Friday, March 26, 2010

Katie Balloons on Being a Balloon Artist


"I grew up in Newport News, Virginia. Professional entertainment has been the bulk of my income since I started working. When I was 19, it seemed like a good idea to drop out of college and become a go-go dancer, as I wasn’t interested in college. In my naïve mind, I thought that go-go would be a good acting challenge as I was also doing dinner theater at the time. So Lacie, my go-go girl character, was a great role for a couple of years. My parents didn’t like it too much. 

"At the time, I was earning at least 30% of my income in professional entertainment. I thought, why can’t I make it 70% or 100%. So, I did. I got a job at a haunted house. I was also working at dinner theater and I took a job as a storyteller at a children’s theater. I was not looking for artistic jobs, but the jobs that paid the most. Someone at the haunted house said he was going to make $50 an hour as a clown. That was more than I was making in a night there, so I decided that I was going to be a clown, too. I looked in a phone book and found the ad that I thought was the classiest and told them I wanted to come in for an audition. They asked if I could do balloons and I said, 'Yes' because I remember mastering the balloon kit my Mom got me when I was seven years old. For the audition, I did the best clown face that I could and learned how to make some basic balloons animals. I also decided that at my clown audition, I would wear my five inch go-go heels. In acting, it is important to have special skills and I thought that the high heels would show my versatility.  

"Afterwards, the guy said, ‘Kid, you’ve got what it takes to make it in this business. But I am not going to train you to be a clown, but a balloon artist.’ I went to his house everyday and he taught me balloons. A few months in, I was making an extra couple of hundred of dollars a week. I thought that balloons were a nice way to make some extra money as I pursued a career as an actor. It turns out that there was a big balloon convention the same time as the opening weekend of dinner theater. My boss said, 'You go with me or you are not working with me anymore.' On a wing and a prayer, I quit acting to pursue balloons. At the convention, I met some amazing people who eventually took me to China to work with some of the world’s most important balloon artists. I also met my fiancé there. These experiences introduced me to real balloon art. Before, I thought it was just for kids in a restaurant. I realized that not only was this a field I could conquer, but it could fulfill my love of sculpture and art. 

"After my fiancé and I broke up, I was sitting around for a few weeks feeling sad. While I was in China working the festival, I met a lot of artists from the D.C. area. Some of them told me to come to D.C. because of all of the balloon opportunities in D.C. and Northern Virginia. Just like that, I moved here in 2008. Before I moved here, I made a balloon dress and walked around town passing out cards just to make my presence known. The first week I got here, I made no money, but from the second week on it's been coming in steady. Most of my work is kids parties, but I also work for corporate clients, like Boar’s Head and Harley Davidson. I've always worked a number of jobs, so I also stilt walk, fortune tell, and do singing telegrams as Marilyn Monroe. I love making art, but this is also my business."

Learn more about Katie Balloons here.

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