Coda – What I’ve Learned, and the Monkey Plane Motorcycle

March 31, 2010

So after this discipline, what have I learned? More than techniques, I’ve made some observations, possibly even insights. Here they are.

1. Single balloon work is not easier than multi-balloon work. All of my problems seem to come from handling a balloon in a way that uses the whole thing. This requires a balance of inflation tension, tail length, and how much pressure I use when making bubbles. I still find that the bubbles I make toward the end of a balloon with a tail are never as even and tight as the first ones at the nozzle end. This has to be something that comes with experience. I doubt this can be taught.

2. To be a great artist, master simplicity first. This is a very closely related point to the first, but not exactly the same. I identified a few figures along the way that I consider the be the ultimate “zen” pieces. They are the ones that an artist could work on for a long time in search of perfection. I think candidates for zen ballooning are: dog, swan, bent heart, teddy bear. Achieving perfect versions of each these with one balloon will likely be harder than weaving a top hat with unlimited balloons on hand.

3. Following a course in teaching is hard for stubborn know-it-all adults. I’m one of those who tackles new ventures with an arrogance that because I have mastered some other areas of study, I will be able to skip ahead on new studies. As I mentioned, this is arrogance, and it gets knocked down quickly. I was convinced there was no need for the split twist to create a pop twist. While I’ve seen others do splits with just single pinch twists as anchors, I had to go back to try the split pop twist and learn for myself why it works. I even came up with my own halfway compromise, making two small bubbles next to each other and pinch twisting them together. That was OK, but what I was really missing was a Miagi moment.

That’s right – A MIAGI MOMENT.

(If you’ve never seen Karate Kid, skip this metaphor.) I was Danielsain, wondering why I had to paint the fence and wax the floor. But after I finally lived with the pop twist struggles, I saw something I could use down the line. I have had a lot of trouble splitting a 5inch round into two equal rounds for eyeballs. In practicing the split twist, my biggest challenge was making each bubble equal. But sticking with it, I may be improving my ability to make two eyeballs from one round balloon. Now if only i could get the Cobra Kai to leave me alone!

4. The art of balloons is about overstating. I had heard the word “imply” used repeatedly in a workshop, and I thought it was a good accurate word for what we do. Aside from some really time-consuming detailed work, and the kind of pieces you find in competition at the big conventions, for the most part we can’t recreate every detail of the model for a balloon sculpture. Relying on broad themes and overstated details is just in the nature of inflated latex art. The author of Captain Visual’s Big Book of Balloon Art is not only a clown and balloon artist, but a comic and caricature artist. That sensibility is evident in balloon art, and a concept that one should really grasp before trying to design new sculptures. I have some ideas of things I would like to make in latex that I haven’t seen elsewhere (yet), and I am now stepping back to see how the fundamentals of design apply to bringing an idea to life.

5. True classics always hold up. This book is 15 years old as I write the blog. That’s not especially old, but so much has come to market since then. It’s a much younger art form than magic or juggling or related performance arts. Some of what will someday be considered fundamental is probably yet to be written. (I’m especially hoping for more educational materials from Asi Cohen. One DVD is not enough Asi!) Even with all the new DVDs and magazine recipes, I think that this book stands as a starting point for any aspiring balloonist. As one last reminder, the book is back in print, and available online. It’s the third one down on this page. If you’ve followed this blog and don’t yet have this book, order it now. I have no arrangement with Gerry or anything, this whole blog is a book recommendation as it is. I’ve been honored to have him following the progress here.

I also recommend the works of Don Caldwell, Ken Stillman, Asi Cohen, Thelma Levett, Frank Stringham, Mark Byrne, and Debbie Stevens. There are many others to mention, but these are the ones whose resources I have purchased personally and can speak of firsthand. Check out the multitude of youtube folks like MikeofPA, FlowerClown, and Mike Floyd at balloon-animals.com  – Again, too many to mention them all. And if anyone is within a reasonable drive of Straussburg PA, the second Monday of the month is the Penn Jam, at the Evangelical Free Church, hosted by veteran twisters Tristen and Rose Burkholder. I’ve learned so much from the regulars there in such a short time.

