Work on the unfinished Troll Screamers shown above as well as several NEW Troll Screamers will resume soon. I have several body parts ready to go for the new creations.

Sunday, 9 August 2009



This information has been gathered over a 10 month period in which I gained hands on experience using balloons for either partial inclusion(s) or as full actual armatures for many paper mache projects. The balloons I have & still use vary in size, physical thickness & all round type & quality. When reading this information several factors MUST be taking into consideration. These factors will be listed throughout this post. This list has been compiled thanks to MY personal experience gained, but should NOT be considered to be a fixed rule book per say. The information in this list CAN & SHOULD be assumed to be ‘flexible' when used in varying way’s & methods according to YOUR project(s) requirements, other materials & working conditions. Unless otherwise stated ALL references using the term ‘PM STRIPS’ refers to standard paper ‘strips’ ‘triangles’ ‘rectangles’ & ‘squares’. ALL glue(s) reffered to are PVA.

Q1) How many strips can be added to a balloon?

Q2) What glue can I use on a balloon?

Q3) What is the best way to start adding strips to a balloon?

Q4) How can I make my balloon armature stronger with less layers – Even when using PVA?

Q5) I do not want to use pulp so what can i do to still improve strength whilst keeping strips & weight to a minimum?

Q6) what is the minimum of strips I can add to a balloon before bursting the balloon?

Q7) What is the minimum glue to water ratio I can use before I need worry about strength failing when reducing strips for weight whilst retaining strength??

Q8) What is the worst type of paper to use as strips on a balloon?

Q9) What if any problems should I be aware of when using very watery PVA with news paper?

A10) I prefer my glue & paste(s) to be watery what effect if any will this have on drying times?

Q11) How can I speed up drying times so I can add as more strips per sitting?

Q12) A fan & warm room helps but can I do more to speed up drying so I can add more strips during a sitting?

Q13) When adding any kind of paper strips to a balloon they slide around as I try to brush or wipe them into place. How can I stop this?

Q14) No matter how few or what type of paper & glue(s) or paste(s) I am using my balloons are shrinking over night resulting in warping or fully collapsed balloons.

Q15) What is the recommended way to dry a balloon armature with a radiator as a heat source?

Q16) If hanging a balloon armature is the only way to dry it then why do most of my balloons then burst?

Q17) When using a balloon as an armature some of my balloons paper layers have split why is this happening?

A18) Sometimes when I burst a balloon armature the balloon inside comes away clean & other times the balloon either remains stuck to the inside of the paper strips in fragments or the whole balloon sticks warping my armature why is this happening?

Q19) I want to cut up a balloon armature to use as part(s) of another armature or sculpture but after adding a lot of paper strips I have found it difficult to cut. What can I do to make this easier?

Q20) What problems should I expect from shrinking with watered down or water based glue(s)?

Q21) When adding strips to my balloon armature & allowed it to fully dry I can no longer burst the balloon. Should I be aware of any problems this might cause later?

Q22) Can any balloon or inflatable latex or plastic item be used as an armature?

Q23) Mid way through adding layers (or drying) my balloon burst. I have several layers applied, can I save this armature?

Q24) I only require a part of the balloon to be layered in paper strips can I do this to create a specific shape to reduce cutting later for use in making a bowl for example?

Q25) Will a balloon armature used in conjunction with other stronger materials such as wood, plastic, metal effect the integrity of the final sculpture?

Q26) What can I use to paint a armature created by a balloon?

Q27) Am I limited as to what shapes or forms I can make with a balloon armature?

Q28) Will a very large balloon armature require additional internal support when completed?

Q29) I want to create large egg sculptures using balloons but do not want to use paper strips how can I do this?

Q30) I want to ‘shape’ the balloon armature by pushing in certain sections or areas how do I do this?

A1) Adding PM paper strips of ANY grade or paper type(s) CAN be added DIRECTLY to ANY balloon. From the first layer to the final layer with virtually ANY glue type.

A2) Essentially ALL glues & paints CAN be applied directly to ANY balloon(s), but, MUST be of a type that will not have any adverse reactions to LATEX balloons which this information refers to at ALL times.

