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Balloon Sculptor

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Take one long skinny balloon. With a few quick twists of your hands, you can create a work of art -- or at least an interesting party novelty. Given more than one balloon, you can produce a monument of creativity ranging from a party animal to a truly monumental wedding arch.

You coveted them at the circus when you were a kid. You marveled at them in the movie Patch Adams. What are they? They are balloon sculptures.

Balloon sculptors, sometimes called balloon twisters, take balloons in a variety of shapes and sizes -- from long, skinny tubes to small, round spheres -- and create a myriad of animals, mythical creatures and toys in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they even create balloon toys within balloon toys.

"It certainly makes you more fun at a party," says Wendy Warwick.

"I perform at festivals, birthday parties, corporate parties, trade shows, street corners, rock concerts, airports, [and] schools," says Larry Moss. He is a balloon twister from Rochester, New York. "Any place there are people."

Balloon "Ben" is ready to hit the slopes.
Courtesy of: Larry Moss and Balloon HQ

"I make balloons at the parties of teenagers, adults and kids," says David Graves of Washington, District of Columbia. Some twisters even combine their balloon creations with a magic act, comedy routine or clown costume.

Balloon sculpting has a long history that can be traced back to the Aztecs, according to a book by Jean Merlin. However, it was not until the advent of rubber that balloons intended for modeling were manufactured.

The art of twisting and sculpturing balloons began sometime around 1920, but did not become popular until the creation of the skinny balloons after the Second World War, according to a preface written by John Shirley appearing in a book by Roger Siegel.

"Up until about 10 years ago, twisting was really about making dogs and other simple critters," Moss says. "The art form really took off around 1992 or so when a lot of us that were interested found each other and started to really be able to exchange ideas."

"With the advent of computer word processors and the Web in the last five years, the industry has taken off," Graves says. "The public became more aware with the movies that had the balloons in them."

No one knows for sure how many balloon sculptors there are, but everyone agrees the art form is growing at a tremendous pace.

"Balloon HQ has basically become the heart of an organization for balloon artists," says Moss, who organized BHQ. "We have about 1,200 members on the mailing lists, with thousands of other people that visit the site on a daily basis."

"It is growing steadily in popularity," Warwick says. "Any time we have a class on balloon twisting, it's well attended and thoroughly enjoyed. I know a number of people, my husband included, who like to twist just for fun."

Getting Started

It doesn't take much to get started twisting. You only need a few basic pieces of equipment.

"Making the basic dog won't take more than a few minutes to master," Moss says. "After that, it depends where you want to go. In an afternoon of twisting, anyone can pick up a handful of neat stuff."

"I started with a book and a bag of balloons," Graves says. "The funny part is, you don't even need the books anymore. Balloon HQ has all the design information to get started.

"Today, a connection to the Web and a bag of balloons will get you started. To get really good, you need the Web, books and videos. Everything helps."

"As hobbies go, it's fairly inexpensive," Moss says. "You can get a bag of 100 balloons for $8."

However, Moss recommends investing in some basic equipment. "Anyone can and should use a pump," Moss says. "I can blow up balloons by mouth. For years that's the only way I inflated balloons, but frankly, now I don't think it's worth the potential health problems from blowing wrong."

If your budget is tight, Moss recommends using a bicycle pump. Many beginner kits include a book, balloons and pump for $20 or less.

Moss says there aren't many physical limitations for balloon twisting either. "Two hands are certainly useful, but I have made a basic dog with only one hand and I've taught people that were missing fingers," he says.

And you may find your hobby can lead to cash. "There's money to be made if you want to twist professionally," Warwick says.

"Finding jobs is pretty much an individual thing," Moss says. "You need to promote yourself as an entertainer and artist in all the ways artists have been doing it for years. You need to find ways of getting your artwork seen."


Captain Visual's Big Book of Balloon Ar,t
by  Captain Visual
Twisting History: Lessons in Balloon Sculpting,
by  Larry Moss


Balloon HQ
Info on suppliers, equipment, and resources

T. Myers Magic Inc.
Balloon twister Tom Myers offers balloon twisting supplies

A Balloon Zoo
Information on performers and gifts

Qualatex Balloon Network
Offers continuing balloon education

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