Blimpus is born

By HermineBloom

Local graphic designers Mike Serafin and Tony Ruth received an inflatable mannequin in the shape of a torso in the mail almost two years ago. Ruth explained that mannequins are generally used to photograph products. Described as a “freakish Chicken McNugget” shape, this particular inflatable mannequin was designed for undergarments but ended up serving as the main inspiration for a do-it-yourself graphic design project called “Blimpus.”

A vinyl inflatable canvas with two feet resembling a Pacman is what the pair now calls a Blimpus, which turned into an art project requiring funding. The objective of the “Blimpus” project is to either buy a blank Blimpus to customize using paint or pens or a fully printed character Blimpus that Ruth and Serafin have designed. The 3-D canvas is easily deflated and stands 26 inches tall—“the ideal height for something is when you can reach down and scratch it on the head,” they agreed, adding they’re dog owners.

Using, a Web platform for creative project funding, Ruth and Serafin pledged $7,500 by March 30 and surpassed their goal with $10,887.

“We’d like to put something out on the market for people who are into do-it-yourself art and T-shirt art who would want something that would be able to ship easily and cheaply to their house and turn into a 3-D product,” said Serafin, who works with Ruth as a graphic designer at design studio Vessel.

With the money they’ve raised, they were able to order 500 Blimpus inflatable canvases and ship them to their backers after developing prototypes with their California-based manufacturer, Inflatables 2000. Serafin interned with a toy design company and has background in constructing inflatable furniture, which is why he knew who to approach to mass produce the canvases,he said.

According to Ruth, the overwhelming response they received is in part due to the project’s versatility and inherent charm.

“There are a lot of designs we work on that are esoteric that are better for more of a design crowd, but we’re hitting more of a middle ground with the initial launch,” Ruth said. “[Blimpus] can appeal to design geeks, character lovers and even kids.”

The Designer Edition Character Blimpus is currently available in four characters: cyclops, owl, yeti and ninja. But the entry-level Blimpus, which the buyer can customize using markers, tape, spray paint, screen printing or anything else, according to their page, allows for a more do-it-yourself approach. Serafin and Ruth have found success because they provide the option to buy an already printed vinyl toy or let you make one from scratch, said backer and fellow designer Craighton Berman.

“I love the idea that people can engage with this project on a whole bunch of different levels—to doing it yourself to the curating of an artist-created piece,” said Berman, 31, who works as a designer, illustrator and a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The pair said they exceeded their goal because of the exposure on design blogs, like Core 77, and being featured on Kickstarter’s featured

project email.

“It seems like if you get the idea out on one blog and people dig it, it kind of explodes,” Serafin said.

After the backers receive their canvases, whether colored, blank or designed, the future of the “Blimpus” project has no limitations, and Serafin and Ruth are looking to expand. A photoblog, where people post pictures of their inflatable canvases in different cities, such as on park benches or near monuments, is an idea they’ve been toying with.

“We had people contact us through the Kickstarter page who wanted to get them for trips they were taking,” Serafin said. “They liked the idea of taking photos with them everywhere they went and then deflating them because they’re easy to travel with.”

By encouraging local designers to make characters and potentially hosting a gallery show, they can collaborate with artists using a range of mediums. If they gain commercial success, Ruth said they’d love for it to be profitable enough to pay for gallery events and independent art.

Berman, who backed the project and received an owl Blimpus, said he’s saving it for his 2-month-old child, expecting him to enjoy playing with it when he gets a

little older.

“The Blimpus could be so many things,” Berman said. “You couldn’t help but be sucked into their imagination. You almost create these stories in your head for what these characters are doing, and the storytelling is a huge part of their success. But first and foremost, it’s a cool idea; it’s an inflatable vinyl toy. It takes the whole vinyl toy trend and creates a new [genre] I’ve never seen before.”

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