Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to make a ribbon garland... quick and simple step-by-step!

Here is a really cool trick that I was shown a number of years ago at a trade show and I want to share it with you today!

It is a great add-on for decor such as swagging tables.

Just in case you missed it, here is a short DVD that I made a year ago on how to make a beautiful bow with floristry ribbon!

Happy Ballooning!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Air-Filled Decor is the ONLY way to go!

Helium supply and the lack of it appears to be a decorators worst nightmare, or is it? Do we actually need helium to create great decor?

Colin Stewart
Crescent Moon Flowers by Stewarts Baskets and Balloons

When I first started to work on this blog, I wondered who I could ask to add their thoughts and opinions on this subject and immediately thought of Colin Stewart! 

I first 'met' Colin through the Qualatex Group Facebook page, and for those of you who are members of this page you will immediately recognise Colin (aka Balloons Sbb-reliadrop) for his awesome balloon work that he very generously & regularly posts on the groups page! Colin launched his 'Balloon Tour' last year and has just started 'Balloon Tour 2012'! I have added more information regarding Colin and his tour and the end of this very informative blog!

Colin Stewart
Colin Stewart of Stewarts Baskets & Balloons
"First, the last Helium tank I rented was for New Year's Eve 2011 .... I think that is the Biggest STATEment I can make"!!!!

AIR-FILLed DECOR is the ONLY way to go.

The first step is that we must design our work thinking that we don't want to use HELIUM... and therefore, the WORLD of AIR DECOR begins!! Once you accept that......... then HOW can you work without Helium... everyday... is the question!

Framing and Rigging become the answer to NO Helium.
Framing: Inexpensive and light weight are things I like to use: Aluminum Rod with a grade of 60/6* is the best for framing and I make my own WOOD bases and Poles at a cost of less than $5.00 US for a 16" x 16" Base and a Pole of 6' tall. - check out the MagMover website for your nearest supplier in the US and Canada for UK and Europe contact your nearest Qualatex Distributor.

Rigging: MagMover Pole and Magnets work well.... in addition to these I make my own VERY cost effective magnets that do not require us to get them back everytime... less than $0.35 US each!!! Now the weight must be light as well in order to use smaller magnets. Also, on T-bar ceilings use T-Bar clips, at a cost of less than $0.30 US

In addition to these simple TIPs, I have not been on a Power Lift in years. Maximum ladder is only a 10 foot and that is only if I must!!! Rigging is being creative. Customers will rent a Power lift for $1,000.00 at a time. I say PERFECT, add the $1,000.00 to the Decor, I don't need the Power Lift!!!! More money in my pocket!!!

Monofilament Line

We use Mono Line at 40lb Test 99.9 % of the time and Aircraft Cable when we are doing Large Scale Decor, medium decor we sometimes use #18 nylon line usually for safety reasons.

Also, we have a 5 Million Dollar Insurance Policy which is needed to work in most locations. Note: New Customers usually ask for a copy of the policy the day of the JOB!!! Be prepared!

(In the UK, BAPIA - the Balloon and Party Industry Alliance offer members full Public and Employee Liability Insurance as part of their annual membership fee along with many other benefits).

Now, Helium is still a tool we need but it is JUST one of the tools in your toolbox, not the only one and you CAN most times get away with NO HELIUM!!
Over 80% of my accounst require the Decor to last 2 plus months, so helium is not an answer and I have been designing that way for years.

I have done over 175 Grand Openings for WALMART. I started in the account years ago. All they wanted was an Archway at the entrance. So, that's what we did, but with the amount of traffic Walmart gets everyday, the entrance is the exit and the "Foot Print" of the Archway is in a HIGH Traffic Area being at the Entrance. So, I sold them on that and switched them to Swags, NO Helium... No BASES... NO POLES... Just 2 Magmover Click-Click Magnets and LOTS and LOTS more profit!!!! They are happy and so am I... A WIN-WIN..... the only way to SELL!!!

Centrepieces are the same. We just have to be creative. Design with NO HELIUM and watch your Customers love how your DECOR lasts soooooo much longer, while your Profits go up!!!

Colin Stewart
"The Suns"
The "Suns: 22" Smile Bubble", these are AIR-filled and the rigging was special, I used a CLick-Click magnet as the wood beams have a steel plate connecting them together. The rigging made this job possible! Now... Extra special was this event was upstairs and then moving downstairs for the evening, so I used the magnet as a HOLDER to install the suns on 40 lb. fishing line, then pulling the "SUN" up with the fishing line going through the magnet but then coming back down. I tied the fishing line to the rod for the drapes!!! The customer just had to un-tie the fishing line letting the suns down and then they re-installed them downstairs for the evening event. Once the evening came to an end they were able to be taken home with a VERY happy customer!!!

