Blowing up in more ways than one.
Jihan Zencirli, the creative genius turned balloon boss @geronimoballons, behind the colorful art installations that billow up buildings and blow up your Instagram feed, found out she was good at balloons in 2011.
A “tad lonely child” Jihan says that she spent a majority of her youth on the floor next to her bed, with a pen, journal, magazines, and three-ring binders equipped with plastic sleeves. “I spent hours pulling out articles and images,” she shares, “filing them into the binder and making lists and detailed notes of the things I wanted to do in my life, and the specific year I wanted to achieve them by.”
It was this early act of planning and dreaming that set her in motion. “I never made the goal of being a balloon artist,” she says. “But I did plan and yearn and dream for an adult life of travel, red shoes, late bedtimes, being independent, making a living by using my hands to create, and,” she adds, “dating Jimmy Fallon.”
The artist acknowledges herself as her biggest challenge, in part stiffened by the need to plan. And like the rest of us she's not “above saying in bed, trolling the internet to leave snarky comments about past purchases on Amazon when I’m down in the dumps.”
Her first business failure came young. At 10 the budding entrepreneur went to Tokyo for the summer and attempted to sell origami tulips door-to-door. “It was perhaps my most useful life experience of humbly putting myself out into the world and waiting to see if the world smiled back.” They may not have smiled then, but her 80k followers on Instagram are certainly smiling now. They smile at her work, which needs to be seen to be believed, and her all caps captions that have little to do with the photo, but everything to do with being human. It's the perfect presentation juxtaposition: here is a magical work that transports your imagination and here is this small, but meaningful fact about me. "WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MOTHER:" she wrote on January 3rd, "DECEMBER 2000, READING MY JOURNAL AND FINDING OUT THAT MY SECRET BF TYLER CHRISTIANSEN SQUEEZED ONE OF MY BOOBS."
Her work also nabbed the attention of one particularly smiley social presence.
In 2011, Joy Cho of Oh Joy! blew up her balloon spot, sharing an image of Jihan’s work with her followers. Jihan calls it “a bit of luck.” a bit of an understatement. “A yo-yo designer and creative director” until that point, Jihan had been steadily creating for decades. The helium hasn't gone to her head. "Overnight," she says, "I had a PayPal account of $30k from people who had seen the images, traveled to my website and clicked 'buy now.'" It was ready, set, Geronimo.
She often falls asleep in her day’s clothes, “sometimes I don’t even take off my shoes,” she says, joking it might be her secret to success. Actually, “yes,” she decides, “I’m going to swear by it.” This lack of habit or ritual, though at variance with the planner in her (in both the binder and balloon sense), is in harmony with the side of her that knows reinvention is an important part of her path. “It’s natural to need change,” she says, “and it’s healthy to create endings.”
Some of those plans include buying back her great-grandparents’ home in Seattle, renovating it “to look identical to how it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s with shag carpet and green walls.” Traveling through Nigeria to “study the new generation of musicians influenced by afrobeat, afro juju and yo-pop, waka.” Acquiring the aforementioned red shoes also remains a priority. Whether she’ll sleep with them on remains as up in the air as her creations.
She finds time to head to Korean Spa and “periodically recalibrate as needed,” having learned that the trick to being a good planner means learning to “sit back and enjoy watching as it all plays out.” That includes “being at peace with with myself in every aspect, including the most vulnerable and taboo— which is being naked.” (See above note about Korean Spa.) “Nakedness is a metaphor for me,” the artist shares, “it’s about feeling no need to hide.” It’s the kind of exposure she used to hide from, now feeling like “I’m at the end of a 31 year yawn, and am relaxed and at peace with everything in myself, imperfect as it is.”
And while we love the magic she creates, the fancy it inspires, how far and away and up she can take us, this might be our favorite thing about her: “In the car and shower, I practice my impersonations. If I had more time, I'd sit in front of a mirror working out all four characters of a 1990s Ovaltine commercial, perfecting each facial movement and expression.”
Arianna Schioldager is Editor-in-Chief at Create & Cultivate. You can follow her @ariannawrotethis.
Jihan AKA GERONIMO will be joining us in her hometown of Seattle for Create & Cultivate Seattle on September 9th. Nab a ticket now, before they sell out (they always do).