This has been a fun project for me. I set out to accomplish it in the span of a month, and I did it. It’s March 31st. Of course, my study of balloons is not over by any means. I have been at this less than a year, but I’ve already gone to Twist & Shout and I’ve been incorporating balloons into my magic show. My very small but growing portfolio is at airweaver.balloonhq.com As of this entry there are just a few photos and one video.

Thanks to all who read this blog and who commented here. I welcome comments to continue as people find the blog.  I don’t intend to post any more updates, unless I undertake a new project down the line that is similar. I will leave this as a resource for discussion for others who may have had the same struggles I did in taking on new concepts.

Until then, see you all at The Magic Cafe, Balloon Animals forum, Twist & Shout 2011, and maybe even T Jam on the Road.

And now, finally , the coda: my successful work on chapter 9’s split and pop twist.

Pop Pinch Step One

Pop Pinch Step Two

Pop Pinch Step Three

Pop Goes the Monkey

Airplane

Here’s an example of what happens when I didn’t have balance between the beginning and the end of a sculpture.

half done motorcycle

And here’s the third attempt at a motorcycle. I’m happy with it as an end to this blog.

Motorcycle

Day 9 – Chapter 13 – Balloon Cartoons

March 31, 2010

Here we are, the last chapter. And, it is the last day of March. I had originally thought I could do this in 15 days, and I had split up the book into 15 sections. I am glad I didn’t try to do that. I didn’t always have the time in a day to do this. As it is, I am a little nuts for waiting until this day to finish the book. It’s the middle of Holy Week, which in my work, is like Peyton Manning trying to write a book the week of the superbowl. I’m no Peyton Manning, but I’m as busy this week.

So, in an effort to save time (and some balloons) I used a base figure for some variations (as I did in the heart chapter). The bear base adds a tail and becomes a cat. The rabbit becomes a coyote/wolf or a mouse. The duck changes bills, tails and feathers and becomes various birds.  I made each bill but did not switch them all in for each one to get a picture. Again, these figures are not supposed to be exhaustive, but to show variations and get the individual artist thinking about more variations.

The rudolph utilizes a variation on the tulip twist. I have seen this referred to as a marriage twist, though more specifically it will only work with a small bubble on one end. This technique uses something I had not been exposed to before, an anchor knot. It’s very effective to get the red nose on the end of rudolph’s face. The eyes on rudolph are the kind that you see on many large figures.

The last figure is the martian. The martian is the first usage of a balloon bigger than a 260. It’s listed as a 345, though these days most will be more familiar with a 350. As you will see, I was unable to get the rounded head that is featured in the sketch in the book. I wish I could finish the book on a better-made figure than this one, but it’s just not my best work at all. Not that chapter order really matters toward the end of the book (it’s quite important in the first half) – but this would be one edit I would make. I would swap chapters 12 and 13. I think the bicycle and wagon are the most impressive, even if easier to make. Just a personal preference of mine. On the other hand, the cartoons are more of a jumping off point for one’s own creativity, so they are a good way to end the book in that regard. Either way, the foundations are here for many directions of one’s own creativity.

Big Ol' Bear

Big Ol' Cat

Crazy Rabbit

Coyote or Wolf (In Easter Bunny Color)

Mouse

Dippy Duck

Collection of Beaks

Red = Woodpecker   Orange = Pelican   Black = Eagle    Grey = Stork

Eagle

Woodpecker

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph Close-Up

My-not-so-favorite-Martian

This is the last chapter, but not the last post. I am going to try to come back and finish boning that duck before midnight my time.

Day 8 – Chapter 12 – Multiple Designs

March 27, 2010

The penultimate chapter. Multiple Balloon Designs.

Seeing as how almost everything in the latex world these days falls under this category, it might be helpful to say more about how this chapter is structured and the pieces are chosen. There have been multiple balloon designs all through this book. Almost all the hats are multiples. The heart designs are too. What this chapter begins to get into are the type of balloon sculptures where you may only use a piece of a balloon as opposed to finding a way to weave in the whole thing inflated. The benefit here is that using different color balloons gives more detail to the sculpture. It of course also allows for bigger pieces. Bigger isn’t always necessarily better, but having options is always a benefit in twisting.

