The allure of balloons

Feb 13, 2023

The allure of balloons

I have made people pretty happy. . . what kind of problems will be created from teddy bears, weiner dogs, flowers, and the like?
– Lorna Paris

Drawing Power

  • I travel extensively through the interior of Papua New Guinea visiting very small villages. Most of the people in these areas saw their first white man within the last 30 years! What an ‘ice-breaker’ balloon sculpting has been! I am received warmly and appear to be trusted instantly! Even the chiefs insist on the biggest, most colorful hats! I spend at least 3 – 5 hours at every village making hats and animals.Balloons have helped me to approach and speak with natives when traveling abroad. (Once I attracted a mob that was broken up by a man with a machine gun. That taught me not to get out the balloons unless I had the time and resources to make one for every kid there.)
  • The drawing power of balloons has always amazed me!

    Physical characteristics
    Latex balloons grow, shrink, and change shape almost as if they have life. Objects in nature aren’t a static size. Most of the man made objects we know of are a fixed size. A foil balloon looks to me like a bag. Even when full, it doesn’t look “right”. There are wrinkles in it. It doesn’t shrink when the gas leaves it. It just flattens. A latex balloon always looks like it’s the right size (as long as there’s some air in it). The latex stretches to adapt to its contents. A latex balloon is always smooth, no matter it’s size and shape. What other objects are that smooth *and* flexible (and smooth after being flexed)? Most importantly it looks so simple. (Paper is another item that seems so simple and basic to me that I’m fascinated by what can be done with it. Paper and latex even come from the same place… kind of.)

    To quote Devon Snyder
    “Nothing fills a space with shape and color quite like a balloon.” Or the Swedish fruit sculptor who said “It’s the roundness like that of the female form, that attracts people ….”

    Size to Weight
    A balloon is so light for its size that it seems to defy gravity. The larger the balloon or group of balloons the more amazing this effect becomes. A balloon’s air resistance and elastic skin add to it’s seemingly unnatural properties. When hit it does not go far and it nearly disappears when it breaks.

    Energy and Practicality
    Try telling a non-balloonists that an 11 inch round balloon, fully inflated, has just under 4 square feet of surface area! Then ask them if they know of any other decor medium that offers as much color intensity and visual energy and features as much surface area for so little money.

    Emotional connection
    Balloons are associated with good times. The more the merrier. They are commonly used by advertisers to symbolize fun.

    They are easy to break and require special care. Giving something personal attention makes it more valuable to the giver. Fragile also implies fleeting, A balloon by nature is not going to be around very long (or if it is, it will look a whole lot different than it did when first made). This is, from a marketing point of view, a great benefit because there is always product need. The twisted balloon adds even more to this fleeting product because you may be able to find a balloon quickly, but you cannot always find someone to twist it up for you.

    A balloon pop startles people. It can start your juices going to make for a moment of ‘fight or flee’ response.

