Jul 05

FANTASY FLOWERS – The Beginning Of “RIBS” For Balloon Sculpture



By Graham Rouse

Welcome to   Making It With Balloons Network (MIWB.net).
Resource Center for   “Making Things, Making Success  & Making A Difference With Balloons”™.

The Very Beginning

Fantasy Flowers are among the most popular variations of an inside-out approach to balloon sculpture.  That approach can be traced  back to at least the spring of 1983 in Raleigh, North Carolina in the United States of America.

Graham Rouse had recently bought a bag of those “twisty” balloons at the drug store around Valentine’s Day. The bag had a picture of a balloon dog and instructions for how to make one. Graham liked to make things, and he thought it would be fun to make a balloon dog and add it to a greeting card for a girl friend in who was sick. The project was a success, but for Graham it was only the beginning of a lifelong love of stretching latex and stretching people’s imaginations.

Shaping Balloons From Inside Out

Graham Rouse internal balloon structure flower design with water balloon for a base

It was not long after that first balloon dog that Graham was putting more than air into the balloons. He stretched them into all sorts of shapes and effects with water and wire and miscellaneous objects as well. He used up a closet full of those wire clothes hangers that used to be so popular before plastics took over the market.

Today, (2010) it seems that internal structures in balloons, and balloon flowers in particular, are not unusual. Wires inside flowers are used mostly to form flower petals, but Graham used them first for the flower stems. After all, if a flower petal deflates you usually have others. If the stem deflates without the internal structure, the whole flower goes down.



Graham Rouse fantasy flowers with internal balloon structures in the stems of the flowers

Also, the bulk of inflated petals filled out a flower arrangement quickly and nicely.  The problem was that the bulk of fully inflated balloon stems was too much for normal flower vases and bases.  Internal structuring allowed Graham to create thin, elegant flower stems with underinflated balloons.  This way more balloon flowers could go into a vase intended for live flowers.

These stems could be bent so as to postion the flowers as desired.  The reinforced stems held their places much longer, so the flowers stayed in their intended arrangement much longer.


Graham Rouse fanatasy flower petals with air volume inside


Another characteristic common to early Rouse Fantasy Flowers was that internally structured balloon elements retained some air volume.  Today, I do not see that so often.  Perhaps it is only a personal bias, but I prefer to see balloon flowers with the skin stretched tight and not wrinkled.  I also prefer to see air pressure inside the balloon.  That little bulge that says to me “balloon” instead of “plastic”.

Three Key Players

Graham was not the only one involved in the beginnings of internal balloon structures. There are two other people that were especially important to the first years of Fantasy Flowers.

Below is a chronology that lists some relevant activities of these three key players during the first seven and a half years of Fantasy Flowers.  They were Graham Rouse, Ken Fetgatter and Gary Wells.

1.    Graham Rouse,

who was first with Fantasy Flowers (1983), comes from the balloonist side of the aisle.  He coined the term “Fantasy Flowers”  in 1985.  He started in the balloon business with balloon flowers and continues to use and teach them.

2.    Ken Fetgatter,

who was probably first with Fantasy Flowers on the Florist side of the aisle (1986), has focused mainly on floral markets and is not generally known among balloonists.

3.    Gary Wells,

by virtue of

  • his early entry into Fantasy Flowers, (1986)
  • his crossover position as florist and balloonist,
  • the excellent quality of his work and
  • the promotion of Pioneer Balloon Company,

has the name and style most often associated with the term “Fantasy Flowers” among balloonists in the 1990’s.

In The First Seven And A Half Years

Rouse Fantasy Flower with structure insitd inflated stem of the flower

Here are my chronology notes:




—  Graham Rouse, then of ABC Creations in Raleigh, NC, made his first internally wire structured balloon flowers in February/March of 1983.




—  Graham Rouse published a series of greeting cards for balloon creations called the “Rainbow Collection”.  He coined the term  “Fantasy Flowers”  for balloon flowers in the story/greeting titled “A Cup Of Cheer”..

