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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Peter John Lindsay and his motorcycle made entirely from balloons.

In Arts & Entertainment

One of Lindsay's many imaginative balloon creations.

In Arts & Entertainment

This piece of balloon art might win $250,000.

Balloon Man creates twisted art


Peter John Lindsay was not always a balloon artist. More than 25 years ago he started his career as a magician, escape artist and fire eater. At the end of every performance, Lindsay was surrounded by kids wanting to check out his props, so he started twisting balloons into shapes to distract them from trying to figure out his tricks or accidentally breaking his equipment.

"After a while, because my balloon designs got more and more complicated, I started getting more calls for my balloon shows than for my other work," says Lindsay.

Today, Lindsay runs a successful, more-than-full-time business where he travels to private parties, malls, festivals, corporate events and business promotions to twist balloons. Rates vary, but run about $150 an hour. This is more than other local balloon artists charge, but Lindsay says he stocks a larger variety of color, sizes and shapes than the others and his pieces are very detailed.

"The only thing I do not perform for is 'adult' parties, where the venue is not expected to be family friendly," he says. "My general rule is, 'If I don't feel comfortable performing it in front of my mother, I am not going to perform it in front of you.'"

Lindsay goes far beyond swords and poodles with his balloon designs. At past parties, he has created full-sized motorcycles, a car that a 10-year-old fit into and lots of cartoon character parodies.

Later this year, Lindsay will exhibit his art in the Michigan-based Artprize show which is open to artists of any medium and gives away $250,000, the largest art prize in the country, to the winning artist. For his entry, Lindsay hand rolled 8,460 balloons to create a portion of the George Seurat painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte."

"You are only limited by your imagination, the cost of the balloons, sometimes the time and space allowed for your creations," he says.

Because he takes his art form so seriously, Lindsay does not usually take requests at parties unless it's something he's sure he can pull off on the spot. He prefers to find out ahead of time what the birthday child is into so he can create a spectacular piece of balloon art prior to the party and bring it along.

Not all balloon twisters are artists, according to Lindsay. Some just enjoy producing the same simple designs over and over again. Lindsay calls these people "balloon machines." Others strive to create new and innovative designs and push the limits of what can be done with balloons regardless of what it costs. Some balloon artists, including Lindsay, do this by adding lights, sounds and mechanical devices to their already ornate creations.

Lindsay says the part of his work he enjoys the most is delighting children. He never discloses what he's creating from balloons, and particularly appreciates the moment when the child recognizes what he's making. He also likes that his work encourages people to view things in a new way.

"You can take anything and break it down into basic shapes and by adding a detail or two capture the likeness of any image. It is not only the kids that you can see this in but most adults, too," he says.

Lindsay learned balloon art about 25 years ago, when only books and advice from other performers was available. Then videos, DVD and eventually the Internet came along and Lindsay continued his studies.

"With the explosion of information on the Internet the balloon artists really got a resource to share ideas and meet each other," says Lindsay. "Soon balloon artists started going to conventions, having competitions and having 'jam' sessions with each other. Each of these have been very valuable for expanding what I do with balloons."

Above all, Lindsay says having a sense of humor is important for a truly great balloon artist.

"I feel it is important to entertain the ears as well as stimulate the eyes with my balloons. When you can make someone laugh you make a connection with them that is a lasting memory and a real impact," says Lindsay.


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