I always wanted to be an artist, but it felt like a door that would not open. I was always quietly envious of those who could draw or sculpt or perform in any way. My talents were with words. My friends jokingly call me names like Webster Debster and in school I was a whiz at things like memorizing 100 words of Latin vocabulary during school lunch. I even managed to pick up an additional spoken language in my twenties. But if you put a pencil in my hand and told me to draw, or gave me clay with which to sculpt, you would receive a finished piece that looked like a four year old had created it. It wouldn’t be until my nephews started reading that the door to artistry finally unlocked itself.
The boys and I had a weekly ritual of going to a local bookstore. As a lover of words, it thrilled me to share the world of books with them. One night, however, my voice was too strained to continue reading so we looked in the children’s craft area for a project. We selected a book on balloon twisting and I learned to make twenty very basic designs that same night. The boys and I were hooked!
I was fortunate that the book I found (Balloon Animals by Aaron Hsu Flanders) was one of the best written on the subject, with photographs that demonstrated how to hold the balloon while twisting. An engineer would appreciate the technical simplicity of the photo tutorials. I came to understand shapes and sequences and was set free from the constraints of having to draw a perfectly straight or curved line. The beautiful thing about twisting balloons is that, if inflated carefully, they are a perfect straight or curved line. As the artist, it is my job to size them correctly and manipulate them into shapes.
After a few years of twisting, I flew to California for the Twist and Shout balloon convention. I was invited to dinner with Ted and Betty Vlamis, owners of the Pioneer Balloon Company which manufactures the wonderful Qualatex balloon brand. As we introduced ourselves at the table, I felt that old “I’m not an artist!” frustration creep back. The other guests were art school graduates and accomplished visual artists and performers. Yet there I was too, privileged to be at their table. After I told my story of how I began ballooning, Ted Vlamis looked at me and softly said, “You get it. The balloon is the line, and that has freed you to find your art. And because you waited so long to find it, you will love it more.” And so I do.