(1985 greeting from the Rouse Rainbow Collection)

The fragrance of color, the taste of a smile, the scent of laughter and the sound of joy fill the cups of cheer served in the Garden Of Friendship at The Other End Of The Rainbow.   Sometimes their colors seem to laugh out loud and their fragrance appears to dance among the sculptured forms of latex and air. Sometimes they smile in yellow or lavender or green. And, their joys echo like songs of pink or peach or pastel blue. Always they posses a touch of the magic that delivers good cheer to those open hearts who drink fully of their floral bouquet.

This bouquet of Fantasy Flowers is now sent to you all the way from The Other End OF The Rainbow, with loving wishes that its magic will enter your heart and add a Cup of Cheer to your days.

Copyright G. Rouse 1985

Graham Rouse Internaly Balloon Sculpture abstract design shown on the cover of Balloons Today magazine from August of 1987

Copyright G. Rouse 1985


—  Graham Rouse was guest instructor for a series of classes in the Art Department of Meredith College in Raleigh, NC where he taught internal structures in balloons in order to make abstract sculptures. This was followed by an artist’s reception and photo exhibit of his balloon work and then a public exhibit of student work from the classes.

—  Ken Fetgatter, AIFD (American Institute of Floral Designers), Bartlett, IL made his first internally structured balloon flowers.




Graham Rouse Internaly Balloon Sculpture abstract design shown on the cover of Balloons Today magazine from August of 1987


—  Graham Rouse Fantasy Flower was published in the May issue of Balloons Today  magazine.

—  Graham Rouse internally structured abstract balloon design was published on the cover of the August issue of Balloons Today magazine.

—  Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at Unique Concepts Balloon Convention.

—  Ken Fetgatter taught internal wire structuring to make balloon flowers at an AIFD convention.

—  Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at the West Coast Symposium of the National Association of Balloon Artists.

—  Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at  IBAC (known then as the Balloon and Singing Telegram Convention) and made abstract versions as awards given by the convention to competition winners.

—  Probably it was in this year that Gary Wells and Ken Fetgatter first shared ideas on internal structuring of balloons with each other.


—  Graham Rouse exhibited abstract, internally structured balloon sculptures along with glass sculptures in a local art gallery.

—  Graham Rouse had a three week, one man, public art gallery exhibit of balloon sculpture at the city art gallery in Rocky Mount, NC including internally structured balloon designs.

—  Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at the National Association of Balloon Artists Convention.

Invitation to Graham Rouse, one man exhibit of balloon sculptures at City of Rocky Mount, NC art gallery  for October of 1988


—  Graham Rouse taught internal structuring techniques at National Association of Balloon Artists Convention.

—  Gary Wells and Ken Fetgatter did a joint presentation on Fantasy Flowers at AIFD convention.

Balloons Today magazine article on Rouse internal balloon structures techniques




—  Balloons Today magazine published an article in August of 1990 confirming Graham Rouse as inventor of  internal structuring of  balloons and sharing his suggestions toward “perfecting”  the technique.



Going Forward

After these first seven and a half years of Fantasy Flowers, internally structured balloon designs by many artists began to show up in trade publications and balloon design competitions.   The techniques and diversity of uses for internal structuring of balloons have multiplied greatly in the ensuing years.

Here at “Making It with Balloons – Network”,  http://MIWB.net , we are dedicating one category (thread) of our blogs to this inside-out  approach to balloon sculpture.  We call it “RIBS”.


The name, “RIBS”, comes from two sources:

1.    “RIBS” is descriptive

of this approach.  Ribs in human beings and very many animals are internal structures that shape and support the outer skin and define the outer form around air chambers (the lungs).

2.    “RIBS” is also an acronym

for “Rouse Internal Balloon Structures”.  Graham Rouse is the one who invented this approach of using internal structures in balloons to create balloon sculptures.


Join In

We will be exploring the full range of RIBS in balloon business, balloon art and the balloon arts movement around the world. We look forward to having you with us and to having you contribute your comments, your knowledge, your skills and your pictures as well.

Please use the “Leave a Reply” area below to share your comments, questions, suggestions, etc.. 


