Author Archives: lisakaytate

20 Random Facts About Samurai


Originally ran Feb. 17 in GeekMom.


Satsuma samurai from the Boshin War period (circa 1868). Image: Public Domain

From sainthood to swords, video games to cartoon series, the Japanese military nobility known as samurai are still making news in both history and pop culture.

For those that love the mystique and the myths surrounding these warriors, here are 20 random, fun facts about samurai:

1. According to a respected American translator named William Scott Wilson, the word “Samurai,” meaning “to wait upon or accompany,” appears as early as 905 AD in the imperial anthology of poems Kokin Wakashū. The collection was conceived by Emperor Uda and later published by his son, Emperor Diago.

2. To celebrate the release of Ubisoft’s action fighting game, For Honor, which allows players to choose Samurai, Knights, or Vikings, Death Wish Coffee came out with limited edition packaging depicting each of these warriors. The game was, ironically, released worldwide this year on Valentine’s Day.


Death Wish Coffee offers limited edition packaging in celebration of the new fighting game, For Honor. Image: Lisa Tate

3. Many historians say the last Samurai battle was during the Battle of Shiroyama in 1877. However, the social class known as the Shizoku, who merged with the Samurai, continued to be recognized as late as the World War II era.

4. The first warrior to attain the samurai position, and establish the first samurai-controlled government, was the military leader Taira no Kiyomori during what is known as the Heian period in Japanese history (794 to 1185).

5. Yes, there was a type of female Samurai, the Onna-bugeisha. They were part of the bushi class in feudal Japan, and were trained to use weaponry to protect their household, family, and honor. They sometimes did take part in active battle, often alongside their samurai husbands.


Katana may wield a weapon of a samurai, but there were real women samurai, Onna-bugeisha. Image: Lisa Tate.

6. On February 7, the Catholic Church beatified its first Samurai on the road to Sainthood. Justo Takayama Ukon abandoned his status to devote himself to his faith and lived his remaining years in exile in Manila. When sainted, he would likely stand for persecuted Christians and Japanese immigrants.

7. This is common knowledge to many Star Wars fans, but George Lucas is said to have adapted the name “Jedi,” from the Japanese word Jidaigeki, referring the genre of Japanese film devoted to period dramas, often about samurai. Toymaker Bandai came out with its “Movie Realization” line of Star Wars figures, making members of the Empire, including Royal Guards, Stormtroopers, a ronin Boba Fett, and Darth Vader, into and ancient line of samurai warriors.


Bandai’s “Movie Realization” line of Star Wars figures gave the Empire a samurai makeover. Image: Lisa Tate.

8. Akira Kurosawa, the creative mind behind the film classic the Seven Samurai (on which the classic western The Magnificent Seven was based), is regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. He received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1990. He died in 1998, and was named “Asian of the Century,” in the Arts, Literature and Culture category.

9. There are countless movies and books (as well as a minichip action game) with the name The Last Samurai, including:

  • The 2000 Helen DeWitt novel that centers on a child prodigy whose male role models are the Seven Samurai.
  • The 2003 fictional movie about a retired 19th century U.S. Cavalryman who travels to Japan and becomes absorbed in the culture Dances With Wolves-style.
  • The 2011 Japanese World War II drama based on the true story of the Captain Sakae Ōba (The Fox of Saipan) and the last organized Japanese resistance of the war. Also called Codename: Fox, the movie is based on a novel by Don Jones.


    Samurai have always been a popular topic for books, movies, and games, especially the mystique of a “last samurai.”

10. Samurai were often very literate and well educated. When a more western style of armed forces was being created in Japan, many took up prominent roles as educators, writers, government representatives, and businessmen.

11. John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen was part of the very first season of Saturday Night Live. The character was modeled after a character in Akiwa Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and Beliushi’s samurai held down a variety of unlikely occupations from 1975 to 1979, including and optometrist, stockbroker, and dry cleaner.

12. The multiple Eisner Award-winning Stan Sakai comic series Usagi Yojimbo, featuring the rabbit ronin (Samurai without a master) Miyamoto Usagi, has been ranked in the top 100 of IGN’s list of comic book heroes, as well as being named in the top 50 non-superhero graphic novels in a Rolling Stone magazine ranking. Sakai also illustrated the Dark Horse graphic novel 47 Ronin with writer Mike Richardson in 2013, based on the legend of the a group of ronins’ mission to avenge their wronged master.

