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A Look at Outdoor Balloon Décor

by Wynn Bell

FinishLineArch I think this month we should talk about OUTDOOR BALLOON DECOR. I have been receiving a lot of e-mail from people asking for help, and recently there have been questions on BalloonHQ about outdoor décor. So here are some of my thoughts and ideas about outdoor décor. This gets a bit long, because trying to cover such a diverse subject in one column is nearly impossible.

First of all, being hired to produce outdoor décor puts you, the balloon artist, in the driver’s seat, so to speak. No matter what the customer wants, the job is going to be directed by you and what you can produce with balloons, and what will work with balloons. Most customers have no idea about what colors will work outdoors, or that helium balloons may not achieve the look they are looking for. They also don’t understand that by air filling balloons and attaching them to frames, they can have extremely stable décor with colors that blend well with nature and all it’s neat colors and textures.

First off, DO NOT be afraid of outdoor balloon decor ! ! ! ! ! Respect nature, but don’t be afraid of it. Learn to accent the outdoor environment. And take control of the job and lead the client in the direction that will best serve their décor needs.

OutdoorColumns I am including several pictures of outdoor work we have done through the years. Hopefully, these illustrations will help you learn to work outdoors.

We use helium balloons only for large arches and assorted larger balloons. The more helium in a balloon, the more lift it has, which helps it stand against the weather – mostly wind and rain. Anyone who has seen an arch built across a street from 11” balloons, understands how the arch is liable to deform and blow around quite badly. Using 16” balloons sized at about 15” will provide almost 3 times as much lift, as well as a much more substantial arch than with 11” balloons. The arch will still sway, but not deform as badly. Larger balloons also make for a greater “presence” outdoors. The outdoors is very large, and so you have to use larger balloons to get the scale and proportions correct.

TriatlonLogo Always be sure to anchor all outdoor décor as if it will need to withstand a hurricane. If you build your decor with this in mind, weather won’t be nearly as much of a problem as we sometimes allow it to be. I tell people to figure out the strongest structure, or tie points, that they think they might ever need for a given job, then double that estimate, and they will be close to what they actually need. Attachment points can be on light posts, bike racks, columns on the building, and any other solidly placed item. One can even use those water filled tent weights. Just be sure to tie an anchor line around the post and then tie the arch line to this anchor line.

The same goes for the colors you use. Be sure that the client understands the problems that will be encountered with darker colored balloons. If you have to use darker colors, over inflate them severely, then size them down to where they are a bit soft (11” sized to 9”, 16” to 14”). This will allow for the expansion of the balloon in the heat of the sun. It also allows for rounder balloons, which fit together better, creating a smoother and a more solid piece of décor, especially when building arches.

Once you have figured out the sizes of the balloons you will need, you can start thinking about the structure needed for your décor. If it is a large helium arch, use 100# - 130# dacron or nylon line – not monofilament (it stretches too much). If you want to build fantasy clouds, attach them to a metal conduit pole with the 16” topper pulled down against the top of the pole. The strength of the pole allows for 54” tulle to be strung from cloud to cloud. This will create more “presence” for the décor and it will also not be blown about as easily as 6” wide tulle. Twinkle lights can be included for a very nice nighttime effect. If you use three-quarter inch conduit for the décor pole, you can drive a piece of half-inch conduit into the ground as a very sturdy and inexpensive “stake.”

Are you providing a shorter arch for an entryway, or maybe the finish line for a race where the area is only 10 – 20’ wide ?? Use PVC for the body of the arch and support it’s ends with columns built on conduit. Here again, using conduit for the poles will allow you to use a shorter piece of half-inch conduit stuffed into the top of the column and also into the bottom of the arch, creating a sturdy base for the arch. Be sure to duct tape these pieces together so that they can’t come apart if the wind comes up. By using electrical PVC, the gray colored PVC, I feel that I get a stronger frame for an arch. When using PVC cement to glue the lengths together, be sure to use the purple primer first. I use at least three quarter inch or larger PVC. Picture (1) shows an arch that was 26’ long affixed to the top of 10’ conduit poles. The wind came up, and it also rained on this arch, but all stood up well, and the client was very happy that we had talked them out of using helium for the arch.

