Professional balloon artists weigh in on their quirky — and rewarding — profession.
I watched as the woman twisted a brown balloon into the sausagelike links that would form the center of my balloon sunflower, impressed with her dexterity and slightly terrified of hearing a piercing “POP!” She’d approached my husband and me while we were eating brunch at The Frisco, one of our favorite greasy spoons in Austin, Texas, and where we often had noticed a balloon artist blowing and folding balloons into things like poodles, swords, aliens in spaceships and, yes, sunflowers, for customers, free of charge. “The secret’s in not filling them so much that they’ll burst,” she says.
I’d always thought balloon art seemed like a nice way to keep kids entertained while they waited for their pancakes. But this week, there weren’t many little ones around, and I was feeling the cheerful effects of an especially warm, sunny Sunday morning — so I said yes when she asked if I wanted a balloon. Her name was Cathy, she revealed, and she suggested making the sunflower, which turned out to be a pretty complex piece. In fact, it took her a solid 10 minutes to put it together while standing at our table. Not engaging her in conversation for all that time as we ate eggs and home fries seemed not only rude but totally awkward too. So I started asking questions.
“How long have you been doing this?” I query.
“Eight months,” she replies.
“What’s your most complicated piece?”
“Is there a book or something that taught you how to do this?”
“I work for a children’s-party company, and they send us to different classes to learn different skills.”
It was about this time that Cathy put the final twist on the leaves of her 3-foot-tall sunflower and handed me the floaty masterpiece. Impressed with the final result, I thanked and then tipped her. And while she was the only balloon artist I’d ever had a conversation with, I couldn’t help but wonder how others like her got involved in the profession — and what kept them twisting.