Mermaids aren't only fantasy creatures in books and movies. They're real.

Mermaiding is a worldwide phenomenon gaining popularity as a sport, hobby, and art form—and yes, you can even be a mermaid as a job.

Also known as mermaidry or artistic mermaid performance, this new pastime attracts people from all walks of life looking for fitness, adventure, and a little whimsy. It has also birthed an entirely new industry for designers: mermaid tail design and accessories.

While the industry is growing fast, including various events like aquarium performances and mermaid competitions, it's only starting to take off in countries like South Africa.

Mermaid swimmer

We caught up with three real mermaids in South Africa to hear their tails (err, tales): Nina Wernick (Designer), Izelle Nair (PADI Mermaid Instructor), and Gia Radnai (Marketer).

We'll also share a fun mermaid illustration tutorial at the end of this post. Let's dive in.

Mermaid Nina, Designer

1. Tell us about your mermaiding journey—where did it start, and how have you developed?

I needed some exercise late lockdown time, and knew about Merschool through the yoga studio next door—so I thought, let me give it a try. It was love at first fin, and now it's something I do multiple times a week.

2. Tell us about how you got into designing mermaid tails and your process.

I got into it as I imagine most people do—wanting a specific kind of tail but not finding exactly what you envision anywhere, so you design it yourself.

So it's one part frustration and two parts magpie syndrome. Most of the existing fabric mermaid tails are designed by people who aren't mermaids themselves. They use fabric that wears out super quickly in the water, or their designs create a lot of drag as you swim.

I wanted to do better than that. And I knew I could do better than that, because I know what these mermaid tails feel like to swim in.

And then, like most folks I know, I want every color and fin combination for my own delight. Designing them allows me to give the inner magpie free reign to have all the shiny things she could possibly want.

Mermaid tail design

Nowadays, the process depends on who I’m designing for. I’m lucky that I design primarily for Tidal Wave Mermaid Tails. I base most of my designs on our local famous fish species.

There's also the occasional custom tail design, which often comes from the client’s inspiration and vision.

The process itself starts with inspiration, either an existing fish, a specific shape, or a feeling, and becomes concrete through iteration—drawing, getting feedback, editing, and so on.

Then, I translate that into a tail by creating an outline, working out the base colors, and sorting out all the fins.

Lastly, I add the details.

Mermaid tails in pool

This part of the process can take ages. Stripes, spots, sparkles, and scales at different sizes and in different colors. You can make the design as vibrant and elaborate as you want.

Finally, I work on the fit.

I create some basic sizes, but for custom work I get some extra measurements and tweak the tail to fit as closely as possible.

3. What are some of the important considerations when designing a mermaid tail?

The most important thing is that you must be able to take it off in an instant. We regularly indulge in a bit of gallows humor, jokingly saying we’ll either succeed at the trick or drown.

Sometimes we chant, “No dead mermaids.” We do this light-heartedly, but safety is crucial to all of us. If you get stuck 5 meters down, it's really important that you can just get out of your tail.

Then, for me, comes the swimming experience. It must feel good to swim in. It must move with you and have as little drag as possible.

Lastly, the visuals: do you look believable, beautiful, and like you belong in the tail?

4. How does your job help you with mermaid tail design?

Mermaiding swimming class

I became a graphic designer because, for me, graphic design is the most direct way to turn art into an income. My job gave me the skills to do the tail designs.

Using graphical programs to create large-format, highly detailed designs isn't the simplest task. Then, you need to break the designs down into pattern pieces that can realistically be sewn into wearable items.

Both of these problems are easier to solve with training in graphic design and systematic pattern making.

5. What do you wish people knew about mermaiding?

It isn’t just one thing—it’s not just dress-up underwater (though it certainly can be that)—it's also an intense workout, a mindfulness practice, and an expressive art form.

It’s exploring the natural world and also exploring the inner world, all the while living out some childhood fantasies.

6. What kinds of events do you attend or participate in as a mermaid?

Aquarium performances, freediving competitions, school education visits, and underwater modeling opportunities from time to time. Merschool also hosts yearly Merfit Games. Some of my mermaid friends also do children’s or adult parties.

