Twisting balloons, telling jokes: Elon student works as balloon artist

Chambers shows her pink motorcycle balloon. She often makes Nintendo characters and Disney princesses. Photo by Brian Allenby.

By Marlena Chertock

Updated April 28, 2011

The first time she tried to twist and shape balloons, she popped several. She even got balloon-cuts. But a year later, first-year junior Sam Chambers is working as a balloon artist for Balloon Distractions, a national balloon contracting company. She is now regional director in Raleigh for Balloon Distractions.

As a senior in high school, Chambers was always laid off during the winter as a hostess at a creamery, so she searched online for other jobs. She found an ad for Balloon Distractions on Craig’s List, which is how the company mostly advertises.

When she didn’t hear back from them for two months, she said she assumed she didn’t get the position. But then she received a call from her to-be trainer.

“During the interview they ask you to tell jokes, sing songs, be funny,” she said. “I really have to be able to think on my feet.”

Creating characters with balloons

Chambers, a strategic communications major, was trained to make balloon art over Skype for one week. Then the company sent her to a restaurant for her first event, which she called terrifying.

“I’ve done a Bar-Mitzvah, birthdays, festivals, weddings, proms,” she said. “Basically anything and everything, I will do it.”

She makes balloon animals and art and tells jokes and riddles for parties. She usually works two events a week at restaurants in the local area and Raleigh.

“It’s really good to draw upon life experiences for jokes,” she said. “It’s better to have more personal jokes, more genuine. It’s not as funny when people look up a joke on the Web.”

Her usual balloon creations are Disney princesses, Nintendo characters, fairies and motorcycles. She once made a one-foot Justin Bieber.

When she was asked to make a zombie Indiana Jones, her weirdest request yet, she said, she used a smaller, skinnier pink balloon to make it look like a worm coming out of Indiana’s head.

Her goal is to make dresses out of balloons, like one balloon artist in Japan.

She once made Mario for freshman Andrew Riley, the creator and director of “State of Emergency,” an Elon Web series. Chambers is the lead writer for the show and often makes balloon animals during meetings. View the first episode of the Web series here.

The show would be lost without Chambers as a writer, Riley said.

“If God forbid the writing career doesn’t work out, she can sustain the balloon artist career path,” Riley said. “Everyone needs more than one talent, just something fun. Not like serious or professional; something cool.”

A passion for making others smile

Junior Sam Chambers makes a balloon flower bracelet next to a balloon bunny she made. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Before Chambers worked with Balloon Distractions she was a teacher’s aide and loved working with kids, she said.

“When you see a little kid running up to you, asking me to make them a balloon, it melts your heart,” she said. “I really love making kids smile.”

She also enjoys making adults smile. Balloons aren’t confined to one age group, she said.

“Who doesn’t love balloons?” she said. “Unless you’re allergic to latex, of course.”

Training others to make balloon art

Once, Chambers went to a job interview and was going through her bag, trying to find her resume. When she took it out a balloon was attached.

“They infest everything,” she said.

She has a dresser in her room dedicated to the long, skinny balloons she uses for events. The company uses only biodegradable balloons in recycled packaging.

Chambers learned everything by watching other balloon artists on Skype and YouTube.

“After a while you’re able to look at a picture and make it out of balloons,” she said.

She will start training balloon artists at Elon next year. Her first trainee is sophomore Eva Yaffe.

If you start off popping a lot of balloons, that’s normal, she said. People get better at it.

“I see a lot of people who quit because at first they break a lot of balloons,” she said. “It’s just a practice thing, like anything else in life. You have to practice to be good.”

It can take 20 seconds to five minutes to make a balloon animal, depending on how big and complicated it is.

“You’re always trying to get faster because the faster you are, the more people you can get to and the happier your clients are,” she said.

Sam Chambers’ band By Jove released a seven-track EP in Dec. 2010. You can buy the album for $6.93 on iTunes. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

But she never shows her trainees the actual speed she makes balloons. It scares them, she said.

At first, people laugh at her job, she said. But they don’t laugh when they find out her salary. The salary can vary, but the average is $15 to $20 an hour.

Another advantage of the job is the flexible hours and creativity involved, she said. She can work and make money wherever she is.

“I can work this job year-round, it doesn’t matter where I am,” she said. “I can literally do this anywhere.”

***

Chambers makes a Balloon-o-saurus Rex

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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