TWISTING 101

A dog is one of the simplest balloon sculptures, says St. Louis–based balloon artist Thad James, and anyone can learn to make one. Try these simple instructions from BalloonHQ.com — it’s where all the pros go — and find plenty more tips on twisting and sculpting.

STEP ONE:
Inflate your balloon (a hand pump makes it easy), leaving the last four inches of the tail end uninflated, and tie it. As you twist the balloon, air will move into the tail.

STEP TWO:
Fold the balloon about six inches from the tied end so part of the balloon is sitting alongside itself.

STEP THREE:
To make the ears, gently squeeze both portions of the balloon about two inches from the fold and twist. Rotate the twist two to three times to secure it.

STEP FOUR:
Fold your balloon about an inch below the twist that formed the ears, and twist in a circular motion to form the front legs.

STEP FIVE:
To make the back legs, make another fold two inches away from the twist that formed the front legs, then twist. Your dog is complete!

Some balloon artists choose the profession for fun, others to earn money. But they all have one thing in common: their desire to spread good cheer and to make people laugh. “Balloon- twisters are close to clowns, and many often do clown too. So they tend to be funny,” says Lanna Lee Maheux , a balloon artist in Westbrook, Maine, who got her start in 1989 as a clown at a local Ground Round Grill & Bar ­restaurant, where twisting was part of the job. “Maybe it’s because of doing so many kids’ parties, so there’s always lots of silly jokes. Kids would usually ask for basic things, like dogs, but it was always fun to make the moment special when you’d hand them your creation.” In the early 1990s, Maheux even ran into author Stephen King and his son. (King asked Maheux to make something cool, so Maheux made a cat. “I was very nervous, and his preteen son wasn’t impressed!” she says.) Though she eventually tired of clowning, Maheux loved performing and struck out as an independent balloon artist, continuing to work at restaurants, corporate events and parties to make extra money.

Others, like Josh Routh, start twisting as a hobby. At 12 years old, he was a troubled kid who also struggled with learning disabilities, and his mother was attending school to become a social worker. One of her electives was a class on clowning and, lacking child care, she brought Routh along. “The teacher started teaching me balloons, and I got obsessed. I started going to nursing homes and hospitals, and as I got into my later teens, I began doing events around the country,” he says. Now 35, he owns and operates Circus Kaput, a St. Louis based entertainment/party company offering balloon artists, magicians, jugglers, face painters and more.

As the balloon artist at The Frisco told me, not overinflating balloons is key to successful twisting, but there’s more to being a great balloon artist than sharp technical skills. Almost as important is managing a line of customers at a party or event — and knowing how to keep those customers happy while they wait. “Often, while I’m making a balloon for one person, I’ll ask the next person in line what they want,” Routh says. “They won’t always know right away, but they know that they need to start thinking about it.”