One of ICC’s most unique attendants, balloon artist Victor Forja told ICC a bit about what’s involved in making balloon art a career.
What path did your career take?
I am a journalist, that’s what I studied in Seville. When I was in college, I realised I did not really want to do it, in Spain it’s not about being the best in your career, it’s about how many people you know in order to get a paid position. I wasn’t going to do that so I looked at other ways of earning a living. I worked as a resort entertainer with tourists in the Canary Islands, Majorca and others for three years. That was a great opportunity for me to practice languages, especially English and also a great way to get to work with children which is what I enjoy. One of the things I learned to do while I was there was to make balloons.
Then I realised that even though it was a nice career, I didn’t want to continue it because it was very draining. Every week, there would be new people and you would have to be partying with them all the time, and then when they were gone, more new people would arrive and you’d have to start all over again. I was more living to work than working to live.
When I finished that, I went on a trip around Europe to experience different cultures and places. In 2001, somebody recommended Ireland to me, saying that it had a lot of employment opportunities, so I came to Cork. At the beginning, I did a Saturday-only course in journalism which allowed me to work in a call centre Monday to Friday. Sundays, I would make balloons in the street. Then, people started calling me asking me if I did parties. That gave me a thought, maybe I should do this. Nobody else was doing this at the time. Eventually I quit my job and started doing this full time and I’ve been going ever since!
How many days a week would you work?
In the summer, I might work five or six days a week, in the winter it’s 2 or 3. I usually only do street performing when I haven’t a party or anything. For example, I could have a party for 2 to 3 hours and be very busy, but then I’m finished for the day!
Sounds like a nice lifestyle!
When you’re working in the street, you’re telling people what you do, handing out business cards, and letting people see what you do so they can judge for themselves whether you’re worth your fee or not.
How did you learn about balloon art?
I learned while working at the resorts, but I also learned through books. I had maybe 30 or 40 figures in my repertoire when I came to Ireland. At the time when I left my job at the call centre, I went to a convention in Germany and that really opened my eyes because all the best balloon artists in Europe were there and I was amazed. That was the push that I needed in order to make it a full time job. If I hadn’t gone there, I would have maybe just had it as a hobby.
Have you plans for the future?
I’m happy with where I am, it’s been very successful. I have a house which I paid for with this job. Besides my job, my main passion in life is travelling, I always try to go at least once or twice a year to a place that I’ve never been before. What I like to do, is to make balloons while travelling. For example, I worked in Norway for a month and now I can speak some Norwegian. When I go to these places for work, it motivates me to learn the language.
What countries has your work taken you to?
I travel in Europe a lot but I have also gone to South America. I’m planning to go to Australia next year for a couple of months but it will depend on work. In Ireland, there is a festival called city spectacular in Cork and Dublin and in August I always go to the Fleadh, this year it will be in Sligo.
Do you always work as an individual or as part of a group as well?
I work with other people as well, it attracts a bigger crowd. You need to share your knowledge with other people and that way you get better. I work a lot with a guy from Newcastle and it is a way for me to interact more with the audience if I’m slagging him off and things.
What are the most popular figures you get asked to make?
A couple of years ago Minions became very popular so I had to learn how to make those. Last year it was Frozen and at the moment, Baymax from Big Hero 6 is very popular. You have to find the balance between making something that looks realistic, and making something that you can do quickly.
What are some of the high and low points?
My only bad experiences have to do with unruly children or unruly parents but nothing that can’t be fixed with a bit of discipline. As to good experiences, last week, there was a little two-year old girl who came up to me in the street. I had made a balloon for her last summer when she was really tiny and she remembered me. I made her a big Elmo, and the way she held it was so cute, I love my job because you make people happy. I work in a pub as well and sometimes people ask me to make something as a challenge and when I do, they are very impressed.
What’s your involvement with ICC?
I started with them when the group began four or five years ago. I travel a lot so I’m not there all the time but at the beginning, I helped a bit as well, like at the very first event. Everyone was involved one way or another at that time, and then they may have left the country. I’m really looking forward to the event this week because it will give me a chance to reconnect.
What do you find good about ICC?
I think it’s a great way to get people together. People often make distinctions between each other, separating themselves from someone else because they come from a certain nationality or place. This meeting is about bringing people from all sorts of backgrounds. The fact that you want to learn other languages and ways of living is a great reason to get people together. For example, certain words in another language have a connotation that you don’t have in your language. In German, the word for debt and the word for guilt is the same. What does that tell you? You are guilty if you don’t pay your debts!
What languages do you speak?
I speak Spanish, Italian, German and English fluently and I can speak a little bit of Norwegian. I studied English in University, but it became a lot better when I started working in Cork.
What kind of community of balloon artists is there?
There are several facebook groups such as Balloon Art Org and Balloon Central. People post their creations. There are a lot of people who are happy to share their talents. Myself, I have recorded a DVD; next step is to add subtitles so I can market it abroad.
What’s the most difficult or ambitious thing you made?
A few years ago, I made a model of the Empire State building, it was about 2 metres high and it took me about five hours to do.
Have you any advice or mantra that you live by?
A lifestyle change could come at a most unexpected moment; you just have to be aware otherwise it could pass you by. When you are uncertain about what to do, I know a lot of people who made a wrong choice early in their careers and they stayed with it and they have had miserable lives as a result. What I would say is, you never know what is around the corner and what could be your driving force. Find something that you like, try to sell the idea to other people, you want to be able to make a living out of it, and once you do it, stick with it. That will eventually make you happy and successful.
You will be able to see Victor making his balloon magic in Cork city as part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations so keep an eye out for him! He’ll most likely be found outside of Electric Bar in South Mall/Grand Parade.
To contact Victor or to have a look at some of his work, click here