Live Event Paintings

I paint oil paintings, live, at wedding receptions and events, anywhere in the world. Click my profile to find my email, or call (206) 382-7413.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Macias-Lawson Wedding, Arctic Club Hotel, Seattle, November 26, 2011

The Arctic Club Hotel is one of the greatest pieces of architecture in Seattle. Built in 1917, it is distinguished by two-dozen terra cotta walrus heads lining the Cherry Street and Third Avenue facades. After the Nisqually earthquake ten years ago, when the building was languishing as city offices, some of these walruses had their tusks held on with duct tape. But in recent years the building has been acquired and beautifully restored to its historic splendor by a company of Mr. William Lawson, whose son was married there on Saturday.

The building is mixture of architectural styles, but the Dome Room evokes Paris in the Belle Époque. I have painted in the room before, and I hope to again— many times. In fact, I think it would be my dream art studio. So it was really a privilege to paint the room for its new owners.

This painting was also an opportunity for me to do something I’ve never done before: a vertical wedding painting. The size and format were actually dictated by the wall on which the painting will eventually hang, but it works compositionally because of the Dome Room’s magnificent stained glass ceiling, which occupies the top half of the painting.

At most weddings and events, I paint on a French easel, which is a portable travel set designed in the days of the Impressionists to carry enough paints in the box for a plein aire outing. I use this for paintings up to 30 inches high, though it gets a little rickety with torque on paintings as wide as 40 inches. For the Macias-Lawson wedding, the canvas was 48 wide and 60 high— the second largest I’ve done for an event, and by far the tallest. I rented a van to move a big easel from the studio, even though the venue was just six blocks away! (Its also unadvisable to walk through the neighborhood carrying a big wet oil painting in the rain, after midnight.) The easel was designed for paintings up to 59 inches high, and needed a minor modification for this job. But it has a great sliding carriage, which allowed me to set the painting low at first, when I painted that grand ceiling before the wedding, and simply slide the whole thing up the ratcheted vertical support to paint the lower half during the reception. I used my French easel on the side for a tableau, to hold my paint and brushes.

It really would take a week to faithfully and realistically render the architectural details of this exquisite room. But as with paintings I’ve done at The Ruins, where an excellent muralist labored for three years to adorn the place, my scribblings are quick impressions, meant to evoke that single evening in its magic moment. By constricting my painting time to the time of the event (with some allowance to paint the setting in just the hours before), I control, harness, and channel the energy of expedience. If I were to take the painting back to the studio to touch it up, dither over it, and— as one of my illustration teachers called it — noodle it to death, that energy would leak out of the painting. Some people, upon hearing (but not seeing) what I do, ask me if I’m going to take a photo of the wedding, and do the whole painting back at the studio. I could, of course, and I could make the painting look just like the photo. But you can get that from any of several corporate studios that email your photos to China, where factory artists copy them faithfully for the cost of a good craft store frame.

There are no photos from any wedding that depict what I paint; I do not capture a sliver of time in a click of a shutter, but the whole elapse of the evening over several hours. Mini-portrait-caricatures depict the key figures. The bride and groom, in this case, were painted in their entirety during their First Dance. I have to confess here that I take extensive liberties with perspective, even with my point of view. I have compressed nearly 180 degrees of view into this vertical rectangle. When a camera does this, we call it a fish-eye lens, and close objects become enormous and far details disappear. Its great for documenting architecture, but people, not so much. I paint as if I were on a ladder, and the floor angled like a raked stage. This allows me to give elements within the room relatively equal importance as events, rather than distorting closer things.

Artistry lies as much in the process and interpretation of what the artist sees, as in the skill with which it is rendered.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Zinzanni Evening—Painting at the Circus

In the Spiegeltent at Teatro Zinzanni for the third time, on Sunday the sixth of November, I did a painting for their annual gala auction to benefit the Zinzanni Institute for the Circus Arts. The Institute teaches children to juggle, clown, and tumble their way towards a chance to run away with the circus—or at least to develop some killer skills. The gala funds scholarships for kids who can’t afford the program. An amazing nine-year old graduate appears in my painting, center stage, juggling five balls, next to auctioneer Kevin Joyce.

It just another normal weekend for me to put on a bowtie and black apron and perform for a crowd, with my brushes and palette and mahl stick and a rapidly transforming canvas. Doing it under the big top with these performers lets me pretend I’m a tall, Danish version of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge. Their Spiegeltent dates from that era (so named because of the mirrors encircling the space), the dancing, singing waitresses wear corsets and fishnet stockings and feathers, paired with waiters in vests and caps. Décor of tassels and fringe and faded velvet are everywhere.