  • I spent 10 years working at Soledad State Prison in California. I finally started a clown club called Clowns for Life whereby I trained a group of inmates to apply makeup, do balloon twisting, magic, etc to entertain at the visiting rooms. It went over so well eventually they got to do gigs on the streets for different groups. It amazed me to see these guys sitting on their bunk and trying to scheme up some new type of balloon instead of trying to find a way to harm their fellow inmates. Definitely had a positive effect in their life.
  • You are right about the balloons making great rewards. After each lesson I give a balloon to the students, and they love them. It is also a neat way to get rid of all my excess balloons I end up with around the house! Several of my students have even started twisting and bringing me balloons at the lessons!
  • I work as a substitute teacher in elementary grade schools. I always tell my classes that the three hardest working students, those who show the best effort, will get some kind of a balloon figure. It has been a godsend! Many times the teacher will leave me a note saying to watch out for Paul or Lisa because they are the worst of the bunch, or the toughest to keep quiet… but I have found that my reward system has made them the angels of the classroom. Oftentimes, Paul or Lisa gets 1st prize because they try so hard. In fact, the teachers will often ask the students which sub they want, and many times the kids will ask for the balloon man because they want to get that reward.
  • I’ve had teachers tell me they used twisted figures as awards for perfect scores in spelling and like that. A simple balloon figure can be a powerful incentive.
  • I am in the military and recently returned from Italy where I twisted for as many kiddos and adults as I could find. And I saw lots of tears flow, many of them mine as I realized that these darn balloons did something I was unable to; communicate. I found that a universal translator comes by the gross, along with an equal number of smiles!
  • Dr. Bruce writes: I couldn’t agree more with this. I had a similar experience in Kuwait City, everyone was kind of avoiding the big guy in the uniform, then I pulled out a 260 and was suddenly surrounded by kids, I knew about three words of Arabic and they knew no English, but a good time was had by all.
  • I know this is a “me to”, but I found the same in Germany, and Korea.. I speak some German, and picked up on Korean, but it was the “Visual” of the balloons that made the connection. A “picture” being worth a 1000 words is right on, only it’s a 3-D balloon “picture”. Can you see the wonder in the eyes of the children as you hand them their balloon? Are you moved to the verge of tears when a sweet kid runs back to give you a hug? Do you make a balloon, anyway, for a gentle child whose parents won’t or can’t chip in a buck? Can you see yourself ever getting tired of doing balloons? Are you in it only for the $$$$? The answers to these questions should tell you if you’ve made the wrong choice. I’ve done a lot worse for a lot less. My only wish is that I get to die with a 260Q in my hand. I hope my last breath, in this life, is drawn to inflate a balloon. On his tombstone it read, “He died with a balloon in his hand…a happy man.” I would do this for less $$$, but I’m glad that I don’t have to.
  • One of the greatest things I like about entertaining with balloons is that I am so busy enjoying myself and causing others to enjoy themselves that I always forget about any cares in the world.
  • I don’t think I could go to a party and not twist something… I think I could last a few minutes but the more I’d try to stop myself the more energy would build up until… finally… POP!!!
  • I had my dress rehearsal today with my second graders. We did the play, Harvey Potters Balloon Farm. They acted out the parts while I told the story. When it came time for the little girl to pick the balloons that were growing on the farm, the other children wouldn’t give them to her. *sigh* I’m glad it was just a rehearsal. I had to promise them I’d make them all balloons to take home after the cast party.
  • Ya know, sometimes you may only get to do one kind of balloon once in your life, and it will be worth it. The 3-year old birthday boy today insisted on a getting a seat belt balloon. So I did it. He had the brown strap, the waist belt, and the best part was he lifted his arms up in just the same motions like he was getting in a child’s seat. It was so cute!
  • Balloons convey a message of love from one person to another or a celebration in a large event.
  • Balloons have that magic of gravity defiance and have that unique ability to elicit and delight the child in us.
  • Twisters need to be aware of the powerful draw twisting balloons has. It is possible for a twister (or anyone) to be so into what s/he is doing that they are not aware of the effect they have around them. Problems twisters can cause include:

    Too many people, not sinus problems.

    Getting the twister stopped to keep the main event on schedule

    Distraction from the main event
    Don’t compete with Santa for a line, you might win. It’s better to work with Santa’s line, working the waiting line or making them something after they’ve seen Santa.

  • If the kids in your line are likely to take the balloons directly to the library, or a movie theater, or a magic show, or a play or anywhere someone is trying to control audience behavior you are probably making their job more difficult. Sometimes that’s just the way it is (life you know), but you do have the opportunity to see the problem coming and that’s an opportunity to figure out a solution.
  • I would never want to twist balloons for people going into the theater. It is common courtesy to the people on stage or watching the production/movie. As a magician I always twist AFTER my show. Why? Because I do not want the distraction of balloons popping during my show. I have told people if I think it is not an appropriate time for balloons and why I feel that way. Almost every time I am thanked for pointing this out and I’m hired for a different event.
  • We once did a surprise wedding proposal by floating a tethered 5-foot balloon with a banner hanging from it saying “Will You Marry Me Darlene?”, in front of the woman’s office building. (She was on the fifth floor!) The man had arranged to have one of the woman’s office mates to take her to the window at the appropriate time. Needless to say, it went over very, very well as all of the people the woman worked with saw how much the man loved her.