Oh yes, and in doing this chapter, I finally boned the duck! I did a successful pop twist on the mermaid. In the interest of being complete, after I post chapter 13’s figures, I will go back to the ones I skipped previously with my pop-twist phobia.

The first multi-balloon sculpture in the chapter is the penguin.It is just three balloons, but with the distinct colors, and the use of uninflated tail as a beak, there’s no mistaking what this is. To make this, you start out much like you are making a swan.

Penguin

Penguin

Next up isn’t a rock. It’s a rock…. lobster!! (Couldn’t resist.)

Lobster

I just wish  the Captain had included figures in the book for a cup of drawn butter and some claw crackers. (Sorry vegans, but even in latex it looks yummy to me.)

Continuing the nautical theme, a mermaid is next. Now, as the father of a 6-year old girl, let me tell you, 99% of mermaids in twisting get called Ariel. This book was published a few years after the Disney movie. Since then, mermaids have red hair. I have completely changed my view of the Little Mermaid since becoming a Daddy of a little girl, but that’s for another blog. Sing it with me. Ah ah ah….. ah ah ah……. ah ah ah ah ah ah……

Mermaid

(have you spotted my successful use of the pop twist yet?)

I’m going with more water themes here…. Octopus is next. I love the Don Caldwell hat with the big eyes and the bubbles. It uses a polka dotted large round. Here is a simple octopus with just the round and the legs and it’s very obviously an octopus, which is, I think, the first criteria in twisting. If there’s doubt as to “what it is” – rethink the design. The first picture here is my plain octopus, the second includes my daughter’s artwork for a face.

Octopus

Face by Olivia

Use a similar technique with a couple of bird body roll-throughs and some pinch twists, and your friendly octopus becomes a hairy scary spider.

Giant Brown Recluse

MAKE ME A BICYCLE CLOWN!!!!

I just started and I haven’t even had many gigs, but even I have heard this one repeatedly. Anyone who saw Wedding Crashers remembers that moment. Well, I have patterns for 3 different bicycles in my library. One nice small one is on Frank Strigham’s 4 DVD set, one enormous detailed on is in Thelma Levett’s Ebook “Something for Everyone,” and the one in the middle that was surprisingly easy once I looked at the diagrams closely, was this one from Captain Visual. It’s on the cover of the book with a kickstand, here I just made it as-is from the book.

Bicycle

I couldn’t resist going further and adding a rider.

Alien Easy Rider

That is of course, Ken Stillman’s “hitchhiker body” with an alien head. I got this idea from Don Caldwell’s Mad Hatz and Wild Wearables Vol I.

And finally, the little red wagon.

Little Red Wagon

Only one more chapter to go, and the figures will all be done. This has been an interesting discipline for me. The kids have enjoyed it too, and some of these pieces will be in my online portfolio and pomotional materials. Never assume that because a design is over 10 years old that the newer is always better. At Twist & Shout 2010, I attended a class on making balloons for girls. Royal Sorrell filled in for Stretch the Balloon Dude who couldn’t make it from Texas. Two pieces he taught were straight out of this book. One was the royal crown, and one was this mermaid. In each case, he made a small addition. They were both valuable additions, but the fundamental piece was still there, and still quite relevant and delightful for the recipient.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: just like a magician scouring the thousands of new products that come out yearly needs to go back to Tarbell repeatedly, twisters with big DVD libraries should probably consult this book regularly.

Day 7 – Chapter 11 – Heart Designs

March 23, 2010

Heart Designs

This is a short chapter, and a pretty easy one. The 5 inch heart balloon is a very versatile add-on. You don’t have to do much with them to get a big response. I have blown them up only to have a little girl ask to have just the heart. I try to put it on something, but she just wants that heart all by itself.