13. The classic French comic Samurai, by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio and Frédéric Genêt, previously published by Marvel and Soleil, was picked up again in a collected edition in 2015 from Titan Comics. Titan released an all-new series beginning in 2016, which sometimes included Japanese brush-style variant covers by David Mack.

14. DC Comics’ Katana, who made her big screen debut in Suicide Squad in 2016, was trained as a child by a samurai named Tadashi in one storyline from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Tadashi was killed by an evil samurai Takeo, which in her original story is the name of the brother (and killer) of her late husband. Her famous “soultaker” sword was once said to have been forged by the legendary 14th century swordsmith, Muramasa.

15. The 2016 stop-motion film Kubo and The Two Strings  features a young boy, Kubo, with a magical talent for storytelling and origami who tells the story of a samurai warrior named Hanzo (his father). The film is nominated for two 2017 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects, among several other accolades from other film and animation groups.


There are plenty of samurai comic heroes and villains from Usagi Yojimbo to the Silver Samurai.

16. There are plenty of samurai heroes, but one of the biggest samurai villains in comic books is the Silver Samurai (Kenuichio Harada), who debuted in Daredevil #111 in 1974. Harada appeared in the 2013 film The Wolverine as just a bodyguard, with his Silver Samurai being depicted as a giant robot suit worn by another character. One of the more tragic heroes in samurai-related comics, however, is Ogami Ittō in the renowned Manga Lone Wolf and Cub. The character, on a quest to avenge the death of his wife, had served as a Kogi Kaishakunin (the Shogun’s executioner). These men were tasked with assisting with the death of samurai and other nobility forced to commit the honor suicide of seppuki.

17. Iwasaki Yatarō, the great-grandson of a samurai who had to sell his family’s samurai status to settle debts, went on to become the founder of the successful multinational group for companies, Mitsubishi. The companies “three-diamond” logo may be partially influenced by the Iwasaki family crest.

18. LEGO fans got a peek at what looks like Lord Garmadon’s Samurai Mech, his robot transport in the latest Lego-based picture, The LEGO Ninjago Movie. The movie is set to come out Sept. 22 of this year. Will the mysterious Samurai X makes an appearance?

19. The latest edition of the Lucite-encased collectible known as the Mini Museum includes specimen of a circa 14th century Samurai sword, as well as other specimens from items like space gems, a rotor from the WWII Enigma, and Steve Jobs’ turtleneck. The blade from which the sword specimens were acquired came from a respected sword dealer. He deemed the damaged blade unsuitable as a collectible due to several micro-fractures, so there should be no guilt in owning a little slice of it.

20. The Award-winning Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack, created by Genndy Tartakovsky, began its limited-run, and slightly darker, fifth season earlier this year on Adult Swim, more than 10 years after the original series ended. A movie version was being planned, but creators decided to end the story via a series instead.

Want to learn a little more about Samurai?  Check out this educational Prezi created by high school teacher Rick Tate.


A Foolish Mortal’s Haunted Mansion Reading List


Find a comfy reading spot, and peruse through some of the newest books for all ages inspired by Disney Parks’ Haunted Mansion. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Originally ran in GeekMom Aug. 26. 2016.

Disney Parks’ Haunted Mansion has already been giving fans of this classic attraction a wealth recently-released books and comics based on the mansion’s legends, lore, and 999 happy haunts.

These include the start of a young readers’ novel series, a five-issue comic book story arc, and beginning readers’ picture book. For those building their spooky book collections, here’s the some of the latest in this famous residence’s tomes:

Tales from the Haunted Mansion Volume 1: The Fearsome Foursome by the ghostly librarian Amicus Arcane (as transcribed by John Esposito and illustrated by Kelley Jones). This beautifully-designed book tells the tale of four horror story-loving middle schoolers who lose their clubhouse to a freak storm (Arcane may or may not have taken credit for) and just happen to come across invites to an even creepier venue. Once there, they learn they might be the subjects of some new tales. The recommended age range is 8 to 12, so the story and writing level are geared toward that group. It also doesn’t focus on any well-known mansion residents. Older readers may find this an easy afternoon escape, but it would really be nice to see a Haunted Mansion novel geared towards older teens and adults. Those tales could be gothic and potentially terrifying.

