Thursday, November 30, 2023

What's Your Process?

 "What's your process?  Will you finish it tonight?  Is it done?  Did you watch Bob Ross?"  These are just some of the questions I normally get at a wedding or other event.  (Answers: (a) Got 15 minutes?  (b) No.  (c) No.  (d) No.). No two artists are the same.  We've each developed a way of working that fits our style, standards, and personalities.  Mine is very different from almost all the other event artists that I know of.

Most wedding artists work in acrylic on either canvas or panel.  They want to travel light, finish the painting that night, and give it to the couple at the end of the reception.  So you'll see them bringing just an easel, canvas, and a light, taking pictures on their cell phones, and completing it (or almost) by the end of the evening.  Some work in watercolor and they also have minimal gear, work fast, and finish that night.  

I don't know how they do it.  Some of those artists are phenomenally good and can get beautiful results, including good likenesses and life, in one session.  But there's no way that I can get the level of finish I want in just one evening.  It normally takes me two to four weeks of additional work in the studio to get it to that level.  

I start by talking with the couple about what they want their painting to show.  Most of them want either the recessional as the world's newest married couple, the first dance, or just the two of them.  There are variations: the kiss at the end of the ceremony, including their dogs, a big grouping of both families, or a dance outside, for example.  So I need to get a feel for who they are as people to determine what they really want, which may or may not be what they thought they wanted.

Next, I coordinate with the wedding planner, venue manager, and photographer.  I work closely with all three to ensure that I get the access and support I need while also ensuring they have the information needed to do their jobs.  

On the Big Day, I'll arrive a couple of hours early to start work.  I'll set up my easel, light, table, rolling toolbox, and laptop.  Here's a standard setup:

Then I'll break out my camera (a real camera, not a phone) and start shooting.  I'll take a ton of photos of everything that may conceivably be needed: flowers, the ceremony area (for ceremony and recessionals) or reception area (for First Dances), decorations, and surrounding environment.  I'll tag along with the photographer for the pre-ceremony photos and the post-ceremony photos to ensure I have lots of the couple plus everybody else that may be in the painting.  Usually, I'll take between 200-400 photos.  These are NOT photographer-quality images - they're strictly references that I may or may not use in the painting.  I don't stage my photos - I try to capture the unguarded moments in between, which is a big difference.

First Dances take a bit of planning.  It's usually dark by then and I don't like to rely on a flash.  So I'll coordinate with the photographer to do a faux-first dance during the pre-ceremony photo session so I can at least get an idea of what they're going to do, along with some decent reference shots.  Then I'll still take some shots during the real First Dance.

Once I feel that I have enough photos, I'll load them into my laptop.  I usually have an idea of what the composition will be like, so I'll do a very rough sketch and then a quick look through the photos for some initial references to get started.  Then it's time to start slinging paint.  The first 10-15 minutes are the most important in the whole process.  This sets the general composition, the placement of the figures, and the color scheme.  If I get this wrong, then I'll have to scrub it out and start over.  That happens about once a year.  Everything in this first rough-in will change: the figures will be revised larger or smaller, or moved slightly one way or the other, people will be added or deleted, and I'll do a lot of inventing.  Just because something is there in real life doesn't mean it will be in the painting, and vice versa.  It's a painting, after all, not a photograph!

Then, for the rest of the night, I paint.  I try to get a decent indication of the couple,  including some indication of their connection, but I don't try for a good likeness.  I'll revise the setting, adjust colors, add things in, find photos that offer better images of faces or postures, and just develop as much as I can.  And I talk with people.  Most people have never seen an artist at work before and are very curious.  Lots of them will say "I don't want to bother you!" but I tell them that's why I'm here.  Most of the painting will be done in the studio, but at the event, I'm an art ambassador.  If kids are there, I'll often give them a brush and let them put something in.  It may go away later, but it doesn't matter, they get to contribute.  

The best is when the bride and groom come by to check on things and the bride breaks into tears.  That makes my night.

At the end of the evening, I pack up and take the painting back to the studio for much more work.  That's where the quality comes from.  It may take all afternoon to get a couple of faces, or the likenesses may come together in five minutes.  You just can't predict it.  When it's almost done, I send them a good image and get their feedback.  They'll often have a couple of small things that I managed to miss, which is exactly why I do this.  Then, when they approve it, I deliver it, whether in-person or through UPS/FedEx.

So that's my process.  I'll talk more about what goes into a painting in a future post.  

Monday, November 20, 2023

A Year of Painting Weddings

Photo courtesy of Jill at Realities Photography

Over the past year, I've done a lot of very different weddings and created some very different paintings of them.  "A lot" is relative, of course: I normally limit myself to about nine per year, while other artists may do 50-70 per year.  I just can't do that and produce the quality of work that I want.  

Part of that is due to the fact that I'm slow.  Go on Instagram or YouTube and you'll see videos of artists cranking out a painting in 60 seconds flat.  Okay, they're sped up, but you get the drift.  There's a reason you don't see me doing videos like that - they'd be an hour long and show only a small bit of development.  Another reason is that I want to know the couple in the painting.  I need to know who they are, see them interact with each other, their family, and friends, how they carry themselves, and so on.  The more I know, the more that comes through in the painting.  Don't know how that happens, but it does.  And I can't get to know them if I'm doing a lot of paintings.  They would get lost in the shuffle.

Since my last post of a wedding painting, I've completed 14 paintings, with two more in progress.  Some of those are among the very best to come out of my studio.   No, I won't tell you which ones.  You decide for yourself.  Some of the things I've seen, experienced, and noticed over the past year and a half are:

- More couples want their dogs included.  As a dog lover, I'm happy to include the furry family.  One of the paintings in progress has a beautiful German Shepherd with a floppy ear. 

- The subjects have been equally divided between the first dance, the end of the ceremony, and just the couple.  There's no single style that dominates because every couple is different.  

- One of this year's events wasn't a wedding, but rather a dinner for a business event.  Sounds boring?  No, it wasn't - I had some great conversations with some very interesting people.  And it's going to be presented as a gift to a really great couple who didn't know it was coming.

- Most have been set outside, regardless of whether it was of the ceremony, first dance, or just the couple.  That brings an occasional challenge with weather.  It can be a beautiful day, it can be Noah's flood, it can be hot and muggy, or cold and very, very wet.  Fortunately, most of the outdoors events had good weather.  

- Kids!  They're a lot of fun.  At a recent reception, a 6-year-old girl at the table next to me saw what I was doing and turned her chair, and her brother's, around to watch.  Never mind that speeches were being made, first dances and parent dances were being danced, and cakes were being cut, all of which were the focus of attention for everybody else.  Nope, she wanted to watch me painting.  If she'd been tall enough, I'd have given her a brush and let her "help".  (Yes, she could have stood on a chair; no, I didn't want to go there.)

There's more, but you get the idea.  Weddings are fun.  Wedding paintings are a challenge, but very rewarding for me to do.  The couples trust me to capture one of the most important days in their lives.  The paintings are very meaningful to them from day one - they're a treasure forever, not just entertainment at the reception.  And that floats my boat.