Dubai: When Marissa Sanchez Paulma, a 30-year-old nail artist from the Philippines, was gifted a canvas and paintbrush by one of her clients at the salon, she was pleasantly surprised at the beautiful artwork she could create.
Working as a nail technician at the Nail Beautique salon in Al Barsha, the Dubai resident was always aware that she could paint absolutely anything she was asked to on her client’s nails using her favourite nail polish pens.
From Disney characters and flowers, to portraits and icons, Paulma used the small spaces on people’s fingers to draw it all. She also did henna designs, and face paint when requested, and said she enjoys the creativity behind her job.
However, what Paulma didn’t know is that she had a natural ability to paint — anything and everything — not only on nails, but on canvases, and other mediums.
When her curiosity pushed her to pick up a small rock and follow the same techniques she used with her nail polish pens, Paulma realised she could create work that would last longer than a couple of weeks on someone’s nails. “One client bought me two canvases and a set of acrylic paints, and I looked at the blank canvas and had no clue what to do. Using nail polish pens is very different to paint, but I started teaching myself to paint, and I realised I could do it,” she said.
With no previous art classes or painting experience, Paulma decided to teach herself to paint portraits and landscapes, and even created her own methods.
She used thread to create a grid on her canvas so she can roughly sketch the image before working her magic with a paintbrush.
“I was amazed that I can paint on canvases. When I was painting my first canvas, a portrait of my cousin, I thought wow, I can do this, now I need to do more,” she said
Receiving requests from her clients at the salon, and experimenting with her new gift, Paulma began to spend most of her free time painting. She used her hours before and after her shift at the salon to paint, and even got a little work done during her lunch breaks. “I sometimes paint for hours before bedtime and sometimes it’s only 30 minutes depending on my mood, and I usually have the Bee Gees’ music or other old songs playing in the background,” she said.
She looked at different images that inspired her and attempted to paint them. To her surprise, her work was nothing short than a piece of art.
The Dubai journey
Moving to Dubai in 2014, to work at a salon, Paulma supported her six siblings and family members in the Philippines, for over two years before eventually returning to her home country to focus on nail art. “I love working with nails, I love nail polish and I love colours. My mum is a manicurist so I learnt how to apply nail polish and nail art form her,” she said.
Paulma then returned to her job in Dubai around 10 months later and rejoined the salon in September 2015 with a promotion. “I realised I could sketch in grade five, but I didn’t know I could paint. My family couldn’t afford to buy me art supplies, so I used to take my mum’s old nail polish and paint with them as a child. I am doing this for my family,” said Paulma.
With a supportive boss and team at salon, and a friendly group of clients, Paulma is discovering her full potential as an artist. Shortly after completing several paintings, she was offered free art classes through a client who believed in her work.
“After a few weeks of art classes, I am learning to just look at an image, transfer it from my eyes to my mind and onto the canvas without sketching or worrying about how similar it looks to the original. I am working on developing my skills because I know I can do more,” said Paulma.
Inspired by the Russian artist Vladimir Volegov, Paulma said she enjoys painting photorealistic images as well as faces and portraits. “My next challenge is to paint Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. This painting will be for me,” she said.
Paulma is also currently working on a collection of Shaikh Hamdan paintings she hopes to one day display in an exhibition. “I will take any opportunity that comes my way and I will work hard to sell my paintings one day — but nail art will always be something I love to do on the side,” she said.
Looking at her future, Paulma hopes to become a full-time artist and join Dubai’s art scene.
“I want to paint on the biggest canvas ever — bigger and bigger canvases until I paint murals. That’s my dream,” she said.