A3) When adding PM strips to a balloon I recommend you use un-diluted PVA for the first 2/6 layers. After that the glue can be diluted using either water alone or other mediums. When using water ONLY as a thinner then the ratios WILL vary according to the project size & shape, BUT, all round strength WILL remain high with ALL NONE waxed paper types. MINIMUM ratios of water as a thinner with MOST PVA based glues can be around 20% glue to 80% water. After this I can not state what strength the bonded paper/glue(s) may retain. In ALL projects experimentation IS advised when using un-known paper & glue types.

A4) A combination of strips then pulp then strips CAN be used & will provide a strong finish.

A5) When using strips alone when/where possible overall strength Can be improved whilst keeping weight & amounts of strips required down by cross hatching the strips ie: vertical then horizontal layering of the strips. A minimum of 1mm ‘overlap’ one ALL strip types IS recommended. A final ‘smooth’ finish can be achieved by NOT overlapping the final 4/6 layers of strips.

A6) When using PVA undiluted it IS possible to burst the balloon after only 2/4 strips have been added, but it IS recommended that you add a minimum of 8/10 layers before this step.

A7) When using watered down PVA where the water ratio exceeds 50% glue to 50% water a minimum of 10/14 strips is recommended BEFORE bursting the balloon(s). The artist SHOULD also take into account the balloon armature size, paper type/thickness, pulp type/thickness applied FIRST before bursting the balloon(s). IF in doubt when/where possible simply leave the balloon(s) intact.

A8) Most ‘glossy’ papers ie: magazine paper WILL wrinkle during application & drying. As a rule these wrinkles WILL NOT disappear.

A9) News paper WILL wrinkly IF the PVA is too watery, as with rule 8 these wrinkles in most cases will NOT disappear. You CAN ‘work’ or ‘rub’ out the wrinkles that may form using news paper.

A10) Very watery PVA (or most pastes) WILL take longer to dry as the balloon(s) will act as a shield against the first few layers of strips & the water they retain. If using watery glue(s) or paste(s) then allow a longer drying time or reduce layers added at a sitting.

A11) Using undiluted PVA in a warm room & or with a fan blowing at the project WILL partially dry the strips & glue allowing for MORE strips to be added during a single sitting. Balloon size, paper types & glue(s) or paste(s) used may vary the results.

A12) Using undiluted PVA on a balloon (or indeed anything) will allow the artist to apply as many strips & or full layers as they have the patience to apply as long as the previous layer(s) are dry to the touch. I do recommend how ever a maximum of 10 layers per session to ensure even with undiluted PVA dried fully prior to both bursting the balloon & using the armature created.

A13) When using watery NONE PVA based OR very watery PVA on the FIRST layer of the balloon the strips WILL tend to slide around. To combat this paint a thin layer of PVA or none PVA glue onto the immediate area of the balloon to be worked on then give it a few seconds (times WILL vary depending on glues type used & how watery it is) before adding the first layer of paper strips. Once the first layer has been added then the artist should not experience any ‘sliding’ problems.

A14) PM’ing balloons IS BEST performed in a stable cold or warm environment. IF the environmental temperatures fluxuate then the balloon WILL shrink, in the worst case sinario this may be to a point where the balloon will appear to be leaking. To prevent this ONLY PM a balloon in stable ‘cold’ OR stable ‘warm’ conditions. Moving a balloon to a cooler environment regardless of strips & or layers added WILL result in the balloon(s) shrinking as mentioned. To combat this try to keep the balloon(s) in the SAME environment: Before, during & after adding the strips has begun. IF you have no choice & simply MUST place the balloon(s) to a new environment to dry. Then move the balloon(s) to a warmer STABLE environment.

A15) Drying a balloon armature IS a controversial & open to debate subject, especially in relation to radiator or other directly applied heat source drying. After much trial & error (& MANY unexpected very LARGE loud exploding balloons at 1am, 2am, 3am etc), I personally find that radiator drying IS viable but there ARE limitations & rules that MUST be observed. The following information is based on various balloon sizes, grades & drying exposure times. Also layers applied makes no difference to the following rules:

15a) Drying balloons near a radiator is best performed IF smaller balloon(s) are placed at a minimum of 12/14 inches from a radiator.

15b) Large balloon(s) are best placed at a minimum of 16/20 inches from a radiator.

15c) Placing ANY sized or quality of balloon(s) too close to ANY fixed heat source WILL result in the air inside the balloon(s) expanding & bursting.

