When we pondered which of our lady friends has a talent for gift making and a singular knack for surprise and delight, Jihan Zencirli of Geronimo Balloons topped our list. Her giant balloon creations, once a staple of friends’ birthday parties, are now her full-time passion, bringing handcrafted whimsy to rooftop fêtes and weddings all over the Southland. On a given day, you can find Jihan trimming paper fringe in her downtown studio or making deliveries on her yellow moped, a candy-colored swirl of balloons in tow. We sat down with the Seattle native to talk world travel, clandestine balloonery and the art of giving.
Chalkboard: What are your favorite places to celebrate with friends?
JZ: The rooftop at my studio is a magical place that overlooks downtown L.A. and feels both secluded and in the middle of the hustle and bustle all at once. I have carpets and lanterns, globe lights and candles throughout, and it’s a wonderful place for parties and small gatherings. When I’m hungry, I have a favorite taco truck that opens after 9 p.m., and it always feels like a party! I love to go there for delicious mulitas de asada and sit on the curb with my friends to people-watch and talk about our busy days and the things that excite us. I’ve met many new friends at this taco truck, and it’s one of the happiest places to spend an evening.
Chalkboard: What inspires you most creatively?
JZ: Traveling. I first started traveling with my mother, a high school French teacher, when I was six years old. During our adventures spanning 49 U.S. states (I’m on my way, Alaska!) and more than 50 countries, I gained a deep love for people and new culture, experiencing celebrations, customs and everyday life in each new place. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve chosen to be in a business that is built on the celebrations of life. The designs for my balloons and installations are deeply influenced by things I’ve experienced around the world, from the textiles and colors in the souks of Morocco, to the decorations lining the streets of Indonesia.
Chalkboard: What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
JZ: My great-grandmother was my best friend and the inspiration for Geronimo, and when she passed away last year I inherited her craft supplies: pinking shears, paints and pastels galore, masking tape in 15 colors, and binders full of stencils, appliques and stickers. Most everything is dull, stale or unusable, but I keep them mixed in with my studio supplies, and I get so much joy from seeing them. My grandmother was a quiet woman who showed her love by making treats, cards and crafts for her family and friends. When I was young, I would be given a list of neighbors to walk little treat baskets to, and I remember standing very timidly on their doorstep waiting for them to answer. The delight on their faces when they realized it was something special made for them is something that I recall and treasure to this day.
Chalkboard: Where can we expect to see Geronimo Balloons out and about in 2012?
JZ: 2012 is pretty packed, and I’m already planning my nap schedule so I can keep up! Over the last six months, I’ve been working on a visual installation that I plan to debut this spring after procuring the final element while I’m traveling in India (Shh! That’s a hint!). My “Tuesday Creative Club” and I are working on some other fantastic events and visual installation projects. Also, I’m restoring a 1969 red Volkswagon Squareback that will serve as the official Geronimo vehicle — delivery to parties near you!
Chalkboard: We hear that you’re also planning a citywide balloon installation. Can we help?
JZ: Yes! My 499 Balloons Project will be held on a secret date, and it will only be a success with the help of volunteers. Send me an email with your contact information [firstname.lastname@example.org], and I will give you detailed instructions about six hours before the event. If you are a photographer, bring your camera. If you are a face-painter, bring your paint…a bagpiper, well… you get the idea. Bring your friends, your family, and plenty of energy so you can stay up late!