Bright, colorful and fast: Duluth woman brings her balloon art to area attractions
She's done Prince, Frida Kahlo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mermaids, leprechauns, a pink chainsaw.
She's done Prince, Frida Kahlo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Mermaids, leprechauns, a pink chainsaw. With enough time, you can make anything out of balloons, said Laural Schultze, as she freestyled a xenomorph from "Alien" out of long black and small gray shapes. (Next, she wants to make the power loader Ellen Ripley wore in the movie.)
While her day job is in guest services at the Lake Superior Zoo, the Duluth woman's side job is her balloon-twisting business, Lauralloons.
Walk into the zoo and see orange balloons tied in the shape of large carrots. In the basement, Schultze inflated, measured and linked blue spheres into several chains before twisting and setting them onto lamp stands - a mounting tip she picked up from a convention. She filled in gaps with smaller balloon groupings in yellow, green and purple. Soon, the basket was photo-ready for the zoo's Easter EGG-stravaganza.
Her biggest project before that was a 10-foot lemur costume. It took 800 balloons to make, and she wore it for the Christmas City of the North parade.
Balloon art is temporary, it's bright, colorful and fast, she said, and "People light up when they see what I've made."
Schultze started twisting balloons two years ago during a community education class in Rochester, Minn., where she learned how to make the classic dog, a sword and a little mouse. After researching at the library and online, she found a whole world of art, information and tutorials, where she credits a lot of her skill today - and she's still learning.
"I'm still a newbie in the world of balloons," she said. There's a strong global community, where people want to share their knowledge and see you succeed.
Among balloon artists, there's a lot of crossover with magicians and clowns and face painting. "I'm personally just focusing on the balloons. I don't have any training in magic or clowns," she said.
And twisting is definitely a performance art. She's twisted for the North Shore Scenic Railroad and for Taste of Duluth, where she aims to entertain and engage the audience. A performing tip: "Play to your strengths," she said.
Schultze has always been crafty - crocheting, cake decorating and basket weaving. Now, her focus is mainly on balloons, and her free time is spent in the roller derby.
Executing a design idea can be frustrating. "One of my challenges is I think I can do things faster than I can sometimes," she said.
And twisting for five, six, seven hours can be hard on your elbows, joints and fingers. But Schultze takes care. She recently purchased a electric floor pump, and she carries a lot of water and lotion because your hands can dry out handling the balloons.
"Listen to your body as a performer and make sure you're taking care of you," she said.
Schultze doesn't inflate balloons by mouth because it can be hard on your body, she said. And while helium is lighter than oxygen, making for floating balloons, Schultze simplifies and only works with air for now. It's one less thing to worry about, she said.
Also: balloons pop, and it's not necessarily someone's fault. They don't like sand, road salt or roughhousing.
As she worked on the big Easter basket, a high-pitched squeal leaked into the air. She moved quickly to replace the punctured vessel.
Schultze's tool kit is a red wagon that carries a bin of balloons in all colors. There's scissors, headbands, plastic scraps (which she can later use), smaller hand-pumps and an elastrator - which she uses to insert candy or LED lights into balloons. Also in the wagon are a number of Sharpies and paint pens.
She used a black permanent marker to color in a bunny's face on a small holiday piece.
Balloons come in all shapes, sizes and finishes, and there are also prints that help speed up the process. There are also linking balloons, with long ends fit for twisting.
Pinch twist, ear twist, lock twist are terms she learned starting out. She demonstrated by creating permanent kinks and even manipulating and breaking off half an inflated balloon and pocketing the remains.
Most people recommend at least three twists, she said, tying one closed. It helps keep the piece from coming undone.
Balloon art is a shared experience, she said, and the zoo lets her experiment, and they give her a space to do that.
Schultze was working in guest services when Megan Meyer found out what she could do. During the annual "Boo at the Zoo" Halloween party, Schultze made oompa loompas for their Willy Wonka-themed space. "It adds something that we can't always add," said the special events coordinator.
And the zoo's visitors: "They're pretty fascinated by it," Meyer said.
During the Easter EGG-stravaganza, a mittened girl stood with her arm around one of the carrot sculptures, ready for a photo.
Charmaine Radosevich of Duluth said the balloon display was "really creative."
Radosevich snapped a picture of her granddaughters Ayla, 7, and Addie, 5. In matching bunny ears and whisker-y face paint, the girls smiled sitting next to the big rabbit behind Schultze's bubbly basket, framed by balloon daffodils as tall as Ayla.
"It was cool," Ayla said of the setup.
"I really love seeing people's reactions to the things I make," Schultze said.
"It's usually this glow that people get when they're so excited and happy ... and I get like that still, too."
For more information, go to facebook.com/lauralloons .