 Other References

Here are links to other references for Fantasy Flowers and RIBS that may be of interest to you:

  • World’s First Fantasy Flowers is a post on Making It With Balloons Blog by the inventor of Fantasy Flowers.
  • Maybe “Blue Ice”   is here in Making It With Balloons Network and includes reflections on a RIBS balloon sculpture.
  • “Sphere Of Lites”  is here in Making It With Balloons Network and ponders this RIBS sculpture “Crystal Ball Revealing Who We Are”.
  • “Nite Lites”  is here in Making It With Balloons Network and shows off the very first RIBS “Lite Sculpture”.
  • “RIBS of Gold”  is here in Making It With Balloons Network and it shares musings on ancient rituals suggested by a RIBS sculpture today.


Thanks for reading/listening.  I am

Graham Rouse
Making It With Balloons Network
At http://miwb.net Your Resource Center For
“Making Things, Making Success & Making A Difference With Balloons”™.
© Graham Rouse 2010 



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  1. Lia Palka ★ GBAlmanac ★

    Thanks for sharing such a valuable information about the History of Fantasy Flowers. Now I have more respect than ever for Balloon “RIBS”! :-)

    Greetings from Brazil,
    Lia Palka ★ GBAlmanac ★

  2. Joette Giardina

    great to know the history!

  3. Costa Brazil

    Sensacional!!! Fantástico!!! É nessas horas, quando nos deparamos com histórias assim e apresentadas de maneira mais surpreendente ainda, em texto altamente bem redigido e com informações tão relevantes, que nos orgulhamos que fazer parte desta atividade deslumbrante. Documento essencial para qualquer profissional que se aperfeiçoa ao buscar aprendizagem e valoriza a arte com balões.

    Google Translation:
    Sensational! Fantastic! It is at these times, when we see stories like this and are presented in more surprising still, in a text written and highly relevant information so that we are proud to be part of this amazing activity. Essential document for any professional that improves learning by seeking and appreciates the art with balloons.

  4. Tonya McNeill

    That was a very enjoyable read, I’ve always wondered the history on Fantasy Flowers. Congratulations with all your successes, it is very beautiful work.


  5. Elaine Pettit

    I’ve been fasinated with fantasy flowers, so delicate looking.
    Wonderful to read the history.
    Thank you for taking the time to share.

  6. Judy Volkman

    Wow! I have always loved the Fantasy Flowers. You have come up with many creative designs that has changed how people work with balloons. Thank you!!

  7. Tammy Corzine

    What a great article! I always knew Graham Rouse was an innovator and leader in the balloon industry, but I had no idea the depth and reach of his art. Thank you for sharing this bit of history.

  8. Peggy Cooper

    I am always surprised when balloon pioneers and artists are mentioned and your name in not among them. I am amazed at your thinking outside the ‘box’ that creates such wonderful designs, that with a little training, others can recreate. It is the balloon artists that teach others that keeps the industry going. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Frany

    Amazing story! This shows how an artist should have a very deep passion of his craft. Thank you so much GR for sharing this story. I will share this knowledge to my Team.

  10. Mary Queen Rouse

    Graham DOES have an amazing balloon story/history. He has impacted the Balloon Industry greatly, but sadly, the publicity for his contributions and public acknowledgement of the same, have not been as great as his Art. I agree with Peggy on that one for sure. I am so happy he finally wrote the story of Fantasy Flowers for everyone to read and enjoy. I, for one, hope he will continue to share his amazing intellect and passion for his Balloon Art in his modest, very fair, and non-assuming way. I am privileged to see this genius at work on a daily basis. Graham is very special to me and to all of us in the Balloon Industry. We are ALL very lucky to have a true visionary among us – one who has willingly shared his best and who continues to do so on a daily basis.

  11. admin

    — Thanks! My great thanks to you all for your interest and your kind words.
    — I am so excited about the internet medium and about this forum at Making It With Balloons Network in particular.
    — Not all of my best thinking is decades old. In fact, some of the very best is quite new. And I look forward to sharing it with you here.
    — Also, right here, I want to share with you some of the enthusiasm and pride I take in what all of you are doing. It is such a thrill to wander around this virtual world and to see, to read and to hear what you are creating, what you are accomplishing and what you are doing to benefit those around you. I am really impressed!

