NBCLX has teamed up with artists from across the country to design new “I Voted” stickers for the 2020 election. The latest artist to participate is Shana Sharp, a Los Angeles-based balloon artist who calls herself a “professional happy spreader.”
Sharp talked to NBCLX’s Jeremy Berg about how she took balloon art from a hobby to a business, and about her inspiration for this project. By using hundreds of individual balloons to build her sculpture, Sharp said she wanted to send the message that every vote is important. More simply, she hopes that it “makes people smile.”
You can find her art on Instagram at @sharpballoons. To find and share a digital version of her balloon sculpture – and to find our entire collection of artist-created "I Voted" stickers – search “LXtion2020” on Giphy.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Sharp: Hi, my name is Shana Sharp and I'm a professional balloon artist.
Berg: How the heck did you become a balloon artist?
Sharp: I became a balloon artist about 15 years ago – I've been doing this a long time – and it started out as a hobby and it's just so much fun. And you get such positive feedback. And I kind of woke up and all of a sudden it's my career. So I must be doing something right.
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Berg: Why is balloon art? Why is this an art form?
Sharp: Why is anything an art form? Balloons are definitely an art form. What's the definition of art? It's creation. It's using your imagination and your hands and the tools and materials you have to bring something into existence that wasn't before to communicate an idea or an emotion or even just make someone smile at a birthday party. I don't think we need to get judgmental about what qualifies as art and what's, like, low art. I think that, you know, it's all it's all art, baby.
Berg: You mentioned conveying an idea through your art. And we asked you to reimagine the "I Voted" sticker. So tell me what your thought process was and what you ended up making.
Sharp: I really wanted to pay homage to the traditional wide oval sticker that's just so iconic. I was thinking, do I do an eagle? Do I do a hand in the air with a ballot? There's so many things I can representationally do. But I thought, what does voting mean to me? And to me, it's about every individual, every person having a voice. And even though that voice is small and it feels sometimes like you're drowned out by the sheer amount of people and voices yelling, everyone gets a vote. Everyone gets a voice. So the design I came up with, I wanted to keep all of the balloons the exact same size. So I made a bunch of very small balloons that individually are not that impressive… But you get enough of these together – and I believe I have over 400 of these – you can make this huge pallet. It's a mosaic. And each individual bubble, it's nothing, but when you combine all of these together, you... make something bigger that's greater than the sum of the parts. And I think that's what democracy means to me – without getting too highfalutin about it. And I also wanted to play with my medium. One of the strengths of balloons as a medium is the color. That's something that we're attracted to immediately, even as we're small children. And the colors that I can get by layering balloons within balloons, having a transparent shade or translucent shade over an opaque shade, or a shimmery pearlescent shade, gives me a lot of subtle varieties, dimensional color. So I just wanted there to be a lot of diversity in the balloons that are represented.
Berg: Walk me through the procedure. How long did this take you?
Sharp: This particular design, the process is a little tedious. I make each balloon the same size... I just sat there and inflated for hours, over 400 balloons to about two and a half inches diameter, and tied them together in the appropriate way, layered them together, used some fishing line – I'm a frequenter of my local fish and tackle shop on Main Street here – and just kind of assembled it all together. It's a bit of a struggle. The little balloons, [they’re] easy. But once you get something that's over five feet long from end to end, it gets a little unwieldy. But it's a lot of fun.
Berg: What are you going to do with this thing now?
Sharp: Honestly, what's going to happen is my son will destroy it over the next month. By the time official Election Day rolls around, this thing will be shrunk down and withered. But again, that's the beauty of balloons. I like that. People are like, aren't you bummed out when it pops or deflates and – you know, the thing about my art form is, by its nature, it's ephemeral. It's very in the moment. You make a thing, it's beautiful, it's shiny, and it has a lifespan.
Berg: Talk about what you do for business and how COVID is kind of throwing a curveball into how you operate.
Sharp: Well, I've been doing balloons and specifically event entertainment for 15 years, and that requires social gatherings. And so with responsible social distancing and all the protocols in place for 2020, my business has seen a shift… Almost at the very beginning in March, I kind of pivoted to a virtual presence. I've been doing live streaming balloon art by request, which has been super fun. I've been doing, you know, virtual parties, virtual events, a lot of corporate entertainment for employees who are staying home with their kids. So it's been interesting.
Berg: What's the weirdest, or your favorite balloon you've ever put together?
Sharp: That answer changes daily because, well, I'm doing live streaming three times a week. So every week I get new crazy things. The other week I had someone request a caricature of myself in the style of a Simpsons character. That was fun. We did Toonces the Cat Who Could Drive a Car from old school SNL. I did Regan from The Exorcist, complete with pea soup… I did an F-14 fighter jet in the style of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Berg: Have people been asking for Trumps and Bidens?
Sharp: Well, recently, I have been asked for a lot of Donald Trumps – that started more in the 2016 election cycle and had been solid up through all the live events. Biden hadn't ridden to maybe pop culture popularity until after lockdown. So I have not made a Biden yet. I would love to. I'm up to the challenge.
Berg: At the end of the day, when people... see your artwork, when they see this piece, what do you hope they get out of it?
Sharp: I hope it makes people smile. I feel like we could all use some smiles nowadays. And that used to be my job as a professional happy spreader. And now, you know, that's the nice thing about going virtual, though, is my smiles can spread further. I hope people look at it. I hope there's nostalgia. I hope everyone remembers, you know, that first election, 18 years old, you stick it on your shirt and walk out, kind of proud, hoping everyone asks you about it. I want to evoke those feelings of accomplishment, nostalgia, and again, just get people thinking about voting, how important the election is and how lucky we are to have a voice.