When I first ordered balloons, I got the “sweetheart assortment” of red, pink and white. I had no idea why anyone would want other color hearts. Now I’ve purchased a multi-color assortment, and an entire bag of 100 black hearts. Why, you say, would I want 100 black hearts? Bird beaks. The heart balloon has been incorporated into some really innovative designs. As a center of a princess sculpture, as the face on a cow, or as beaks, the heart gives great possibilities.

For now, we’re sticking to the traditional shape of the heart, in both 5 inch round, and in bent 260s. Here’s where I once again have a struggle. I have had pretty decent success at bending balloons, but this definitely should improve with experience. My hearts are so-so. I think this is the 3rd zen balloon figure that everyone should try to perfect. Dog, swan, heart. I seem to be working on a balloon version of the Chinese calendar here.

As I look at my less-than-I’m-happy-with bends for my 260 hearts, I think what I notice is that I end up with a fatter section of balloon where I make the bend. This is easily covered up in other bent designs I like to do, but with the heart it may be problematic. Any tips on bending and not getting a deformed swelling? I’ve really appreciated the input on other posts, this could be one for some discussion.

So without further delay, here are my figures from Chapter 11.

Shaped Heart

Lovebirds on a Heart

My difficulty with the proper bent heart shape gets worse with the smaller size. The loop I made here was quite tight with air, and was less pliable when bending the shape. When the 5inch heart is added, it helps greatly.

Heart Wand

Heart Wand with Teddy Bear

My lack of articulation is the same on the butterfly.

Butterfly

I intentionally switched colors to show how clover-like this flower is. My kids called it a 4-leaf clover as opposed to a flower. It’s a versatile pattern.

Heart Flower

Rosebud

Other Patterns Shown Without Names

Teddy With Heart

Bigger Wand

Braided Wand with Bear

Two Bears on a Heart

Day 6 – Chapter 10 – Hats

March 22, 2010

Hats. Oh there are hats.

This is the largest chapter, which is why it took me a few more days to get to it. I want to twist each chapter in a single sitting. (Pop twist revisit notwithstanding.) This chapter has a lot of variations on very similar themes. I decided to make each one listed, with variants shown. This is a discipline blog after all. However, I did not do each one separately. I had to same some balloons, so many got re-used in other hats.

These are all pretty basic hats, but the exercise in making them all is good to open up the creativity. The silly balloon hat is a genre unto itself. You don’t have to make it look like anything in particular. I mentioned a book in an earlier post that was an early resource for me, Addi Somekh’s book on hats. One is called a “ballie brain protector.” I made that for a ton of kids and that’s all I had to call it – a brain protector. Fun stuff.

When I’ve been around other twisters, I have heard conversations around the question “why hats?” It appears some twisters do not like to do them, or feel they are overused. A good number of other twisters use them as a majority of line and restaurant work. I think the benefits are obvious: less breakage, more visibility, less fighting. Many current DVDs and e-books have great involved hat patterns. Don Caldwell’s Mad Hatz and Wild Wearable series is up to Vol 5 (though good luck locating Vol 4). I’d also like to take a minute to recommend a great resource for quick and simple hats. My first twisting DVD was Bad to the Balloon Vol 1 by Mark Byrne. Mark uses the bending technique to great effect on these really fast hats. In addition to great usable material, his DVDs are top notch in production. My kids like to watch the opening sequence repeatedly.

Back to the book. So here are the pictures of my hats, in order, from chapter 10. The captions are the names given in the chapter. It was a long session, but I had to do them all.

I have been struggling with the wordpress interface to get the pictures aligned right, and I have given up. While working on this blog post, I dropped a laptop, which is fine, but the thumbdrive plugged in was broken, and I lost pictures of my kids bowling for the first time. So I’m cursing tech right now.

Head Band

Flapper

Pilot's Headset

Space Helmet

Space Helmet with Pom-Pom

Wild Antennea 1

Wild Antennae 2

Hairy Hat 1

Wild Antennae 3

Hairy Hat 2

Bike Helmet

Crown

King Crown

Queen Crown

Super-Duper Hat

Twist Hat

Princess Hat

Braided Hat (Aladdin's Turban)

Lightning Bolt Hat

Flower Hat

Spiral Hat

Super Space Hat

Mouse Ears

Octopus Hat

Monkey in a Tree Hat

Spartan Hat

Heart Hat

Halfway Through – time for a poll

March 16, 2010

I have been doing this blog as a discipline for myself, and it has been a pleasure to have a few folks out there reading along, especially the esteemed author of the book himself.