Intrinsic Value

  • The question of how much value you are adding to the balloon is an interesting one. It implies that you are adding value to the balloon, not the other way around. I think this is true as soon as the audience thinks they will get a balloon.It is a possession and instant gratification thing that is very strong. If they think they will get a balloon and don’t they are disappointed, no matter how entertaining the show is. In fact, if the audience has lined up for balloons, things that slow down the line become an irritation. Like taking a long time making something special for one person when 30 people are waiting or repeating bits that may have been funny the first time but this is the third time and they have been in line for 20 minutes and they are about to miss their bus. They want the balloon.
  • If an entertainer wants to use balloons as an entertainment the balloon should be used as a prop. Something that adds value to the entertainer. If he makes the mistake of giving a balloon out for no good reason he has crossed the line in the mind of the audience and they will start to line up for their balloon. An entertainer needs to be very careful of how he uses balloons and keep in mind the difference between a prop and a handout.
  • Personally, my thoughts about ballooning are that if you bring a smile to the eyes of the people you serve, you have served your purpose. Be it by mouth or by pump, the main thing should always be that mutual exchange I’ve heard Ralph Dewey frame so well. The joy one gets, when the eyes of the child LITERALLY seem to glow with wonder, cannot be measured. The look on their face, as we hand them their balloon. Anyone who has not yet experienced being touched to their very core when their wonder filled eyes meet ours, has not yet lived. I love it when mom’s & dad’s tell them to “Say thank you!” and I get to tell them “They already did. You just didn’t hear it.” I hope my last breath on earth is drawn to inflate a balloon! If I’m too ill, I’ll use a pump.
  • Theory of the fully inflated balloon
    “The more space a balloon occupies, the more valuable it becomes.” I can talk about this for way too long. It’s about: A leash on a poodle so the balloon is too big to put into a shopping bag. The value of making the customer the star with a balloon hat. The value of lots of stars in a crowd. The value of color and motion in the air. The huge effect one twister can have on the ‘festivity’ of a festival. Giving the customers a choice of Big, Fast, Easy figures. Trading multi-bubble figure twisting time for fewer twists and more balloons. Using a pump makes ‘more balloons’ less work than ‘more twists.’ Being generous with balloons helps make customer be generous to me.
  • And now, a list of ways to add value to balloons.

    Involve the customer in the balloon. Give the customer choices of shape and color. Offering figures that are symbols of love and security (Hearts, Teddy Bears, Puppies) can help insure a personal and emotional response. Choose something you know to be personally important to the customer. Writing a kid’s name on his balloon or making the IBM logo for a convention personalizes balloons.

    The twisters ability and speed are amazing to people. Like a juggler. What will the final product look like causes curiosity. Like a construction sight.

    the bigger it is the more valuable it is and the more interest it creates.

    Adults appreciate detail/original/art more than kids.

    The Experience
    This varies by the person and the situation. It can add a great deal to the value of the balloon. It can also detract from its value.

    Teaching kids to twist helps them with manual dexterity, self esteem, and even structural engineering (right Mark?)…. Right! Even better than an Erector Set. Large sculpture design requires consideration of framing and support.

    ‘Round’ balloon artists use 11″ or 9″ balloons attached to lightweight aluminum rod or conduit frames (or netting attached to such frames) to create ’round’ balloon sculptures, including bird cages, Eiffel Towers, city scapes and many more.