Disney Parks Presents The Haunted Mansion picture book is illustrated by James Gilleard, based on both the ride and its well-loved “Grim Grinning Ghosts” theme song with lyrics by Xavier “X” Atencio and music by Buddy Baker. This simple book, accompanied by a CD of the song, is the first of Disney Parks Presents series of attraction-based books. The book gives families with beginning readers a chance to relive the ride and enjoy Gilleard’s eerily adorable drawings. Not only is this a wonderful gift for Haunted Mansion fans, but if upcoming books in this series are as well done as this one, this will be a series worth collecting, whether or not you have young readers at home.

Marvel’s Disney Kingdoms: The Haunted Mansion by Joshua Williamson and Jorge Coelho. This comic book’s story is a pretty familiar scenario, with a young boy being lured into a seemingly abandoned old mansion to help lift a curse on its ghostly residents. The story is a good read for tweens and up, with Easter egg-filled illustrations. Better than the story, however, are some of the variant covers, especially the one by Skottie Young, for those lucky enough to find it.

mansion comics

Skottie Young, Katie Cook and Brian Crosby are among the talents found on variant covers of Marvel’s Haunted Mansion comic series. Covers © Marvel.

For those who want a couple of different comic looks at the Haunted Mansion, there are two other comic series inspired by the attraction.

The first, also a Disney Kingdoms series, is Seekers of the Weird by Brandon Seifert, with illustrations by Karl Moline and Filipe Andrade. The story follows a brother and sister trying to uncover the disappearance of their parents in the setting of a strange, perilous museum. The story itself isn’t that memorable, but the incorporation of some of Disney imagineer Rolly Crump’s original ideas for a never-created attraction Museum of the Weird, precursor to the Haunted Mansion, is worth a look.

mansion books 2

The Haunted Mansion has been a favorite topic for artists and writers well before this latest wave of books. However, you might have to raid a few catacombs to find a couple of these.

Slave Labor Graphics released eight issues of its Haunted Mansion comic book series starting in 2005, featuring individual short stories by various artists based on the mansion’s most famous “happy haunts.” A lot edgier than the Disney Kingdoms series, these tales range from the downright spooky to a witty appearance by Roman Dirge’s Lenore: The Cute Little Dead Girl and a sweet tale of why the cowardly groundskeeper and his pup continue to visit the mansion nightly. The first six issues can be found in a collected edition, Haunted Mansion Vol. 1, Welcome Foolish Mortals, but the final issues might be harder to come by. These are some of my favorite Haunted Mansion stories, and some of the most imaginative. This one is more than worth hunting down.

Finally, for those wanting a behind-the-scenes guide, author and imagineer Jason Surrell’s books include The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic released in 2015. This is actually the 3rd edition of his The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, originally published in 2003. I recommend the latest edition, as there are plenty of updates.

There is also the rarer The Art of the Haunted Mansion version by Surrell in 2003, the same year the forgettable Eddie Murphy movie hit the screens. I’ve even seen prices for this hardback edition range from just over $100 to $700. The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic, on the other hand, is about $15 on Amazon.

One non-Disney publication, The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham, is available, but it does get a ghostly hitchhiker-worthy thumbs up from imagineer Rolly Crump, who provided the forward for this book.

Hopefully, there will be more to come of Haunted Mansion reading material in the near future, so be sure to clear out a shelf in the library.  This shouldn’t be a problem, as book lovers and Haunted Mansion permanent residents agree: “There’s always room for one more.”

mansion insert

Image © Marvel.

Family Artist Projects 2016: Big Daddy Behind The Rat Fink


Ed “Big Daddy” Roth took wacky ideas and turned them into an iconic style of the Kustom Kulture era. Take a tip from his page and draw a little on the edge. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Originally ran in GeekMom Aug. 22, 2016

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth took wacky ideas and turned them into an iconic style of the Kustom Kulture era. Take a tip from his page and draw a little on the edge. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Ed “Big Daddy” Roth

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the designer and cartoonist behind one of the most famous icons of the mid-century hot rod era, Rat Fink, was a self-taught artist.