FlyingColumns Conduit poles make for very sturdy columns, which can be topped with any kind of larger balloon – latex or foil (just be sure to helium fill this balloon so that it will tend to stay upright in the wind). But if you want movement in your columns, use PVC as the center of the column. This will allow it to wave about in the wind, creating a lot of movement while still remaining “organized” looking. I say organized, because a large grouping of helium balloons will get wrapped and tangled together, making for an unprofessional look. Picture (2) and (3) are examples of columns outdoors.

HotAirPool Walls can be built as a flat topiary sculpture, or by using SDS panels. Pictures (4) and (5) show two different uses of the topiary procedure. I like to use this method, for a couple of reasons. One is that it allows for many different shapes. This can be quite handy, as clients always appreciate having their odd shaped logo reproduced in an artistic way. This was particularly so for the client in picture (4). All the winners in this women’s triathlon had their pictures taken in front of the logo. And with the foamboard having been painted, the entire sculpture resisted both wind and rain on this day. Use guy wires of dacron line and tent stakes, if need be, to help hold up the sculpture. SDS panels are easy to rig, but when using latex balloons, I have had some actually blow out of the panels. I am sure there is a way to stop this from happening, I just haven’t figured it out.

The client for picture (5) needed an outdoor stage backdrop that would hold up in wind and rain. With the balloons tied to the topiary fencing with double knots, our only real concern was keeping the foamboard signage on the balloons. Again, the client was very satisfied with the end result. And they were willing to pay more for the decor, due to the harsh conditions of outdoor décor.

Tall helium columns work well outdoors if they are tethered with several feet of dacron line before the balloons are tied on. They will move around a lot, but if they are 20’ tall or more, they will usually tend to stand “up.” Picture (6) is an example of tall columns outdoors. A 3fter or larger balloon tied to the top is also a good practice – extra lift right at the top of the column.

PoolArchandFloats Table centerpieces must be weighted as if they were welded to the tabletop. We had occasion a few years ago to have foamboard castles on the tops of 31” Lomey pedestal centerpieces. Each centerpiece had a wet half brick of Oasis foam in the bottom for the weight. We had tested with fans and even set a centerpiece outside to make sure we had everything correct. But by the time the reception started, we had taken the centerpieces completely apart and taped and glued only the top portion of the centerpieces (the castles) to the bottoms of upside down dinner plates. This was quite embarrassing. But the bride understood, as we had warned her repeatedly of the chances that this could happen.

If latex balloons get wet outdoors, they will be OK, so long as they stay wet. Wetness can come from dew (condensation), rain, errant irrigation, etc. Setting out your décor during nighttime hours will allow condensation to collect on the balloons. If they then have a chance to dry, they will many times stick together as tightly as if glued together. This is still OK, unless the sun comes out and heats them up. If two adjacent balloons that are stuck together expand in the heat at a different rate, one of the balloons will probably break. And if it happens to one balloon, it will happen to many others. If you have time to wipe a balloon shine product between each balloon, you can usually get around this problem. A year and a half ago here in Portland, we had three columns outdoors for five days with none of the above problems – it rained and stayed wet the entire time. (Balloons do tend to hold water between themselve’s quite well, so if it has rained on your arch and you happen to shake it, look out for the shower).

Pool décor can be quite satisfying for the client. Clear water-balloons tied in the middle of balloon rosettes will keep them on the pool surface. Framed arches can be placed across backyard pools with great effect. Picture (7) is a hot air balloon tied at the very bottom of the basket to the styrafoam float and then tied to the sides of the pool. This allowed the 4ft balloon to wave about without pulling the entire basket into the water. Once again, large balloons work well outdoors. I can also envision a pool “blanket” of air filled Link o Loons tied together in both directions (be careful about the liability of someone falling under it, though). For added strength, tie the tops of arches to balconies, trees and other solid points to keep them from being blown over into the water. Picture (8) has a framed arch that was anchored to the diving board and a deck on the house behind the cameraperson.

ShortOutdoorColumns I could go on forever about how to work with balloons outdoors. But suffice it to say that using common sense will help you design décor that is more durable. But at the same time, the client needs to understand that they are asking you to work in extremely harsh conditions, for balloons. Therefore, you will be providing them with a superior product that will involve more planning and work to execute. This will also entail a larger budget on their part.

Don’t be afraid to work outdoors, just remember that the conditions will be more severe than indoors. Think of the chance to mix all the wonderful color that balloons provide, with the natural colors of the outdoors. All in a space that may have fewer restrictions…

See you next time…

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