David Gonzales, balloon artist
They float, they flick, they fly and most of the time, they just pass us by. And then, well, they either get swallowed by the vastness of the sun … or just pop on their voyage up. But for some, the rubbery colored spheres that the rest of us lay people call balloons, can be a source of art and entertainment. And that’s the case for David Gonzales, owner of Twist N Shout Balloons. SN&R caught up with Gonzales to talk about latex, penis hats, and of course, butterfly wands.
How did you get into balloons?
I got into balloons during college at Sac State. I have a friend of mine that started a balloon company down south, and he had a contract with Farrell’s [Ice Cream Parlour], so when Farrell’s moved up here in Sacramento about three years ago, that’s when I got started and I had a lot of practice in that restaurant.
Was it something you were doing through school or through the restaurant?
No … it’s not through school, it’s just kind of who you know. I didn’t realize that my friend put up an ad on Craigslist, and so when I saw it I couldn’t help but respond to it because at the time I was working another job I didn’t like and I figured that balloons is a lot of fun; it’s like bartending but for kids. You got a lot of options and the possibilities seemed endless so I couldn’t pass up the offer.
Did you have any experience with balloons prior?
No, I had no experience with balloons prior to that. I never thought of being a balloon artist. I was going to school for photography and before I started going to school for photography. … I’m a musician, like drums is my main instrument, and I was those two things prior to being a balloon artist.
How do you learn the performance aspect?
It really helps to be in a apprentice position because you have someone there to show you the trade. So that’s where my friend came in. He introduced me to balloons and got me started with Farrell’s, and so I had a lot of practice in there and I was, on a regular night, I’d be entertaining for over 60 families a night. Yeah, so I got to know people really well as a balloon artist.
Largest thing you’ve made out of balloons?
The largest thing I’ve made was, it was a humongous hat. And I didn’t even intend for it to be a hat. I was practicing a weaving pattern to make like a fabric out of balloons. And after four hours of doing this weaving pattern I tied it all together and it came out to be a really huge hat. … Most of the things I make are, they’re like smaller things, like two to 20 balloons is what I usually use. For that one hat, I had to have used over 100 balloons. Yeah, it was a big hat.
Are these regular balloons or are they special art balloons?
Yeah, they’re specialized latex containers. So, it’s intended to be twisted. They inflate in length and they don’t necessarily expand like the round ones. So, they are a specialty balloon. If anyone wants to get into balloons I would suggest just going to an actual like balloon store and avoid the ones at grocery stores. Most people tell me that they’ve gotten those balloons at grocery stores and other like party novelty places, and those, they’re not the best quality.
Weirdest things you’ve been asked to make?
The adults are always like, “Hey, put a penis on my friend’s head!” You know, weird things like that. I like doing the weird ones that throw people off, stripper hats. Like, I’ll make like a stripper pole hat and then I’ll put like a little balloon lady hanging down on the pole and I’ll give her a little bikini and that usually gets a good laugh. And Viking helmets. I like making Viking helmets, those are fun.
Are there certain shapes that people tend to request a lot?
Yes … boys tend to like the blue and green colors. The girls tend to like the purple and pink colors. So, within those colors boys and girls really like, or the boys like swords, hats … they like jetpacks. … for the girls, they really like butterfly wands, ladybugs. … The unicorns are a big one. But then the kids are always crossing those barriers all the time. Like, a girl will want a sword, and I think that’s awesome. And there’s a boy that wants a butterfly wand, and that’s just as awesome.
Do you have any favorites you like to make?
I’d have to say it’s the jetpacks. The jetpacks really throw people off because, I think when people do balloon creation, balloon animals, they’re thinking, “Oh, it’s a one balloon sword, one balloon dog”—you know, just like the very basics of balloon twisting. But with balloons, you can make whatever you want and you don’t necessarily have to hold it. You can wear it. It could be interactive with the crowd. There’s a unicorn that I make that’s a full body piece, so you slip it over your waist and it looks like a unicorn—it has the mane, and it has the attachment to the mouth so you can hold and steer it.