Born in California in 1932, he took both auto shop and art in high school, but that’s pretty much how far any formal training went. He got bored in college, because the engineering and physics classes he took didn’t have anything to do with cars.

He picked up several useful skills through life, including learning to draw maps while serving in the Air Force, working on displays at a Sears, and later working in his own garage.

In the late 1950s, he began drawing exaggerated, over-sized creatures, and cartoon depictions of the hot rods and cars his friends had built. He later expanded this talent by selling airbrushed designs, known as “Weirdo” tees at shows. Once these started making their way into a popular enthusiasts’ magazine Car Craft, his shirts soon became a fashion craze well beyond just the hot rodding community.

Roth himself was influenced by the pin-striping expertise of fellow Kustom Kulture movement artist and customizer Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard, but Roth was the first in many design achievements. This included being the first designer to sculpt custom vehicles out of fiberglass.

Even Roth’s car designs became characters in themselves, like “Beatnik Bandit,” “Mail Box,” and “The Outlaw.” His bright yellow “Surfite” buggy co-starred along Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Beach Blanket Bingo.

It is for his grotesquely wild illustrations and characters for which he is best known. Most notably, of course, is Rat Fink, Roth’s bug-eyed, snaggle-toothed, drooling anti-hero counter to Mickey Mouse he first created as a drawing for his refrigerator. In 1963, Rat Fink had blossomed into Roth’s most famous creation selling countless model kits, t-shirts and other memorabilia.

Roth’s over-the-top combination of personality, counterculture lifestyle (although he later became a devout Mormon), and hyper-exaggerated art has given him a cult following by artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers. Rat Fink and other Roth creations have popped up in tattoo designs, fashion, books (including coloring books), album art, custom car design, toy and model lines, and pretty much anything else.

 Roth was still at work on new ideas when he passed away in 2001 at age 69.

According to several quotes by Roth from on his official site, no matter what he did in life, he wanted it to be original.

“If I find myself in a copy mode, I quickly shift to a lower gear and wheelie out,” he said.

The Project: Fink Your Fandom

Don’t worry about following rules of perspective and realism. Exaggerate, animate, and my all means, laugh a little. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

This project celebrating Roth’s love for what he did is straightforward: turn a favorite fandom, no matter how unlikely, into a crazy monster car drawing.

Since the purpose of these Be the Artist projects is to help people of all ages and skill levels to try out different styles of art, these Roth-inspired images will be not only a little less detailed than his work, but hopefully not so extreme. That doesn’t mean you can’t make this project as detailed or extreme…or crazy as you want.

Whether slightly goofy or completely outrageous, however, here’s three ways to give your hero, villain or creature the Ed Roth style:

Exaggerate. Exaggerate. Exaggerate! Besides making the character about two to three times as big as necessary for their vehicle, give the one or more of the following traits: bulging and/or bloodshot eyes, toothy depraved grins (often with lolling tongues), elongated arms, oversized gnarled hands (often clutching long and spindly gear shift), or wild, wild hair. In short, make them look really, really, really happy to be driving that car or motorcycle

I personally never go full-on gross, but you can still get the idea out, without the being too creepy, especially if drawing with kids.


Don’t worry about realism. Go for exaggeration. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Bring the vehicle to life. Remove all concepts you have “rigid metal,” and give the cars some personality. Let them bend a little to look they are going over hills, or have them “rear up,” on their hind end like horse. Let them lean into the turn, flatten in the wind, scrunch together if the break or on, or fit themselves to the driver. Let them kick up dirt and smoke or spew fire. Find a way to take that one, immovable image and give it motion.

Be Colorful and Comical. There may be those who will argue Roth was not serious artist, but no one can argue Roth was too serious. Whether people find his work, displeasing or delightful, it was evident Roth had fun. There is nothing his work that didn’t scream, almost audibly, with enthusiastic joy. Give your drawing details, colors or situations that will provoke smile, smirk or chuckle to whoever sees it.


Practice a few car sketches before adding your “monster,” in order to get the image how you want. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

If you want to delve deeper into the world for hot rod art, I recommend How to Draw Crazy Cars and Mad Monsters Like a Pro by Thom Taylor and another Kustom Kulture legend, Ed “Newt” Newton, as well as longtime hot rod cartoonist George Trosley’s How to Draw Cartoon Cars. The revamped CARtoons, also has a quick tutorial by Trosley in each issue, for those wanting newer drawing challenges.

