Every time I paint at a wedding, dozens of on-looking guests will tell me the same thing: “I’ve never heard of this! What a great idea!” And as often as time allows, I tell this story.
It wasn’t my idea. In late 2004, a groom called me and said he had an idea for a gift for his bride. Their wedding was coming up that very weekend, and he wanted an artist to come to the reception and paint the scene, live. He was certain that his wife would find it romantic, and his guests would be entertained by watching. He was so assured of the excellence of this idea that he persisted in making seventy-five phone calls in search of a willing artist. One of those calls was to an art professor at the University of Washington, who assured him he would not find anyone who could fill such a demanding request. [The emphases are his.]
I took that as a dare.
My preparation, I believe, was in fifteen years of doing caricatures at events. Using ink and a brush, I have knocked out as many as 400 caricatures in a day— more than one a minute once I’m in the groove. But my experience with paint was more limited. Feeling unable to guarantee the results, but eager to try, I charged him only $500. I spent $350 of it on a portable easel, canvas, and a travel set of oils.
I determined that oil paints would be most appropriate, because they dry slowly enough for errors to be simply wiped off and repainted. The smell of turpentine was a concern. But I bought an “odorless” solvent, which was much easier on the guests, and I now use a citrus thinner which actually smells quite nice.
There was a very steep learning curve at this first gig, such as the need for me to bring my own illumination, and a small rug to use as a drop cloth. But I also learned that I can be tidy enough to paint in a tux, and even talk to guests at the same time.
And I learned that people really do love this idea. Especially brides.