Meet the Nomads – Irina Patterson The Russian Queen of Balloons
This week we were contacted by the Russian Queen of Balloons who was willing to share with you how her profession can be used to support a nomadic lifestyle. Irina Patterson is not a run of the mill balloon artist that you might find at any fair. I encourage you to visit her blog to see some pictures of the truly remarkable balloon sculptures, crowns and other creations she has made (including a 7 foot tall Michael Jordan). What excites me about this interview is that balloon art seems to be something that anyone with creativity and some artistic talent could use to support their income in any setting worldwide – for what could be more universal – art and children!
I read on your blog that you were an emergency room physician in Russia before coming to the United States and getting into balloon art. Can you tell me how this transition happened?
I met my future husband, an American poet
(Past the Galaxies of Stars) and
psychologist, Wes Patterson, in 1992 through a correspondence magazine. In his letters he claimed that his being a psychologist and Johns Hopkins graduate qualified him to see that we were a perfect match.
The nomad that I am, I hopped on a plane and came to Miami in July of 1992. We did get married shortly thereafter. 15 years later we are still married. My husband was right; we were and still are a
What drew you to balloon art and how did you learn to do it?
It happened by accident. First, let me say, growing up in Soviet Russia in the seventies, I’ve never seen a balloon animal. There was no such thing in my childhood. Blame it on the Cold War or the Iron Curtain, but there were no balloon animals in my childhood. Maybe Apparatchiks kids or Kremlin kids or other privileged kids in Moscow were exposed to balloon animals and other corrupting influences of the West. But poor little me growing-up in the Ural Mountains of Russia, in the city of Izhevsk , the hometown of Michail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, I didn’t see any. Nor did I see any balloon animals while I was living in Miami for the first 13 years. I don’t have kids. I didn’t go to kids parties. I didn?t go to the malls.
But back to that fateful day when I did see my first balloon animal at a private party. It was about 3 years ago. As I remember, it was a simple balloon dog, nothing fancy. But I was ecstatic. I saw something that awakened the dormant artist in me. I later went to a local balloon wholesale store and discovered that balloons come in all kinds of twisty shapes and colors. That was the day the Russian Queen of Balloons was born.
How long have you been doing this now?
For about 3 years.
Do you travel with your work? If so, where have your travels taken you?
I traveled all over South Florida, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Is this a profession that one could travel with extensively?
Absolutely! One wonderful thing about being a balloon artist is that one can take this job on the road at any time. Every time I have a balloon sculpture in my hands when I am on the street, people ask me to sell it to them, or at least give them my business card.
Balloons and balloon sculptures just naturally draw attention. Especially, balloon sculptures, particularly if you make them in front of a live audience.
Many times, I would stand on a street corner and start making balloon sculptures. Almost immediately a crowd would gather around me and people start asking me, ? Do you sell? How much?? I just laugh, ?Whatever? Whatever you feel like..?
And let me tell you from my experience, if you tell people ?Whatever.. you.. feel like..? you?ll get more money than if you actually price your work, providing that you strive to always do the best you can.
What equipment is needed to do balloon art?
Obviously, you need twisty balloons. The industry standard is Qualatex balloons. (www.qualatex.com). They come in all sizes, colors and even different shapes. Start with the balloon model called Q260, the most common. They usually are sold in bags of 100. I also suggest a hand-held Qualatex pump. The Qualatex balloons and pumps are sold all over the Internet. One bag of mixed color Q260 balloons and a pump should cost you about $ 15. And most big cities have actual stores where they sell balloons and pumps.
How could a person learn to do the type of balloon art you do?
There are books and video tapes on how to make balloon art. You can find them in your favorite book store, on the Internet and even in your public library. But the best way to start is to find a local balloon artist and tag along for a while. Most clowns nowadays do balloon art, so if you can?t locate a balloon artist, find a clown.
I noticed you are not just selling balloon art in a park, but are paid sometimes thousands of dollars to appear at events. How do you find your clients?
It is one thing to do balloon art in a park and another to get booked at events. That will take you some practice. But it is doable. Start at a park, you have nothing to fear. If you can?t make the ?giraffe? that they ask you for, you?ll be easily forgiven. Remember to laugh with everyone if they laugh at you.
If you feel you enjoy this, make yourself business cards.
Start carrying balloon animals when you do your grocery shopping. Better yet, wear a balloon crown when you run your errands at public places. Practice, practice every chance you get. Do free charity events at your church and for your family and you will see that people start asking for your business cards.
You have a web presence and blog . You have also been written about many times in other press. Is this a big part of your marketing?
PR and blogging are nice business tools. Both aided somewhat to my business growth. But if we didn?t have the Internet, I still would do just fine. I get more leads from people who see me entertaining in person, than I get from the Internet. There is no substitute for live performances and real face-to-face contact.
Do you have any advice for those people wanting to set up their own balloon art mobile business?
It is not for everyone. Being a mobile balloon artist and making a living at that, in essence you need to be an actor (an entertainer), a craftsman and a manager all in one.
But for people who qualify, it is a wonderful opportunity. It will allow you to travel and make money in any part of the world? Not only will you earn a living, but you will be treated with regard and reverence in most places. People around the world understand and appreciate art and usually have high regard for artists.
Think about it. You are completely free to work any time and anywhere you feel like it. (Note: There might be some local regulations regarding street performances.) There is no age discrimination. You can be ten years of age or 80 years old. You are the boss. Start when you want, quit when you want. Balloon art can be learned by kids and you can work as a family. In addition, if someone has art in their blood, like me, they can get tremendous emotional satisfaction from just creating.
For more about my balloon art work visit my blog at My Life and Art and you can reach me at email@example.com
If you are a Nu Nomad or know someone who is and would like to be interviewed for our blog, please contact us! You may leave a comment on this blog or email me directly at carmen at nunomad.com!