Don’t try to draw every detail as you go along. Draw the basic idea:

Who is this going to be? Batman? Penelope Pitstop? Deadpool?

What are they driving? In some cases, the “ride” itself is as much a part of the character of your subject. Who doesn’t know the Batmoble, the A-Team’s van, or Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet?

Once this is on paper, begin adding details, colors or little customizations, as the Kustom Kulture artist might say, which really make it stand out!

But, take your time. Roth knew the importance of not only taking time to be creative, but not forgetting to be yourself.

“Whatever you are…are it good,” he said.


Even the most unlikely vehicle can look cool with a little Big Daddy-style treatment. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Low-Tech Toys in High Tech Times


The mid-century tech of Sawyer’s View-Master; the original virtual travel. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Story originally ran in GeekMom in August, 2016.

Not long ago, we were cleaning out the closet and ran across an old circa 1949 Sawyer’s View-Master Stereoscope, which had been passed down from my husband’s grandparents.

Covered with dust and long forgotten, this little metal precursor to the red plastic version I had as a kid immediately brought back memories of looking at those little paper and film discs of favorite stories or Disneyland attractions.

The “modern” form of virtual tourism was first patented in 1939, based on the original stereoscope views created a century before that.

The description on the Reel List even felt nostalgic. I could almost hear the Ward Cleaveresque tone of the narrator as I read:

“If you have ever looked through an old-time Stereoscope, you’ll remember the thrilling fascination of


Checking out the cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C. in full color Kodachrome.

three dimension pictures,” it described. “Add the vivid full color of Kodachrome and you have the breath-taking ‘come to life’ realism of View-Master stereoscopic pictures.”

With this nifty viewer, I found four sets of “stereo picture reels” for my 3D viewing pleasure: “Colorado, U.S.A.,” “Washington, D.C,.” “Carlsbad Caverns,” and “The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.” These were basically just three discs (seven images each) made of cardboard and film. These are contained in envelopes with mailing label space on the back so they could be sent as gifts. The included Reel List had at least four hundred disc packs to collect, mostly United States and world travel, but also books and fairy tales, holidays, religious study, movie stars (like Roy Rogers), comic book heroes including Tarzan and, and Sawyer’s own original View-Master serial, “The Adventures of Sam Sawyer.”

According to the price list, these sets were 35¢ a piece (or three for a dollar if you’re feeling a splurge coming on), and the stereoscope viewer itself was two dollars.

You know what? These images are clear and still really good 3D, even by today’s advanced standards.

I showed it to my youngest, who, at age 7 has already experienced the world of the modern Virtual Reality View-Masters, and to my surprise she loved it. My teen sat down with her, and soon they were going through reels and clicking away. No app. No smartphone. Just the strength of their index fingers on the little lever.

I’d like to say it’s refreshing to finally see kids enjoying these “old timey” toys, but this reaction is nothing new. My kids, and plenty of other kids I’ve seen, still really seem to eat up these low-tech toys, even with the unlimited amount of admittedly impressive battery-operated and app-driven devices on the market.

Here are four examples of low-tech (or no-tech) gadgets that are still very entertaining today:


Wind-ups that walk, flip, crawl or roll, are always toy shelf mainstay.

Wind-Up Toys. They come in Christmas stockings and holiday gifts, Easter baskets, birthday goodie bags, and kids meals and carnival prizes, but these little mechanical gear-driven toys, which date back to nearly the 1500s, still operate on nearly the same clockwork principal. The wind-up key is almost the universal symbol for “toy.” There are even companies that will install giant turning “windup” keys to small car models to make them look like big toys. My girls have collected old-fashioned tin hopping frogs, plastic dinosaurs that plod and wave their little arms, fish and seals that swim, teeth that chatter, critters that flip, and many other little bouncy, hoppy, crawly beings. Most of these cost less than five dollars. Others are works of art, like the $20 plush Kikkerland Wind-Ups that remind me of artist Theo Jansen’s wind-driven Strandbeests creations.

