Meeting with Jimmy Kuehnle about Inflatables

This week Frances, Leah, and I met with local Cleveland artist Jimmy Kuehnle to learn more about making inflatables. Kuehnle is well known in the artist community for his large scale, colorful and humorous inflatable sculptures. We sat down with him at the Cleveland Institute of Art, my alma mater, to learn more about constructing inflatable structures. At our previous camps we have been using scotch tape and packing tape to hold the edges of our inflatables and we have been attaching them to the fans using a paper tube. Kuehnle talked to us about the importance of having a strong air current, which requires the use of the whole fan, in order to have the object inflate fully. Our paper tube did not cover the whole fan and was just not enough air for our students’ projects. This revelation also meant that we needed to make the inflatables much larger than previous camps had made. A larger scale for the student projects will be both easier to inflate and easier to manipulate. Moreover, larger basic shapes are a great base to build off of and create more complicated soft sculptures. Kuehnle showed us how to add smaller appendages to a large inflatable by taping it on the outside and making a hole from the inside of the base so that air will flow into the appendage.


Kuehnle also suggested using an iron to meld the plastic together for a stronger more reliable seam. He demonstrated this for us and it did work on our plastic material. Our only concern about the iron was that our age group was not old enough to handle a hot iron.

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During this meeting we also talked about limiting the types of objects the students should start with to basic 3D forms. We decided on a cube, a sphere (beach ball net), cone, cylinder, and pyramid. These shapes are the same basic forms used in the 3D modeling program, Tinkercad, we use later in the week ( It is important to stress that these basic forms are combined to make many of the everyday objects we interact with.

shape examples

With these newly learned techniques in hand, we changed our lesson plan and tried it with the North Olmsted camp this week. We brought one iron and made Leah in charge of ironing students’ projects. Since there was a wait for the iron, most groups chose to tape their projects, which also worked well. The large basic shapes proved successful for the group and many exciting sculptures were created! One group made a duck using cylinders for the body, another group made a clock tower out of a rectangular prism, and another group made a cupcake out of stacking different sizes of cylinders. Jimmy Kuehnle helped us out greatly and we are excited to use our new knowledge of inflatables for future camps!


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