Animal balloon art basics

Balloon animals may look tricky, but they're surprisingly easy with a little practice and are guaranteed to delight at chidrens' parties.

You don't have to be a professional clown to master the art of balloon creatures. They look impressive but they're surprisingly easy with a little practice. And they're guaranteed to be a big hit at chidrens' parties.

Supplies:

You need a bag of long skinny balloons (designed specifically for balloon animals) and a small hand pump. These can generally be found at your local craft store. Experienced balloon artists can blow up these balloons with their breath alone, first stretching the balloon to loosen it. But if you don't have the lungs of a champion swimmer, start off with a small hand pump.

Inflating Your Balloon:

Start by stretching the balloon to weaken the rubber. This is a good idea even if you are using the hand pump. Next slip the opening of the balloon onto the nozzle of your hand pump. Hold it in place with one hand and pump with the other. Never inflate your ballon the entire way. The uninflated section is the slack you will need to create twists in your balloon creature. The amount of inflation depends on the complexity of the creature you are making. For a fish with only two twists, you need only an inch or two of uninflated balloon. For a giraffe or poodle, you need five or six inches of uninflated balloon. Carefully slip your balloon off of the nozzle and tie it off. Next squeeze your balloon gently all over, pushing some of the air into the uninflated portion. This makes the balloon more flexible and makes it easier to twist your balloon without it popping.

Twisting Your Balloon:

Balloon creatures are made up of sections of twisted balloon. There are two basic twists which are all you need to create many different kinds of creatures.

The Single Bubble:

The first type of twist is a simple bubble of air. To make this, you hold the balloon firmly in your left hand where you want to create a bubble. Place your right hand next to your left and twist. This creates your bubble. However, if you let go, the bubble will untwist! So to keep the twist in place you will have to combine this bubble with another twisted bubble. Then the two bubbles will "lock" together. This is how we will create the easiest balloon creature, the fish.

The Folded Bubble:

For this method, first fold your balloon in half where you want to create a bubble. Make sure there is some uninflated or partially inflated slack on both sides of the fold, or the air will have nowhere to go when you twist. Hold the two loose ends firmly in your left hand and twist the folded end with your right. This creates your folded bubble. Like the simple bubble, you will need to combine this bubble with another twisted bubble so that the two will lock together.

Practice both of these bubbles a few times until you get the feel for them. In a few moments we will combine a simple bubble with two folded bubbles to create the basic animal face. But first we will try the simplest creature, the fish.

Making a Balloon Fish:

A fish is the easiest of all balloon creatures to make. Your finished fish will look like the greek alpha symbol, or a child's line drawing of a goldfish. First pick the color of balloon you want your fish to be. Stretch the balloon to weaken the rubber. Next inflate the balloon to nearly its full length, leaving only an inch of uninflated balloon at the end. Tie it off. Squeeze the balloon gently all over to force some of the air into the uninflated portion.

Your balloon is now ready to be shaped. Firmly grab your balloon at each end. Bring your ends together so the balloon is folded in half. With your left hand hold the folded end (this will be the head) and with your right hand hold the two balloon ends (these will be the points of the tail.) Holding the folded end steady, twist the two tails around each other several times at a point about three inches in from the balloon ends. Once the twist feels secure, let go. Your balloon fish is now finished. You have just successfully completed your first balloon creature.



Making a Balloon Animal:

Once you know the basic way to make a four-legged creature, you can make many creatures merely by changing the color of the balloon and the proportions of the body. First pick the color of balloon you want your animal to be. Inflate your balloon until it is about two-thirds full. As you make more animals, you may find that you have to inflate the balloon more or less, depending on the animal you are creating. If you run out of slack, next time fill the balloon less; if you run out of bubble, next time fill the balloon more. Tie your balloon off and squeeze it gently all over to force air into the uninflated portions.

Your balloon is now ready to be shaped. Hold your balloon horizontally in front of you with the knotted end on your left. The balloon knot will be the tip of your animal's nose. Holding the nose in your left hand, twist the balloon with your right, creating a twisted point about one inch in from the nose. You have now created a nose for your animal made up of one simple bubble. Don't let go yet!

Next we will use two folded bubbles to create the ears. Hold your nose bubble with your left hand and grasp the portion of the balloon just to the right of the twist with your fingers. With your right hand, fold the balloon an inch or two beyond the nose twist and add it to your left hand. Your left hand should now be holding a twisted nose bubble and the long loose end of the balloon. With your right hand, twist the folded section several times at the same spot where the nose twist is located. You will now have a single bubble joined to a folded bubble. This is your nose and one ear.

Now we will make the second ear. Hold the nose and ear in your left hand. With your right hand, fold the long loose section of the balloon an inch or two beyond the nose/ear twist. Add this to your left hand. This will take a bit of practice, especially if you have small hands! Next, twist your folded section around the nose/ear twist several times. You now have a nose and two ears. This is the basic animal face.

This is also the basic configuration block which will be used to create the rest of the animal. So once you've mastered this grouping of one single and two folded bubbles, you can do anything!

Next we will use this building block to create the neck and front legs. This is exactly the same process as before. In your left hand, hold the left end of the balloon, just beyond the head you created. Use your right hand to twist a single bubble. But instead of a nose, this bubble will become the neck. Next, grab the neck with your left hand, and use your right to make a folded bubble and twist it in place. Instead of an ear, this will be one of your front legs. Repeat the folded bubble process to make the second front leg. Now you have an animal head, neck, and front legs.

We will repeat this building block yet again for the body and back legs. This time you might consider making your single bubble a bit longer than the previous single bubbles. After all, unless you're making a giraffe, your animal's body is probably longer than its neck! Hold your body bubble with your left hand and use your right to make your two folded bubbles and twist them into place. Any leftover bubble at the end becomes your creature's tail. And now you have successfully made a balloon animal!

This basic balloon creature body can be varied to suit many different types of four-legged creatures. For example, if your subject asks for a giraffe, use a yellow balloon and make the neck bubble long and the body bubble short. For a dachshund, use a brown balloon. Position the ears upside down, make the neck bubble short, and the body bubble as long as possible! A fun poodle balloon can be made from a pink balloon. When you get to the tail, leave a small bubble of air at the base of the tail, and use your fingers to push another bubble of air out to the very end of the tail. This can be done without any twisting. The uninflated section of tail between the two bubbles makes the poodle look like he has a traditional poodle haircut. And of course, a fish can very easily become a funny hat, and a balloon with no twists at all is your basic snake!

Now you have all the knowledge you need to master the basic balloon creatures. Try to experiment and come up with your own variations. And remember, no matter what you think your first experimentations look like, always present them with a smile and state what animal it is. The magic of balloon animals will do the rest.

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