Colin Stewart
Balloon Garland Swag 

The "Swag". This is one of two swags for this Walmart - Using two large Click-Click magnets, one on each end of the Swag. The install was VERY Easy!!

Colin Stewart

LARGE SCULPTURE over 20' Tall. This sculpture was installed by Jeannie and I. We started with 12' straight aluminum rod at 9pm with NO Balloons inflated and he was installed before 8am with us never leaving the ground!!! You can see one Aircraft Cable coming from each side of his head!! We used a Pulley system and raised him enough to attach the next piece of him and then raised him again until we were finished!!! "Oliver" was the latest member of the Great Wolf Lodge.. a North American High End Resort for the family... A HUGE Indoor - Outdoor Water Park!!!
Colin Stewart

A little bit about our blog contributor...
Colin Stewart
Colin & Jeannie at the World Balloon Convention 2012
Colin Stewart, along with his wife Jeannie, started their business 21 years ago, in Tottenham, Ontario, Canada. Although it started out as STEWART’s Country Craft Shop, selling homemade crafts at craft shows and a local flea market, it rapidly evolved into a full service Professional Balloon Decorating company. It quickly changed direction and its name to STEWART’s Baskets & Balloons, (SBB). 

While starting the business, Colin continued his profession as a Computer Sales Rep for the second largest computer company in the world, Digital Equipment, earning the accolade of top sales rep in Canada!Eventually STEWART’s Baskets & Balloons demanded more time, making it necessary to leave Digital and operate SBB on a full time business. The high level sales training that Colin received at Digital and his natural ability to ‘sell ice to Eskimos’ would become the foundation of SBB’s success today. 

Due to the quick growth in the corporate decor side of the business, it was necessary to close the party store and concentrate on this area. Within 5 short years, SBB was providing large scale decor for major malls in Southern Ontario. This work, along with the impressive Portfolio it created, led to pictures being published in IMAGES and pictures along with articles published in Balloons & Parties Today magazine, as well as involvement in the Jubilee Balloon Arts Convention.

STEWART’s Baskets & Balloons was voted number 1 by attendees, many of whom participated in Colin’s classes there, two years in a row, winning their International Balloon Artist of the Year Award. This also provided Colin the opportunity to run Large Sculpture courses in both Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for a western Canada Balloon Convention, and Los Vegas, Atlanta, and Sacramento, for Balloons & Parties Today, Jubilee. SBB’s most recent accomplishment and one that we are extremely proud of was having our work published in the Qualatex catalogue worldwide

In order to expand and grow the decor business, SBB started to move into the Grocery Market space, providing seasonal decor everyday for the past 16 years across Ontario. 

Another important side of SBB is the manufacturing side, which produces, RELI-A-DROP, a balloon drop net system for the Canadian market. RELI-A-DROP is available through Pioneer Balloon Canada and comes in 4 popular drop sizes for 100, 200, 500, and 1000 balloons. It is Colin’s next goal to grow RELI-A-DROP into the global marketplace. 

In 2011, Colin launched ‘Balloon Tour 2011, a three day hands-on Balloon Art educational seminar. It made 4 very successful stops in Canada and 1 in Brooklyn, New York. He also volunteered his time at Balloonstitute in Detroit. As a result of the overwhelming success as well as numerous requests, Balloon Tour 2012 is now well underway. The first stop was in Brooklyn, NY, sponsored once again by J&R Wholesale Balloons Distributors and Pioneer Balloon Company, followed by 2 stops in Canada, in Toronto and Montreal, sponsored for the second year by SKS Novelty Co. Ltd., and Pioneer Balloon Canada.

The next location is June 12-14 in Boston, sponsored by Rainbow Balloons and Pioneer Balloon Company. Requests continue to pour in from people from all over the world. We are in the process of setting the next phase now. 

Balloon Tour 2012

STEWART’s Baskets & Balloons’ latest endeavour is the release of a 3 DVD set of step-by-step, picture-by-picture, called “The Balloon Cookbook, No Helium Required”. They will be available July 15, 2012, at a cost of $250.00 US plus shipping and handling for all 3 or $89.00 each plus shipping and handling. 

I would like thank Colin & Jeannie Stewart very much for sharing so much detailed information! It is very comforting to know that business's can thrive and grow without the use of helium on a regular basis. I know that this is just the start of many great blogs with ideas, suggestion, tips and hints on how to create great decor using only air-filled balloons!