A16) Suspending balloons when air OR radiator drying becomes difficult often resulting in burst balloon(s) IF:




A17) Never inflate a balloon to its maximum capacity prior to adding strips. Any expansion experienced during drying that whilst may not visibly seem to effect the layers ie: tearing. May STILL be enough to rupture the layered strips.

A18) Latex based glue(s) WILL adhere to ALL balloon(s) if used in an undiluted state. The MORE you dilute a latex based glue then it is less likely that the glue will stick to the balloon(s) once dry.

A19) IF a balloon armature is to be cut into multiple sections for use in shaping other armatures etc. It would then follow that the armature to be cut up would be easier to cut if it were as thin as possible first. With this in mind the following factors would be best noted: Between 4/6 FULL layers of strips WILL assist in making not only the armature lighter but & the cutting process easier but also the drying times would be reduced too, BUT, the following known problem(s) CAN & DO then often arise:

A19a) Using undiluted PVA based glue(s) WILL result in the strips sticking to the balloon(s). When the balloon(s) are then burst the armature if not FULLY dried can be irrevocably deformed or tear too badly to then recover & use. Using too few (minimum of x2 full layers) CAN often result in the armature ‘shattering’ & or tearing when FULLY dried. The then cut sections WILL be in MANY cases too thin to use & therefore work with on another armature or project.

A20) Shrinking WILL not be of any noticeable level as to effect the encased balloon(s) no matter what glue(s) or paste(s) are used during drying.

A21) No problems or concerns should arise from not bursting the balloon after completing the armature. In time the balloon will simply shrink inside the sculpture. Since by that time the sculpture will be well reinforced nothing of any concern will occur to your finished work.

A22) Yes, but IF the ‘other’ type of inflatable item is thin plastic or latex then ALL previous shrinking rules apply fully.

A23) YES, but you must know that speed & care are to be taken to insert a NEW balloon. You must take care to reduce the risk of crushing the soft armature. You must make sure the balloon IS of the same type & size/shape etc. You must not over inflate the replacement balloon or the soft layers of paper WILL split.

A24) YES, but take note: you MUST make sure the layers are sufficient to make the armature stronger than normal as the chances of warping WILL be greatly increased. IF creating an armature with only half or less of the balloons natural shape is to be employed then a minimum of 20/25 layers IS recommended no matter what the glue(s) or paste(s) type used.

A25) NO, but you MUST make sure that the balloon armature section(s) are reinforced enough with slightly more layers of paper than perhaps normally used.

A26) Once you have created a balloon armature you may paint it will any paints or combinations of paints & other materials you wish as with any other paper related sculpture.

A27) NO, as with any other armature you can create any base shape to then go on to sculpt up from there. Of course a little imagination & much cutting & gluing will be required even for the simplest of shapes at times. With a little imagination, time & care you can add balloon armatures & or pieces of balloon armatures together to make virtually any shapes you wish.

A28) Yes & NO, this all depends on the size of the balloon of which many extremely large balloons can now be purchased. IF the armature has received enough paper strips & layers prior to the actual sculpting taking place then in MOST cases the balloon based armature WILL cope easily. If in doubt as to the balloon based armature being able to withstand any extra pressure from the other sections of the sculpture or other outside forces then it may be a good idea to internally support the balloon based armature with some form of padding. In cases such as this I use ‘loosely’ scrunched up news paper liberally brushed with either undiluted or diluted PVA glue. This then creates a honey comb effect when dry adding much more light weight support.

A29) Blow up your chosen balloon to the size you require. Now make a mixture of PVA glue undiluted with flour (corn starch etc). Follow these ratios as the layers grow:

FIRST LAYER: 50% PVA glue to 50% flour

SECOND LAYER: 60% PVA glue to 40% flour

THIRD LAYER: 70% PVA glue to 30% flour

FOURTH LAYER: 80% PVA glue to30% flour.

FINAL TWO LAYERS: Finish as you would normally with paints & varnish, gesso or what ever you would normally use. You Can add paints or dyes to the mix as you progress to build up colour & the illusion of depth.

A30) On reaching the 4th or 6th layer of strips allow the armature to fully dry. Then using any kind of marker pen/pencil draw onto the paper ‘where’ you want to push in later. Now take care to ‘miss out’ these sections or areas as you continue to add strips to the rest of the armature. AFTER wards when you burst the balloon. This will make these sections or areas weaker allowing this to be done.

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