Whirlygigs and Gyroscopes. These classic toys are wonderful beginner physics lessons for kids. Handheld propellers are the simple wooden or plastic toys consisting only of a single propeller attached a dowel. When the hands shift in the correct direction, it will take off flying. This toy has been around since the Renaissance era, great inventors from Leonard Di Vinci and the Wright Brothers are said to have played with them while studying the concept of lift. We’ve picked these up as convention giveaways or a little “country stores” on road trips. Even my youngest can get some serious air from these devices when given a good outdoor space and a few practice tries.

The gyroscope, a lesson in momentum, is simply a wheel or disc that rotates on an axis, and a more advanced version helps assist in stability and navigation of everything from bicycles to the Hubble Telescope. A detailed description of how they work can be found on How Stuff Works. The classic retro gyroscopes by Tedco are about $12 for a set of two. I keep gyroscopes on my and my kids’ desks, for some brain refreshing time during homework. There’s something very therapeutic about watching this little metal disc spin when perfectly balanced.


Mazes, propellers, and gyroscopes, can teach everything from physics to physical coordination.

Wooden Labyrinth and Sphere Mazes. This original Labyrinth wooden table maze, a test of hand-eye coordination, was created in Sweden in the 1940s and is still just as challenging today. The object, for those who don’t know, is to get a marble through a little maze by using little knobs on two sides to tilt the game’s surface. My brother got a labyrinth for his birthday once when he was a teenager. Although I wasn’t even eight, I would steal this cool looking wooden box from his room and drive myself crazy trying to maneuver that little metal ball through its wooden platform of holes and dead ends. I don’t remember if I ever completed it, but I remember how each hole I made it past was a personal victory.

My oldest loves this next step in ball maze evolution: the Perplexus spherical maze. This clear plastic ball includes an intricate little obstacle-filled maze that can be played anywhere. Since it’s held in the hands, you don’t even need a flat surface. This maze’s inventor, Michael McGuinness, created it for an art project in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until around 2008 the idea was on it’s way to becoming an award-winning toy. There’s also a Star Wars Death Star-themed Perplexus, but it requires batteries for its light up center.

I have personally never completed that confounded orb, but my oldest has come pretty close. Until then, it’s still a tempting piece to keep out in plain sight, as it’s easy to just pick up and start fiddling with.

Building Sets. I could spend several paragraphs just talking about the various building toys and sets that are still loved, but I’m pretty sure most parents, or kids, know all about most of these. These include the snap together building blocks like LEGO or MegaBloks, wooden stackable blocks or Lincoln Logs (which turn 100 this year), Tinkertoys, Connectagons, Bristle Blocks, and any number of plastic, wood, or metal pieces that click, snap, latch, or interlock to create structures limited only to the imagination. Any kid with more than one of these sets on hand often ends up doing a multi-media building creation using a little of each.

Let’s not forget the classic Erector and Meccano sets with their rivets, gears, wheels, and other assorted building pieces, complete with handy tool to help built them. I talked about our family’s experience with a simple Meccano erector set in my March article “Why We Love to Take Things Apart and Put Them Back Together,” but there are some sets, like the “Meccanoid” Robot, that break into more high-tech territory.

buildingWhy are these simple, “old school” playthings still so popular, when there’s an endless amount of augmented reality games and apps, 360° virtual reality adventures, nearly lifelike robotic figures, and video games with literally more than 18 quintillion planets to explore?

The short and obvious answer is, these things are still extremely fun.

However, there’s more than that. These toys give the user a chance to be directly engaged in the action. When the repetitiveness of swiping an image, tapping a flat surface, or pressing the same few buttons on a controller gets monotonous, the satisfaction of making something happen completely by your own power is rewarding. We want to crank that lever, twist that knob, pull that string, turn the wrench, snap together those pieces, and build that tower.

We are fortunate to be able to introduce our children to the high-tech toys, where they can learn coding, create virtual worlds, and carry an entire universe of characters on a small tablet screen, but we’re also thankful they like to feel the texture of a smooth wooden block, or hear the whir of a gear, and see a photograph without digital enhancement.

Low-tech toys and gadgets just feel more personal. More intimate. More real.

It isn’t just letting them enjoy the toys of their parents’ childhood to get in touch with the past. It is about helping them discover their own skills, passions, and talents for the future.

Family Artist Projects 2016: Who Is Kenny Howard?