The air of Paris is especially strong at Zinzanni right now, since their current dinner show is Bonsoir Liliane!, a memoir about, and starring, Liliane Montevecchi— a grand dame of the stage, ballet, cinema, and theatre. I told her that her voice reminded me of a stretch version of Edith Piaf (she’s more than a foot taller than La Môme.)

With all the acrobats and contortionists and strays from the opera and ballet, this troupe has been called “the Kit Kat Club on Acid.” So why not throw in a barrel-voiced cross-dressing comedian/comedienne primped and powdered like a Venetian carnival queen? That’s him/her posing with the buyer of my painting and her daughter, center left. Kevin Kent is one of TZ’s original members.

Another regular at Zinzanni is Francine Reed, who came in from Atlanta for the gala and a concert the following night. As I mixed my colors and began to paint the background of the venue, while the crew tested lights and recording volumes, Ms. Reed spent a luxurious amount of time chatting with me. It was a pleasure getting to know the woman whose voice makes Lyle Lovett sound good. We talked about growing up singing in church, and she listened patiently while I sang to her a song I wrote for my wife, nodding and smiling approvingly. During the auction she sang God Bless the Child. She appears in my painting dressed in purple, with feathers, on the stage, middle right.

It feels great to donate a painting, and I do for several charity auctions each year. It feels even better when the event’s appreciation allows me to bring my wife and guests back for dinner and a show throughout the year!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Klein-Susinno Wedding at the Salish Lodge, Snoqualmie Falls

On Sunday, October 23, 2011, I was pleased to be invited to draw caricatures at the Klein-Susinno Wedding, held at the Salish Lodge,

Snoqualmie, Washington. The lodge sits atop the roaring 268 foot Snoqualmie Falls, and was made famous in the television series Twin Peaks.

I don’t do caricatures nearly as often as I used to. The live wedding paintings pay better, of course, because the couple is getting a work of art that can last for generations. But caricatures are an affordable alternative for the client, and a valuable wedding favor for the guests to take home.

And I truly love doing them. I never tire of drawing or painting faces. I love seeking out the personality of the sitter; it often manifests in a single brush stroke as they flash that smile they were hiding, or as they raise an eyebrow or smirk at the reaction of their friends to my drawing in progress. I love the family resemblances and variations I see, from grandparents to grandchildren. I love the subtle differences unique to every ethnicity (in this case German and Italian) that sits before me. These particular families were full of confident personalities, and I was able to caricature them honestly and playfully without being disrespectful or disparaging.

Of course, throughout the years I’ve drawn many people who were more reserved and anxious about how I might portray them. There are always people who ask me to make them thinner, or omit a double chin, or downsize a nose. At every caricature gig, I find myself repeating, for the nervous, the mantra that I always make the women look like movie stars. I then joke that the men get what they have coming to them. But the truth is I try not to offend anyone. I subscribe to Al Hirschfeld’s philosophy that caricatures never need to be insulting, because everyone has an interesting face.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Urban Unveiled, 2011, at Seattle's Benaroya Hall

It was a pleasure to be invited to paint at Urban Unveiled for the third year in a row. The painting belongs to Jesse Brix and Travis Burney of True Colors events, which produces this hip

wedding show, featuring a fashion show by Luly Yang.

Painting the lobby of Seattle’s Benaroya Hall presents a challenge, to the nth degree, that I face in some measure at any wedding reception that runs into the evening. That is, I have to begin a painting during daylight, knowing that I will finish it after dark. All of my wedding and event paintings are a snapshot not of a moment in time, but a span of time over several hours. I have yet to try to depict both daytime and nighttime on the same canvas. I have to decide which it is, and almost always, it needs to be whichever comes later.

I always come to the venue a couple of hours before an event, and paint the room. Once the event begins, I can then focus on just painting people. But that means painting the grand lobby of this symphony hall in bright, south facing daylight. The people arrive as the setting sun colors the skyscrapers outside these four story glass walls with rapidly changing shadows, and then the ceiling dances with choreographed up-lighting, as the windows go dark and reflect the interior. From the very beginning, I paint in anticipation of this final lighting. At first, the window frames are dark lines against a bright background. But I know they will later become light lines against a dark background.

I know this because I’ve painted here before. But when I paint somewhere new, especially when it’s a destination wedding and I haven’t been able to scout out the place beforehand, I have to learn to look around and visualize with prescience. Always, even in familiar venues, I have to ask the planner what the lighting design will be— what will be dimmed, what will be accentuated.

