December 8, 2022 at 7:50 p.m.
“This is the first hobby I’ve ever had, and I love it,” Mark said. “I didn’t really have time for hobbies as a kid, but this is something else to do off the farm, and I often end up being the star of the party.”
Mark and his wife, Judi, milk 60 registered Holsteins on their 325-acre farm near Luxemburg. Mark is a third-generation farmer born and raised on the farm he continues to call home to this day. Cows are milked with one Lely robotic milking system that was retrofitted into the tiestall barn in 2015.
“I was big into genetics at one point and used to sell a lot of embryos, and I also sold a few bulls into A.I.,” Mark said. “I’m still doing embryos, and I still like fooling around with genetics but just not to the same extent.”
Mark began making balloon art six years ago. But before balloons became his passion, Mark was fascinated by magic.
“Judi’s brother taught me a simple magic trick with two rubber bands, and from there, I really got into magic,” he said.
At a church fundraiser, Mark made a couple balloon animals to disguise a magic trick he was planning to perform, but the balloons were so popular he never ended up doing the trick which involved a card inside a balloon. From there, his balloon business emerged, and he gave it the name NoBull Balloon Magic.
“I learned from YouTube, and then I take what I learn and make it my own,” Mark said. “When I first started, the only things I could make were a dog and a horse. I kept learning more and more sculptures and designs, and now, I will build anything.”
Mark’s artistic flair makes balloons come to life, and his works of art bring joy to people of all ages. He has made more than 8,500 unicorn hats – his most popular creation – which also serves as his business’s logo.
Mark’s work goes beyond animals to include things like a bouquet of roses, Elmo, the beloved Sesame Street character, a 5-foot-tall Belle doll from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as a bride’s dress.
The Pokémon character, Pikachu, is his second most requested balloon design. A chicken, princess, crown and octopus are also among the top 10.
Mark uses only professional-quality biodegradable balloons. Many of his balloon designs are made into hats or things people can wear on their arm. His colorful creations range from simple to elaborate and have a lifespan of several months.
Artistic talent runs deep between the Pauls. Judi is a multi-media artist who has sold her work into 24 countries. Judi’s art is on display in museums in Japan and Denmark and has earned her 42 international awards. Her subject matter is animals, and her business name is Luxembears. She does soft sculptures, airbrushing, fine art, ink/pencil illustrations, clay sculpting, beading, needle felting and portrait wood burning.
“I’ve been an artist my whole life,” Judi said. “I love animals and have always made them the focus of my art.”
The Pauls have three grown children and two grandchildren. Their son, Joey, helps on the farm in addition to working full time for a custom manure hauler and going to school to become a diesel mechanic.
Every Friday and Saturday night, Mark can be found at Stadium View Bar & Grill next to Lambeau Field in Green Bay making balloon creations for the establishment’s patrons. He is also there on Packer game days. Here, he relies on tips, but for other events, Mark charges by the hour in addition to making tips.
“The balloons bring the bar to life,” he said. “The owner of the bar calls me a miracle worker. On a slow night, the balloons are enough to get the party going. People start dancing with their balloon hats. It makes people come in and stay.”
This fun-loving dairy farmer is busy working events every weekend all year long as well as weekdays with summer being his busiest season. He once did three weddings in one day. He also sets up shop at Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay several evenings each week during the summer. Mark has provided balloon entertainment at grocery stores, Green Bay Gamblers hockey games and other venues. He can put in a full day’s work making balloons and on average spends 30 hours a week tending to his balloon business.
“The robot allows me to do all that stuff,” Mark said. “When I get home from an event, I still have to go to the barn to do chores, but I don’t have to worry about milking.”
Mark also provided the balloon entertainment at Farm Progress Days in 2016 where a bull head hat was the special of the week.
“One of my goals is to possibly be hired by a company to bring more people to their booth, whether it’s at World Dairy Expo, Farm Progress Days or the spring farm show in Oshkosh,” Mark said. “I think whoever would hire me would be shocked at how many people will stop and wait in line for a cool balloon creation. I know this is a hard sell because you really have to see it to believe it.”
Most of his balloon sculptures are made on demand; therefore, Mark has to work fast, as he can be bombarded by 25 or 30 requests per hour while working an event. The time required to make each creation varies from less than a minute to three or four hours depending on complexity, but Mark completes most designs in under three minutes.
A monkey in a tree can be done in under 1 minute, while the unicorn hat takes Mark 4.5 minutes to make. A balloon dress can consume several hours. The unicorn hat is made from eight balloons, while a dress is built from a couple hundred balloons. Mark embellishes his creations with personal touches like garland, fragrances and drawn-on faces.
“I’m still getting faster and better all the time,” he said. “I think about that for every design – how can I make this better? And how can I make it faster?”
His equipment includes several pumps and bags filled with thousands of balloons that he replenishes on a regular basis. Mark said it takes a lot of time to prepare his balloon bag.
“Mark found a hobby and then discovered he could make money doing it too,” Judi said.
It is a hobby that has become so lucrative Mark sometimes considers selling the cows and doing balloons full time.
“I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep the cows actually,” he said.
Mark and Judi met while ballroom dancing – an activity Mark said made his balloon business possible.
“Ballroom dancing was the hardest thing I ever learned, but if I hadn’t taken ballroom dancing, I wouldn’t be able to perform with balloons,” Mark said. “As a child, I struggled with being shy. In sixth grade, I was voted the shyest boy in my class. It’s pressure performing in front of people, but dancing helped me get over my shyness.”
The most gratifying part of the job for Mark is the adoration bestowed on him by his customers.
“Balloons are really powerful,” Mark said. “Kids love it. Parents love it. Everybody is all smiles when I’m making balloons. There’s an appreciation for what I do, and it’s nice to get compliments. I really enjoy it.”