Artist’s twisted whale wins US balloon sculpting prize

By Tsai Hsu-yuan and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Mon, Jul 16, 2018 - Page 3

Balloon artist Sung Chun-lin (宋俊霖) on Wednesday took the first prize in a twisting competition held by US balloon maker Qualatex for his piece Taiwan Blue Whale.

The 2m long blue-and-white piece was made using 170 balloons and took the artist 15 hours to complete.

Qualatex holds the balloon twisting contest annually, setting different rules for color combinations each year. This year the contest, themed “Navy Color Quest,” asked participants to design their submissions around navy-blue balloons.

Sung said he was inspired to make a whale model as the whale is the symbol of the Formosa Alliance (喜樂島聯盟) — a political organization that calls for a referendum on Taiwanese independence and the nation’s participation in the UN.

The whale is one of Sung’s favorite animals, and symbolizes freedom and dreams, he said, adding that he never imagined that the animal would help him realize his own dream of winning an international competition.

Sung started from the tail, folding the balloons while looking at a picture of a whale, he said, adding that judging the angle of the tail was the hardest part.

The challenge in making the head was in shrinking several balloons and having them converge on one point, which involved a lot of trial and error, he said.

Sung used different twisting and cladding techniques to make his submission, and while they were not the most difficult balloon modeling techniques to execute, they require precision, he said.

Sung, 25, graduated from National Taipei University of Education’s Department of Digital Technology Design. While acting as a director for a group of illusionists, he asked well-known balloon artist Chiang Mu-cheng (姜牧呈) to teach him balloon modeling.

He learned basic models from Chiang and the rest through self-study using books and YouTube before spending a year in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture to take more advanced classes. He then spent a year in Australia busking before returning to Taiwan.

While he earned good money in Australia, he wanted to build a career as an artist in Taiwan, where he has roots, he said.

Aside from his win in the US, Sung said he has also submitted a balloon animal to a domestic contest: a Papilio maraho — a long-winged butterfly indigenous to Taiwan.

All of his original designs are inspired by Taiwanese animals, including the Formosan black bear, he said.

Sung next plans to make balloon versions of the Formosan Sika deer and the Formosan landlocked salmon, he added.