Before Jihan Zencirli made a name for herself in the art world designing colorful balloon installations, she was "failing and flailing," she tells us. It took quitting her job, moving to Los Angeles, and taking a chance on a then-unheard-of career to find her way — and become one of the most in-demand women for celebrity events. Besides all her little eccentricities, it’s Zencirli’s focus on the impact of her projects, rather than the aesthetic, that makes her and her work significant. "While something I create may only last for three days, it's worth every second if even one person is moved by it," she says — a sentiment that’s at the core of everything she does.
Intrigued, we teamed up with Sam Edelman to follow Zencirli around L.A. for a day, getting the scoop on her creative process and watching her one-of-a-kind installations come to life. Check her out in action, and find out how she turned a passion project into a full-time gig, the unexpected ways she measures success, and her take on why even adults are infatuated with balloons, straight ahead.
What led you on the path to becoming a balloon artist?
"Before I was working with balloons, I was failing and flailing; I was looking around to find a place to belong. In the final year of my grandmother's life, she inspired me to do anything and everything. She had these little quips, like, 'How are you celebrating the day today, Jihan?' I took that question quite literally, and I started making balloons with these paper and fabric tassels to deliver to friends as surprises. This creative exercise was well received and really boosted my creative confidence."
So that encouraged you to pursue it as a full-time gig?
"Yes. After she passed, I felt this urgency to move — to get serious about making my own life. I moved to L.A. on a whim, and within a week of arriving, I had hundreds of orders for my balloon designs. Back then I would drive around delivering balloons to celebrities and to grandchildren, lovers, best friends — mostly for birthdays. For a really nosey person like me, it was the best job in the world, as I was thrust into these family and relationship dynamics that were fascinating."
Today, you're an established artist creating balloon installations for some of the biggest events — parties, weddings, concerts — around the globe. What's your goal with every project?
"My one central goal is to delight. The aesthetic of what I’m creating is less important and will change as I change. If someone is able to see my work and connect to it, feel drawn to it, deeper than the aesthetic, then I’m satisfied."
Why do you think adults get just as excited as kids do when they see your designs?
"It's simple. Balloons are part of every birthday and celebration memory. And as adults, we're always seeking feelings of nostalgia and moments of wonder that make us feel like children again."
You install balloon sculptures around your community. Is there any one thing you want the people to feel?
"I hope that after someone sees my art, their life is a little better. Even if they forget about it, I hope that the energy they feel when they're close to it will make them curious or hungry or excited — some feeling that activates 'doing.' I guess I just want to put a little beat in people's steps."
You've said that you see balloons as experiential, living art. Tell us more.
"We’re taught to make lasting investments — to buy things that only improve and mature and gain value over time. But my work is about being foolishly present. Balloons are only for a moment; they literally disappear and vanish. So while something I create may only last for three days, it's worth every second if even one person is moved by it."
How do you ensure you're always evolving?
"Surprisingly, I'm okay with my work not evolving for periods at a time. I can't always be climbing taller mountains — sometimes I'm just floating until I can't stand it anymore. At my core, I am a curious human who wants to have every experience in life, so when it's time to switch up my projects — for my art to be different, to nourish me in new ways, and to challenge me — I always know."
What does it feel like when you've finished a project?
"I never feel satisfied immediately after. It's when I return to a sculpture hours later and catch people walking by, laughing, smiling, and taking photos — everyone from kids and grannies to lovers and men in suits — that's when it happens."