August 9, 2004
In Irina Patterson's world, dragons don't breathe fire and dogs don't bite. Then again ballerinas aren't human and lady bugs don't crawl. Patterson, a balloon sculptor, uses her imagination and a felt-tipped pen, some latex and lots of hot air to get a smile. And she gets lots of them.
A former model and public relations consultant, Coral-Gables-based Patterson moved from Russia to Miami in 1992 after earning a four-year art degree in Russia. She worked as a model and computer graphics technician before setting in at a technology-oriented public relations firm. But last year she didn't feel challenged and lacked an outlet for her creativity.
While attending a children's party, she became fascinated with the balloon creatures.
'I thought, 'Oh, I can do that,' "says Patterson, "and it was so much fun I didn't stop."
Although there aren't any classes required to hone the skill, a balloon sculptor still must learn the trade, starting with the simple "basic dog" that requires one balloon to the more complex varieties, such as a monkey sitting on a tree, which consists of several balloons once it's completed. The best way to lean is through practice. Patterson estimates that she blows up 500 balloons a week during her regular digs.
Most requested are the monkey in the tree, dragons, flowers, ballerinas, dogs, cats and cartoon characters such as Scooby Doo and the dog Blue from Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues animated show. Patterson also creates specific canine breeds such as poodles (in pink, of course!), cocker spaniels and dachshunds and makes fancy multitiered hats for adults. Patterson inflates the balloon with a pump and rarely has one snap back at her, as she buys professional latex balloons that have more elasticity.
Busy times for Patterson include weekends from morning until evening and October through December. Patterson also is quite busy on Holidays such as Halloween, when she sculpts full-sized goblins, witches and ghouls. When she is not entertaining, Patterson makes full floral balloon bouquets, and yes, vase is made from a balloon.
Patterson considers her work a serious artistic endeavor. In fact, when she works at parties, she does not dress-up like a clown, since she believes that would detract from her sculptures. All of Patterson's creations last about five days, and that short life span is part of the beauty of balloons sculpture, she says.
"I love balloons" Patterson says. "They are like flowers, as their life expectancy is about five days and then they die. Balloons make beautiful photos. There should be a director in Hollywood who would build an entire movie around balloons because they are so photogenic. There should be balloon fashion shows. People who never saw balloon art, just don't know what they have been missing.