Monday, August 13, 2012

Propology: DIY hot air balloon on a budget

First things first, I want everyone to know the idea of a hot air balloon prop is not mine originally.  I have seen an air balloon prop somewhere..I just can't remember where.  I fell in love but i didn't have any clue how to make it myself.  So the idea lay dormant in my mind for months.  I don't mind to use other's ideas but I try to put my own spin on it.  Photography for me, is an expression of my creative energy and vision.  So, as soon as I saw that DIY post on COAPJ the seed was planted.  I didn't actually expect to ever make one until last week.  A regular client of mine contacted me about doing her son's three month pictures.  I have such a wonderful relationship with this woman and her entire extended family.  I have captured senior, engagements, weddings, maternity and newborn sessions.  After being apart of so many joyous occasions, they're actually starting to feel like family.  Anyway, the awesome thing about this family is they trust me completely.  When a client let's you run with your vision it can open so many more doors than if someone keeps you creatively boxed in if you will.  I ran the idea by Mom and she was all for it.  So, I set about trying to figure out not only how I was going to do it but the personal direction I wanted to take it in.  I didn't want to do the bare balloon as I had seen so I decided I would go all out and paper mache it.  Let me start out by saying IF you plan to do this, make sure you have an extra dose of patience.  Looking at the finished project makes me so glad I made it, but I did reach a point where I got frustrated and wished I hadn't started.

Ok here is a list of what I had to buy and how many

(4) Dowel rods from Lowes ($4.15 with tax)
(1) Jumbo balloon from Party City ($6.41 with tax)
(6) Bottles of all purpose elmer's glue ($3 and some change with tax) (school supplies are super cheap right now so I saved a total of $4.62 or .77 cents per bottle!)
(9) Newspapers a friend so graciously donated for the project

What I already had on hand

A large basket
Flour, salt,  and water (though I used all my flour and had to buy some more)

The balloon was so large I literally had to slowly squeeze it through two doors once I got home.  The entire time I was so worried the balloon would pop or lose air before I got far enough into the project.  I purchased the balloon on a Thursday, to give me enough time to have it ready for my session the following Tuesday.
The project was going to take place in our garage downstairs.  I wasn't thrilled with myself that I put it in a place where to get it back downstairs I would need to squeeze it through those same two doors.  I didn't want to take the chance and Hubby wanted to spend time with me, without going downstairs too, so the project took place in my kitchen....which he later regretted lol!  This project is messy and time consuming.  Even if I had the total amount of time to devote to it all at once, I would've needed a break (or rather my back) and the project itself requires breaks in action for drying.

Ok, so here's how it started.  I found what I thought was the best paper mache recipe online and struck out.  After making two batches with the recipe below I ended up doubling the measurements to give me more mix at one time.  I used a metal mixing bowl because I thought it would be easier to clean.  I used a whisk to mix it all together.  I put the flour, salt then water in the bowl, mixed until it was good and smooth (no clumps) then added the glue and remixed.

1 cup Flour (2 parts)
1 1/2 cups Water (3 parts)
1/2 TBS salt (optional)
1/4 cup white glue (optional) (half of a 4oz bottle of elmer's)

Making the doubled recipe

2 cups of flour
3 cups of water
1 TBS salt
1/2 cup of glue (full 4oz bottle of elmer's)

I started out with normal table salt, but used all I had and ended up using sea salt I had in the kitchen.  It made no difference in the mix.

When I first started, I tore the paper into little two-four inch strips like I had done when I was a kid.  After I covered the entire balloon I decided to take the newspaper and tear it (evenly using the end of my kitchen table) halfway down the center then halfway on those pieces so four pieces total with one large sheet of newspaper.  That balloon was just too big of a surface to be using tiny pieces of paper.  Applying the paper went a lot faster after that.  I should also note that I had a box type fan sitting in the room with me pointing at the balloon.  The balloon was sitting in a box that had 2 sides opened up so the balloon had a little support in the back to keep it from rolling.  When I first started, I had to struggle with the balloon wanting to float.  After the entire thing was coated with one layer, it was good and grounded, which left rolling being my only problem.  The box helped catch some of the dripping mixture and kept it relatively in place.  If you are a clean freak, this project is not for you!  I like to be clean, especially my hands, and even knowing what it would feel like, I was still grossed out and would take frequent breaks to wash my hands...only to get them dirty again haha!

After about four I stopped counting the layers.  Some areas got more than other areas anyway.  If I had to guess I would say there are between 8-12 layers.

After two days of applying layers I noticed there were a few spots that were weaker than others.  I decided yesterday I would take a silver permanent marker and mark the weak spots with a big x so I would know the areas to add more layers to.  I used all that mix and while I wanted to put more layers on, I only had one bottle of glue left and I knew I needed to save it for my final layer.  The final layer was the Sunday comics.  I wanted something bright, lite and fun.  This is after all, a prop for a child's session.  Obits, articles about some famous person dying, articles about sex education and sexual predators didn't seem to be a good last layer lol!  Here is a little collage of the process.  I took pictures with my cell during the process so please excuse the quality.  You may noticed that there are a lot of wrinkles in pictures two and three.  I tried to keep wrinkles out but it was difficult fighting the curve of the balloon so there were wrinkles. I didn't fight with it too much until the final layer.

Top left: balloon before
Top Right: balloon with wet paper mache
Bottom Left: dry paper mache with X's marking the weak spots
Bottom Right: finished product

Top Left: I forgot to take a picture of the circle I made for the bottom to know where I needed to cut.  I cut an X in the circle to keep myself within the right boundaries
Top Right: Got my scissors in there and started cutting around the circle.  Some parts were covered by paper but I could figure it out.  My circle wasn't completely perfect but close enough.
Bottom Left: The yucky balloon.  It was covered in dry mixture so pieces flaked off like a shedding dog when I picked it up...yuck!
Bottom Right: The thickness of the pieces I got.  That is my pinky between the pieces to show the thickness.  

Top Left: Wrapping the twine around the dowel rod
Top Right: What it looks like when it is fully wrapped. 
*The dowel rods were temporarily taped to the inside of the basket to hold it in place for the test.
*The weights are in the bottom to keep it from toppling over.  They will be there for the session.  If I had a newborn in the basket there would be blankets covering the weights.  No little one will be in the basket for this session
Bottom Center: My test placement .  Still have work to do.

I wrote most of this while I was making the balloon so here is a bit of an update.  Like I stated before, I made this hot air balloon for a 3mo session.  I had it all ready and had started to pack for the session when Hubby struck lol!  He was so sweetly helping me but wasn't so careful.  He picked up the basket rather roughly and it ripped apart the set up.  I set out to fix it but it was 100 degrees and the humidity was high.  Needless to say it did not go as planned.  The planned session became a mini with a reshoot two weeks later.  I knew it could work it would just need to be planned better.  It finally ended up working and it debuted this past week for a different session!  I have several other ideas for this big prop and can't wait to use it again.

Other props for this session are as follows

Glass candle holder
A large and mini banner

These were props I already had on hand.  I made both banners.

I've been rather busy with sessions so expect a lot of updates and beautiful images!

Updated pictures with this bad boy....the balloon not the child ;)


AMJ217 said...

Love this!

La'Tasha said...

i am in the process of making this and have a few questions especially since i see this was made at least a year ago... how long did it last before it cracked or has it cracked? and how smooth did it turn out? as i want to paint mine?

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