Updated date:

Balloon Twisting or Sculpture, Mass Releases, and Wildlife Safety

Linda Crampton enjoys taking photographs and using digital editing software. She also enjoys visiting art galleries and viewing sculptures.

Balloons can be used to create amusing models and interesting art.

Balloons can be used to create amusing models and interesting art.

A Fun and Versatile Item

Balloons have been a source of entertainment and enjoyment for many centuries. They are fun to use in games and make attractive and often elegant decorations for special events. Mass balloon releases are an important component of many celebrations and ceremonies. Balloons have also become a medium for creativity and are used to create whimsical models as well as more serious artwork.

Balloon twisting or sculpture is the art of creating models by twisting and joining balloons. Its most common application is to form amusing shapes that resemble animals or imaginary characters. Some artists, however, are using the technique to create larger and more ambitious sculptures. Balloon twisting is entertaining and sometimes impressive.

In many parts of the world, balloons are popular, easily accessible, and inexpensive. Unfortunately, they can be dangerous for wildlife if they escape into the environment. Although it's not necessary to avoid balloons, it's important to follow certain precautions when using them in order to keep animals safe.

The creation of a green teddy bear with a purple bow tie is a lighthearted way to use balloons.

The creation of a green teddy bear with a purple bow tie is a lighthearted way to use balloons.

History of Balloons

Early Forms

The earliest balloons were made out of animal bladders, intestines, or stomachs. They were used as toys and for entertainment. Some people twisted balloons into new shapes even during the early stage of their history. The Aztecs made balloon animals out of cat intestines to present to their gods.

Rubber or Latex Versions

Michael Faraday was a famous chemist and physicist. He made the first rubber balloons in 1824 and filled them with hydrogen gas. They were made from caoutchouc, also known as India rubber or gum elastic. This material was produced from the milky latex extracted from the rubber tree. Natural latex is a good material for making a balloon, since it solidifies on exposure to air and forms a stretchy, flexible, and waterproof material. Rubber made from natural latex tends to melt in hot weather and crack in cold weather, however.

In 1847, J.G. Ingram began the creation of balloons from vulcanized rubber. This type of rubber is not affected by temperature changes. Its structure has been changed by a chemical process involving sulphur.

Modern Balloons

Modern balloons are made from natural latex containing additives or from a nylon or metallic material. They are usually filled with air or helium instead of hydrogen, which is flammable.

Mylar balloons are made of nylon and are generally covered with a metallic coating. They are not biodegradable. They conduct electricity and can cause damage and injury if they contact power lines or other electrical equipment.

Twisting, Sculpting, or Modelling

Balloon twisting is also known as balloon modelling, sculpting, or sculpture. Creating animals and other objects by twisting balloons is a popular activity for birthday parties and celebrations and is becoming an art form as well. The creators of the larger and more intricate models often refer to their work as balloon art and themselves as balloon artists.

Many young children are entranced when they see an animal made entirely out of balloons. One of my fondest childhood memories is of my accidental discovery that a room in my house was filled with balloon animals, which my father had prepared for Christmas Day. I'd forgotten that my parents had told me not to go into the room until after Christmas. Once I made the discovery, I couldn't stop myself from secretly visiting the room periodically and admiring the menagerie. The collection of colourful animals seemed magical to me.

Balloon twisting is a fun family activity and hobby. Even children can have fun creating objects with balloons. Simple projects are suitable for younger children while the more complex projects are good for older ones.

Balloon sculptures with a textured appearance can be interesting, like this swan.

Balloon sculptures with a textured appearance can be interesting, like this swan.

The balloon sculpture of a swan shown above was created by Paul Slipper and Nadine Stefan. It was on display in Ontario, Canada when it was photographed.

Transition Into an Art Form

Balloon modelling has become a performance art. Modelling groups visit schools and perform in theatres. Sculptures made of balloons are also created as part of some clown and magic shows. In addition, balloons are being used to create buildings, furniture, costumes, flowers, semi-realistic animals, and recreations of paintings. The videos in this article—particularly the first one—show the creativity of two balloon artists.

Skilled artists prepare amazingly detailed and sometimes very large balloon sculptures for public displays. As they create their sculptures, the artists take into account how the sculptures will appear as the balloons gradually deflate. The changing appearance of a sculpture actually becomes part of the art. Balloon sculptures are also created as centerpieces for weddings, trade shows, and other special events. In these cases, the emphasis is on attractiveness instead of entertainment.