    Royal and Patty Sorrell’s IBAC sculptures were self-supporting. An impressive aspect of their Dragon (see photo section) was that it was all twisted latex: no balloons attached to netting draped over a metal skeleton. Here, form was truly in harmony with structure. This sculpture stands about 10′ high and has no framing and no monofilament. The only glue is holding the gossamer fabric to the wings, this fits our definition of a ‘pure’ sculpture. (There are round balloons inside the dragon to fill him out and support the exoskeleton… if he were hollow, he would collapse under his own weight.

  • I love it when…

    … a child is told say thank you and the child looks you in the eye and gives a tight-lipped baby style kiss right on the lips of the balloon animal you just made.

    … you meet up with kids from another country who have never seen a balloon hat or animal before and YOU are the one who gets to show them this wonderful art for the first time.

    … a child brings back a balloon that you made for her over a month ago… and for some reason it is STILL in perfect condition, well, as perfect a condition as it can be after THAT long.

    … a child comes in after not having seen you for at least a year and STILL knows what you look like.

  • We visited Bali, Indonesia. I was fortunate to be taken to a rural part of the island by my guide. He took us to his village and to his home where roughly 60 relatives live on his parents’ land. He was the only one who spoke English. My husband and I put on a juggling/magic show and then I twisted balloons.There was no sense of possessiveness or “That balloon is mine.&quot I’d get a request for a hat or a dog by one child, but very soon it would be in the hands of another, with no tears or discussion. Two boys were sharing a sword, passing it back and forth and giving each other ideas with it.

    Everything was going very well. Then one balloon POPPED!! Lots of exclamation of surprise, but I went back to twisting. Pretty soon I began to realize that most of the balloons had disappeared. I caught site of a young boy, running off with as many balloons as he could carry. Turns out he was storing them all in a special room – to protect them and save them all for later.

    It was very difficult to make them understand that most of these balloons were transient items and best to be enjoyed in the present moment.

  • The effect of balloons upon the environment has been astoundingly good. Refer to the following statistics about when balloon animals are introduced:
    • smiles on children’s faces: up 300 percent
    • Goofy laughs are doubled
    • Definite rise in overall friendship
    • Happiness: over the roof

    These effects of balloons are also accentuated by sharp drops in hate, intolerance, sadness, violence, and anger.

  • A few years ago, a tornado touched down to the west of my home. It came down in Lancaster, TX and leveled a 4 X 3 city block residential area. A pizza parlor owner that books me, called to line up a job. We got to talking about the tragedy. She said that she had sent 100 pizzas to help feed the victims. She said “I figured that I do pizzas, so I should do what I do to help those people out.”. I wanted to do something for those that had been hardest hit. I do balloons, so… I took my, then 5 year old son and went to see if I could bring a smile or two to some otherwise sad kids. It took us 3 hours to get the clearance to enter the disaster zone. The Chief of Police radioed the volunteer office to see that I got in A.S.A.P.! Twenty minutes later I found my first group of kids. I still don’t remember how many kids or hours later I finally finished, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had while ballooning.


  • My rule-of-thumb for cuteness is: Big when it should be little, little when it should be big.
    e.g. “Look at that giant teddy bear! Its sooo cute!” or “Oh wow! A tiny, little, balloon poodle! Its sooo cute! I want one!”
  • There is no doubt that small is cute and different. Imagine you had a room full of kids and a pile of pre-made figures. The figures ranged from small and detailed to a 13 balloon Bullwinkle, all of them just as nice as you could make them. There are as many figures as there are kids. Without saying anything about the balloons let the kids take turns choosing a figure. Do you think size would enter into their decision? Would the last 25% of things chosen be above or below the average size?
  • I think they value large above small in general. That is one reason a dog on a leash is so much more valuable to the kid. It is more valuable to me because it waves around to make color and motion, promoting me.
  • I’ve discovered that so far as kids are concerned, the bigger the better. About half the adults I work with can appreciate a small difficult sculpture but most seem to prefer bigger stuff.

MB 12/22/95
SKB 03/01/96
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