No matter who you are, you’d be hard pressed to make a pop culture reference that Reston resident Josh Steinhouse, 26, wouldn’t get, and then subsequently turn into a balloon sculpture.
As a teen Steinhouse taught himself the art of balloon twisting, and combined it with his passion for comics, science fiction, and pop culture. He has since traveled the world with his balloons, entertaining children and adults alike with his vast knowledge of pop-art icons and his elastic creativity.
“The best part about twisting balloons is that they are only limited to what one can imagine,” he said. “The sky is the limit.”
Steinhouse said his talents were first influenced by his grandfather.
“He twisted balloons into figures when I was very young and it fascinated me,” he said. “Fast forward about 12 years and I was just about to graduate high school when I saw a book in a local Barnes & Noble that was about how to make balloon animals. It came with some long balloons and a small pump. I flashed back to seeing my grandfather twisting balloons and I just had to buy it.”
With his new kit, Steinhouse began making traditional balloon animals but soon found them to be non-challenging and began to develop his own creations, eventually renting out his services for birthday parties and bar mitzvahs .
While in college at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., Steinhouse began working part time at Sesame Place, a family amusement park in Langhorne, Pa., where he learned even more designs.
“The park’s theme is Sesame Street, so I learned how to make all those characters,” he said. “I experimented with new designs and started to build a repertoire.”
After that, the American history major began branching out into all aspects of pop culture, including superheroes, videogame and cartoon characters, and cult science fiction icons.
“I sort of found my niche,” he said. “In 2009, I made a life-sized snowman that was displayed in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. From there, I began working festivals, and grand openings.”
Then in December, 2011, Steinhouse got his big break. He got hired by the Walt Disney Company to work in Shanghai, China.
“I stayed in Shanghai for about a year, helping kids to learn English and making all sorts of balloon figures,” he said. While in China, Steinhouse said he was commissioned to attend the premier of the new Avengers movie, and make balloon replicas of the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and even the Black Widow.
“When I returned to the [United States], I decided that was what I wanted to do; to make bigger creations like my 9-foot-tall Optimus Prime and Buzz Lightyear balloon characters, and to go to conventions and make iconic superhero and science fiction characters for the fans and also for the very actors who portray those characters who attend those conventions. I started calling myself the ‘geek balloonist’ because no one else was making big, geek-related things like that out of balloons,” he said.
Steinhouse’s persistence so far has paid off.
“I recently was at at New York Comic Con, where I performed to a full house,” he said. “I have met many pop culture and science fiction show celebrities, including Adam West and Julie Newmar of the 1960s Batman, as well as Dean Cain and Brandon Routh who both played Superman on TV and in the movies. But I am still available for local events, festivals and birthday parties as well,” he said.
Steinhouse said he hasn’t yet quit his day job as a computer technical trainer, but said he now makes anywhere between $750 to $2,000 per appearance as the geek balloonist.
“My brain is like a geek encyclopedia, so I figured why not put it to good use,” he said. “So far it has worked out well. Balloon money has paid for my new car, and for all my marketing. On top of that, it brings happiness to kids…of all ages.”
For more information, go to www.thegeekballoonist.com