Remember those days when you would go to a carnival, eat some popcorn and hotdogs, ride the roller coaster, play some games and watch some clowns concoct dozens of inflated balloons into beautiful shapes that you would wear on your body or take home? Today, balloon art or modeling is not only used to amuse children but also to catch the attention of adults at events or parties. It is a lucrative business that is flourishing without us even noticing.
Where It All Began
Long ago, even before latex was created to form balloons, there was a way to make these puffed up wonders. In the European regions, bladders, intestines and even stomachs of animals were thin enough to be inflated and used to amuse them with.
During the early 1800’s, Professor Michael Faraday was experimenting with gases and raw rubber when he suddenly created a balloon made from rubber called caoutchouc. His work was probably the first to join the balloons with hydrogen as he kept a journal of what he was working on.
As early as 1889, balloons were bought in the United States. It is important to note that these were not really designed in the US, but as a matter of fact, a good number of them happen to have been imported from countries like Belgium, and for a fair price too. In general they would cost around four cents each or forty cents for a dozen.
Balloons manufacturing in the US began around 1907 by Anderson Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. The first recorded change of balloon shape was 1912 when instead of having the round shaped balloon, long cigar-shaped rubbers were manufactured. This was as a matter of fact due to the efforts of one Harry Ross Gill, who went on to be the founding father of the National Latex Rubber Products of Ashland, Ohio.
In 1931, Neil Tillotson dipped the first modern latex balloon made from the sap of a rubber tree. They made the first novelty-shaped and printed balloons. Prior to that, balloons were made by a solvent- dissolved rubber comparable to rubber cement. The rubber company he founded is still in operation to date as a matter of fact.
At the Italian Village of the Chicago World’s Fair during 1933-1934, Sally Rand, one of the dancers used balloons for her performance which were pumped by foot at the moment arranged. These measured about five feet in diameter and cost around $28.50 each. Unfortunately, problems came up and the balloons would pop during her show. It was later discovered that someone from the audience shot paper clips using a slingshot to burst the balloons. These were later prevented by lowering a silk curtain that would stop these incidents from happening and it made sure that the audiences view would not be blocked.
The development of balloons skyrocketed. During World War II, special balloons were made. One of these balloons was inflated to five feet in diameter and about twenty feet long which was used as a target. It was used in the Army’s development of the bazooka anti-tank gun.
Eventually, hydrogen was replaced with helium. Although hydrogen had more lifting power, helium proved to be safer. After the change, new possibilities arose. Balloons were used in shops and people hung them on parade floats.
How Balloons Are Made
Balloons are made from latex and the colors are added by the pigment mixed into the latex. Latex comes from the sap of a rubber tree or Heveabrasiliensis which grows in Malaysia. Once the sap is collected, it is mixed with accelerators, curing agents, color, oil and water to make it apt for balloon production. After all of these are mixed, they are formed by machines then baked for 20-25 minutes in 200-220 degrees Fahrenheit. When cured, balloons are removed from their form.
Here are the steps they go through when they are created by automated machines:
• acid bath is done once every eight hours or every round
• a clean water bath of refreshed water
• brushing is done
• warming the bath to 70 - 80 degrees Celsius
• first coagulant bath is used for beading the edge of the balloon (70 degree Celsius)
• then, the second coagulant bath for the balloon (70 degrees Celsius)
• they are then placed in the oven for drying the coagulant (when doing this, you must remember to give the bath an appropriate slant, and leave it upright too. This way you will be able to make sure that you get a good result)
• after that you allow the latex to dip
• Back to the oven for setting latex film
• use two ovens usually within a temperature range of 80 - 90 degrees Celsius
• you will need to cool it down, and this you can do through the use of 2 tanks
• through the use of rollers or the air, you can then do the stripping
Learning Balloon Art
There are numerous ways to learn balloon modeling. Now, there are written instructions that you could download or find over the Internet. If you would like to take it a step further, you could watch a video on the Internet or take a class to earn a certificate to make yourself an official balloon artist.
First, let’s make a run down on what we need. These are just the basics because the list could go on and on depending on the occasion.
1. Avoid buying cheap balloons because most likely, these are old and will not last long when used. You will need quality balloons. They come in different shapes and sizes which can be found at party suppliers or your best option would be to buy from the manufacturer and maybe they have an online store for you to view the balloons.
2. A hand pump for large scale balloon decorations but if you are at a party and entertaining kids, go for the old fashioned mouth-blowing activity. It’s very impressive how some can blow a long balloon within seconds. It’s part of the act and can garner a lot of attention.
3. Always leave space at the tail of the balloon. You need to keep in mind that these balloons will be twisted and shaped into various forms. There needs to be a place for the air to go after bubbles are made.
4. Start the twists on the side where the balloon was tied. Doing this will allow the air to be pushed near the end of the balloon.
5. Keep in mind to always clean your hands before twisting to avoid the balloon to end up being sticky and dirty. Children must also be warned to stay away from balloons that are not inflated. Although the balloons are generally made with safe materials, it is pertinent that children must be supervised at all times to avoid choking and all the other hazards that could happen.
6. As mentioned earlier, learn the different type of twists and forms which are generally available online and even through books. Some of these are: designing of locking twists, four legged animals and birds. You can also have the bubble roll through, the folded twist or the large ear twist. The other designs which a lot of people prefer include the apple twist, hook twist, s-twist, pop twist, banana twist and a whole lot more.
