Johnathan & Brian
The Gay Beards are two best friends, Brian and Jonathan, who hail from Portland, Oregon. The duo have built a reputation for turning their well-groomed facial hair into whimsical works of art, utilizing materials from glitter, to food, to flowers. Their colorful self-portraits caught our eye recently, and we couldn’t help but reach out to learn a bit more about the origins of their playful project.
HS: You two have been friends since childhood. Have you always tackled creative projects together?
Jonathan(left) & Brian (right): Yes actually! Some ideas weren't as creative as others, but we've had many jobs together over our friendship. In middle school we went house-to-house in our neighborhood and raked leaves every fall; we sold the Oregonian Newspaper subscriptions together door-to-door when we were 15 years old, then we started working at a grocery store as courtesy clerks together. Later in high school, we used to run a variety of MySpace pages for artists. Eventually, The Gay Beards was formed.
How did you express yourself back when you were beardless?
Brian got into photography in high school and eventually started painting, which was a creative outlet for him. Johnathan played music and was in a band for a while. Both of us enjoyed trying different hairstyles and expressing ourselves through fashion, music, art, and most of all, our humor.
When did you start growing your beards? What inspired you?
Brian started growing his out in 2013 when he was working at a call center, so shaving wasn't required. Johnathan was on tour at the time, so he also decided it would be fun to try. Trying new things was never unusual for us, and once we discovered our ability to grow facial hair, there was no looking back. We thought it was something every man could do, but we've since learned that ultimately we just got lucky.
The Gay Beards is such a unique creative project. How did it begin?
It started back in 2014 in Johnathan's parents’ backyard. There was a ton of flowers growing there, and one of our good friends suggested we put a few in our beards. Reluctantly we did, and after he snapped a few photo we shared them on our personal social media accounts. After seeing how much our friends and family loved it, we decided to start The Gay Beards. It was just a matter of time before we started thinking of everything and anything we could put in our beards.
Your followers really love and engage with what you create. Why do you think your work resonates so well?
Initially, it was new and different, and people were intrigued. We've always enjoyed pointing out that typically, a beard is considered to be masculine, while flowers and glitter are... well... not. We've never taken ourselves very seriously, and pushing the limits of social constructs is the exact kind of thing that we don't mind doing. Life is what you make of it, and we have always encouraged our followers to live fearlessly and be themselves; we hope that putting ourselves out there in sometimes very ridiculous situations inspires them to live out their own dreams and inspirations.
You’ve covered your beards in many materials. Which was the most challenging?
Well, over time, we've learned new tips and tricks; at one point we attempted skittles, and it was the one time we weren't able to execute. During that specific shoot we were testing Vaseline as a adhesive... we learned very quickly that it was not a good fit (however we did learn that it makes our beards INCREDIBLY soft). Overall though, glitter is ironically the easiest look to put together, while being the hardest to get rid of.
Do you treat the hair on your head and the hair on your face the same way?
Not typically, no! We have separate shampoos and conditioners for our beards, as well as a number of oils and balms. Beards definitely require a bit more ongoing maintenance to keep them feeling and looking healthy. Especially when you put them through as much strain as we do!
What is your secret to a healthy beard?
We put our beards through a lot. That's no secret! Typically it needs to be shampooed and conditioned with a product tailored towards beards 1-2 times per week. Regular shampoos have been known to strip too many of the oils, and leave it feeling brittle and dry. Beyond that, a solid beard oil and balm post-shower help lock in moisture and keep it shiny and soft. Trimming is also a big must, though how often you do it totally depends on your style. Johnathan trims his once every week or so, while Brian trims his closer to once per month. When we really try and get our beards looking fancy for a night out, we crack out the blow dryer and hairspray!
Will you ever shave???
Ever is such a long time! I think Brian is keen on keeping his. If he ever does shave, he'll grow it back. Johnathan won't keep his forever, but he'll keep it for a while! You never know what the bearded future holds.
What lies ahead for The Gay Beards?
So many things, honestly. We have a million ideas for our beards in the creative planning phase. At the moment we are just beginning to prep 12 Beards of Christmas which we do every year December 1st-25th. Beyond that, we are working on a large fundraiser to benefit a local LGBT non-profit here in Portland, and you might see us doing some public speaking beyond that, and perhaps even publishing a beard book – you just never know.
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