I just spent a night on the road, and though I did some twisting, it was not for the blog, but for my godson and his sister. A great afternoon was had by all!

As I answered the question “how did you get into this?” I had to laugh, because I get that a lot in my life. I’ve pursued a lot of hobbies, including but not limited to, guitar and mandolin, reef fish keeping, wine and beer brewing, cheesmaking, beekeeping, concert poster collecting, writing, filmmaking, magic, and now balloon twisting. (Anything to avoid lawn mowing, seriously.) It’s never surprising to my friends and family that I have a new hobby. They all joke about my adult ADD, which is not a diagnosed condition for me, and not to make light of a serious condition, but I think the shoe fits. The neat thing about twisting is, there’s always something new to create.To get bored with twisting is to get bored with life.

With twisting, something different has clicked for me. A good number of those things listed above are now in the past. What makes twisting different for me, are a couple things. First, I’ve always had a passion for magic, and performing. Unfortunately,  I didn’t always have a passion for being professional about it. Over the last several years, I’ve been taking the production of an act much more seriously. Twisting is lending itself to my own creativity more than magic, though I believe i will always blend the two.

The other element is how versatile it is for so many situations. I have two small children of my own, so I don’t need to leave the house for an appreciative audience. I will be actively seeking more performing gigs than I have been with magic, but still I will spend more time twisting for free than not. This will be for the benefit of my church and its community activities. I want to gig to make that other stuff possible. If my day job disappeared tomorrow, I might pursue full time children/family entertainment, but for now it will remain a (hopefully) profitable sideline.

So here’s the short answer to how I got started: last summer, I was planning the last day of an outdoor day camp our church runs in the community with help from staff of our regional summer camp. We had lined up, somewhat by chance, a bounce house, my magic show, games, and some facepainting. It started to look like a carnival. I thought “don’t I have a book on beginner balloons around somewhere?” I dug around the magic box, and there was a paperback from waldenbooks. The night before the carnival, I went to Party City and got a cheap pump and a bag of balloons. I learned a dog, sword, teddy bear (after an hour of trying to discern what a pinch twist was), hat and heart. The next day the kids got 5 choices, that was it.

Less than a month later, I was at the beach with a big family group vacation, studying Captain Visual, a borrowed copy of Addi Somekh’s Balloon Hat Book and watching Mark Byrne and Don Caldwell DVDs. A 4th birthday in the group turned into an opportunity to make balloons for all the kids. I was a brand newbie at this, but they loved what was made for them. And I was hooked.

So what’s your story? How did you get into this? I feel like I discovered a whole parallel world that I never knew existed. It’s somewhat like Harry Potter or Twilight, right in front of me all the time, but I never saw it. I had to fall down the rabbit hole, and now here I am.

Where/when did you fall down the hole?

Day 5 – Chapter 9 – Unusual Twists

March 13, 2010

Chapter 9 – Unusual Twists

It appears I may have come to my “boning a duck” moment. Let me explain: in the movie Julie and Julia (the inspiration for this blog), the one thing that Julie is dreading is the task of boning a whole duck. She saves it for the last day of the year.

I have been trying to get one of the concepts in this chapter, and it eludes me.

It is the pop twist. You anchor two spots with split twists, and pop out the bubble between. This is a common method for making independent arms or legs, or the top of the letter X. When I pop, my other twists deflate.

Truthfully, I’m pretty lousy at the split twist too. I don’t see how it’s different from making two small pinch twists in a row. I think everything ends up the same. I could be wrong. It’s a lot more difficult for me to make a split pinch twist than it is for me to make back to back smaller pinch twists.

but in the interest of going in order, here are the other unusual twists first:

TULIP TWIST

A simple enough process once you get it down, but it took me a while as a beginner. I think I was failing to push the knot back through the bubble once twisted. That made all the difference. Here’s a close copy of the diagram in the book:

Teddy Bear with Tulips

My daughter Olivia was interested in making tulips. I tried to show her how, but we found that her tiny fingers were hard to get back out of the balloon once the knot was caught by the other hand. Maybe we should try poking in with 2 of her  fingers.

