Live Event Paintings
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The Magnolia Cooperative Preschool Auction presented some painting challenges, as it was set in Seattle's Fremont Studios, a soundstage production facility that doubles as a venue for events. There are some definite positives in such a venue. One can always ask for gaffer's tape or proximity to an electrical outlet, which I need for the lamp I perch on my easel, in order to paint in the dark. Painting in the dark is always a challenge. And a soundstage has black walls, black floors, and a black ceiling.
Monday, October 18, 2010
From the exterior, The Ruins has the appearance of an old warehouse— old enough to be torn down, that is, not old enough to be quaint. There is a painted door with a street number on it, and a doorbell. But it is in fact a “private dining club,” and inside this plain door is a richly dressed garden, and within that, what seems to be a building built within a building. We step through another, more auspicious door, and into a European palace, re-imagined for the Pacific Northwest. It is an eclectic collection of antiques, both real and recreated. A full sized equestrian statue painted all over with flowers stands in the hallway. There are several reception rooms, separate dining rooms, and two chef’s kitchens. It has the feel of something Mad Ludwig might have built, if he’d emigrated to Seattle by way of Venice, dragging with him the spoils of many garage sales.
The ballroom is Baroque, gilded, and covered in murals of Northwest scenes, wildlife, and Native American histories. Jennifer Carrasco spent three years painting these walls and ceiling. I had a couple of hours to copy them before the guests arrived.
As with the challenge of painting a reception in a room full of sunlight that goes dark before the painting is done, this room dims from blue to ghostly black when the chandeliers are dimmed. It glimmers, then. The gold trim shines and the murals glow. The large room feels intimate instead of cavernous. I find myself carving figures into the shadows.
I painted the couple as they danced. This can’t be done with a rapid line. But with a flat brush I could form simple shapes fast enough— a few dark strokes for a tux, a white space for a dress. Details of their faces were added later, as I got glimpses of them throughout the evening.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
It makes so much sense that anyone getting married in an art museum should have an artist there to paint the occasion—especially when the artist has the same name as the acronym of the museum. The art museum in question was, of course, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), and the specific venue was the Olympic Sculpture Park. The park sprawls over nine acres of waterfront in downtown Seattle, between Belltown and Myrtle Edwards Park, on Elliott Bay. Atop the highest elevation, the cornerstone and principal gateway of the park is the Paccar Pavilion, where the Roemer Davenport wedding was held. The event was celebrated under the watch of the statuesque installations of Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Claus Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Louise Bourgois and others.
The families and friends of the bride and groom were as colorful and interesting as the art, and a pleasure to paint. The bride’s dress was like a cloud, in which a floor length black ribbon was continually getting lost. She matched the cake, a design as architectural as the building.
There were considerable challenges in painting this mind-bending space. The architect designed it to open up to space, rather than recede into it. That’s an artsy way of saying the perspective is backwards. The corners of a room usually appear, to the natural eye, to taper towards an implicit vanishing point on the horizon. That is, the far end of the room looks narrower than the nearer part, and that’s how we unconsciously know its father away. The lines of the corners of a room are the first things I paint, because that perspective then helps establish where everything else in the painting is, in relation to each other.
But in the Paccar Pavilion, looking north and west toward the gardens, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains, the dimensions of the room get both broader and taller, so that the lines of one’s view expand to the sky. As I try to draw the room as a conventional square, it appears as if it has no corners.
The bride and groom graciously gave me time to meet with them before their rehearsal, and we discussed and agreed on my vantage point. I was on the stairs, which they descended as they entered the room after the ceremony, as man and wife.
It was the perfect view.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
This year my vantage point was from the landing on the central staircase of the ornate Chinese entry hall. In 1926, architect Robert C. Reamer and interior designer Gustav F. Liljestrom modeled this interior after three of Imperial China's most splendid structures: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heavenly Peace and the Summer Palace. It was restored to its glory in 1980.
The great challenge for me in painting this venue is editing— every detail can barely be observed, much less rendered in likeness, in a few hours. I’m learning to simplify, becoming more impressionistic, and still keep the essentials necessary to record a memory of a place and an evening.
At benefit auctions, items rarely sell for more than their stated value. This is because donated items are often products available to the public at market price— a case of wine, a vacation package, etc. But I paint only one painting during the cocktail hour and silent auction each year. Several patrons noticed themselves depicted in the painting, and others had reasons to want to remember this particular event in a singular way.
Mine was the last item in the live auction, and bidding for the 30” x 40” painting started at $1500. In a flurry of raised paddles, the asking bid quickly passed the stated value of $3750 (For a complete list of my fees for event paintings, go here). The drama then slowed, and drew itself out as other patient bidders replaced the early contenders. There was spontaneous applause each time the price passed another thousand dollars, and sustained applause as the gavel came down at $7250.