If you have any ideas and suggestions on how you are working on a regular basis without helium and are happy to share these, please contact me

Happy ballooning!


*6061 is a precipitation hardening aluminium alloy, containing magnesium and silicon as its major alloying elements. Originally called "Alloy 61S" it was developed in 1935.[1] It has good mechanical properties and exhibits good weldability. It is one of the most common alloys of aluminium for general purpose use.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

As a 'Balloon Artist' how can we find our Inspiration?


We all need to be inspired sometimes, in everyday life we need find some inspiration, what to cook for a dinner party, what to wear for a special occasion, what special gift to buy someone... the list goes on and on!
So how can we draw on inspiration and come up with fresh and exciting new idea’s for our work?

Firstly we need to learn how to be inspired or find our creativity! I have heard many balloon decorators say that they are not creative people or that they find being creative hard.

Creativity does not just happen, sculpture, centerpiece and balloon dress designers to name just a few don’t just ‘make’ their creations, in many instances a designer can research and work on a design for many months in advance, I know, I have been in that situation myself when I have entered competitions!

Sue Bowler
This was my competition entry from IBAC 13, I worked on this design for many many weeks before I was happy with the end result.


If we have a theme to work on this is a huge help! Before we even start to think about balloons we need to do our homework!

The internet is such a huge asset for everyone today, prior to the internet (now that makes me sound very old)! We would use libraries or go on ‘inspiration’ days out, that would involve looking in store windows especially around seasonal periods, such as Christmas, Halloween and Valentines. Some of the big stores have huge merchandising budgets and have the most incredible displays, I know of a number of International designers who have re-created competition pieces from designs that they been inspired by that they have seen in a store window!

The Internet

As most of us are fortunate to have access to the internet, this would be the logical starting point for our research.

Google is a great starting point when I am looking for inspiration!
Google is probably the best search engine and I have to confess that I rarely use any of the others,  as it offers us so many options!

Just type and from there we can either read through the many 1000’s of entries or click on the word Images which appears at the top of the page and see every image that is available on the internet that is related to that subject.

This is how I started my research for my large sculpture that I created at BACI 2012

Once we start looking through this vast array of information we will be able to start to understand and visualize our theme in greater detail. It’s very important to have an open mind when working with a theme as there can be many routes that we can take and not necessarily the most obvious!

Collecting Information

We now need to start collecting information, pictures and idea’s, again, at this stage none of these are necessarily balloon related. Now make an ‘inspiration’ board. Many creative industries will use the same process from interior decorators to fashion designers, we all have the same aim of being creative and designing something fresh and unique!

An Interior Designers inspiration board

A Lilac & Purple Wedding theme inspiration board
For those of you with IPAD's there is a great App called 'Moodboard', I use it all the time to create collections of photographs and images. Perfect for inspiration boards but also to group pictures together when making up proposals for clients!

What should we be looking for to put on our inspiration boards?

Subject to the theme that we are working on we should be able to start identifying certain things such as:

In most themes there will be a dominant use of certain colours.
For example:
Mardi Gras; Green, Purple and Gold
Halloween; Orange, Black, Purple and White
James Bond; Black & Gold
Casino; Red, Black & White

This is a simple mood board that I created to help inspire me for a Mardi Gras design. Mardi Gras has 3 very domineering colours, Purple, Green and Gold, by simply using these 3 colours along with some very simple elements such as beads and feathers you can create a strong Mardi Gras theme design.

Shapes & Forms
Again, in many theme’s you can quickly identify reoccurring shapes and forms.
For example:
Arabian Nights you can see many uses of curves, swags and Moorish arches.
Casino will heavily reflect the use of  Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades.
Grecian themes can easily be identified through the use of elegant columns.

Key Thematic Elements
Strong elements that instantly identifies the theme.
For example;
Christmas; Snowmen, Christmas trees, Father Christmas....
Halloween; Black Cats, Bats, Pumpkins, ghosts....
Mardi Gras; Masks, beads, feathers...

We can also see what others have done, visit sites such as Balloonhq and photo search your theme (you might need to be a member to do specific searches) Seeing other artists work can often inspire us, it does not mean that we want to copy but it can help, especially if we are really struggling with a particular theme. The Qualatex Group facebook page is full of inspiring designs, it is a great way to share and inspire others!

How do we turn our idea’s into balloon decor?