Unfortunately, sculptures made from balloons are ephemeral. I love the swan sculpture shown above. It was photographed in 2012, however. I don’t know whether it has been re-created since then. Some artists create objects whose components resemble balloons but are actually made of a more permanent material, such as brightly coloured steel. This is the case for the sculpture shown below.

Natural Latex Balloons

Modellers often prefer the properties of natural latex balloons to those of ones made from artificial materials. Balloons made of natural latex are said to have another advantage compared to ones made of different materials: some bacteria can break the latex down. Ultraviolet light from the sun also helps to degrade the material.

While natural latex does break down in the environment, the idea may be misleading with respect to balloons. The degradation process may take months or even years and may be slower in some environments than others. Additives such as plasticizers and artificial colours may not break down. Though latex balloons are the best type for making sculptures, they should be disposed of carefully, as described in the list shown later in this article.

The large sculptures shown in the video above are impressive. There are potential problems that aren't discussed in the video, however. The balloons come in plastic bags, which might cause problems when they are discarded. In addition, once a sculpture has been admired and the balloons are deflated or deliberately burst, a lot of waste is created.

Mass Balloon Releases During Special Events

Another popular use of balloons is for a mass release into the air. This is an exciting, beautiful, and often very meaningful event. Balloons are released during happy celebrations, in memory of sad events, and as a way to honour the dead. They are also released to raise money for charities.

A special type of mass release is the balloon race. In this event, each balloon has a postcard attached. Each postcard identifies a specific competitor in the event. The goal of the event is for people to find the balloons when they land and return the postcards to the organizers. The person whose postcard travels the farthest is the winner.

What Happens to Released Balloons?

Balloon releases are fun, impressive, and sometimes emotionally satisfying, but they can create problems for animals. Balloons released into the air often rise high enough to burst and then return to the ground as tiny fragments or as bigger pieces that litter the land and water. Some don't burst and return in a semi-deflated state.

Latex balloons are generally used in mass releases. People who make their living from organizing the events like to point out that latex is degradable. The problem is that the degradation is slow, so a latex balloon or a fragment may harm wildlife before it breaks down. Another problem is that in some releases the balloons contain plastic valves, which are harmful for animals.

Balloons or fragments from them can block the digestive tracts of both land and ocean animals and cause them to starve. They can also block an animal's respiratory tract and cause suffocation. In the ocean, turtles are especially susceptible to being killed by balloons because they mistake them for their jellyfish prey. Whales, dolphins, birds, and farm animals have also died after eating balloons.

Balloons are a great item to use in celebrations, but they need to be used safely.

Balloons are a great item to use in celebrations, but they need to be used safely.

Although this article focuses on hazards for wildlife, balloons can also be dangerous for children. Balloons that are being blown up, deflated ones, and bits of burst ones are a suffocation hazard for young children.

Alternate Ways to Celebrate

We really need to find other ways to celebrate or commemorate important events that appeal to people's emotions but don't harm the environment. I describe some possibilities below.

Trees or Flowers

One environmentally friendly way to commemorate a sad event or perhaps to celebrate a happy one is to plant a tree sapling (or multiple saplings). Another idea is to create a flower garden. A tree or flowers could create a lasting memorial or a long-term reminder of a moment in time. The plants must receive care as time passes in order for this to be the case, however.

Special Events

Celebrating a happy event with reusable items like ribbon streamers and flags could be fun. It's important that lightweight items can't escape into the air. The addition of a parade or musical performance might be appealing for people.

Entertainment

Hiring balloon artists to create large and intricate sculptures could create some of the excitement that a mass release produces. Hopefully, a sculptor will discard balloon waste in a way that's safe for the environment. It might be a good idea to check this out before hiring them. The presentation of another type of artist's work accompanied by a ceremony of some kind might be suitable for a celebration or a memorial.

A Modified Balloon Release

Another activity that could be fun is a balloon release in a large indoor area, such as a gym or a stadium. The clean-up and preparation for safe disposal of balloon pieces might be time consuming. The event could be much safer for the environment than an outdoor release, however. The presence of a large group of helpful people after the celebration has finished could make the clean-up process easier.

Special balloons are fun, but a purchaser should think about their safe disposal before buying them.

Special balloons are fun, but a purchaser should think about their safe disposal before buying them.

