Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A creative hobby that turned into a wonderful children's book - an interview with Steven Mayhew

Recently, Steven Mayhew announced the completion and impending launch of his fabulous new ABC Balloon Book. I have known about this incredible project for some time, and each time Steven showed me one of his amazing designs I was simply in awe of his incredible talent. I am very excited that Steven has turned his dream into a reality and look forward to seeing many more exciting projects from the Balloon Workshop! 

What inspired you to create the ABC Balloon Book?
‟I was seeking a creative outlet of some type that I hoped would become a hobby. One day while searching for a project, I came across a greeting card for children that had a picture of an illustrated owl on it. Immediately everything clicked and I thought, I could create him out of balloons and make a picture book for kids. That then developed into creating an alphabet book as I felt the concept would be easier for a reader to understand exactly what they were looking at. So not only did I find my project, I felt like the work I was doing was for something greater than myself - using balloons to get children excited about reading.” 
When did you start working on the book and how long did it take from conception to completion?
‟I started working on the book in March of 2012. I really kicked it into gear two years ago and worked on the project almost every night and every weekend. I created an album in my phone and when the next image was finished, I'd add the image to it so I could visually see what each one looked like next to each other. This little task inspired and motivated me to keeping going as I literally saw the book coming to life before my eyes.”
Where did you start? Did you have a logical process?
‟I started with the frog. I immediately had an idea of this tropical, colorful frog sitting on a branch and thought, 'Well, if I'm inspired to start a few letters in, why argue with inspiration.' From that point I would just jump around from letter to letter as an idea would hit. Friends and family would ask, 'so which letter are you at now?' and I had to explain, I wasn't going in order. I didn't want to force anything. Some animals I wasn't looking forward to, only because I had no idea what I was going to do. However, at some point an idea for an animal would jump out at me, and I was immediately excited to get to work. Looking back, I'm glad I went with my inspirational instinct and didn't force myself to work on an animal when I wasn't ready, otherwise it would have been drudgery.” 
How did you choose which animals to show in the book?
‟I have a sister who had a toddler at the time I began the project. I spent many hours talking through each letter with her to decide on which animal I'd create for each letter. She'd have all of my niece's ABC books out and the many I had purchased on my end were out as I figured out each letter. I had to continuously compromise on things like, I can't create an iguana because I already have a lizard like creature, the newt, so I have to pick another 'I' animal, but one not too difficult for kids. I had already three or four animals created by the time I finalized the entire list. I already knew certain ones I wanted to develop and I was excited to get to work!”

Which would you say was the most complicated, challenging, or technical design that you created for the book? 

‟Each animal had its own complicated design element at some point. However, I would say the most difficult was the jellyfish. I created the structure three times before I finally got what I wanted. The first one had no personality in it by the way it was positioned to portray movement. The second was far too large at almost 5 ft., and again, it didn't give me the look I was going for. It wasn't until I decided to create an armature that would hold the wiring for the tentacles and devised a way to double stuff the head with a Qualatex® SuperAgate®
balloon and a 3 ft. clear balloon. I finally settled on a technique I learned from Sue Bowler where you press a flat board against a fully inflated balloon. As you push down, the air is pushed out of the balloon and it wraps around the back edges of the board. I went through about ten 3 ft. balloons of each color trying to get two balloons on to the same board; not to mention trying to inject just the right amount of air into each of the balloons before they would snap off the board. That design took me three months to finally complete.” 

The book really does not fully show the scale of all of the designs that you made. Which was the biggest animal and biggest scene that you made? 

‟I think in any art project, the final design never shows the full scale of what it took to get there or how big something might have really been. This project was no exception. You are correct though, you don't see how big some of these designs were or what happened leading up to the final image. I'd say the largest design is tied between the giraffe and the elephant. The giraffe’s body and neck (not including the head) stood about 6 ft. tall with an intricate aluminum rod frame I had built.

The elephant's head on the other hand was massive, but horizontally. The head was about 2.5 ft. wide but each of the ears stretched about 3-4 ft. in either direction, which were cut from 5 ft. chloroprene balloons.”

Did you make all the designs in their entirety or just partially for the shoot?
‟Yes and no. My goal was to create as much as I could for one shot, but that's not realistic as colors and shapes of balloons are not available in every size and color under the sun. For example, I wanted to create a fat, blubbery look for the walrus' body but next to filling 3 ft. balloons with water and battling them to stand on top of each, I opted to fill 11" balloons with clay, suck out the air, and mold them into place. The walrus' head, however, was much larger, and due to the fact that 160Qs are the smallest entertainer balloon available, I had to create the whiskers on a 3 ft. balloon. However, some animals like the monkey and the owl, to name a few, were taken in one shot.”