With our ‘Inspiration’ board and a copy of our Qualatex catalogue we need to see what’s available, designs, colours and shapes. We might be lucky and find a whole range of balloons and products that fits nicely within our theme... Qualatex have some great theme balloons!

2012 Qualatex Everyday catalogue

Who’s our client, what are we making? Room decor for a clients party, a competition sculpture or a top selling delivery design for a peak holiday such as Valentines?  If we are designing for a client we may need to consider the customers budget, there is little point spending many hours designing complex decor for a party if our customer has a very limited budget, it would be far more constructive to design simple but effective decor that will fulfill the clients needs and expectations to the full, but don’t forget to add that little ‘extra’ that they really cannot decline but at extra expenses!


We still don’t need to touch a balloon at this stage, I suppose it really depends on what you are planning on making. Some designers sketch out their designs first or others of us reach for our keyboards! Hopefully if you are reading this you have access to either a PC or Mac, and therefore you should have either WORD or Pages, either one of these programs will give you the ability to start designing. Just use the shapes to create your balloon shapes, in WORD to find the shapes, click on VIEW and then TOOLBOX, when that opens click on DRAWING, that will give you a new toolbar that has everything that you need, use FILL to colour your shapes, CUT and PASTE to re-create more of the same, ‘hey presto’, you have a very basic design package, I can assure you I still use it today when I am designing anything from room decor to a centrepiece! Father Christmas started life as a computer generated design, this method saves time and materials and 99% of the time, work out just perfectly when recreated with actual balloons! I am sure that there are many clever people out there who know how to work with Coral Draw and other sophisticated design programs, that is my dream one day, but I know that as with anything new it will take a while to work out how to do it, so for now I am keeping to the simple way!

Sue Bowler
I created this just by simply using round shapes and filling in the colours!

Fresh Idea’s

I think I can say with confidence that ‘Fresh Idea’s’ will flow once you start to draw inspiration from sources away from the balloon industry, doing a small amount of research will help.

Tips & Hints

If you know that a customers budget is limited and you have a big space to fill, use Classic Balloon Decor every time! Columns and arches will quickly fill a room and create the greatest impact, use dominant colours and shapes that are synonymous with that theme.

Avital N Nir Shechter
This stunning arch created by Avital N Nir Shechter - Israel

Carmel & Sharon Galea
Beautiful shopping mall decor created by Carmel & Sharon Galea  - Party Goods Malta

Colin Stewart
Starpoint Decor created by Colin Stewart - Canada

Colin Stewart
Another great design by Colin Stewart

Lily Tan
Stunning entrance decor created by Lily Tan

Use bigger balloons for bigger impact! If using 16” or larger balloons make sure you work with a Conwin 60/40 valve to save on helium costs, especially if it's a 1 day only event!

Look out for current trends, see what’s going on in other industries such as the floral industry and see what’s new! Colour trends and even material trends such as feathers and beads,

Keep it simple! Keep your designs simple, don’t be tempted to over complicate them, minute detail is not important and takes too much time and therefore does not make it profitable.

Work smart! Work with the best equipment available to do the job, working with precision equipment will significantly reduce your labour time and costs. The quicker you work the more profitable you will be!

I would love to hear how you find your inspiration, please email me

Happy ballooning!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Building the Titanic - an interview with designer Fiona Fisher CBA

Fiona Fisher
The Titanic- designed and created by Fiona & Rodney Fisher

It has been just over a month since Fiona & Rodney Fisher built their 14,000 balloon and 40' replica of the famous liner TITANIC. I was very privileged to have the opportunity to work with them on this amazing project along with John Bowler, Angela Holland & Sandra McKeon.
Fiona Fisher
The Team 
April 15th 2012 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic striking an iceberg and sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was built in Belfast and the city held a series of events to remember its connection to the ill-fated vessel.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate Fiona & Rodney on this awesome project! I think that many balloon artists can learn a great deal from Fiona's experience which she has generously shared with me here in this blog!

How did the Titanic project come about?
"After completing a Halloween project in the Victoria Square shopping mall, future projects were discussed with the centre's management. The next biggest event in Belfast was the Titanic's centenary and when we heard that, we (Rodney and myself) suggested that we could make a scaled version of the ship!

How did you do your research?
"That's Rodney's department! He bought some books and did a lot of internet research. This book shown here contained all the scale plans, and from there he made all the calculations and drawings!

Rodney's calculations!