Then, as everything changes, I take what comes, and paint from direct observation. It is the opposite of the perfection one seeks in studio painting. But the result is always something spontaneous, fluid, and irreplaceably unique.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Join me at Benaroya for Urban Unveiled!

On Wednesday, October 12, 2011, I’ll be painting at one of my favorite local wedding shows. Urban Unveiled is organized by True Colors Events, the peerless event-designing duo of Jesse Brix and Travis Burney. The venue, every year, is Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, and features a fashion show by Luly Yang. Its an honor and a pleasure to be invited back to paint at this show for the third year.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sizes and Prices, 2011

I've had a surge of inquiries lately. I've also checked blog stats lately, and I see that the increased traffic also seems to be finding last year's listing of sizes and prices. So to make things a little more clear, here are the prices that are good through the end of 2011. Clients who book before the end of the year for dates next year or even later nevertheless get to lock in this year's prices.
Travel cost usually includes air fare and lodging for two nights, although larger paintings take more preparation time at the destination.

Inches Centimeters US Dollars

24 x 30 61 x 76 $2500

24 x 36 61 x 91 $2800

24 x 40 61 x 102 $3250

30 x 40 76 x 102 $4000

36 x 48 91 x 122 $5000

48 x 60 122 x 152 $6000

48 x 72 122 x 183 $7500

48 x 80 122 x 203 $9000

A Barbecue Among Friends

Not every event painting is a wedding painting. As you read older posts, you’ll find I’ve painted live at birthday parties, retirement parties, charity auctions, and even a wake. (That was a great memorial, with great people remembering a great person.) So it is not so strange that the occasion of this painting is simply a barbecue among friends.

The hosts had graciously allowed me to use their home for a photo shoot for one of my religious paintings, my reference for which involves costumed models and sets of some detail. (You can read about this at my other blog, here.) In exchange, they asked me to paint their barbecue later that evening.

As often happens in Seattle in autumn, dinner on the terrace was redirected indoors by a fragrant rain.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Painting at the Wedding MBA, Las Vegas

More than a week has gone by since the convention in Vegas, and I haven’t stopped to catch my breath. The Wedding MBA (Wedding Merchant Business Academy) draws over 2000 wedding professionals from all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico— and a few from overseas, as well. It’s a three-day pow-wow of speakers from the top of the industry, including publishers like Carley Roney, co-founder of The Knot, and Kathy Ireland, CEO of pretty much everything.

The morning of the first day is a general session, with the remainder of the conference broken into hourly classes of specific concern to various segments. I was asked to paint the general session.

Two thousand people fit quite snugly into a corner of a big exhibit hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center. There was a modest stage, and four big screens spread out in front of tables arranged as a massive classroom. I set up my easel about one screen away from the stage, and began at 8 a.m. with the opening talk. As I commonly do at weddings, I painted a view of about 180 degrees, like a wide-angle lens. But the painting only shows half the crowd; the other half is behind me. That's Carley Roney at the podium.

I finished at noon, as Andy Ebon wrapped up his remarks. He spoke about individuals who are distinctive in their disciplines, such as wedding planners or photographers, whose work separates them from their peers by excellence, creativity, or unique vision. I was the last professional he featured. The applause after his conclusion seemed just the right time for me to sign the painting, and take a little bow.

I’m deeply grateful to Andy for his remarks, and to Peter Merry for suggesting, and Shannon Underwood for allowing, me to be there.

The resulting attention was overwhelming. By the end of the afternoon, it was suggested I move my easel to a vendor booth, where I continued handing out business cards and responding to questions about my availability. I was, fortunately, able to attend some of the breakout sessions the other days, but convention goers were still asking to have their pictures taken with me until I packed the painting up at the end of the convention. (Shannon Underwood went home with the original.)

My expectations usually exceed actual results, because I’m a starry eyed artist, and I always expect my dreams to come true. I expected this event to get me gigs from the west coast to the east coast, and maybe Hawaii. I did not expect to be asked to travel to New Zealand and India.

This week I expedited a renewal of my passport.

I’m spilling gratitude everywhere I go.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 11, 2011

It is the tenth anniversary of the Twin Towers tragedy, and I’m in New York to paint a wedding. The Manhattan couple chose 9/10/11 for the auspicious sounding date.

Last night’s wedding was in the Hudson River valley, at the Pearl River Hilton. Although actually in New York State, about fifteen miles from the George Washington Bridge, some people at the hotel said, “Welcome to New Jersey.” It was a beautiful drive up the river: fall foliage, an almost cloudless sky, and amber evening light on the cliffs. The hotel looks like a French chateau. There were groundhogs on the lawn.

