Sojin Oh’s Surreal, Twisted Nail Landscapes

A favorite of Cardi B, Arca, Björk, and Rosalía, the Los Angeles nail artist meticulously sculpts gravity-defying talons with blobby layers that verge on the otherworldly.

Image courtesy Sojin Oh

Glossy abstractions and ladybugs laze across fingertips. Fungi sprout as if Björk’s hands are tree trunks. Planks of chrome, like the chicest finger splints imaginable, clutch a red rose blooming in Lil Nas X’s fist. Whether inspired by animal, vegetable, or mineral, Sojin Oh’s boundary-breaking nail art has made her among the world’s most booked, winning fans (and clients) like Cardi B, Kali Uchis, Arca, and Rihanna. 

It all started, she says, with Gong Li. “I remember watching Curse of the Golden Flower and seeing the Chinese fingernail guards and gold-accent extensions,” she says. “The beauty elements of her character were inspiring and powerful to me because they captured her emotions well.” With a flick of Li’s fingers, a world of possibilities opened up. “I thought, that’s what I want to do for nails,” she says, “get inspired by the persona and create a brand-new design for that one person to express who they are and what they’re feeling.”

Images courtesy Sojin Oh

Oh’s nail art has more in common with what Björk famously called “emotional landscapes” than typical salon styles. Beauty school certification didn’t teach her much. “I had to educate myself in class,” she says. “I’d watch YouTube videos and learn the basics.” Her breakthrough came from an unlikely source. “I was practicing making blobs with transparent builder sculpture gel, and I fell in love.” Soon, she could turn these blobs into sculptures: ersatz dewdrops, flecks of frost, frames for bits of cellphones and sea glass. “I was using plastic scrapes to create some effects on my 3D nails, and I was doubtful. But when I encapsulated them with clear gel, it looked icy and ethereal.” 

She didn’t stop there. Soon, she could attach enamel terrariums to fingertips. “I saw a Petri dish online, and I started imagining,” she says. “It took a couple weeks to figure out the materials and process, but I finally got to do them on a client and they looked pretty realistic—almost edible.” 

Celebrity clients ate her designs up. Brands came calling, including Louis Vuitton and YSL Beauty. Rosalía’s people saw the work and asked for some custom options. Typically, Björk favored total freedom. “They wanted something fungi-related,” she says, but otherwise “I was given complete creative freedom, which was such an honor. I love working with her because she’s fearless, expressive, and vulnerable with her medium, and I always admired that.”

Image courtesy Sojin Oh

Oh is equally fearless when it comes to calling out changes the industry should adopt. Starting out, she says, “I wish I knew how toxic most beauty materials are. I learned the hard way, and now try to work with brands and materials that are free of toxins.” She’s learned the cost the industry inflicts on artists’ bodies, too. “Beauty workers are constantly putting tension on our upper body. It would be nice to be able to have a massager that’s wearable so we can use them while at work.” 

Until that arrives, Oh is looking towards other methods of self-care, including “nature-inspired mixology.” Odds are those drinks will inspire as much as the nails on the hands toasting them.

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