Nina May is a surface pattern designer whose unique textile designs and graphics appear on Hasbro/Disney Princesses, The Descendants, Equestria Girls, Littlest Petshop and Blythe Dolls, Barbie, Spin Master Ltd. LIV Dolls and La De Da Dolls, just to name a few. Nina and I first met at Mattel, where she and I both worked on Barbie. She created fabric prints and I designed dolls. Now we are friends and fellow freelance designers. I wanted to know more about what she does and how she keeps the money and creativity flowing. I hope I piqued your curiosity! Keep reading to learn more about Nina, surface pattern designer and doll design pro.
You’ve created textile designs (prints) for lots and lots of dolls. Which projects are your favorite?
Right now, my favorite Textile Design is for the Lonnie/ Disney Descendants Doll for Hasbro Toys. The design was made to match the original Disney costume design sketches and photos. The Dress is a traditional Korean Peach Floral Print with Gold Leaf accents. I love Ethnic patterns and costumes so this was right in my wheelhouse! I designed the print in Illustrator, then I hand-painted and gold leafed prototype samples for Executive Approval, photo shoots for packaging and Toy Fair.
Another one of my favorites that was a major challenge was a hand-painted Vinyl raincoat with a mini Kawaii style print I designed for a LIV Doll for Spin Master. I had to figure out how to make the paint stick to plastic. It was also pretty labor intensive but I got a lot more projects from Spin Master because of that particularity challenging piece.
LIV Doll Wears a Hand-Painted Clear Vinyl Raincoat
Did you play with dolls as a kid? Do the things that you loved as a kid still inspire you?
I really liked making things as a kid more than doll play. I sewed clothes by hand, made furniture for dolls and Teddy Bears too.
I really did not play with very many dolls as a kid. The few dolls I played with were Chatty Cathy, Skipper, Tooti, Little Kiddles on a necklace and in a perfume bottle, but no Barbies. My Mom was very against dolls with boobs for some reason.
I really liked making things as a kid more than doll play. I sewed clothes by hand, made furniture for dolls and Teddy Bears too. I remember learning to build with wood at school, making jewelry out of wire and beads and leather at Summer Camp. I wanted to be a Hippie so bad! Made lots of Peace Sign necklaces, Tie-Dyed shirts too. So I’m really right back where I started, now that the Bohemian Hippie trend is still so popular. I still get to play and get paid which is super fun.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Artist when I grew up. After changing my mind about being a Nurse (too much blood and hearing people in pain was not appealing after all.)
I went to Woodbury University for a couple years and majored in Graphic Design for Advertising. To make money I worked retail part-time and hand-painted my clothes. My co-workers wanted what I wore to work, so I thought I could make a business out of it. I started selling my wares on Melrose Avenue and all over Beverly Hills. I was told at the time, not to paint splatter because it was too Punk! Can you imagine?
Then I took some Textile Design and Fashion Illustration courses at Otis College of Art and Design. Funny story, I had a fight with my Textile Design Professor at Otis. She told the class no one buys any clothes in Yellow and never to use it as a main color in our designs. So the next day, I came completely dressed in Yellow. Yellow Vintage Pumps, Yellow Capri Pants and a Yellow Bowling shirt. I was and still am a rebel I guess.
How did you get started in textile design for dolls?
I got an interview with the Manager of Barbie Development. I was asked to do an illustration test. I remember drawing shoes and a teapot.
Totally by accident! I was between jobs working in the Apparel business designing hand-painted and screen printed Apparel companies. One of my co-workers was renting out a studio at The Brewery in Downtown LA. Her studio mate knew someone that worked at Mattel who knew a Manager looking for a Graphic Artist/Designer. I got an interview with the Manager of Barbie Development. I was asked to do an illustration test. I remember drawing shoes and a teapot.
I was hired a Temp for about 4 months and then started working as a freelance Vendor for more departments within Mattel. I learned completely on the job. One of my favorite Mattel Doll projects was for the Dream Halloween Charity. I worked with Patricia Chan on the Demi Moore Academy Award outfit. The dress and handbag in Royal Blue Silk was covered all over with blue Swarovski crystals by hand. It took 2 weeks to complete. The Doll later sold to Demi Moore at auction for $19,000. I also was written up in Barbie Collector Magazine, which was very thrilling to be acknowledged being that I was a freelance vendor.
Working on the Demi Moore Doll
Now, all the designers I met originally at Mattel have worked at most of the Toy Companies in Los Angeles so I am lucky to be working with many of them still to this day.
Tell me about your non-doll design work for home decor & phone cases. How did it start?
It took a couple few years to start selling well on Society6, but it was worth the time because now I make sales daily.
I began designing for many Products on Demand websites over in the past 3 years. It was a very slow time for any Doll Design work. I found that many artists were designing phone-cases and home décor products making money with their art. I found out about Society6 from a Swedish painter friend I met at a local gallery. She sold prints of her paintings. It took a couple few years to start selling well on Society6, but it was worth the time because now I make sales daily.
One day an online rep in Austria, Patterndesigns.com, found me. I was chosen to participate in their Beta launch. This is now a site selling Patterns to print on fabric and many more surfaces like stationery and home decor. I joined thinking it would be a good idea to design for the European Market and to get exposure.
I also sell my pattern designs with Kess InHouse, launched 2 years ago and is a lucrative Licenser. Kess sells a variety of Home Décor and Gift items including Duvet Covers, Pillows, Shower Curtains, Tote Bags, Yoga Mats and much more. My designs sell well there because they do high volumes on Amazon and flash sell on many websites too.
Since starting I have joined many sites and licensed my Textile Designs to many companies. Either I find new companies and clients on Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram or they find me on my Portfolio sites on Behance, Coroflot and Carbonmade.
How do you promote yourself in the era of the web?
I spend about an hour or two daily promoting my designs for products and Fashion Dolls. The sites I do most of my promoting: Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. I also have a few Portfolios online that cross promote to those sites like for instance: Behance, Coroflot and Carbonmade. I have many more bookmarking sites I post on.
To be honest, I don’t know where most of my sales come from since SEO stats really confuse me. But I think Pinterest has been the most lucrative as customers know to click on the product for the link to shop.
Heather & Nina
Have you ever thought about a career in doll design? Dolls look simple, but they are actually very complex. Every doll you have ever seen for sale required the expertise of a number of people who specialize in different areas of doll design and creation. Having worked as a doll designer for years I’ve met and become friends with many other doll professionals. For these artists doll creation is a career, and they are all doing it freelance! Most of them also create other things on the side to boost their creativity and make extra money. To learn more about what it takes to make a doll click here to see all the interviews in the “Doll Design Pro” series.