Balloon modelling or balloon twisting is the shaping of special modelling balloons into almost any given shape, often a balloon animal. I have memories, as a child, that a clown would quickly twist a balloon into, usually, the shape of a poodle and give it to me. I always thought that was really cool.
As a grown-up, I have seen artists configuring them into hats for people. I was listening to a “No Such Thing as a Fish” podcast and they had a fact about large balloon modelling which got me interested again. They seem to have gotten a little more complex over time. The art of twisting and sculpturing balloons probably began sometime around 1920 but did not become popular until the advent of the skinny balloons after World War II.
These were made first in Japan and imported to the U.S. as a very low-priced novelty. Crude directions showed how to combine several balloons to make dogs, giraffes, hats, airplanes, etc. The quality of the rubber was so poor that only an expert could manage to sculpt it without breaking the balloons. Besides, the heavy rubber and small diameter made them very difficult to inflate.
However, millions of them were sold, mostly by mail-order, and U.S. balloon companies soon took the hint. They began to package their regular airship balloons as balloon animal kits. It took three short and one long balloon to make a balloon dog.
In the late 1950s, several companies began marketing the skinny-twister balloons which are used by most rubber sculptors today. The quality was much improved, the colors were bright, and almost anyone could inflate them. Best of all they were inexpensive when compared to regular-sized airship balloons. They made an excellent giveaway.
It was inevitable that the art of balloon sculpturing is revived. The new balloons were more than twenty times the diameter, in length. This enabled the sculptor to make many twists in one balloon. The inventor of the one balloon animal is unknown, but his origination opened the door to new art. In the 1975 book “Jolly the Clown” Art Petri credits “Herman Bonnert from Pennsylvania at a magician’s convention in 1939” as being the first balloon twister.
Some twisters inflate their balloons with their own lungs, and for many years this was a standard and necessary part of the act. However, many now use a pump of some sort, whether it is a hand pump, an electric pump plugged in or run by a battery pack, or a compressed gas tank containing air or nitrogen.
The National Association of Balloon Artists (NABA) was the brainchild of Debra Paulk. She published “How to Build a Better Balloon Business” and started the associated print publication Balloons Today magazine in March of 1986. Their first convention was in January of 1987 in Atlanta.
The previous Guinness record holder was Adam Lee of Washington, with a giant balloon spider. It took 2,975 balloons to make and was 42ft wide.
The newest holder is balloon artist, Jeremy Telford who spent four days creating a mammoth balloon sculpture, a giant pink dog of 8777 balloons, which is currently on display in Utah. The giant dog measures 65ft by 32ft.
The most common balloons used are “160” and “260” which means that they have 1 and 2 inches in diameter respectively and have 60 inches in length hence the names. They are also called “Twist and Shape Balloons”. There are also many other shapes that are used but these are the most common. Balloon models can be made from just one balloon but there are models that demand two or more.
Single balloon sculptures are basic four-legged animals (it’s a standard, most basic shape, like a dog), elephant, monkey, bear, helmet, sword, and Tommy gun among others. Some of the multi-balloon models are monkeys on a palm tree, flowers, octopus, penguin, and turtle. These balloons are too porous for helium and heavy so if an artist wants to make a flying sculpture he has to tie it to a standard helium balloon.