Which was your favourite animal to make and why? 
‟It's hard to pick a favorite. There were animals I was excited to get to, and then there animals that I was a little less excited to create, but then the final design turned out amazing. My favorites are the ones I feel show the most personality or expression such as the alligator, the giraffe, and the vulture. But if I had to choose one, it'd probably be the alligator. He wasn't the original design for 'A.' I had already built and photographed a whole scene with an aardvark and its baby eating ants from a balloon ant hill. It was one of my first designs I built and coming back to it at the end, my work had evolved so much that how I made it didn't fit with the others. That's when the idea of an alligator in the bayou with lightening bugs and weeping willows at sunset popped in my head...and I immediately got to work.” 

You have used a lot of distortion to create fantastic shapes for your animals. Do you use anything to help you when you distort your balloons?
‟Distortion was a very important technique used to create parts of the animals as I didn't want them to all just look like the balloon animals we all know and love. I kept my tools simple when it came to distorting the balloons - a balloon straw, a basic pump, an Air-Pro inflator, the Nikoloon System by Niko Fric, and whole lot of patience.”
To find out more about distortion techniques check out my earlier posts:
Distortion Techniques Part 1
Distortion Techniques Part 2
Distortion Techniques Part 3

Can you tell me more about your education program? 

‟At the beginning of this year I connected with a gentleman who has a lot of experience working with authors and school presentations. He was extremely impressed with my artwork and the fact it was all geared towards early literacy, so we began collaborating on a presentation about the book. I felt it wasn't only important to cover the fascinating history of balloons but also cover balloon safety as it pertains to children, and give them the opportunity to make a balloon design themselves. Most importantly, though, is the literacy side, which is why I also developed activity guides based of the book that kids will have a chance to work on to better their abilities to recognize letters, differentiate lower and uppercase letters, writing words, and more. It's designed to be interactive, educational, and keep kids' attention.”
Are you planning to teach any of these designs in the future?
‟At this time I do not. My focus right now is getting this book into children's hands and then getting to my next balloon education projects.”
Do you have any future plans or projects?
‟I do! In the process of learning the world of children's book publishing, I have taken classes and courses on a variety of topics that has allowed me to develop my own stories. I have big plans for The Balloon Workshop and I'm looking forward to creating some of these ideas that have been in my head for the past couple of years, all geared towards early childhood development. So stay tuned, because you haven't seen nothing yet!” 
In what format will the book be available?
‟At launch, the book will be available in a hard cover format. It's 8.5" x 11" and includes 26 balloon landscapes along with original design sketches and a photo collage of the making of the book. I wanted to make the book a high quality product that anyone would be happy to give or receive as a gift, which is why it also includes a beautiful, custom-designed dust jacket. If you stay connected to us through social media (links below) we'll announce new formats of the book as they are available.”

When will the book be available to purchase?
‟Pre-orders for the book will open in the coming weeks, so make sure to sign-up at to be notified of when they will be available to order. Books will begin shipping at the beginning of December 2016, perfect timing for Christmas!”

Steven Mayhew, CBA

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and raised in Mesa, Arizona, Steven was introduced to balloons through his first job as a children’s entertainer for parties. Moving to Los Angeles in the early 2000’s, he opened and ran his own balloon decorating company before transitioning to the corporate world of the balloon industry. Later Steven earned his CBA®(Certified Balloon Artist™) and began teaching the art of balloon decor at seminars and conventions around the world.
Combining his many years of experience in balloons and graphic design, Steven developed this new medium where the art of storytelling and balloons come together.
He now dedicates his time to bringing new products and educational materials to life through the fun and colorful world of balloons.

I am really excited for Steven, I think that anyone who can turn their dreams into a reality should be very proud of their accomplishment! And to think it all started with a Qualatex balloon! 

Happy Ballooning!


To sign-up to be notified of when you can order the ABC Balloon Book and for more information about Steven Mayhew’s Balloon Workshop visit:

Follow Steven Mayhew’s Balloon Workshop on social media:

Twitter @ balloonwkshop
Instagram @ balloonwkshop
YouTube: The Balloon Workshop


Balloon Art said...

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Unknown said...

Very inspiring post, I really love it! This is perfect beside the kindergarten math games. Thanks for sharing