One of MODERN’s favorite nail artists is Reiko Omae (@reikoomae), a NYC based manicurist who has had her beautiful nails designs featured on our covers and feature stories throughout the years. The very busy Omae has little time to do anything but editorial shoots and NYFW but decided, almost on a whim, to enter North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA) in 2015. It was the only time she ever entered – and SHE WON! Although she acknowledges it was a highlight of her career, Omae has not entered since. She decided to quit on a high.

We checked in with Omae to get her tips on winning NAHA or any nail competition (but her tips are great for any category!)

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HAVE A THEME: Images should be cohesive so that your theme is clear to the judges. Try to see it from other's perspectives.

GET A GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER: Work with a photographer who has a style you admire. Always make sure you like his or her work, and that work is consistent. You can't make that person into something else, so make sure your styles align. (It helps that Omae’s boyfriend - now husband - is a top photographer: Randolph Sauer (@randolphsauer).

WHAT’S THE PLAN?: Plan out each detail of your look on a storyboard. Plan out all aspects of your shoot as far in advance as possible - this way you have time to change things when inevitable challenges arise.

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FLEXIBILITY: When designs don't quite feel right, try a new version. I began working on my looks months in advance, and after 6-7 versions was finally satisfied with the result. Making artwork the day before the shoot can be exciting, but you'll have no time to fix something that turns out to be a flop.

FINDING INSPIRATION: Don't look to similar artists or winning entries for inspiration. I took inspiration from geometry and tried to avoid looking at how that theme inspired other artists - like me - as I worked.  

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