I’m looking forward to doing this again next year.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Northwest Corks and Crush was just like any other wine auction, except for the classic cars on display. It was like having a benefit auction in a car museum. The cars weren’t for sale, but were a great conversation starter for this crowd. I don’t think I’d ever painted a car before. The luxury for me was that they sat still long enough.
Given the freedom to choose my vantage, I set up my easel behind the rarest car I’m likely to ever see. This 1954 Ferrari 375 MMbelongs to Northwest philanthropists John and Mary Shirley, but is nicknamed for its earlier glamorous owner, Ingrid Bergman. Its estimated $20M value doesn’t just come from the touch of celebrity; it played a significant role in the history of the design of Ferraris. It was a single seat race car when Bergman’s husband, director Alberto Rossellini, bought it to drive on the streets of Rome, where it incurred some minor body damage. Rossellini returned it to the factory, asking them to make it into a coupé suitable for both him and his wife. The resulting design by Carrozzeria Scaglietti was the paradigm for perhaps the next twenty years of luxury performance road machines.
The north light that flooded into the arena throughout the afternoon and into the evening gave halos to the figures that passed in front of me. Painting these backlit patrons, I felt like I was back in art class with William Cummings, whose work I hadn’t thought had influenced me so much.
The winning bidder and his colleagues were painted in to the scene immediately after the auction.
In the above photo, the familiar auctioneer behind me is Jeff Randall. Photo by Heather Curbow. Used by permission of Team Photogenic.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Voila! Wedding Show, Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club and Spa, Carillon Point, Kirkland, Washington, March 28, 2010
In one respect, it can be harder to compose a painting at these shows than at a wedding. That is, there’s no client and no prioritized group of people who need to be in the painting. In many trade shows, I end up painting from a booth in a long row of other vendors, and I struggle to find an important focal point to be main visual interest in the picture. Fortunately, this show was divided into several more or less intimate rooms. This one was called the Winter Room, and had a great central display that, pictorially, defines what we were doing there: selling to brides.
I rarely paint service people in commissioned pieces, and if I do, I limit it to one and keep it subdued. But this is a demo painting, and it seemed to me that service is what the business is all about. Having made that decision, I loved the ethnic variation of the workers; the face of an African, an Indonesian.
Painting the harpist was a joy. But had I known there was a string trio coming later, I would have scooted the harpist over to make room to paint them all in.
This American Heart Association fundraiser was held in the spacious Tacoma convention Center, where the theme of the lobby art recalls the city’s timber roots. What looks like a brown X in the left side of the picture is an installation of heavy beams, salvaged from pioneer era buildings that used to occupy the site.
When I began painting, the room was filled with daylight, its panorama extending from the skyline to Mount Rainier. As with the painting in Benaroya Hall last October, the great challenge was for me to anticipate what the room would look like after dark, yet capture as much of the architectural setting as possible before the guests arrived. This is literally a reversal of light and dark. In the afternoon, the atrium walls were dark lines across a bright sky; by evening they became silver bars across blackened reflections. It was necessary to draw the window frames to establish the perspective of the room, but as the light changed, they had to be redrawn with the opposite colors.
Then why don’t I just use a pencil? I draw directly with oil paint, because it can be wiped off and changed much easier than erasing pencil, and because anything that doesn’t need changing is already finished without additional coloring.
These live event paintings are constantly changing until the evening is over. I routinely wipe off figures and fixtures to replace them with new people who’ve entered the room. But if I followed the academic method of drawing first with pencil or charcoal, then applying a fixative and coloring afterward in oils, I would not be able to change the initial drawing as the party moves and morphs. Not only would I be unable to erase the fixed pencil lines, once the painting began I would not be able to go back and add more pencil lines. My direct technique allows me to decide at the last minute to add your flower girl, as she is suddenly chased through the scene by the ring barer, and then gone.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Any holiday party is worth a painting, I think, but this was a special one for this company. Their founder was retiring, and his associates commissioned a painting as a parting gift. The cozy ballroom at the Alexis was perfect for the family-like intimacy of these coworkers. And it was a short walk from my studio!
I always love a party, even if it’s in an orthodontist’s office in a suburban strip mall. Jesse and Travis, the talented duo at True Colors Events, handily conjured a night club atmosphere in a space already funkier than your average doctor’s office. With catering by SAM Taste, this was definitely the way to do a marketing fete for referring dentists. The hosts were as colorful in person as they look in paint, illustrating the international diversity of the Eastside: Chinese, East Indian, Israeli. As a caricaturist, portraitist or event painter, my first and last interest in art is the people in the picture.