Alli Hamm knew what she wanted for her sixth birthday party.
"To be Elvis!" said the grinning mini fan, decked out in a white sparkly jumpsuit.
Lisa Light was there to add her touch to the O'Fallon family's celebration decorations: A guitar, a microphone, pink music notes, even a silvery disco ball -- all made of balloons in a 6-foot column.
"It's great; she loves it," said mom Becky Hamm. She and her husband Keith asked Lisa to come up with the creation for their daughter's party. By the time she was finished with the construction in the family room, it towered over the kindergartner, who gladly hopped onto a tall chair and pretended to croon into the balloon microphone.
"This is so much fun to do!" said Lisa of her business, Artiste Balloons.
But don't think of Lisa as someone who just twists and ties.
"These are so much more than a balloon on a string," she said of her creations. "It really wows. And they last longer than flowers -- two to three weeks."
It's a new venture for the 53-year-old O'Fallon resident.
After 18 years in retail, she was ready for something more creative. When a friend asked her to concoct a balloon arrangement for her grandson, she went online and did some research. She was blown away by what she could do with balloons.
In June, she took a six-day class in Florida and became a certified balloon decor designer.
Now, the lower level of the home she shares with her husband Mark has become Balloon Central, with plastic drawers filled with different sizes, shapes, colors and patterns of deflated balloons, a table with a special inflating machine -- "No lips required" -- and finished arrangements sitting on chairs and tabletops.
Professional balloons are thicker and stronger, so they're easier to manipulate without breaking, she pointed out.
"My hands don't get tired, so it's not difficult to tie them," Lisa said.
From a 7-foot-tall scarecrow to a "floating" octopus to a pink baby shower bouquet, Lisa's work keeps her creative juices are flowing big-time.
When a balloon needs to become a dog, she designs a face on it. When a jungle theme is required, Lisa is ready with a marker to create tiger stripes and leopard spots.
A long pink balloon connected to a couple small white ones with a larger clear one on top becomes a baby rattle.
Lisa created Alli's Elvis microphone much the same way.
She's looking forward to making trees and garlands for Christmas and decorating staircases for holiday get-togethers.
Everything is custom made to suit the client, she said.
Her bigger projects, such as making tall columns for dance floors or receptions, means twisting balloons together, then sliding them down a metal pole used for support. And repeating. Each can take 30 minutes to build.
Arches on top of the columns can be tricky.
"You have to use helium and to get the arch (shape), you have to space them on monoline. It can get complicated."
Lisa has learned a lot:
Helium is scarce and expensive, so air works just as well to inflate in most cases.
Schools don't allow latex balloons because of potential allergies, so Mylar or foil are the best choices.
For a balloon release, she will use only helium-filled latex balloons because they break down naturally -- "at the same rate as an oak leaf." Mylar doesn't. No ribbons either, so the balloons don't get caught.
Transporting them means either inflating balloons on sight, or, blowing them up, sticking them in a giant bag and finishing the display when she arrives at the event.
"If it's really big, I use a friend's van," she said, adding that her next vehicle likely will be one.
While she creates, she also disassembles, taking down big displays.
"For weddings, corporate events and grand openings, they don't want to bother, so I go pick it up."
Prices range from a get-well Mylar tabletop bouquet for $23 and a standup floor one for $40 to "elaborate ones that could run a couple thousand."
Lisa laughs when she thinks of people who might expect her to perform by turning balloons into animals.
"No, I don't do that. I'm not a twister," she said.
For more information about Artiste Balloons, call 618-494-2556, email email@example.com or like the business on Facebook, where you can see many of Lisa's creations.