The ballroom was filled with thousands of white flowers. The florist told me just the roses alone numbered six thousand. They were accompanied by fresia, orchids, peonies, and flowered branches.

A chuppah was built of columns topped with enormous balls of these flowers and branches, arching over the ceremony like a canopy. Foot lights cast shadows of the branches on the ceiling.

Three hundred chairs faced the chuppah, and behind that the ballroom was curtained from the reception tables. An archway through the curtains was made of flowering branches, through which the wedding party entered, two by two.

Herein lies the challenge for a wedding painter.

I was positioned to the left of the chuppah, with a long view down the room. But I could only see three fifths of it, until after the ceremony. As I lay the foundation of a painting, my first task is to draw the lines and surfaces of the room, establishing perspective, light and mood. This is done with oil washes and a broad brush, blended afterwards with a fan brush for soft focus. I then work into this background all the features of the painting. If there is anything I cannot change later in the process of the painting, this is it.

I found my workaround above the archway. What I called “curtains” were really sliding and folding walls, typically found in modern ballrooms. They went all the way to the ceiling. But they were open to the width of the makeshift archway, above which I could see the decorative lines and partitions of the ceiling, all the way to the back wall. It was a narrow glimpse. I could not see the back corners of the room, but I could see enough to imagine them.

I rarely paint ceremonies. Receptions last much longer. But that chuppah was so beautiful, and my position was so perfect. And as I began my architectural background, the wedding party came in with the rabbi for rehearsal. I had not expected this, but it gave me an additional hour to paint them in the positions they’d occupy during the wedding.

After the beautiful and reverent ceremony, the assembly adjourned for cocktails, the lights came up, and the hotel crew “flipped the room.” The flowered archway was rolled to the side, the partitions folded back into the walls, the tables brought forth, candles lit, and the lights dimmed once again.

Of course, as people left the room after the ceremony, many of them stopped by my easel for a closer look. When they came back in for dinner, they found a very transformed painting. On the left, the ceremony is bright, and on the right, the room is dimmed as it was seen later. Between the two, the couple descends a little stair, greeting their future. I spent the rest of the evening painting guests.

Every wedding painting I’ve done is a portrait of a space of time— four to eight hours— as the light changes and people move about. But this was the first time I put the ceremony and reception on the same canvas.

And the bride was pleased.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wedding MBA, Las Vegas, Sept 13-15, 2011

I've been graciously invited to paint at the Wedding MBA convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center, September 13-15, 2011. This happened very quickly, after I met Peter Merry, author of The Best Wedding Reception Ever! just last weekend at a wedding. Much thanks to him, Shannon Underwood, and Andy Ebon for including me on such a level.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Wedding at the W Hotel, Seattle

The Lemon-McAllister Wedding, 24 x 40 inches, oil on canvas, August 27, 2011, at the W Hotel in Seattle.

I love painting a beautiful bride. Of course, all brides are beautiful, and they should be the radiant focus of every wedding painting.

How do I decide where to put the couple in the painting? When I started painting weddings, this was something we pre-arranged. I'm happy to discuss this with the couple before the big day. But as I've become more experienced, most couples now trust me to decide as the evening unfolds. I've learned to recognize opportunities as they present themselves.

In many of my paintings, the bride and groom stand for a few minutes in front of me (as time allows), and are thus at the front of the crowd. In some paintings I manage to paint the couple in their first dance. In that case I have to paint quickly, and perhaps add details later in the evening. At this reception there were long toasts, which kept the couple in a handy pose for a good amount of time. The view was from quite a ways across the room, but the placing ended up making for a pleasing composition.

This painting is wider (24 x 40) than the smaller sizes I more commonly sell (24 x 30, 24 x 36), and allows for a more expansive view of the ballroom.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Bainbridge Island Birthday Party

These people know how to throw a party.
Over a year ago, the wife contacted me to do a caricature of her, which she then personally copied onto her own handmade china plates for more than fifty guests for her 70th birthday. It would take her a year to create the ceramics. When she came to the studio for her caricature, she saw examples of my wedding paintings, which I often keep at the studio and deliver after they've dried. She loved the idea, and immediately booked me for the date.
The couple live on Bainbridge Island, looking across Puget Sound at Seattle, Washington. The party was set on their expansive, many terraced lawns, amid lush flowering gardens and ancient cedar trees. A well kept path led down the bluff to the sandy beach. A dance floor was laid for the occasion, and a cover band played classic rock. There were fire dancers, belly dancers, and exquisite food. The guests came dressed to the nines, but also in extraordinary costumes (note the elephant on a stick in the lower center of the painting.) Desserts included fresh spun cotton candy.
And since the event was at the client's home, I was able to leave the painting there, for a change!
I'm hoping to be invited back for her 80th.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Museum Quality Reprints