Since there’s so much we could do with a balloon, let me give the basic steps for a simple dog shape. We must first learn how to make a bubble because to create figures, making bubbles of different sizes must be produced to shape the desired form.
To make a dog, you will need to pinch the area where you would need to twist it. After the pinch of about 2 inches in length, you will need to make two more bubbles of equal size. Fold the twist between the second and third bubble. Secure this fold by twisting together the first bubble and the end of the third bubble. That makes the head of the dog.
Moving on, make a smaller bubble to form the neck and two more bubbles the same size as the ones made for the head. Again, fold the twist between the second and third bubble. After, twist and secure this by twisting the area after the neck and the last twist that was made. That made the front legs of the dog.
When this is done, create a longer bubble for the body of the dog then three more bubbles for the hind legs and the tail. Same procedure goes with creating the front legs. Once you are done, you have created the basic dog created at parties and fairs.
Learning is not difficult at all and I’m sure that when you were younger, you somewhat tried to form shapes with the balloons you able to get your hands on. With instructions posted everywhere, you don’t even have to think about what to do and how to do it.
The Business of Balloon Twisting
Some people would like to learn not only as a hobby but they would like to consider turning it into something profitable. Below is a short list of what needs to be done.
1. Get a permit and license. Depending on what state you are at, there are different laws regarding this. Know what your state allows to avoid having any problems in the future.
2. Figure out your over head. Make a list of your equipment costs, and don’t forget to include other things like gas for your car, mobile phone, accountant, insurance, computer, etc.
3. Work out your taxes. You will have two: sales tax and income tax.
4. Get insurance. You may have difficulty with this as a lot of people don’t think of twisting balloons a job or that you made it a business. You can get a home owners/ renters insurance. Since it is a home-based job. It will not only cover you but even your equipment. Another thing you could look into is the World Clown Association (WCA). They are represented by a reputable insurance agent. It costs $100 and there is no deductible.
5. Study on the laws regarding employing your children. You may be cited for breaking child labor laws even if your child just accompanies you and decides to help you by handing you a couple of balloons.
6. Always bring at least 1 ½ bags of balloons per hour. It would even be better if you would bring two. Think of the assortment; colors and shapes. Don’t forget the while paper for the eyes, markers, scissors, pipe cleaners for whiskers, static guard for the static and nail cutters.
7. Lastly, be careful of copyrights and trademarks. You could be sued if what you create has the slightest resemblance of a character.
The next step would be how to promote your business. One thing that I can think of is giving others balloon care cards. These have three purposes: it provides you customer information needed to care for the balloon, it gives them safety tips, and it will become a marketing tool. You do not need to purchase fancy cards and regular bond paper is fine. If you are at a professional event, sneaking in the card between the balloons will do. People often remove the paper and put it in their pockets.
Another idea is handing out flyers. Walk up to them and show them the brightly colored flyers. Be as creative as you want. Make sure that it stands out so people will take the time to read them.
Place newspaper ads. There are freebie newspapers and those community papers. Your local church even has a paper that they hand out at the end of the mass to tell you about their monthly activities. At the very back of those, there are small advertisements. Don’t forget that you could also place ads on billboards of groceries and other locations. The important thing is you find every free solution you can or at least those that have minimal cost.
Sell yourself. Show them what you got and what makes you different from others. Prove to them that they need you. Expose yourself because the more people see you, the more they will get the idea that they would like to have you in their event. More often than not you will receive calls just checking how much they will spend when they hire you. What you need is great salesmanship. Not only do you twist balloons but you have a great personality that comes with it. Keep in mind that this potential job can give you five more jobs or more if others love your act.
Place yourself in the yellow pages and online classified ads which people nowadays use to look for anything. What is important is that you stand out, you expose yourself and others see the need to have you around. Remember that most of your business doesn’t come from all the methods I just mentioned but from referrals.
Where to Work – A Balloon Entertainers Guide
For indoors, you have restaurants, shopping malls, stores, wedding receptions, museums, company events, and movie theaters.
For the outdoors, you have zoos, parks, car washes, theme parks, the White House, graduations and your front porch. You must always have plenty of water and stay in the shade. Wear a hat or have a large umbrella. You can also provide a tent if the event pays you to bring one. You wouldn’t want to have heatstroke or other problems that come with being outside for a prolonged period of time. Most importantly, take breaks. You might get so caught up trying to advertise yourself that you forget to rest. If you become ill, it won’t be worth it.
Make sure to always have balloons handy anywhere you go. Even if you are out with friends and you see a table at the restaurant celebrating something, twist something up for them and as always, attach a business card. If you see a child crying, send one over to them and see the wonderful reaction of a child. Believe me, everyone will be pleased if you make that child stop.
Working As a Balloon Decorator
Should you decide to not get into the balloon twisting business and eventually would like to be selling (distributor) or printing balloons, it would also be a great way to earn money. Like any business, you need to spend a great amount of your time researching. Everything should be looked at and even the smallest detail should not be forgotten. Should it be home based or are you going to have a small office? What products will I have to start out with? Find out if you will able to profit in a certain location. Will you be getting into a partnership with someone else and how will we split the expenses as well as the earning?
Balloon art is lucrative as long as you find your niche and you are wise with your business. If this is just a hobby and you’re prepared to be paid with smiles, if could be just as rewarding. At the end of the day, what are important are the smiles of the people and the interaction with others. You have this amazing talent and making children happy and jump for joy could be payment enough.