Kenny Howard (aka Von Dutch) was a pioneer in pin-striping, among other talents. Try your hand at some geeky pin-striping with this mini hood project. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Originally ran in GeekMom on Aug. 5, 2016

Kenny Howard was one of most groundbreaking American artists of the 1950s, whose style and work is still influencing artists, graphic designers, musicians, fashion designers, and architects today. However, very few people would recognize his name. They would recognize one of his better-known nicknames: Von Dutch.Born in 1929 as the son of a sign painter, Von Dutch was already painting professionally by age ten. He got his famous nickname from being called “stubborn as a Dutchman,” and also excelled in his professional life as a motorcycle mechanic, metal fabricator, knifemaker, gunsmith, and more.

 His recognizable striping style began gaining attention in the 1950s, and he became one of the fathers of the hot rod-centric style of art, fashion, cars, and more known as Kustom Kulture. He was known for his steady, intricate pinstriping patterns, as well as the “flying eyeball” symbol. His freehand work, often done with a thin paintbrush, was steady and exact, and it helped win him several awards for his custom work.


Kenny Howard, better known as Von Dutch, has been an icon Kustom Kulture art since the 1950s, and has been the subject of, or included in several publications of the movement.

After his death in 1992, his daughters sold the use of his name to the company Von Dutch Originals, which

became a multinational, licensed brand. Today, the company produces and sells clothes, jewelry, and other items worldwide celebrating the style and life of Von Dutch. There was even a Von Dutch energy drink, created for Rockstar Energy drinks, and one of the most complete books on the artist, The Art of Von Dutch by Al Quattrocchi and Jeff Smith.

Even though Von Dutch’s name is now often associated with a successful brand, Von Dutch, himself said in 1992, not long before his own death, that he felt “Copyright and patents are mostly an ego trip.”

His name may now be part of a license, but he welcomed people  taking elements of his work and making it their own.

“Use any of my stuff you want to,” he said of those inspired by his style. “Nothing is original. Everything is in the subconscious; we just ‘tap’ it sometimes and ‘think’ we have originated something. Genes make us more or less interested in certain things but nothing is truly original!”


Before taking on a Von Dutch-inspired pattern on a real car hood, scale it down with a bit first. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Project: Little Kustom Hoods

This is a good beginner way to practice Von Dutch’s style of pin-striping, even if you don’t yet have a steady hand–nor a car or bike to work on.

First, make a hood using a square of cardboard or pasteboard. Round it off on one end or taper it to make it


Cut square pieces of corrugated cardboard or pasteboard, and shape to resemble little car hoods.

resemble a little car hood. Next, spray or hand paint it the color you want and set it aside to dry. If you want a more industrial or steampunk look, add a few “rivets” using self-adhesive pearl or jewel stickers painted to match the hood.

Now, this part will take a little effort to perfect.

Find a good symmetrical image you like, (a mask, face, vehicle, logo, etc.) and draw a basic outline of one-half of it

(think of pinstripe work) on the edge of a sheer sheet of paper. Use tracing paper if you don’t want to draw freehand yet.

Next, add your own pinstripe pattern around it, as simple or complex as you like. Pinterest and clip art sites are great places for pinstripe ideas.

Now, place the design on top of the cardboard hood. Slowly but firmly trace over it with a pen or toothpick, so it leaves a slight indention in the cardboard. Flip the design over and trace its reverse side on the hood, aligned with the original pattern.


Draw or trace half a pattern on a sheet of sheer paper and add some “custom” pin-striping. Use a pen to transfer the image onto the cardboard hood, and paint over the image outline. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Once done, this should produce a full, nearly symmetrical pattern on the hood top.

Finally, use a thin brush with acrylic paint (or paint pens) and paint over the design to give it the appearance of a custom pinstripe job.


Self-adhesive pearl or jewel stickers can give your hood a little industrial or steampunk edge. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Once you have mastered this technique, try it on other items, and eventually you might even be able to freehand like the master pinstriper himself. Eventually, you can move on to nonsymmetrical designs or more complex patterns. Even if you perfect this method, keep learning and evolving, because Von Dutch felt knowledge was the most valuable thing of all.“The only thing you can truly own is your knowledge,” he said. “For you can sell it, give it away, and still keep it.”