7. If someone’s interested in mermaiding, how do they find a mermaid community (online or physical)?

It’s not the easiest question to answer since the mermaid community is all at once very small and very large.

Most pods, schools, and groups have a presence on social media like Instagram or Facebook, so that's a good place to start looking. In Johannesburg North and Midrand (South Africa), Merschool is the place. Out towards Johannesburg's East Rand is MerSwim SA.

Mermaid Izelle, PADI Mermaid Instructor

1. Tell us about your mermaiding journey—where did it start, and how have you developed?

Since the age of 4, I've been captivated by the magic of mermaids and the enchantment of the water. My mom couldn't get me out the pool. I just loved pretending to be a mermaid and swimming with my legs together.

Artistic mermaid performance

Drawing on my background in movement therapy and yoga, I had the idea to blend my land-based expertise with the whimsy of mermaiding.

I teamed up with artistic swimmer and swim coach Nadia Walker in 2020, and we brought this vision to life: Merfit, our mermaid fitness program.

We're thrilled to see the community grow. We've launched our own line of mermaid tails, Tidal Wave Mermaid Tails, with the talented Nina Wernick leading the design.

We also offer PADI Mermaid Diving courses to further explore the underwater realm.

2. Would you say mermaiding is a sport, hobby, or art form for you?

Mermaiding is not just a sport or fitness activity. It's also an art form. From swimming gracefully in aquarium tanks to interacting with crowds while holding our breath, there's an artistic element to it.

But more than anything, it's a hobby. It's a way to connect with friends and the community. Every week, we gather to swim in deep pools and open waters, diving up to 10 meters with our tails. It's not just exercise. It's an adventure!

3. Tell us about how you got into designing mermaid tails.

Recognizing the need for high-quality mermaid tails, we partnered with Nina Wernick to develop our own line. Our mermaid tails are designed to be safe for marine environments and are resistant to chlorine, offering durability and longevity for countless aquatic adventures.

4. How do you celebrate MerMay?

During MerMay, I immerse myself in mermaiding as much as possible! We also incorporate freediving practices like statics and dynamics. Being calm while diving is vital, and that will be my focus this MerMay.

5. What do you want people to learn about mermaiding?

Mermaiding has profound positive effects on mental health, whether you're practicing for fun or spending time with friends.

The breath-holding exercises and practice of remaining calm and relaxed underwater are particularly beneficial. After every class, we walk out smiling and happy, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

6. What kinds of events do you attend or participate in as a mermaid?

Mermaid tank performance

As the organizer of mermaid events, I don't participate in mermaid competitions to maintain fairness.

We host various mermaid-related events throughout the year, including a mermaid competition, mermaid retreat, and several workshops.

We also offer PADI Mermaid Diving Courses, Professional Mermaid Entertainer Courses, and Merfit Instructor Training.

Looking ahead, I'm excited to develop a Mermaid Performer Course focusing on deep tank performances.

7. If someone’s interested in mermaiding, how do they find a mermaid community (online or physical)?

You can join our Facebook group, Mermaiding South Africa, to connect with fellow mermaids. If you're based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and interested in joining a class, visit Merschool or explore our collection of mermaid tails and monofins at Tidal Wave Mermaid Tails.

You can also stay updated by following @TidalWaveTails and @Merschoolsa on Instagram and TikTok.

Mermaid Gia, Marketer

1. Tell us about your mermaiding journey—where did it start, and how have you developed?

I always dreamt about becoming a mermaid after watching the first animation of The Little Mermaid. My dream came true after I signed up for a mermaiding class at Merschool, and I've been swimming there for the past two and a half years.

I've developed as a swimmer and a mermaid. My breath-hold has improved significantly, and I've become a lot fitter in the water.

2. Would you say mermaiding is a sport, hobby, or art form for you?

Mermaiding is all three in one! It's a sport, hobby, and an art form.

Mermaiding is not as easy as it looks. Your tail is heavy in the water (it can weigh up to 10 kilograms), and learning the right technique to swim can be challenging.

