Balloons help business ‘take off’

Strelow creates artwork from plastic and air

By Patricia Ann Speelman pspeelman@civitasmedia.com
10 months 19 days 1 hours ago |271 Views | 0 | | Email | Print

FORT LORAMIE — When Beth Swick opened Artistic Creations in Fort Loramie in mid-2013, she envisioned art classes, painting parties and gift sales.

She also hoped for a partner who could take responsibility for half of the business, because Swick owned three other businesses, some of them on the other side of the state.

A year later, her hopes have been realized.

“Beth called me,” said balloon artist Teisha Strelow. “I told her I’d rent a room for six months. By September, we just merged the businesses.”

Strelow’s balloon creations have “taken off,” Swick said. They now account for fully 50 percent of the shop’s revenue. Recently, Swick and Strelow changed the firm’s name to Balloon Geeks Artistic Creations. Swick has taken up learning how to twist balloons, and Strelow is beginning to refine her fine art skills. They are, in effect, cross-training each other, so either will be able to accommodate client requests.

“We don’t have customers,” Strelow said. “We have clients. Our goal isn’t to sell the most things they can have. It’s to build a relationship.”

Many people hear “balloons” and think “balloon bouquets,” and such bouquets are available there. But Strelow’s projects encompass much more than bouquets. She twists balloons, in much the same way clowns twist balloons into animals for children. Strelow twists them into fruit baskets, ballerinas, motorcyclists, cartoon characters and even dresses.

Betty Becola, of Minster, is a client who was surprised by the scope of what was available to her.

“I have to drive past her shop on my way to work,” Becola said of Strelow. “A window she had done caught my eye — enormous balloon daisies. I went in to get a few balloons to take to (my father-in-law’s) party.” After she saw photos of the sculptures Strelow had done, Becola decided instead on a characature of her father-in-law, riding a motorcycle.

“She did a fabulous job,” Becola said. “I took my son to the pool and I was blown away when Icame back. It was truly a work of art.”

Strelow draws the designs on her iPad and then inflates the balloons. Sometimes, details like eyelashes, are painted onto the air-filled sculptures. Sometimes those details are bits of plastic from uninflated balloons that are glued to the inflated ones. Designing the pieces often takes much more time than building them, Strelow said.

One client requested a pug dog to be in the hand of a balloon woman. The client provided photos of the dog, but all the photos were of the dog’s face.

“I Googled every end of pug dog you could,” Strelow laughed.

She has recreated a doctor’s visage, a life-sized bride and groom, and clear balloon gift baskets filled with everything from wine bottles to lottery tickets. Long-stemmed balloon roses are a popular item, and she’s twisted more balloon ballerinas for little girls than she can count.

“I made an airman for a guy coming back from Afghanistan,” Strelow said. “I haven’t been asked to do dresses yet, but I can’t wait.” The frock she made just for fun took about six hours to complete.

She and Swick made more than 600 balloon fairy wands for daughters, who, with their dads, attended Gateway Arts Council’s Princess Ball last spring. The two of them fashioned Peter Pan’s Neverland in an arch of balloons for Fort Loramie High School’s 2014 prom.

They distribute free items at the Fort Loramie Farmer’s Market.

“Whenever a kid comes into the shop, I twist for them if I’m not up to my eyeballs,” Strelow said. “In our shop, everything we sell is handmade.”

A balloon creation will last about a week, unless it’s filled with a preservative product, Hi-Float. Hi-Float can keep a balloon alive for three to four weeks, but it’s difficult to get it worked into the long, skinny balloons used in twisted designs. Therefore, the balloon geeks charge more for Hi-Float-filled items.

As soon as a balloon is inflated, it begins to lose air. So, when Strelow has a big job to do, keeping the first balloons as full as the last ones is a challenge. She meets it by storing the earlier ones in her freezer — when there’s room to do that.

“Occasionally, my husband gets turkey and a big ham and a roast (for dinner) in the same week,” she laughed.

Balloon Geeks Artistic Creations offers art classes, event decorating and entertainment, group parties and gifts in addition to the balloon sculptures. Hours are Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Swick and Strelow can be reached at 937-295-2907.



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