By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — A Clifton Park artist has found her true medium after years of toiling with more traditional means. Her art form of choice — beaning, coffee beaning.
Local coffee drinkers have likely seen Betsi Shelffo’s work in Mocha Lisa’s Cafe in Clifton Park and in Ballston Spa’s Coffee Planet. Her portraits depict well known singers, actors and animals –all out of coffee beans. She frames each piece with a recycled frame from thrift shops because it cuts down on costs for the customers and adds to each piece’s individuality. In all, Shelffo estimates she’s completed over 75 portraits so far.
Shelffo walked into Mocha Lisas Cafe in Clifton Park Friday afternoon with an original miniature coffee cup ring on her finger and a silver tea kettle necklace around her neck. A tattoo of Max from Maurice Sendak’s well-loved Where The Wild Things Are peeked out under her shirt sleeve. “My mom always compared me to Max,” she laughed. “A troublemaker…” . She made it herself. Her artwork has been bringing new life to the walls of Mocha Lisa’s for the last three weeks.
“I’m so happy to have my work here in my own backyard,” she said.
Shelffo moved to Clifton Park from Niskayuna 22 years ago. For much of that time, she focused on painting.
“Painting was my thing for many years,” said Shelffo. When her children were little, she started a little business painting flower pots called Happy Pots and spent a lot of time at local craft fairs. For years, she focused on painting in the simple American folk style. She also enjoyed decoupage, which she said was a popular craft in the 1970s that experienced a comeback several years ago. Upcycling is another passion of Shelffo’s. “I make shoes, furniture, glassware, quirky stuff,” she said. Shelffo was a member of the Artique Co-Op in Clifton Park for nearly five years.
A couple years ago when her husband started working with a coffee shop called Fortunate Cup in Saratoga, Shelffo decided to try something new.
While she started out making collages for the coffee shop’s walls, she wanted more of a challenge and moved to 3-D art with coffee beans. “The collages were missing something. The people who are into roasting are passionate about what they do. It’s remarkable the work they put into it,” she said. “I wanted to showcase the beans.”
In the winter of 2014, her bean art gradually morphed into the portraits she does today. The first portrait she attempted was of Marilyn Monroe. “I hung it and people went nuts,” she laughed. Next, she created a portrait of Elvis out of coffee beans. “That went over equally as well,” she said. “It was a fluke and I haven’t stopped since. It’s taken on a life of it’s own,” said Shelffo.
Her work started attracting curious art enthusiasts to the coffee shops that housed her portraits. “If I can bring more business in, it’s a win-win,” she said.
A passion for art is in her genes. Her mother was a painter while both her brother and sister studied art in college. Shelffo, however, is self-taught.
On average, a medium size portrait takes between 20 and 25 hours to complete. The most time consuming piece was a portrait of Derek Jeter that took 53 hours. She focuses on popular singers and actors that are easily recognizable. She offers to do custom designs as well. Her portraits are priced between $25 and $300.
She once made a coffee bean portrait of Snoop Dog, which she said is still her favorite piece because it was so challenging. “I’m very proud of him,” she said.
One of her next big goals is to create an eight foot tall version of the statue of liberty out of coffee beans. “I love the challenge,” she said. “If it wasn’t a challenge, I wouldn’t want to do it anymore,” she said. “There has to be a goal to reach for, otherwise it becomes stale.”
Shelffo’s advice to young artists is this: don’t get discouraged if you don’t find your medium right away. “Maybe you can’t do this or that but everyone has the ability to be creative in one way or another. I can’t draw and I can’t paint but I can bean!” she said.