It's a water sport, and you can pursue it as a career by being a mermaid performer.

Of course, it's a hobby for me because it's something I love and am passionate about. It's also an art form because mermaids are beautiful mythical creatures, and their physique of being half human and half fish is definitely an art.

Mermaid party

3. How do you celebrate MerMay?

We celebrate Mermay month by getting together and having lots of fun. Mermaids love to chat and have a splash when together.

4. What kinds of events do you attend or participate in as a mermaid?

I do mermaid parties and corporate events. My favorite events are children's parties. I love seeing their faces light up as I answer all their mermaid-related questions. At these parties, we do mermaid makeovers and discover all the treasures in my treasure box.

You can check out my mermaid page @mermaid_gia_ on Instagram and Mermaid Gia on Facebook if you'd like to book me for an event or see what mermaiding is all about.

Mermaid art illustration tutorial

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Duration: 10–30 minutes

Join Linearity's SEO Developer, Adí, in creating a paper cut-out style mermaid illustration using Auto Trace and other drawing tools.

In this mermaid art tutorial, you'll learn how to:

  • Turn a sketch into vector shapes
  • Master the Pen tool
  • Add textures and shadows
  • Achieve a flat 3D effect

You'll also benefit from Adi's insights into organizing layers, blending texture, creating believable shadows, and color management.

Ready to create your own mermaid tale?

We've learned so much about the dynamic world of mermaiding, and we're excited about its design possibilities. As more mermaids discover the sport or hobby of their dreams, the need for bespoke mermaid tails and accessories will grow.

Are you looking for easy-to-use software with all the tools you need to create mermaid designs? Try Linearity Curve.

Our vector design software is a treasure chest of powerful design tools to bring your imagination to life. Whether you want scales, spots, sparkles, or color gradients, you can do it all with precision using Linearity Curve.

And if you're a "merfan" but don't have access to the schools and gear, you can still create stunning illustrations using Curve's intuitive Brush Tool, Pen Tool, and Pencil Tool.

You can also access a library of design templates and royalty-free stock images from within the Linearity platform.

Linearity has so much more to offer. Curve is seamlessly integrated with our user-friendly animation software, Linearity Move. You can take your mermaid illustrations, event invitations, and social posts to the next level by adding tail flips, animated text, and more.

See how easy it is to animate with Linearity Move.

Ready to try innovative design software for beginners and professionals? Get started for free below, or check out our Pro and Org plans.

Jumpstart your ideas with Linearity Curve

Take your designs to the next level.

Frequently asked questions

What's MerMay, and how did it start?

MerMay is a themed month that encourages artists and mermaid enthusiasts to create and share mermaid art every day throughout May. It was started by animator and illustrator Tom Bancroft as a social media challenge to celebrate these mythical creatures and practice art skills.

The idea quickly caught on, fostering a community of participants who create drawings, paintings, and even digital art centered around mermaids.

How can I become a mermaid?

Becoming a mermaid is all about embracing the mermaid lifestyle, which can include wearing mermaid tails, participating in mermaid-themed activities, and joining mermaid communities.

Many people also engage in swimming with specially designed mermaid tails for a more authentic experience.

Some even take professional mermaid courses to learn everything from swimming techniques to mermaid makeup.

Where can I find a mermaid tail?

Mermaid tails can be purchased from various online retailers and specialty shops that offer swimwear or costumes. They come in a range of materials, including fabric and silicone, and can be custom-made to fit.

Popular places to shop include The Mertailor, Fin Fun Mermaid, and Mermaid Kat Shop, all of which offer a variety of styles and sizes to suit different budgets and preferences.

Can I design my own mermaid tail using Linearity Curve?

Yes, designing your own mermaid tail is certainly possible and can be a fun and creative project. Digital tools like Linearity Curve, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop can help you create a custom tail design. You can then have your design custom-made by tailmakers who can bring your artistic vision to life.

Mermaid art: We interview 3 creative mermaids for #MerMay | Linearity
Mermaid art: We interview 3 creative mermaids for #MerMay | Linearity