Play, Make, Master in Cannes, France


Kelly and I recently had the opportunity to spend a week at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France. It was quite an experience. Kelly and I taught master classes, installed sculptures, and met many creative people. I thought this experience would be fun to share since it did as much to introduce balloons to a new audience as it did to promote the two of us.

The people we worked with were amazing. For starters, Michael Abrahamson, AKA Mr Balloonatic, came from Dublin to assist. I only met Michael in February at Twist & Shout. We've chatted quiet a bit since then. This was the first opportunity we had to work together. Now that we've spent some time together, I'm looking forward to doing future projects with him. Michael's energy, skill, and creativity are amazing. He was always willing to help wherever needed and has a fantastic eye for detail.

The other people we worked with were from outside of the balloon industry. When we received the invitation to take part in this project from Lambie-Nairn and The Brand Union, two branding agencies out of the UK, we knew this would be exciting. We didn't know just how big this was going to get. Lambie-Nairn and The Brand Union have established what I believe is now an annual event at the Cannes Lions Festival known as "Cannes ALSO". This year's project was called "Play, Make, Master". The idea behind it was to encourage creative professionals to remember the importance of play in their work. All of us involved were to teach master classes in our specialties, allowing everyone attending to try their hand at our particular brand of playing and creating.

Along with Airigami, Aardman Animations (, and Bright Bricks ( were invited to to present. The most difficult part of this was staying focused on the balloons. When you've got other skilled artists teaching clay modeling and lego building, you can imagine how difficult it is to stay focused on our own work. The people that brought us all together said that they hoped we'd collaborate on stuff over the course of the week. We didn't wait, however. All of the artists started working together in the first hour!

The collaborative pieces we did during the week were interesting, not only in what we made, but in how they came about. Conference attendees made suggestions. Voting for subjects took place on facebook. And of course, we took inspiration from other things we saw around us. We made hot air balloons with lions flying them, ice cream cones, dinosaurs, video game characters, and a few other things. In all of them, balloons clay and Lego bricks were combined in fun ways.


All of the challenges we encountered were anticipated, so we did what we could to prepare for it and alter our approach to filling a space. Of course, expected or not, the things we encountered were called "challenges" for a reason. It was anything but easy.

We worked in a tent for seven days. We created numerous pieces. Then we popped the stuff that looked awful at the end of each day, which was basically anything that didn't pop on its own before that. Anyone that's worked with balloons for even a short time is aware of the dangers of working outside in the summer. Heat is a problem as it causes the balloons to expand. This is worse for twisted sculptures than for round balloons since you can at least underinflate a round balloon. That's not to suggest that underinflation solves all problems with round balloons, but at least you can anticipate the expansion of the balloon in your design and construction. You can inflate a non-round balloon so it's soft, but then it's hard to twist it into the shape you need. Without full bubbles, twists don't hold. The only thing you can really do is simplify your designs and make things that require fewer twists.

The artists of Cannes ALSO:

Airigami - Larry Moss, Kelly Cheatle, Michael Abrahamson

Bright Bricks - Ed Diment, Warren Elsmore

Aardman - Jim Parkyn, Will Harding, Maggie O'Connor, Will Earl, Will Becher

The much bigger problem than expansion from the heat was the outdoor air in the heat. Almost as soon as a balloon was inflated, it looked oxidized. Here's where we miscalculated. We thought that liberal use of rubber protectant would help. Unfortunately, the balloons were oxidizing much faster than we could coat the balloons. Balloon Shining balloons is a slow process anyway, and we knew that doing so would slow us down drastically. We thought shining key pieces would be better than nothing. We were wrong. It was more efficient to just pop things and make all new pieces on a regular basis.

The one thing that did work as reliably as we hoped was the use of foil balloons in our sculptures. This pushed us in new directions. We've used foil in sculptures before, but now it wasn't just for highlights. It was for central pieces that we needed to last throughout the event. Of course, we did twist, fold, and otherwise truly abuse the foil balloons as much we normally do with our latex balloons and I wanted to share some of that experience. For starters, as I mentioned about the latex, you have to underinflate. As the air inside expands, you're really pushing the limits of what a foil seal can withstand. A combination of Stretchy Balloon Tape and Balloon Bond from Clik-Clik was invaluable in making the foil sculptures work. Anywhere we could, we joined foils using zip ties but then used the two tapes to position things more precisely and to add details.

Equipment and Supplies

Other balloon artists frequently ask me what equipment I use on large jobs. Without a doubt, the Conwin Precision Air is our inflator of choice. Since we were traveling by air, limiting the amount we could carry, and visiting a country with different electrical standards, most of what I own wasn't going to work. Thanks to friends in the industry, we were able to address these problems and packed just a few things to get us through the week.

For those that aren't used to international travel:

Most modern consumer electronics (computers, cell phones, cameras), can be used/charged on any electrical system around the world with only a small physical plug adapter. Other electrical equipment, notably things containing motors and heat elements (balloon inflators and heat sealers fall into this category), require much more expensive, and significantly heavier, step up or step down convertors.

As I mentioned earlier, my favorite air inflator for large scale sculptures is the Precision Air. We were able to borrow a European unit. This was extremely useful for the bulk of our latex inflation. We also used a couple of Conwin Air Pros for things that didn't require exact sizing.

For 160s and 260s, which the above equipment isn't designed for, we carried a manual, floor standing pump with us on the plane. We used an Air Craft Pump. This pump can fill a 260 with a single stroke but still packs inside a suitcase. Michael was so impressed with the pump that he now owns it.

We like to inflate our foil balloons with the Foil-Flator by Clik-Clik. It inflates balloons gently enough that we never have to be concerned about busting seams. While not critical on this job, we also like to use it to deflate our foil balloons when we want to repurpose them.

Suspending scuptures was simplified by the use of a Clik-Clik pole and magnets. This is an amazing hanging system. We were able to hang pieces and reposition them as needed to steel tent poles as well as inside the main conference hall in a snap. Warren Elsmore (Bright Bricks) saw the speed in which he would be able to hang signage and, like Michael, now has some new equipment. As mentioned before, the various tapes from Clik-Clik are also always in our toolbox.

Most importantly, the project came together because of Qualatex balloons. All of the latex and foil we used throughout the event was made with Qualatex product.

Special Thanks

This was a fantastic opportunity for us to reach a new audience. The opportunity came about, in part, with help from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Disclosure: According to the FTC, I'm obligated to disclose in a blog post that products mentioned here were provided by the various manufacturers. However, I want to be clear that while I am very grateful for the support that made this project possible, the opinions expressed here are my own and were not influenced by their contributions. I wrote about the materials that I use (and purchase) every day.


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All of the above

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Upcoming stuff in the studio

August 3, 6-9 PM - First Friday at the Hungerford (1115 E Main St, Rochester). This monthly, family-friendly event gives everyone a chance to view the work of a great collection of local Rochester artists.

August 7, 6-8 PM - Stretch the Balloon Dude (Wendell Clendennen) teaches Twisted Party Masks. This is a class for artists and entertainers. Register now.

August 22, 6:30-9 PM -  Smarty and Dena Present: The Secrets of Show Business Success - Revealed! Register now.

New and improved Airigami shop

The Airigami shop has been completely rebuilt, making it much easier to shop. We want you to check out what we have, so we're offering 15% off on all orders between now and August 6. Use the coupon code: NEWSHOP. Please take a look.