Drafted By: Marilyn R. Wilson

A few weeks ago, I attended a Pride Week fundraiser held at the Steel Toad Brewery on W. 2nd in Vancouver. Several performers stepped in to offer their talents with proceeds benefiting Covenant House. One that caught my eye in particular was balloon artist Twistin’ Sam. I noticed him on the side creating a sample of his work – a four foot high palm tree with a monkey climbing it. It was as show stopper. Then with a smile on his face, a large selection of balloons and a few markers to add details, he began to circulate. For a donation he would make you anything. No restrictions, no limits– anything. I was impressed.

His first request was a palm tree just like the display. With a smile and great energy Twistin’ Sam set about blowing the balloons and tying them. His process was effortless – his skill obvious. I was next and as I didn’t have a lot of cash on hand, I apologized, gave him what I had and said, “Just make me something small.” Well, he did make me something small – in fact his favourite creation – but the intricacy of the tying process had me mesmerized. In the end I was presented with a rose inside a bell jar on a stand just like the one in Beauty and the Beast. I quickly gathered all the stray loonies and toonies in the bottom of my purse to add to my donation and handed them to him with my card.

While I only stayed a few hours that night, it was long enough to see him never flinch at a request. He’d just smile and start selecting balloons. When one woman requested Ironman, I was sure he would balk. Not a chance, the figure was in her hands in record speed. That night Twistin’ Sam showcased a lot more than his immense talent. One could see the obvious joy he felt while plying his craft and his easy going, relaxed manner made him a natural for working in a crowd of people. If I run another event, he’s on the top of my must hire list.

8Q Spotlight Twistin’ Sam

What is your current career(s) – paid and unpaid (unpaid would be a passion you are working on that doesn’t yet pay)?

I am a Supervision Aide for the Vancouver School Board and a Child Care worker for Sparetime Childcare Society. These are my day jobs as I am work on my career as a Balloon Artist/Entertainer. What is that you ask? Well let me give you a quick rundown: I entertain where my main medium is balloons. Just about everything I do is balloon related.

Can you share an interesting thing (or two) about your journey to reach this moment?

I can tell you right off the bat that I never intended to take this to the point of it being a career path. When I first started doing it, I was a Semi-Professional actor in Kelowna doing ensemble parts in musicals where I knew many multi-talented performers who could do more than just act. I have never been a good singer and I can move but am by no means a dancer, so having these amazingly talented people as my friends really spurred me to go above and beyond what people think are your common balloon animals.

As I started to pursue this more and more, I kept getting asked if I busk or do birthday parties and my friends and family encouraged me to start to charge people to do it. I was completely skeptical, but then found from audience response how much people love this level of balloon art. So I decided to dive in and create a official business model and practice.

Doing this has turned into a full blown obsession for me to the point I can no longer walk down the street without dissecting the world around me and trying to recreate it in balloons in my head – lamp posts, street signs, store fronts. It is a joke of mine when I go to a movie with my friends that it’s a tax write off because it’s for research for my business. If I never learned how to make Disney princesses or Minions I would be out of business!

What 3 things would you like people to know about you to give them a sense of who you really are?

  • I can make anything out of balloons. Yes, anything. It’s gotten to the point now where I just need a Google image search to see what it is you are requesting to be able to make it.
  • I bring balloons with me wherever I go. Every time I go out I am always questioned on what a balloon artist is, so I need to either make sure I have some good quality photos, or bring some balloons to make designs so people can see what I am actually capable of. I prefer to create rather than just show pictures. It makes it more authentic. It’s also so much fun watching adults turn into children in front of you when they get a balloon. It creates a new energy and atmosphere in the place that is rarely seen.
  • I’m a sucker for crying kids with broken balloons. It breaks my heart when I’m busking at a farmers market and see a kid come up to me with tears in their eyes with their balloon popped. I have the guarantee that if I’m out busking, I will always fix the balloon for free. Seeing the kid eyes light up when their penguin is fixed is payment enough, though a tip is always appreciated.

Highest moment so far?

The great thing about this career path is that there’s so many wonderful moments. Seeing a child’s eyes light up when I make them their favorite cartoon character or make them a surprise they wouldn’t expect to get is always a reward. Right now the highest moment of the summer is the completion of my balloon show. I am super excited to be able to offer that now as a part of my business.

It’s a family show that is geared towards children, but adults find it fun as well. My grand finale is to climb inside a massive 6-foot balloon which is fun for me and also for the kids. I had to learn the hard way at one of my performances to remind the kids to stay seated the entire time. When I got inside I couldn’t see anything, but then heard a mini stampede of children running at me and hitting the balloon to make sure I was inside of it. I took it as a compliment.

What are you working on right now? In the next 6 months?

Right now I’m working on my show – adding more to it and creating different routines to keep it fresh for the next two years, as well as selling it to the children’s festival that happens every year on Granville Island. Also, I am working on a project right now to recreate dinosaur skeletons. I went to Science World the other day and took loads of pictures of the dinosaurs there to see what I can create. I want them to be the size of a scale replica that would go on a desk or a bookshelf. Pictures will be posted on Face book of course!

Who and/or what inspires you?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. I usually get my inspiration from connecting and sharing with other balloon artists around the world. I always try to do what those I look up to are doing. I do my best to look at what someone does. Instead of saying “I wish I could do that,” I say “I am going to do that!”  I listen to a wide variety of podcasts and TED talks as well. Hearing people who are passionate about creating talk about creating is a great motivational tool for me.

How do you personally define success?

I’m not sure if this could be considered a definition, but this is my view on what “success” is. I look at it as different levels or tiers – a staircase would be the best analogy.  My first success was making a balloon dog that didn’t pop. My next step was learning 5 different designs I could make. Each step I have taken has lead me to a new kind of success in not just my career, but in my personal life as well. Every step I have climbed has given me a nice scenery of where I have come and the view of the journey of where I am going. As I continue to climb this stair case, each step starts to be taller than the last, making it more difficult to climb. That makes the payoff to making it to the next step all the more satisfying and rewarding.

However, success is a double edged sword. The more you climb, the more you see there is no end in sight. After each step there is another one waiting. There is no plateau, only the desire to climb further to get to the top that doesn’t exist. The satisfaction at the plateau you are currently on is fleeting and only leaves you with the urge to climb to the next step. It is a trap of fleeting moments that inevitably brings further desire.  It is usually a good thing to remember that the journey is more important than the destination.

Favorite Quote?

“What you think of you and what people think of you are two completely different things. At the end of the day, all you can have is a good sense of humor.”