Balloon Twisting or Sculpture, Mass Releases and Wildlife Safety

A green teddy bear with a purple bow tie
A green teddy bear with a purple bow tie | Source

The Fun and Versatile Balloon

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 are using the technique to create larger and more ambitious sculptures, however.

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.

Colorful balloons
Colorful balloons | Source

History of Balloons

The earliest balloons were made out of animal bladders, intestines or stomachs. They were used as toys and for entertainment. There is also evidence that some people twisted them into new shapes.

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, which was produced from the milky latex extracted from the rubber tree. This natural latex is a good material for making a balloon, since it solidifies on exposure to air, forming a stretchy, flexible and waterproof material. However, natural latex or rubber tends to melt in hot weather and crack in cold weather.

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 sulfur.

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.

A Giant Balloon Sculpture as Art

Balloon 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.

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, which 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.

Skilled artists prepare amazingly detailed, giant 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.

Amazing Sculptures

Balloon modelling has become a performance art. There are modelling groups that visit schools and perform in theaters. The creation of a sculpture made of balloons is also part of some clown and magic shows.

Natural Latex Balloons

Modellers often prefer the properties of natural latex balloons to those of balloons made from artificial materials. Natural latex balloons have a major advantage compared to balloons made of other materials: the latex is biodegradable by bacteria and is therefore safer for the environment. Ultraviolet light from the sun also helps to degrade the latex. Caution is still needed when disposing of the balloons, however, because the degradation process may take some time - months or even years - and may be slower in some environments than others.

Celebrating a birthday
Celebrating a birthday | Source

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 honor 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.

A mass balloon release
A mass balloon release | Source

What Happens to Balloons Released into the Air?

Balloon releases are fun, impressive and 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 balloon 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 balloon 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 balloon fragments 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, but 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. | Source

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

Alternate Ways to Celebrate or Commemorate Events

We really need to find other ways to celebrate or commemorate important events which appeal to people's emotions but don't harm the environment. Two environmentally friendly activities to commemorate a sad event are to plant a tree or to create a flower garden. A tree or a garden has the additional advantage of creating a lasting memorial for a loved one. For a happy event, hiring balloon artists to create large and intricate sculptures could create some of the excitement that a balloon release produces. Another possibility is to hold a balloon release in a large indoor area, such as a gym.

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. | Source

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.
  • 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.

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.

A fun sculpture for Christmas
A fun sculpture for Christmas | Source

© 2011 Linda Crampton

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Comments 18 comments

marellen 5 years ago

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

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

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

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

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 5 years ago

Great hub with rocking videos!

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

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

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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!

b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

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!

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

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.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

jennzie profile image

jennzie 4 years ago from Lower Bucks County, PA

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

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

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 :-)

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

Barry Perhamsky 3 years ago

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


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for sharing the information and tips, Barry Perhamsky.

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