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Reston man takes balloon art to new twists

By Morgan Fecto

Friday - 8/1/2014, 3:00pm  ET

The Ballon Geek's Wonder Woman costume on 
assistant Liz Starkey/Credit: Josh Steinhouse The Balloon Geek's

Independent technical consultant Josh Steinhouse is a self-admitted fan of all things “geek.”

Steinhouse, otherwise known as The Geek Balloonist, can create more than 300 characters from cartoons, movies and video games, and has done so for the past 10 years.

“What I do is make people happy,” said the Reston resident and part-time balloon artist. “They ask for their favorite characters, I make them out of balloons, and then they’re happy.”

From the Disney princesses to characters from “Pulp Fiction,” Steinhouse creates using balloons, some Sharpies and a handful of balloon designs, which he constantly invents, perfects and updates.

“I look at everything and go, ‘hey, how would that look in balloons?’” Steinhouse said. “Any balloonist can go to a birthday party and do the princesses or the superheroes, but I do everything from Ironman to the princesses to Hannibal Lecter.”

Steinhouse and his partner Liz Starkey, create on-site at birthday parties, community events and pop culture conventions. They also make large balloon structures for conventions, like a 9-foot-tall Buzz Lightyear.

The Geek Balloonist prices vary based on which service the duo provides. On- site balloon making starts at $125 for one hour and increases at different increments to $800 for ten hours. To order a large-scale display, it costs $500 for one, $800 for two, $1,200 for three and $1,500 for four. Steinhouse also offers “performance shows” and “balloon décor” for events at a range of prices.

“I only do geek-related, pop culture-related things,” Steinhouse said. “Whatever is new and exciting, that’s what I like doing.”

Although the Philadelphia transplant started out making balloon characters at Pennsylvania’s Sesame Place the summer before college, his part-time business expanded after returning from a full time corporate marketing events job at Disney’s Shanghai location in March 2013.

Since returning home, Steinhouse said he has done balloon work for comic conventions all over the country, including Baltimore Comic-Con, New York Comic- Con and Phoenix Comic-Con. He made characters at Awesome-Con in D.C. last April, and plans to work at the official Stargate SG-1 Atlantis Convention in Chicago Aug. 15 to Aug. 17.

“I’ll go to these conventions, get pictures with the celebrities, and send them out to the organizers,” Steinhouse said. “That’s what I did with Richard Dean Anderson, and that’s how he got the [Stargate] gig this year.”

Steinhouse said the stars of the AMC reality show “Comic Book Men” commissioned him to create a version of the superhero from their original comic book out of balloons, which later appeared on their first issue’s cover. The Comic Book men then revealed the issue at Baltimore Comic-Con last year.

“For me, that was when I could die happy,” Steinhouse said.

For the premiere of “The Guardians of the Galaxy” earlier this month, Steinhouse made a different character of the movie and posted a picture to his Twitter page each day of the week before its release on Aug. 1.

“The geek characters are not only what people want,” Steinhouse said, “but they’re what I would want if I was looking for a balloonist.”

Steinhouse said he hopes to grow his venture so he can employ balloon artists all over the country, and take a break from traveling so often for events. However, he would only hire “true geeks.”

“You would have to know at least two-third of the characters I know,” Steinhouse said. “I don’t expect anyone to know them like I do. My brain is a pop culture encyclopedia.”