The pig nose is probably the 2nd most common use of the tulip twist.

Pig with Tulip Nose

Next up is Inserts or Seeds

This is where I expected to have problems, but I got it on the 2nd try. A nice twister showed this to me at a jam, using two different color bubbles going into one balloon as a toy. I followed it at the time, but didn’t really get it. The directions in the book are just right.

Hot Dog With a Meatball Inside (AKA Pregnant Pup)

You could do the same technique with anything that you don’t mind being covered in a layer of clear balloon.

Here’s something that’s not covered in Capt Visual, but can make inserting objects into balloons very easy.

Elastrator

You can find this device in farm supply stores. It’s in veterinary equipment. It takes a small rubber band and stretches it to a few inches around. If you need more details, do a google search.

I know this can put a hot wheels into a 260, but I am not that adept with it yet. I did get a hot wheels into a 16inch clear donut, which made a nice racetrack. I used it to get this blue ball into the dog.

Superball in Dog

I need to find a better use of stuffing objects in balloons. This just reminds me of the $1500 surgery bill we had last year for our beloved labrador who has a sock eating habit. She survived the surgery, and at age 12, she is still quite energetic.

Next up are SPLIT TWISTS AND POP TWISTS

As I wrote earlier, I’m not the biggest fan of this method, but I gave it a shot. I would love any comments to clarify whether I’m right that this is no different than 2 small pinch twists, or whether there’s a qualitative difference I am missing.

Whichever method is used, they are very useful for making figures where you want angles between straight segments of balloons, implying lines. In another book, The Big Book of Balloons, Captain Visual demonstrates a full alphabet and 10 numerals. The examples in this book are 2 J and 5.

I Call Him........Number 2

The proportions are off, but this is the 5th attempt at a 2, since I broke so many trying the split twist.

J is for Jack

Number 5 is Alive

I will be coming back to the Monkey, Airplane and Motorcycle when I get this pop method down.

My twisting friend MikeofPA (his youtube name) was online as I was blogging this, and put up a quick video on pop twists for me. He has some good technique videos, especially on weaving. Check out his video on the pop twist.

The last special twist in chapter 9 is the spiral. This can be done a lot of ways. I learned from Don Caldwell’s Mad Hatz and Wild Wearables Vol 1. He teaches the octopus that I am wearing here in my facebook icon picture. If you’ve been around the balloon world for more than five minutes, you know the name Don Caldwell. His stuff is great. This is a ten balloon sculpture that is really easy to do but gets a lot of attention.

Swallowed by a Giant Octopus

Back to the book: the one example for spiral in chapter 9 is the cobra.

Cobra

OK so this is definitely not my best work, but I was so frustrated by the pop-twist problem  I rushed through some stuff to finish this part. The basic idea of swirling is there. You don’t need to mouth inflate to do this. I have used pencils, fingers, sharpies, etc… held in one hand while using a floor pump.

So that’s most of chapter 9. I will come back to the pop twist (or deboned duck) when I get a couple more chapters finished. There are only 5 more to finish before the end of the month, but they get progressively more involved.

Day 4 – Chapter 8 – The Roll-Through

March 9, 2010

The roll through.

This is a short chapter with just a few figures. I didn’t do any of them very well actually, but they are good basic figures to get practice with the roll through. This is also commonly known as a “bird body.”

The first roll through in the chapter, and a good all-around figure for any twister, is the swan. This is another one of those fundamentals like the dog. Making the perfect one-balloon swan is a zen experience worth pursuing. The one I have here is not that swan, but it’s a start.

Swan

This is a good example of using the uninflated end for a different texture in the sculpture itself.

The next figures show how important it is to judge the tail needed based on the number of twists. I did poorly with that, so you see tails that are very high pressure segments, almost ready to pop. Beginners in many hobbies have trouble with using “less” of a thing. It’s true in songwriting, most visual arts, woodcarving. A balloon does not necessarily turn out better with more air in it.

