Twenty years of twisting is a long time for any career and Barry’s Bay balloon artist, Terry Newcombe, has decided to retire. He told The Current he wants to train his replacement so that Valley kids of all ages will not lose out at future events when they can’t find Twisting Terry of Balloons Beyond Belief. (Above: Newcombe entertains at 2018 Tree of Lights in Barry’s Bay)
When asked how Newcombe got into balloon artistry, he said his balloon career began in 1999 with a birthday present from his wife: the Klutz Book of Ballooning. The book came with twenty balloons, a hand pump and instructions for five balloon creations. After half an hour, he’d used all twenty balloons and had sent his wife out for another hundred. (Thereafter she always complained of finding balloon bits under the sofa when cleaning.) Newcombe started up a steep learning curve for the first ten years – attending balloon conventions in the US and buying instruction videos. He met some amazing artists who held world records for their balloon skills. The most complicated creation he made was a scale model of a Formula One racing car for a Sierra Club charity auction. He produced it in six hours using 300 balloons. (Below: Terry “drives” the car, which hangs from shoulder straps as he walks.)
But for Newcombe, being a balloon artist was not about holding records. It was all about adding a new dimension to his volunteer work. He volunteered for many organizations in Ottawa: United Way, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Foster Parents, Children’s Aid Society. In recognition of his contributions, he received a number of awards, including Ottawa’s United Way Community Builder Award.
Valley people know Newcombe has continued his volunteering since moving to Barry’s Bay — every winter he travels to volunteer in a remote region of Latin America. He has learned the trick to getting his balloon supplies through Customs and Immigration: “Don’t speak Spanish,” he warns. “The Spanish word for ‘pump’ is ‘bomba’ so I always switch to English when explaining what is in my luggage.” But he found it is not so easy to explain balloon sculptures in remote regions. He recalls his first year in Ecuador when a “mum tried to hang up a balloon creation on a wall using a nail. She was very shocked when it burst.”
Terry Newcombe with a thank-you poster he received
Have you got what it takes?
Newcombe says his replacement needs to have a few special skills:
- You must be able to smile for three whole hours; otherwise, your “smile gets sore.”
- Some small muscle coordination is required so balloon art likely wouldn’t suit anyone with an upper limb condition; e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome.
- The ability to withstand the searing eyes of an impatient parent is essential. Balloon artists need to be speedy, but wait times of twenty minutes and up are common. Newcombe recommends setting expectations and says it’s helpful to work with a face painter.
- You should be able to parry a child’s complaint, “That’s not a real giraffe!” with a suitable reply: “No, it’s an imaginary giraffe, so use your imagination!”
- He is reassuring and says just about anyone can learn. He has taught local Cubs, Sparks and Brownies and says an hour is usually all it takes to make your first four or five balloon sculptures.
The cost of ballooning
Newcombe says costs are minimal:
- Hand pump $5
- Supply of 100 long balloons $6 (from party stores or online)
- Liability insurance: This is not always essential but some municipalities require it, so Newcombe officially became a clown by joining Clowns Canada. As a member, he could buy discounted liability insurance. He still keeps his Clown Card that reads “U R A Clown.”
- Police clearance for vulnerable sector: This is not necessary even if you decide to run a part-time business as a children’s entertainer. Newcombe says he is never alone with the kids, as there is always another adult present: an organizer or a parent/guardian if the venue is a private home.
Newcombe enjoys the unexpected response he gets from kids when creating something like a “pinball game” which combines a magic trick with balloon artistry. (He adds a ball inside the balloon after tying the knot in the balloon.) He says he loves it when kids wait in line, ask for a long balloon and then demand that he watch them make something from it. He says it wasn’t an option for him in 1999 but now kids enjoy watching how-to videos on YouTube.
Anyone who knows Newcombe will know that being green is important to him. In fact, our interview began in a somewhat unconventional way – up on the roof of his bungalow, as this reporter helped him to re-adjust the angle of his solar collector panels for the fall season. He hastens to point out that balloons are composed of 100 percent rubber with not much else. He has a special compost bin for broken balloons and says it “adds colour to my vegetable beds.”
Newcombe says being a balloon artist is a chance to learn a new skill, make some money, and have lots of fun. He will be offering a four-session training course in October to teach a maximum of five students, ages 16 to 70, everything they need to get started for just $20.00. To register call Terry Newcombe at 613.756.3344.