Photo courtesy of Obsidian Nail Studio.

Professional nail artist Stephanie Campbell scratched and clawed her way to success, so to speak.

In 2016, the 28-year-old was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal causing debilitating migraines and hand numbness. She had surgery to remove part of her skull and spine. Doctors recommended a career change, but she clung to her dream.

“I’m not allowing my disability to get in the way of what I want to do,” Campbell says. “I don’t want to do anything else but nails. I get to make people feel pretty.”

Photo courtesy of Obsidian Nail Studio.

Today, she’s the owner of Obsidian Nail Studio in Bethel Park, a salon specializing in intricate, freehand artwork. It reopens today with strict protocols in place for staff and client safety, including temperature checks via a contactless thermometer, the use of face masks and UV sterilization of cellphones.

Campbell is used to rising to the challenge.

Photo courtesy of Obsidian Nail Studio.

The Bethel Park native named her business after the dark volcanic glass that was used as a cutting tool in the stone ages and is believed by some people to have healing powers. Pieces of obsidian are displayed throughout the bright and inviting studio located at 6315 Library Road.

The shop has developed a cult-like following on Instagram, with clients coming from as far away as Maryland to have their fingertips transformed into miniature masterpieces.

Using tiny brushes and acrylic paint, Campbell works her magic, creating portraits, prints and patterns on fingernail canvases.

Inspiration is everywhere, from band logos and tattoos to fashion magazines. She’s replicated wall-sized murals on one-inch nailbeds and given a manicure that matches the lace of a bride’s wedding gown. People are decorating digits with pictures of their pets. During the Halloween season, folks get their fingers emblazoned with mini-monsters.

Sessions can take up to two hours depending on the design.

Dormont resident Sara McCall, one of about 400 regular patrons, doesn’t mind the wait.

“In my profession — sales — my nails are always a topic of conversation and I credit that to Steph and her pride in her work,” she says.

Jessica Lowry says she’ll rearrange her whole life before missing an appointment with Campbell. The Pittsburgh native just moved back from Los Angeles, where nail art is all the rage.

“I’m a minimalist so you won’t find me with 10 nails full of glitter, but what I have grown to love is that Stephanie Campbell gets to know her clients and has been able to cater to my indecisiveness and vague descriptions and nails it — no pun intended — each time,” Lowry says.

Campbell grew up with a paintbrush in her hand. Her mother was an artist who encouraged her creativity. As a teenager, she studied cosmetology at Steel Center for Career and Technical Education in Jefferson Hills.

Photo courtesy of Obsidian Nail Studio.

During that time, she also worked as a receptionist at a local nail salon where, between appointment bookings, the ambidextrous artist practiced beautifying her own nails. Customers took notice of her handiwork and asked her to add a bit of bling to their freshly polished nails.

After graduating from Steel Center Tech, she did nails full-time at a Bloomfield salon. Medical issues forced her to take a break from the business and relearn her craft. The working mom opened Obsidian Nail Studio in 2018.

Thanks to social media, where self-expression is celebrated, her company — and the nail industry in general — is flourishing.

“Nails are temporary. You can change it up as much as you want,” Campbell says. “You can go from a design that’s sweet and girly to long, dark and gothic in two or three weeks.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.