Stegosaurus and Horse

The last two pieces are the ducky and the ladybug bracelet. These are good examples of figures that get a lot more complex when you start to add 5 inch rounds. For now, they are a solid basis, and another good exercise in the roll through.

Ducky and Ladybug Bracelet

The next chapter we get into some more advanced twists. Soon we’ll be launching off from the fundamentals, and getting into those multiballoon masterpieces.

We’re off to hopefully see some real swans. They are migrating through our part of PA right now.

Day 3 – Chapter 7 – Bears, Poodles, and Floppy-Eared Dogs

March 5, 2010

Woo hoo!  The pinch twist!

I love weaving, and I want to get really good at it. At Twist & Shout, I was working on something in the hall (my own private jam room since it was hard to get Olivia into the real one even with her ear protection. Somehow it took the charms of a 10 year old boy to get her in there.

Slipped into Dad mode there, where was I? Oh yes – weaving. A kind soul saw me struggling, and reminded me of something I learned, but forgot: use the pinch twist to stabilize a weave. It’s for holding, and changing directions.

Before anyone learns to weave, I would venture to guess their first pinch twist is for a one balloon teddy bear. Before I knew of Captain Visual’s book, or that you could make a carousel from latex, I had one of those cheap Waldenbooks paperbacks. And I learned the pinch twist as a teddy bear twist.

It was the night before my first gig. OK, before anyone yells at me, I don’t mean I booked a twisting gig with no experience. I was doing magic for a daycamp for our church, and we had a bounce house donated for the day, my wife was painting faces, and I thought – hey don’t I have a balloon book around here somewhere? I learned that night, a sword, dog, one crazy hat, and the teddy bear. If you’re an experienced twister, think back to when you first learned to twist. You learn the lock and fold twists first, then, the most versatile twist you’ll ever have: the pinch twist. If it were guitar playing, it would be the barre chord.

So here are my teddy bears from chapter 6, as shown in the book. I must say that the Captain does a really good job of describing in print, what a pinch twist is. When I first learned, it took a long time to understand the text, and I had no video. If I had had this book first, I would have not struggled so much.

lTeddy Bears

Look at them. Simple as can be, but when you’re starting out, that face from the ear twists becomes a major stepping stone in your ability to make a latex tube of air look like something else.

Next up is the poodle, which while not including a pinch twist, does advance the student with a couple examples of multiple bubbles staying distinct while unlocked. The extra balls on the feet give more detail to the poodle.

Poodle

The rest of the chapter, interestingly enough, does not include any more figures with pinch twists. It does however, include the most frustrating move/twist I’ve seen, and I am half embarrassed to say that this still gives me trouble. It’s the flop-eared dog. Where the captain gave excellent instructions on the pinch twist, I myself could have used more explanation on the following page on what it takes to get the effect. The first picture is a white-on-white dog that was a terrible attempt on my part.

Bad Little Doggie

I struggled with several balloons, trying to get the face to come through the ears without pointing upward like a standard dog. I can’t get this right. This is a similar technique to the nose poking through the bear face, I think. This makes it a logical extension of the chapter. but without some anchoring pinch twists, I am lost. Here’s the best I could do in a red dog.

Flop-eared dog, looking lame

Still, the face points upward. I know the captain is reading here sometimes, and I would love if he or anyone else would leave a comment on how to get this flop eared dog look right.

The above two dogs also introduce the sitting figure concept, with the same technique of bringing the balloon around the animal to create the effect. This yields a three legged animal, which may explain why it needs to sit. ;)

Sitting Cat

Sitting Rabbit

It should be obvious that I think every twister should have this book to begin a twisting education. It’s a must-have. I will also from time to time on this blog mention other resources I absolutely love. Not a comprehensive list of every twisting book/cd/dvd in existence, but stuff I’ve bought as a newbie and found great stuff in.

