The artist delicately puts brush to blank slate, creating a world of dazzling imagery with small, swift strokes.
Small, because the surface is no bigger than a fingernail — and is, in fact, a fingernail. Swift, because the clock is ticking in a contest for more than $100,000 in prizes on Oxygen's new "Nail'd It" series. It debuts 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday with host Adrienne Bailon ("The Real").
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Red and pink manicures have long been joined by edgy hues including black and turquoise. Bolder fashionistas are adorning their pointed, squared or indented "Russian" tips with bespoke painted images, glitz and 3-D sculptures.
The opposable thumb, impressive on its own, becomes even more so. Nail biting amounts to defacing a masterpiece.
Artwork that's just an arm's-length away at all times is "better than hanging a painting and getting to appreciate it for only a few minutes a day," said contestant Chris Mans, owner of an Orange County, California, salon.
In one "Nail'd It" semi-final round, the artists are challenged to evoke their favorite city on a fingernail and, voila, Las Vegas emerges on a fingertip. Rod Aissa, Oxygen Media's executive vice president of original programming and development, was on the set and duly impressed.
The nails became "an absolutely beautiful salute to the city they (the artists) chose," Aissa said. That's when his perception of nail design changed from the notion of "slapping on gold tips" to artistry.
Nails are both art and commerce. There's a multibillion-dollar industry devoted to them, including products, salons and magazines. For Oxygen, "Nail'd It" is part of an effort launching this week to refocus on its target audience of women 18 to 34 with new shows and related social media and other online elements.
Oxygen, part of NBCUniversal's extensive cable portfolio, is seeking to differentiate itself from sister channels including E! and Bravo, as well as outside TV and online rivals. For young women who grew up on reality series and continue to gravitate to such franchises as the Kardashians and "Real Housewives," Aissa said, Oxygen is taking a different approach.
In studying what young women like and respond to, "this idea of self-expression kept coming up," he said.
How to translate that for a channel whose tagline is "Very Real"? For "Nail'd It," it meant mixing the popularity of nail art with personal aspirations, the chance for one of the contestants to win life-changing money. All are working in the field and many have competed successfully in national nail competitions.
Contestant Ashley Craig of Fort Myers, Fla., who studied visual arts in school, fell into nail salon work after she became pregnant at age 19 and needed a steady income. It turned out to be a satisfying artistic outlet, said Craig, who also paints murals and does makeup design.
"Most of my clients give me free reign," she said.
The series also offers tips on do-it-yourself nail decorating tips, another trend among a generation that Aissa said identifies itself as crafts-oriented.
Before it's even aired, "Nail'd It" can claim an impact on one self-described middle-aged nailbiter: Aissa, who bought a nail clipper but sounds doubtful about becoming a salon regular.
"I did try and get a manicure with a buff," the TV executive said. "It seems to take a long time."
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.