her creations, including some seasonally appropriate ones. She went into the techniques and tricks of fashioning miniature pictures, offering some surprising information about how much time they take.

Then, for a Slate Plus extra, Cam talked to us about the nail services she offers to her occasional male customers—and told us how she learned to stop biting her own nails. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at

Twitter: @Jacob_Brogan

Podcast production by Mickey Capper.