I don't know why I didn't think of this before. A groom recently asked me if it would be possible to make reprints of my painting of their wedding. As a matter of fact, I have an excellent source for that. The guy who make giclée prints on canvas of my religious paintings is right here in the neighborhood (Pioneer Square, Seattle), and can print individual copies on demand. These are archival, museum quality prints, canvas stretched over wood, just like the original oil. In the case of my client who thought of it first, prints were made for the grooms' parents. But a couple might also consider reprints as thank-you cards, using traditional offset printing.
Having an artist painting live at a wedding tends to be a great entertainment for the guests. It goes without saying that the couple will enjoy the painting in their home, happily ever after. With today's technology, so can their guests!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Barron-Coles Wedding, The Canal, Seattle

For the Barron-Coles wedding, I was privileged to return to one of the very first venues at which I have created a live painting. The Canal overlooks the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a.k.a. the Ballard Locks, on the ship canal connecting Lakes Washington and Union with Puget Sound. It's the site of the infamous, nearly perennial battles between the Washington State Department of Fisheries and and certain lox-eating California sea lions. The view is entrancing, especially for lovers of yachts and other maritime comings and goings. But because the event venue is a stone's throw downstream from the actual locks that raise and lower vessels between lake and sea level, the crowds of tourists which gawk there are kept at a distance. There is actually a sense of privacy where we were perched. And this was a family gathering.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pan Pacific Hotel Bridal Open House

It's a pleasure to participate in several bridal shows a year. This one on February 17, 2011, was at the Pan Pacific Hotel-Seattle.
The Pan Pacific-Seattle is the international hotel chain's first location in the United States, having established its luxury mark throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim from its base in Singapore. It is indeed grand, richly paneled in lightly stained wenge, my favorite tropical hardwood. (Look closely at the walls in the painting. They have horizontal stripes. If you go to this hotel, be bold enough to run your fingers along the wall; you can feel the age lines of these trees.)
The Grow Your Love Bridal Open House was not your typical sprawling convention center trade show. It was a more intimate affair, hosted as a mock wedding, with 200 brides-to-be as the invited guests. Actors were hired as the bride and groom of the evening, whose gregarious mothers warbled an amusingly altered version of "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof. They were married by a nice Reverend and toasted by their shy, proud fathers, all local actors. They even tossed the bouquet and cut the cake. I've immortalized them in this painting as I would any real couple.
My friend BreeAnn Gale of Pink Blossom Events orchestrated this fair, and I would have painted her into the scene, but she didn't stand still long enough. And frankly, I have a lot of experience painting people who aren't standing still.
I get asked about this a lot:
"Are you going to take photos and paint from the pictures?"
"If I give you photos of my [already transpired] wedding, can you paint from that?"
My specialty is painting live. This is the ancient art of looking at things and painting them as they happen. I do need a few minutes with the bride and groom, generally.
A lot of my wedding paintings can be a bit dark, as they are paintings of receptions in romantically dimmed rooms. This one is brightened by spring green fabrics from Aría|Style, whose talented owner wore a coat of matching silk, embroidered with pink flowers to evoke the accent lighting that uplit the corners of the room. She appears mid-painting, against the wall. For me, this green theme evoked my parents' dining room, which is trimmed in a similar shade of tulip stem, against walls of just barely minter-than-white— my father's design.
But I digress.
Did I mention the few from deck, with its veriegated pebble garden and teak lounge chairs?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Live Auction Painting at the Heart Ball 2011

The Tacoma chapter of the American Heart Association held their 2011 Heart Ball at the Hotel Murano, Tacoma Washington. This is the second year I've been asked to paint at this auction. The 1930 Packard in the corner is courtesy of the LeMay Museum.
Host Hospitality Party and Event Planning put me in the center of the Bicentennial Plaza on a riser the size of a small stage, between the entrance and the ballroom. In the wings to either side of me were the displays for the silent auction. As has become the custom when I paint at auctions, I painted the crowd as they browsed and bidded on the silent items. When the live auction began, I took off my apron, put on my tux coat, and carried my painting to the main stage to parade it around, Vanna White style, during the bidding. After the auction, the buyer and spouse came back to my easel to pose for their quick portrait.
This is not like a presidential portrait, with the smooth finish of a John Singer Sargent— although I can do that too. This is an impressionistic portrait; an oil painting version of the caricatures I honed at events for 20+ years.