  12. Bonnie Fisher

    I really enjoyed reading your article and learning about the history of Fantasy Flowers. Thank you for sharing and for continuing to offer so much of yourself to this wonderful industry.

  13. Vicky Kimble

    Graham, I am awed and amazed!!

    First of all, I always knew you were brilliant and an innovater in our industry, but the fact that I never knew you dabbled in distortion is, well, IRONIC!! You were doing all kinds of fun and creative things before I ever chopped, tweaked, mutilated or for that matter, even picked up a balloon!! LOL

    It’s really heartwarming to see the positive response within our industry to my Balloosion techniques and now, what I am sure will be an overwhelmingly positive response to R.I.B.S.

    The R.I.B.S. technique is brilliant…I can’t wait to see what people will come up with using this technique!! The idea of framework within an inflated sculpture opens up a world of possibilities…
    uh-oh…my mind is starting to reel…:-)

    What an inspirational article…thank you so much for sharing!!

  14. admin

    Thanks Bonnie and Vicky for adding your comments. I am so glad to see your positive responses.

    At one level I am glad, as I suppose nearly everyone would be, because those positive strokes feel good to my ego.

    At another level, I want to build up some credibility points. Because, over the months ahead I will be introducing new ideas that I believe can have just as far reaching impact on balloon art as the innovation of internal sructuring of balloons. I want you and others to be williing to pay serious attention then.

    Actually, I have already begun. Take a peek at http://miwb.net/blog/?p=1294 and http://miwb.net/blog/?p=1371 .

    The idea of pushing a balloon (or bubble) through a hole and using another balloon/s for an anchor with the anchoring connections separated, is about as simple and innocuous as sticking a piece of wire inside a balloon was 27 years ago. The implications are not obvious to someone of normal skill in our trade (otherwise I could not have gotten the patent). So, I expect it to take some credibility points to get people to pay attention and then considerable demonstration and persuasion for them to grasp just how powerful this concept is and all the wonderful things they can do with it; and do them more easily than many of the techniques they use now for much of their work.

    Stick around and we will see what happens with this one and then with the several others to follow.

  15. hotshot bald cop

    Thank you for a great post.

  16. Alma Vasquez

    this was great thanks =)

  17. mady chiappetta

    Grazie per avermi aperto la mia conoscenza, sulla nascita di questa tecnica da me tanto amata, grazie mister Rouse.

    Google Translation: Thanks for letting me open my knowledge of, the birth of this technique that I love so much, thank you Mr. Rouse

  18. Sharon Woolfolk

    I’ve taken classes from you Graham before in fantasy flowers and it was amazing! I really wish you would compile the designs in a book, I would be the first the purchase it!!!!!!!!

  19. bless ajero

    hi, balloon twisting is a hobby but your work interests me. how can I learn how to create these beautiful Fantasy Flowers.

  20. dothy papa

    I learned so much from this article. Great post


    […] Neither approach to making the overlay lines is patented even though Graham Rouse is the originator (1983) of the inside-out approach of “inserting structures inside balloons in order to shape them”. (You may learn more about this inside-out approach and the early work of Graham Rouse, Ken Fetgatter and Gary Wells in developing and promoting this approach in this article on Making It With Balloons Network: FANTASY FLOWERS – The Beginning Of “RIBS” For Balloon Sculpture […]

  2. Welcome To “JustRouseIt” Blog » JUST ROUSE IT

    […] Neither approach to making the overlay lines is patented even though Graham Rouse is the originator (1983) of the inside-out approach of “inserting structures inside balloons in order to shape them”. (You may learn more about this inside-out approach and the early work of Graham Rouse, Ken Fetgatter and Gary Wells in developing and promoting this approach in this article on Making It With Balloons Network: FANTASY FLOWERS – The Beginning Of “RIBS” For Balloon Sculpture […]

  3. “NITE-LITES” – “MadeWithBalloons” » ROUSEings

    […] of RIBS (and Fantasy Flowers) in this blog post on Making It With Balloons Network:  FANTASY FLOWERS – THE BEGINNING OF “RIBS” FOR BALLOON SCULPTURE. […]

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