Lisa Balfour’s paint pours pop with color

In a sun-lit home studio at her Shoreham home, artist Lisa Balfour mixes red, blue, orange and yellow acrylic paints into two plastic cups. With steady, quick hands, she flips them onto a white, wood-framed canvas, holding them upside-down until all of the paint drips and settles within the cups’ edges. After a few seconds, she uses the lip of the cup to push the paint in gentle swirls around the canvas.
The paints in their various colors resist each other like water and oil. That’s because, before she mixed them on the canvas, Lisa added silicone to each paint color, which keeps it from blending all together and becoming muddy.
As the paint drips and slides across the canvas, lower layers of bright blue bubble to the surface, blooming and popping. The liquid drips over the canvas’s edge, creating puddles of color on the plastic-covered table. Balfour tilts the canvas left and the paint follows, revealing a new swath of blooms and pops. The streaks and cells of color almost look like marble.
“Oh, look at the reds,” Lisa says, as a few more cells show through.
Other paintings, in their finished state, adorn a studio wall, the tops of paint shelves and drying racks. Some feature a single color scheme — blue, green and purple pastels whose ripples resemble an underwater scene, or different shades of fiery red. Others have striking contrast, with orange blooms popping through deep blues and greens.
“When you look close, you start to see things in the paint,” she says. “Faces, birds. It’s funny.”
Lisa dumps a final, smaller cup of paint, which she calls the “dirty cup,” onto a corner of the canvas. This time, white cells bloom up through a peachy pink.
As if the first part wasn’t enough fun, Lisa takes a mini blowtorch out from under the table. The silicone reacts to the heat and creates holes in the paint, creating space for other colors to shine through. At several inches’ distance, she passes the flame over a flat-looking section of turquoise, and bright spots of red and orange emerge. The patch starts to look like a fish with bright scales.
The paint on Lisa Balfour’s canvases doesn’t mix together into a muddy mess because of the silicone she adds to it before applying it. Photo by Todd Balfour
While Lisa paints, her husband, Todd, takes her photo. His commercial photography studio is down two flights of stairs, in the Balfours’ basement. He often shoots for Middlebury College, and his photos appear in cookbooks, greeting cards, catalogues and occasionally in the Addison Independent.
“It’s my studio, but sometimes I invite him in,” Lisa says with a smile.
Shoreham, Vt., might be the last place the couple expected to live — they met while working at an art gallery in Columbus, Ohio. Lisa had finished school at Ohio State, studying art education, and Todd was finishing up his commercial photography studies. They imagined moving to Chicago when he graduated to chase the big city lifestyle. Instead, they moved to Kansas City.
They had both landed jobs at Hallmark — Todd as a photographer, and Lisa as a photo stylist. Husband-and-wife teams were generally frowned upon, but despite that, the two tried to work on the same projects.
Fifteen years later, when the Charlotte-based online food retailer Tavolo hired Todd, they took the 1,100-mile jump to Vermont. Six months later, the company went under, and the search for work began.
“The first three or four years were really rough,” Todd said. But then, the two started freelancing — making greeting cards (mostly Christmas-themed) for Paper Magic, which sells to Walmart, among other retailers. They helped photograph a cookbook called “Vintage Pies,” where Lisa got to design the set, Todd shot it, and they both got to eat the pies.
“If you’re in a city, you have to have a building or a formal entity,” Lisa said. “Here, it’s nothing to work out of your home.”
It wasn’t until a year and a half ago that Lisa started with her paint pours. She learned primarily from YouTube videos — watching other artists pour the colors on canvas. One of her favorite parts of the work — and, at times, the most frustrating — is that no two paintings are ever the same, even if she uses all the same paint.
“Sometimes I just want to stay in my studio forever,” she says. “You get going, and you want to try different things.”
Lisa’s paintings will be displayed at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café in Middlebury beginning April 28 and will be up all of May. To view her work, visit spreesy.com/LB4Paint.

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