 How did you know how much to quote?
"Once Rodney had designed the frame, he was able to calculate the amount of aluminium rod, balloons and other materials it would require. Then I needed to work out the labour time which was not so difficult as we used the 'Topiary' technique of adding the balloons to the frame, which is pretty straight forward and easy to work out the timings. So all in all this was probably one of the easier quotes I have had to do"!
Fiona Fisher

How did you present your proposal?
"The proposal was made up of the following:

  •  the job would take 4-6 people 4 to 5 days to add the balloons to the frame on site.
  •  the frame would be made in advance off site, for both safety and logistical reasons.
  •  the sculpture would be suspended using a winch system.
We also include a 'to-do' list and a 'needs to be done' list, which we work through with the client to work out who is responsible for what. To give you an example on our list was safety barriers, team meals to include lunch and evening dinner and accommodation for the team for the duration of the build!
Basically everything was listed and allocated to persons responsible, these lists grew as the project neared. The to-do list is something that we do for every job to ensure that the jobs run smoothly and that everyone knows exactly whats occurring and who is the responsible parties.

The winch ended up being sponsored, how did that happen?
" Rodney was buying supplies for the project and needed to work out the winch system, which would allow us to move the sculpture into it's final suspended position and also, off the ground each day during the building process. When he explained what he was doing WH Scott Ltd became interested in the project and offered to do this as their company had been involved in the original building of the Titanic 100 years ago"!

How would you say that the project went?
" Fantastically! Everything went according to plan, in fact we were ahead of schedule and very very happy with the end result"!
Would you have done anything differently?
" No, the only thing that we had no control over was the weather, we wished that it had been a little warmer... not for our benefit, the night frosts damaged one side of the ship which we had to repair, but we always offer a maintenance service with all our jobs, we pride ourselves on our customer service".
On a personal note, I would like to add how cold it was working in the shopping centre, something that I was un-prepared  for! After sending John to find fingerless gloves and hand warmers, along with wearing many many layers of clothing I was finally warm enough to work and use my fingers... I can strongly recommend hand warmers, they really do work, I kept them inside my gloves whilst working!

Sue working in gloves!

What feedback did you receive from the shopping centre?

"The management were extremely happy with the reaction of the general public. Around 500,000 people visited the centre whilst the Titanic was in place. The shopping mall galleries were always busy with people taking photographs as it was visible from all levels! We have had fantastic press and media coverage from all around the world and one of UK's top television presenters Christine Bleakley " Tweeted" that out of all the amazing tributes to the Titanic in Belfast, that this was one of her favourite! For more media links click here

Fiona Fisher

How do you go about insuring yourself for a project such as this?
"As a member of BAPIA (Balloon and Party Industry Alliance), we were fully covered for all eventualities. There is absolutely no way that we would do any project without knowing that we had full insurance coverage!

Likewise, working with Qualatex balloons is also like an insurance, knowing that we have created an amazing project using 'the VERY BEST BALLOONS'!
Only the best balloons!

 Is this the biggest project that you have ever done?
"Yes, but funnily enough not the hardest... in fact one of the easiest! The hardest project that we did was also in the same centre, when we created Halloween decor for the first time there. We created spiders and ghosts, and because of the elements, in particular the wind that seems to 'rush' through the centre, it managed to force the balloons off the frame, due to the fact that we had secured the spiders legs from moving, however, we learned that by allowing movement within the structure the balloons remained happily in place and everything was fine after that!

Finally, it is 4 weeks since you made the Titanic, have you had any enquiries that you believe are as a direct consequence of the Titanic project?
"Probably the best way to respond to this is yes. But maybe not in the way that you think! For example, we made the frame for the Titanic in an empty retail unit in a local shopping centre, we have now been commissioned by that same shopping centre to design and build decor for the Olympic Torch Relay.
Building the Titanic has created huge public awareness on an International scale, therefore I am able to promote Worldwide Balloons Decor (my decorating company) as a very competent and professional company, and I am finding that I am getting immediate positive response when I quote for new jobs"!
Here are a few more photographs from project Titanic taken by the very talented Ben Hanna

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher
The Titanic frame arriving at Victoria Square shopping mall

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher
Attention to detail and all to scale!

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher
The Titanic would not have been complete without these little models of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio!

For more great pictures and fantastic information regarding the building of the Titanic visit, Fiona & Rodney's great website that documents the whole project from conception through to completion!

Once again a huge thank you to both Fiona & Rodney Fisher who invited both myself and John to work on this amazing project and for all the wonderful information that they have shared with the balloon community!

Fiona Fisher
Here are a few of Fiona & Rodney's amazing sculptures!

Happy Ballooning!