Today I made a helicopter for my son from a new resource. It’s been out less than a couple weeks. Thelma Levett is a twister in the UK who puts out really well-made ebooks. In the video-centric world of instructionals, I have to say I may now prefer the e-book if they’re all this good. Instead of pausing and backing up a video, I have the pictures right in front of me on my own timeline. Her new e-book “Something for Everyone” is aptly named, with material from a tnak and huge detailed bicycle, to a great toadstool and fairy. Her book can be found at http://www.smudgyclown.co.uk/buy2.html . Here’s my son Jack enjoying a new helicopter.

Jack and Helicopter

And here it is by itself

My Helicopter a la Thelma

My Helicopter a la Thelm

(Later edit – I realize this helicopter is sideways. I fixed that, and added the rotor tops that were missing in this picture.)

Next Chapter: 8 – roll through bodies

Day 2 – Chapter 6 – Using the Fold Twist

March 4, 2010

The next chapter in the book teaches the fold twist. If I am assessing the progressive nature of learning balloon twisting, this can be a step forward, and a step back at the same time. On one hand, it’s quicker than twisting 3 or 4 bubbles and locking. It’s a very fast move. But in many cases, it leaves less articulation of detail, so it isn’t necessarily a better choice. Of course, in some cases it is definitely better, for example the elephant. It’s all a matter of the balloonist using the best option. The exercise here includes a couple figures from chapter one, to show the various ways you can achieve the same thing.

I’ve been doing multi-balloon sculptures mostly, so going back to single balloons is still presenting challenges, mostly in handling. It’s an interesting discovery, since one would assume that multi-balloon pieces are inherently harder. But I’m finding that getting a one-balloon piece perfect is sometimes more difficult. You need to use the whole balloon, space it just right and get the air exact. With a bigger piece, you usually take off the excess so that whether you have an inch left or four on one particular balloon, it doesn’t matter.

Perhaps the goal later should be to return to perfecting a one balloon dog. Excellence in simplicity is its own reward. I have a good friend that studied the Japanese tea ceremony. To an outsider, it looks very simple. To one who studies it in depth, perfection in a simple thing is worth practicing and studying for years.

Zen and the art of the balloon dog. Hmmmmmmm…. there’s a book in there somewhere.

OK enough waxing philosophical.

Here are the first four figures in the chapter, all variants from chapter one. with the simple fold twists, the difference between them becomes even simpler: body for daschund, neck for giraffe, tail for cat.

Basic Fold Twist Figures

The next two took two attempts each, the first ones popped.

The elephant ran out of room and popped when the tiny tail was attempted. The alligator popped when putting too much pressure on the first set of legs. I softened the next attempt.

Elephant and Alligator

The basic sword and flower both utilize a triple fold twist. Interesting how a symbol of beauty and a symbol of violence can be so similar in structure. (OK I don’t really want to get too philosophical on that one. Too controversial. This is balloons!) Returning to the theme of back to basics, I had learned the very difficult 6 petal twist from Don Caldwell’s youtube video before I did a simple fold twist flower. This was the first I made one like this. It’s nice in its simplicity.

Sword and Flower

The birds come in chapter 8, but we have the bees here. First is the one balloon bee, nice and simple, using the uninflated tail as a shaped contrast. Then the second one utilizes a bee body, with one full 260 for the wings. The bee body is the first multi balloon sculpture in the book. It seems to me that at one time the bee body was a lot more popular. There were not  a lot of variant shapes in the early days. They are still made, but I don’t encounter them much in the newer balloon materials I see. Undipped 321s are more in vogue now.   I am assuming this is the source of the dinosaur teeth in the 2010 Twist and Shout award winner shown on page one of this blog.

Bees

So after only 2 basic twists, a lot of variations are already possible. You may notice that I haven’t added any artwork to any balloons yet. For the purposes of this blog, I won’t be doing any drawing. First, my drawing isn’t that great. but more importantly, I think a sculpture needs to be recognizable on its own as a balloon. Added work is a nice enhancement, but what it is supposed to be should be evident from the latex alone first, then give the kicker with the drawn on bits.

Next chapter: drumroll please……… the pinch twist! Then we’ll be cooking with fire!


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