Friday, September 7, 2018

UpClose and Personal with Jackie Ochitwa CBA

I was very excited to meet the very talented Jackie Ochitwa, CBA, of With A Twist Balloon Creations in Alberta, Canada, earlier this year when we shared the instructor's prep room at the World Balloon Convention in San Diego, California, USA. The prep room is one of my favourite places at a convention because you get to meet some truly lovely and very talented balloon artists. You also get to see all the amazing designs that they are teaching!

I am always intrigued to find out a little about the artist behind the balloons and their ballooning journey. So, I asked Jackie how she converted her former radio show host career into becoming an international balloon artist! 

Jackie Ochitwa, CBA.
"I continued my radio career until my second child was born, and I decided that it was important for me to stay home and raise my babies. So, that’s what I did.

My kids always loved balloons, even at a really early age. We brought them to a fair one summer, and there was a group of teenagers twisting swords and flowers for the little ones. We took the balloons home and the sword unraveled (as swords tend to do when a four year old plays with it). My son was so sad; I picked the balloon up and attempted to put it back together the best I could. The smile on my son’s face was priceless – it was then that I decided to look for a balloon twisting book at the library the next time we went. I mean, how hard could it be?"

Q: So how long have you been in the balloon business?
"I picked up my first 260Q in 2010.  I started my business, With a Twist Balloon Creations, almost a full year later in 2011.
I didn’t go into this thinking of it a profession initially.  At first, it was me, as a stay at home mom, finding something fun to entertain the kids with.  It wasn’t until a friend asked me to twist at her kid’s birthday party that I started to consider twisting balloons as something more than a pastime for me and my kids.  I emphatically told my friend no, at first.  I was not a balloon twister, I was a radio show host on hiatus…
Then she said something interesting.  She said she would pay me – and I thought, 'People get paid to make balloons?!'  Really?!  'Okay, what time do you want me there?'  For the first year or so, I only worked for friends and friends of friends.  It was a big deal when I placed my first ad online." 
The Ultimate Balloon Book

Q: How did you learn to work with balloons?

 "When I started twisting, there were no YouTube tutorials.  The book that I signed out of the library for six months straight had a red dragon on the cover.  It was called The Ultimate Balloon Book by Shar Levine and Michael Ouchi.  I remember thinking that I would never be able to make that dragon.  (I did get it down eventually)."

Q:  What have you done to grow your business?
"When I first started twisting balloons I was solely an entertainer.  I slowly incorporated décor into my business as I became a stronger twister.  Once I started attending conventions and workshops, I became more confident with the décor side of the industry and I now employ both aspects equally.  I love that I can use my twisting background to enhance my balloon décor and add that 'Wow!' factor that my clients appreciate."  
Q: How important is social media to your business?
"I mostly market my business online.  My Facebook page pulls in the most clients by far,  although my Instagram page is also a great way to engage with my customers.  I am also active on a number of online forums for local area moms and I find word of mouth also plays a major role.  I find that branding and self-promotion are definitely key.  I always make sure all of my centerpieces have a card firmly attached and my balloon candy cups are labeled so people know where to find me.  If I make a centerpiece for a birthday party as well as 20 candy cups that end up going to 20 homes after the party - I have that many potential new clients."

Q: Can you share any advice for someone who is new in this industry?
"I would tell them to not get frustrated if they’re not getting phone calls right away and that it takes time to build a client base.  Put out good work and the clients will come.  Self-promotion is key.  Use those online resources to get your name out there.  I use my Instagram and Facebook pages as my online resume.  I post often and try to vary the content so clients can see the range of my work."
Q: What are your thoughts on educational events?
"Since attending my first convention, I can honestly say that I now have the bug.  I hear that happens a lot.  I love all the knowledge and creativity oozing out of the classrooms, jam rooms, and competition rooms.  I also love being with my people – people who understand my balloon talk and are as passionate about balloons as an art form as I am.  As silly as it sounds, being at a convention makes me feel like I found my tribe."  

Q: What is your favourite balloon creation to make?
"My favorite balloon sculpture to create are my “girls”.  I love that they are so versatile.  I make them often in the likeness of little girls for their birthdays with whatever they are interested in – as figure skaters, with cats, on a horse, etc.  Parents love to see their little girls as twisted balloons sculptures, and the little girls theselves love to see it, too.
I also use the same design to make superheroes, like Wonder Woman or Super Girl and Disney Princesses.  I was making so many of these at one point that a couple years ago I decided to call Pioneer Canada and have some custom faces printed up that would make putting my girls together a bit quicker.  I loved them so much I started marketing them to other balloon artists as 'Little Miss Manga Balloon Faces.'  I also have a sugar skull print available that has been really popular, especially around Halloween."  
Q: Where do you get your design inspiration?
"A large part of my business is children’s balloon art for birthday party décor.  My inspiration comes from whatever is popular at the time.  The great thing about that is it’s never static. I find myself having to learn new designs as the latest, hottest movie or TV show comes out.  
I have always been drawn to anime and I tend to use that esthetic when adding in any artwork to my pieces.  I like the simplicity of it, and it definitely adds the cute factor to the balloons I put out."  
Thank you Jackie for sharing your ballooning story and such valuable advice for other aspiring balloon artists!  

If you would like to know how to make one of Jackie's fabulous creations, check out how to make her adorable snowman! 

I am also pleased to announce that Jackie will be teaching at the Qualatex® Balloon School in Dubai with me later this year! For more information regarding this event, visit Qualatex Middle East.

Happy Ballooning!