Posts Tagged ‘balloon art twisting twister captain visual asi cohen don caldwell thelma levett frank stringham mark byrne debbie stevens’

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  – 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 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


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.