Clown Tutorial – balloon twisting, part 2
Welcome back! We’re now at the point where the rubber meets the road (pun intended), and start learning how to actually twist balloons. Actually, it’s the latex meeting the road, not the rubber, since the balloons we’ll be using are made of latex — this is what makes them more malleable, and able to survive being ‘twisted.’ Having gotten that tidbit out of the way, we’ll need the following to begin with:
- Balloon animals — you can pick up bags of these at most party stores, mail order (I’ll list dealers at the end of the article), or even on occasion at the supermarket check-out. I strongly recommend using Qualatex balloons — they’re the name in balloons, and make a good product. They come in various sizes (we’ll explain some of them shortly) — you want to start with 260’s.
- Balloon pump — you will eventually want to learn to inflate these by mouth (it draws attention, and it’s virtually expected of you — you don’t have to inflate every balloon, or even the majority of them by lung power, but it helps to silence the inevitable “you’re cheating!” comment), but we’ll start simply, and get a basic balloon pump. I bought a simple one for $5.00 several years ago, and it’s still working well.
- Patience — your first several balloons may not look quite right; that’s why we’re not practicing in public. Your creations will pop at first — the good news is that you will suffer from “pop art” less and less as time goes on, as you continue practicing.
We’re going to proceed and twist a simple figure — that perennial favorite, the dog. Next time, we’ll talk about the dog, and how to use some simple techniques to create a variety of other figures from Rover. First, though, we need to make the basic dog.
Start by taking the opening of the balloon (a 260 — named that because the balloon, if fully inflated, which we’re not going to do, would have a diameter of 2″ and a length of 60″ — in practicality, that varies somewhat depending on the color and manufacturer), and put the tip of it over the business end of your balloon pump. Hold the balloon in place on the pump (otherwise it will ‘pop off’ as soon as you start pumping — which makes a nice part of a clowning routine later), and pump up and down once (one stroke). As you do this, air will flood into the balloon, and start to inflate it. Once you stop, the air flows back out (again, if done on purpose, can be done for clowning). So, the solution is to pump several strokes, until the balloon is inflated to the length you want. We don’t want to fully inflate the balloon!
Pump until you have an uninflated “tail” of about six inches. Don’t get hung up on the exact length; I’m not one of those people who can measure by sight, so I tend to measure lengths by how many “fingers” long something is — anyway, once you have a tail six inches long, pull the balloon off the pump, pinching the end as you do so the air doesn’t rush out (again, intentionally done for a clowning routine). Tie it the way you would tie a normal balloon (there are actually various gadgets available to tie, or help tie, balloons — we’ll try to introduce them later). We now have an inflated balloon, with an uninflated tail. Now comes the magic, as we transform this creature into a dog 🙂
I always tell people that, if you can count to three, you can twist a dog. Starting at the fully-inflated end, set off several inches (this is for the dog’s nose), and you’re about to do your first balloon twist. As a right-handed person, I hold the ‘nose’ stationary in my left hand, and twist the balloon several times with my right. (If you’re left-handed, use opposite hands, if that’s how you’re comfortable). Don’t be shy — it won’t pop when you twist it. Don’t do what I did — immediately after twisting it, I was so happy that I released with both hands, and it unravelled 😮
Next, we’re going to ‘twist’ the dog’s ears. Hold the ‘joint’ where you just twisted (so you hold it in place, and it doesn’t unravel on you), space out as much as you want for the ears (2 inches roughly), and twist again — that’s #2, if you’re counting. In the same way, we need another ‘bubble’ of the same length (matching ear). Push the balloon further into your left hand (holding both joins), and make your third twist — we’re almost done!
(important note: you will want to ‘squeeze‘ each bubble before you twist it — this moves the ear down into the uninflated 6 inch ‘tail’ that we left, and makes each bubble less ‘tight’ — and therefore, less likely to pop, which is a Good Thing 🙂
The question comes up, of course — will I be holding this my entire life? No; don’t be silly. Here’s where we ‘lock’ those bubbles in place, so you can continue to have a life. Fold both balloon ‘ears’ together so you’re holding them both in your right hand, and your balloon’s ‘nose’ in your left, and twist your right hand. You’re now ‘locking’ those twists together. Twist it several times so they don’t untwist themselves. Admire your handiwork — you now have a dog’s head on a stick!
Remember how we only need to count to three? That’s because we now repeat the process for the next 3 pieces (neck & front legs), and the final 3 pieces (body & back legs), leaving only the tail.
Whew! Take a deep breath, relax, and congratulate yourself, even if the proportions of your dog aren’t perfect. Feel free to experiment, trying different lengths, etc. As I’ve said several times thus far, practise makes perfect — and gets you used to those annoying popping sounds.
Next time, we’ll actually begin inflating and twisting simple balloon animals, learn why the dog is so popular, and how to be a “twisted” individual. See you then!
p.s. Before I forget, Drawings provided and copyrighted by “A Balloon Zoo” 1603 Bradley Ave., Rockville, MD 20851 — done by David Graves, to whom I am indebted (since my drawing skills are only equalled by my knowledge of warp drive mechanics)
p.p.s. Don’t forget, we’re only giving an overview here — there’s an enormous wealth of balloon twisting information online at BalloonHQ.com — a site I strongly recommend!
Bibliography for twisting balloon animals
- Balloon Animals/Book With Pump and Balloons by Aaron Hsu-Flanders
- Captain Visual’s Big Book of Balloon Art! by “Captain Visual”
- Creative Clowning by Bruce Fife, Tony Blanco, Steve Kissell, Bruce Johnson, Ralph Dewey, Hal Diamond, Jack Wiley, Gene Lee (or order it used from Half.com)
- Dewey’s Amusing Rubber Antics by Ralph Dewey
- Dewey’s Balloon and Clown Notebook by Ralph Dewey
- Dewey’s Basic Balloon Sculpturing Course by Ralph Dewey
- Dewey’s Gospel Balloon Routines/No 1 by Ralph Dewey
- Dewey’s Gospel Balloon Routines/No 2 by Ralph Dewey
- Dewey’s Gospel Balloon Routines/No 3 by Ralph Dewey
- How to Be a Compleat Clown by Toby Sanders