When Shaine and Michael asked me to be a part of planning their wedding my mind immediately went to a whimsical woodland affair. Shaine and Michael both love nature and seem happiest outdoors. (Michael even proposed to Shaine at the tail end of a hike.) And Shaine is an aspiring artist. They were on board, but I could tell I lost them a bit when I started explaining my vision for their engagement photos. "You want us to wear... bear masks?" Luckily, the masks turned out super awesome and they eventually become pretty fond of the idea, because I've been kicking around this idea for a while and I knew deep down that Shaine and Michael were the perfect humans... to be bears.
I was unable to find any sort of reference for anyone else doing this. I would have loved to print out a pattern or buy a DIY kit or something, but one did not exist. Buying them from an Etsy artisan was way out of the budget and I had a hard time finding proper full head bear masks anyway. In the end, we decided to wing it.
Here's How We Did It
1. Construct bear heads from cardboard.
I know, I know... easier said than done. But we just dove in on this. I laid out a couple pieces of MDF to protect my floor and then threw down a big stack of Zulilly boxes, hot glue, box cutters, and scissors. I roughly sketched out how I saw the male and female bear head looking, assigned pieces for my helpers Shaine and Michael to cut out, and gave Shaine free reign to get creative with the features like the eyes and noses, as I knew she'd make them look great.
For the bulk of the head we cut strips of cardboard, bent them to our will, and hot glued them. Before moving to each new section I'd plop the bear heads on Shaine & Michael to ensure these babies were still going to fit, and then on we'd go.
If a piece wasn't thick enough, we'd add more cardboard. If a corner was too sharp, we'd bend a strip of cardboard over top of it and build up a curve. After a few hours we had a couple carboard masterpieces... a slightly taller and wider head for Michael and a more narrow head for Shaine.
We considered leaving them in this stage, but decided there would not be enough contrast to make the details stand out in photos. I cared more about them looking cool in pictures than about them being functional masks, so we opted to not include eye or nose holes. The gaps at the bottom were enough that no one would suffocate, and these would be used only for photo purposes. We added a bow and a bow tie and would meet later to move on to the next step.
2. Make papier (paper) mache paste.
The papier mache paste was a very simple 1-part flour to 2-part water mixture. We cut up strips of newspaper to dip in the paste. Because we weren't sure if we wanted to paint them, we opted not to use pages with a lot of color and tried to stick to a palette of black, white, and small pops of green.
3. Cover those heads!
I thought we might need to do several layers, but they looked okay after one generous layer of paper.
4. Allow drying time.
I'm not sure what a bare (bear?!) minimum would be for drying these things, but I'd suggest at least 24 hours. We were meeting once a week to work on these so they had a full week to dry, but seemed liked they would have been good to go the next day.
Wedding planning is stressful, so we were not trying to add any extra un-necessary work. For this reason we thought long and hard about whether or not to paint these. The original plan was to spray paint them gold all over and add a bit of detail here and there. We then considered not painting them at all. In the end we went with painting details of white, back, and gold.
I LOVE how these turned out. They took a total of three evenings to create--granted that first evening was a pretty late one.
Want to see the bear heads in action?
Natch! I loved Sharon of Wild Saffron Photography's work shooting Jessi & Mark's Circarnival Wedding, so I reached out to her again to shoot Shaine & Michael's engagement session. The photos below are some behind the scenes shots I took with my iPhone. Sharon's [much better] photos will follow in an upcoming blog post.
We met before sunrise to shoot the Spring Cherry Blossoms of DC at sunrise and started with some "normal" shots.
Enter the bear heads...
Shaine's dress was a random purchase I made on Etsy ages ago. While I was buying a dress to use for my own wedding gown, I noticed the same Etsy seller was also selling this amazing floor length peach gown that was about 10 sizes too small for me. I had no idea what I would do with it, but I got a bundled discount for the two gowns and decided I would use it... one day. It turned out to be amazing foresight on my part because Shaine is a tiny little thing and it fit her absolutely perfectly with no alterations. AND it looked great with a bear head.
This shoot turned into a bit of a spectacle. Hoards of photographers were already around shooting the cherry blossoms and didn't hesitate to jump in and shoot the "bear people." [Do you happen to be one of these dozens of people? Please send me your pics!!]
Stay tuned for the "real" photos, shot by Sharon, in an upcoming post!