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Artist Nikki Darby Tran’s Balloon Art Business Flourishes

Turning latex into masterpieces.

Nikki Darby Tran (Photography by Alex Rosa)

When one thinks of art, they might think of paint and a canvas, sculpture or photography, but trans artist Nikki Darby Tran has found inspiration through another medium: balloons.

“I saw some things on Pinterest and thought it looked neat,” she says. “Pinterest is not a guide, it just shows images of finished products mostly, but I like to look at things and speculate how they did it. My friend was getting his citizenship and was having a party. I told him I would decorate for him and he was excited. I attempted balloon art for the first time there at his party and it was an instant hit.”

Whether it’s walkways or arches made from shimmering, colorful balloons, or designs that resemble popular brands like Pokémon, Tran has since ventured into the balloon art business part-time. She now designs pieces for community events in and around the greater Houston area. The artist says she never expected this kind of support or such a strong response.

“My business thrived during the pandemic era, and I have been creating balloon décor art here and there, bringing joy at opportunities given,” she says. “I really appreciate people and businesses trusting my ability to create something wonderful for them. Creating art through balloons brings joy to the clients so I love the opportunity to do it for them.”

What has been more surprising, given the country’s recent political environment, Tran reveals, is the acceptance from the community about her trans identity.

“I started my balloon décor business before I came out as a transgender woman,” she says. “I had fears of appearing as myself when working on an order for them after I came out. I did this for two years until I couldn’t hide it anymore. However, I retained 95 percent of the clients for repeat business. Today, I am a proud transgender woman not afraid to live out her truth, being authentic to myself and spreading positivity wherever I appear. Surely there are challenges but I face it like a silver lining in every situation.”

Art has always been a passion since a young age, states Tran. She was always crafty growing up, creating things from scraps and turning it into art. Balloon art, she says, is an extension of that childhood love, taking simple pieces of latex and turning them into magnificent sculptures and shapes.

“I love working with this medium,” Tran declares. “A balloon décor artist uses round shaped balloons to create sculptures and shapes. I do a combination of both in my work, but mainly with the latex round balloons, mylar and other mediums. Unlike other art mediums that can be more permanent, balloon art is temporary and can only last for weeks. Cold weather can make a balloon deflate and lose its original shape and hot weather can make it expand and burst. As an artist, we adjust the sizing of the balloons based on location, inside or out, and can treat it to keep its shine and sustainability. A good designer can mold the balloon art to keep its shape even if a few pop. Some of my favorite pieces involve distortion of balloons, organic garlands and stand-alone sculptures.”

Most recently, Tran’s work has been noticed by a national representative of the Human Rights Campaign, a moment that’s made the artist feel truly recognized and appreciated, she says.

“The rep encouraged me to create bigger art pieces for future galas,” says Tran. “When people see your art and want a photo with it, you know you hit the mark.”

As she continues to create more art for community events, galas, and businesses, Tran says she hopes to always impress and make her clients feel as if they have something unique and eye-catching.

“I like to give clients something better than they anticipated with their initial vision,” she says. “I would love the opportunity to create bigger and more extravagant sculptures with new trends and techniques to incorporate in my art. I like to add small details to sculptures, giving them something they haven’t seen and to create something unexpected. I am frequently expanding my knowledge, learning from the other experts to challenge and learn techniques. Small, everyday experiments can help us reach our goals and get better at the skills that are important to us.”

Follow Nikki Tran on Instagram: @mtdesigns and @nikkitransballoons




Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
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