Balloon artists may seem like rare commodities, but Slippery Rock University has two living in Building F. Secondary education social studies major Sarah Kanar and business major Quintan McLaughlin are both freshmen on campus who twist balloons in their spare time for pleasure and as part-time jobs.
McLaughlin began his balloon-making career five years ago. While on Christmas vacation, McLaughlin was introduced to the art of balloon animal making by his uncle.
“My uncle bought this balloon kit that you would see at the dollar store, or Barnes & Noble, and it was a guide to making 10 balloon animals, and I started making dogs like crazy and giving them away until I was told to make something else, so I did,” McLaughlin said.
Kanar had an early start to the art of balloon twisting because of her mother, who is a professional balloon artist.
“I’ve been making balloons ever since I was little,” Kanar said. “My mom showed me my first balloon when I was around five years old. She’s been making balloons for 19 years so she showed me the ropes, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
McLaughlin started his own balloon making business, where he would do random parties for family friends once or twice a month, putting his earnings at $50 a month. Eventually, McLaughlin branched out and was able to pick up gigs from a family friend, who happened to do professional balloon making, and was paid around $75 a job, plus tips. McLaughlin once turned down a job as a clown twisting balloons due to his dislike of clowns and lack of interest in scaring little kids with his costume.
“By word of mouth, a family friend would hire me to do a party and I would get paid like $20, which was awesome, so I had to keep going,” McLaughlin said. “My dad told me to invest the money I was making back into my business, so I made my first batch of business cards, which made me realize that this was legit. Now, I get to work events, where I am getting paid $80 to $160, so I’ve come a long way.”
Kanar said on the weekdays she makes balloons for fun, but on the weekends, she works different events and birthday parties.
“The most I’ve ever been paid for an event was around $600, which may seem like a lot, but I’ve twisted balloons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers, which were high paying jobs,” Kanar said.
McLaughlin was taught his techniques via different people, balloon making companies, books and YouTube videos.
“I got together with one of the guys who was giving me business, and he taught me how to do 20 to 30 different balloon designs in just one afternoon, but my girlfriend has given me balloon twisting books, and watching videos is an easy way to pick up a new design technique,” McLaughlin said.
Kanar has traveled to many states, like New York for Balloon Manor, Missouri for the ‘Twist and Shot’ competition in St. Louis, Ariz. for ‘Diamond Jam’ and Florida for ‘Super Jam’ to test out her techniques that she has gained from going to conventions that experienced balloon artists hold at hotels and resorts.
“I attend balloon making conventions, where people from all over the world, like Italy and Spain, come to teach workshops,” Kanar said. “There are only so many of us in this world, so when one balloon artist hosts an event, we all come together to support each other and learn new methods for balloon designs. The conventions are where I learn a majority of my techniques.”
McLaughlin has an affinity for making animal balloons, and has had five years of experience to pick up a wide variety of designs.
“A chicken is probably the craziest balloon I’ve ever made,” McLaughlin said. “It is made of eight (balloons,) but when it is done, it looks over the top and really good.”
Kanar enters her creations into competitions, like the TJAM on the Road tour hosted by Don Caldwell, where she has won, so she has to expand her designs to be versatile.
“The craziest balloon I’ve made was Gene Simmons from KISS,” Kanar said.
McLaughlin has been able to network while balloon twisting at events.
“I’ve made a lot of contacts through balloon-making,” McLaughlin said. “My boss does the Penguins’ holiday party every year, so I’ve gotten to meet a lot of cool people because of him. I got my foot in the door with Deloitte Accounting Firm, and have an opportunity to interview and gain an internship with them.”
McLaughlin encourages others to learn balloon twisting as a hobby.
“It’s not as hard as it looks, it really isn’t,” McLaughlin said. “If you put enough time into it, it’s really easy.”
Kanar may have been raised by a balloon artist, but reassures others that it’s not necessary to have the same roots to get involved in balloon art.
“I think if you can get involved with balloon twisting, then you should, because it is a very interesting hobby, and not many practice it,” Kanar said.