Safety for Wildlife

Balloons are great toys and craft materials, and they make fun and cheerful decorations for special events. However, they can create serious problems for wildlife. If you are concerned about the safety of wildlife, the following strategies are important:

  • Buy only natural latex balloons and avoid foil or mylar ones. (Remember that even the latex ones need to be discarded with care.)
  • Tie balloons by hand and not with string.
  • Never release balloons into the air outdoors. If they're taken outside, hold on to them.
  • If you must attach string to a balloon to hold it in place, use biodegradable cotton string and tie the balloon securely to its support.
  • Don't attach ribbon or nylon string to balloons, since these can wrap around part of an animal's body, entangling or constricting it. This may prevent the animal from swallowing food, breathing, or moving properly. Cotton string has the same effect if it hasn't degraded.
  • Buy air-filled balloons instead of helium-filled ones. Balloons filled with helium rise into the air quickly and are harder to catch than ones filled with air.
  • Deflate balloons and cut them into small pieces before putting them into the garbage. This will be time consuming if a lot of balloons have been used, but it's important.

Enjoyment and Environmental Protection

Balloons provide a lot of enjoyment. Luckily, it's possible to enjoy using them and to minimize the risk of hurting wildlife at the same time. If the steps to avoid environmental harm seem too onerous, however, it would be good to investigate other ways of celebrating an event. This is especially important if the planned event will likely be a large one and will require many balloons. If the safe disposal of waste in this case seems overwhelming, I think it would be better to find a different way to celebrate the occasion.

References and Resources

© 2011 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 21, 2013:

Thanks for sharing the information and tips, Barry Perhamsky.

Barry Perhamsky on October 21, 2013:

I too am a balloon artist. I got started through a lady friend. It took me about a year....yes a year to learn to tie the knot. But now I sculpt things like cartoon characters using as many as 16 balloons. I even creat my own figures. I don't just follow instuctions, I understand balloon sculpting. so if you're having problems, stick with it, be paitent, and one day you'll be making things like the Road Runner, Popeye, Donald and Daisy Ducks and more. One good book to get if you're just starting out is: Balloon

Sculpting by Doctor Droppo

One

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2012:

I agree, Prasetio - balloon sculpture is a very creative activity! Thanks for the comment and the vote.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on July 10, 2012:

Very interesting hub. We should have great imagination in creating such of balloon sculpture. I really enjoy the video above. Good job and voted up :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2012:

Thank for the comment and the vote, jennzie. They are great balloon sculptures!

Jenn from Pennsylvania on July 10, 2012:

Fun and interesting hub! Those are some cool balloon sculptures. Voted up.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, the votes and the share, Peggy. Yes, balloons make great decorations, and balloon twisting is fun, but it's important to think about the effect of the balloons on the environment when they're longer wanted.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 10, 2012:

Hi Alicia,

We attended a fundraising event this last year where balloon art became the centerpieces for each table plus there were larger balloon pieces up by the front of the room. We purchased ours from the table and gave it to a little neighbor boy. Of course the proceeds went to the charity. I found your hub fascinating but what I truly focused on was near the end.

At one memorial service for a friend who died, balloons were released into the air with strings and notes attached in his name. I never thought about the choking hazard for wildlife. However that makes sense. Thanks for the heads up! Hope more people read this. Will do my part by sharing. Also voted up, useful and interesting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2011:

Thanks for the comment, b. Malin. I'm glad that you survived your scary experience with a balloon when you were a child!

b. Malin on August 03, 2011:

Wow, Alicia, who knew...this Hub on the History of Balloons was very Interesting and certainly Enlightening. As a Kid, I almost swallowed a Balloon that I was blowing and could have joked. God knows why I didn't. Also Enjoyed the Videos. Fun Hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2011:

Hi, CMHypno. Thanks for the visit and the comment. I remember those variety shows from my childhood in Britain. The balloon twisters were so clever!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on August 03, 2011:

Great hub on balloon sculptures, and it reminds me of those guys on variety shows who seemed to be able to make anything from balloons

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 27, 2011:

Thank you for the comment, breakfastpop! I was very pleased to find the videos.

breakfastpop on July 27, 2011:

Great hub with rocking videos!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 26, 2011:

Thanks a lot, RTalloni! This was such a fun hub to create. I didn't realize that some people were creating such detailed balloon sculptures before I did research for this hub.

RTalloni on July 25, 2011:

Yes, voted up! Interesting and fun. Amazing videos. This hub leaves one with a "how cool is that" smile!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 25, 2011:

Hi, marellen. Thank you very much for the comment and the vote. The origin of the first balloons is interesting!

marellen on July 25, 2011:

Very informative hub...all I wanted to know about balloons but was afraid to ask......lol

Thanks............Voted up

Related Articles