In 2010, artist Jihan Zencirli had plans to go to a restaurant in Seattle for a friend's birthday when she decided to make the friend an extravagant creation out of balloons—something large, loud, and colorful that she could fasten to the back of her chair as a surprise. The present turned out to be a hit, and not just with the friend. Months later a woman who had been at the restaurant that night recognized Zencirli walking on the sidewalk and pulled up beside her in her car. "She had a big wad of cash—probably about $1,000—and she wanted me to do one for her husband's birthday," says Zencirli.
Not only did that become Zencirli's first paid commission, it was the moment she realized she could make a viable business from something she had considered a bit of ridiculous fun. That one birthday party quickly turned into more opportunities to create beautiful, boisterous balloon installations for weddings and other events. Now Zencirli runs Geronimo Balloons and counts the West Hollywood Standard Hotel, Amazon, Chanel, and numerous other brands as her clients.
These days, Zencirli runs Geronimo out of a studio in Echo Park in Los Angeles, a white block of a building whose facade is always at least partially obscured by one of her fantastical balloon installations. Recent installations have included everything from a swipe of red balloons across the facade of a Mexican dive bar in downtown L.A. to 8,000 rainbow-colored balloons floating above the entrance to the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood as a part of Pride Week. Zencirli often finds herself scaling the sides of buildings, fastening balloons to a building facade on a ladder 50 to 100 feet in the air. "I've been looking into climbing gear so I can get into more interesting spaces," she says.
Zencirli says her business started to gain momentum after she moved to L.A. in 2011 and a friend featured her balloon creations on her popular lifestyle blog. After that, Chanel reached out to have her to create balloon invitations for a Paris runway show. In 2012 she was featured in a Tampax campaign highlighting women in interesting careers, and her own career started to take off.
Most of Zencirli's clients find her through other clients or through friends and fellow artists. Publicity has certainly helped, as has a large Instagram presence, but Zencirli maintains that keeping business relationships as organic as possible has allowed her to create work she's really excited about. She keeps the information on her website to a minimum, instead encouraging face-to-face interaction with clients. "I get great commissions because I think people are still curious about what I do and reach out," she says. Then there's the fact that her installations are so joyful. "I like to draw people to something that looks familiar from childhood and leave with them some happiness and a little smirk," she says.
We've put together some behind-the-scenes shots of Zencirli's recent installation at the Standard Hotel for Pride Week in the slide show above.
[All images courtesy of Christopher Sullivan unless otherwise noted]