Wedding photos, video, and a signed guestbook are all must-have keepsakes from your wedding day. Now, it’s time to add one more to your list: a live painted wedding painting.
Yes, that’s right: You can commission a professional artist to capture your big day on canvas.
We interviewed four live wedding painters to get the scoop on everything you need to know about this fun wedding option. Meet professional live wedding painters Andy Greenlee of Celebration Paintings in Orefield, Pennsylvania; Brittany Branson of By Brittany Branson in Annapolis, Maryland; Heidi Schwartz (pictured above) of Paint Your Event in Nashville, Tennessee; and Jillian Gunlicks of Jillian Artistry in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
How did you get started in live wedding painting?
Each of these artists had a unique path to begin their careers as live wedding painters.
Heidi’s started with another artistic pursuit: music. “I’d made a record where each song had a companion painting,” she says. “To make ends meet, I auditioned to sing on a riverboat in Nashville. I gave my album to the entertainment manager of this large company. He saw the paintings on the liner notes—and just like, that I was booked as live painter instead of a live singer. Shortly after that, I pitched my best friend the idea for me to paint her wedding. She said, ‘I do.’”
Family and friends played a big role for both Jillian and Andy. “A family member who had been involved in the wedding industry urged me to explore this avenue, as she recognized my training and skill as an artist,” says Andy. “She connected me with a couple that was looking for a portrait from an engagement photo session to display at their wedding. They were thrilled and ultimately welcomed me to live paint their wedding. That was my first wedding, and it grew from there.”
Andy Greenlee / Photo credit: Michael Justin Studios
Adds Jillian: “A high school friend had seen a live painting at a wedding she went to out of state. Her brother was getting married in our hometown, and she asked if it would be something I would be interested in doing. I had never heard of live wedding painting before, and was really excited to give it a try.
For Brittany, the live wedding painting connection was personal. “I had a live wedding painter at my own wedding! My husband and I adore our painting, and I was watching our painter and her process, I had a gut feeling that it was something I would love to do one day. When I started my business, I didn’t intend to do live wedding paintings—I was just offering wedding art. I gathered up the courage to start offering the service, and became more confident in my particular painting style.”
Brittany Branson / Photo credit: Kelly Hornberger Photography
What is your artistic style?
Painters’ artistic styles are as unique as the paintings themselves. Heidi describes hers as “impressionistic expressionism,” while Brittany says hers is “whimsical and colorful.” Andy, who has a background in production design, says that “first and foremost, I am a narrative painter.” And Jillian characterizes her painting as a blend of Impressionism and realism.”
How do you work with couples in advance of the wedding to plan their painting?
Although the details of each artist’s planning process are different, they all have a common theme: It’s all about you.
“I think one of my favorite parts of the entire live wedding painting process is what happens before the big day,” says Brittany. “Even if we’re not local, I love to talk on the phone with my couples and learn about their love story. We then chat about what moments they are most looking forward to on the big day, and that helps determine exactly what they want me to paint on the wedding day. I tell my couples I don’t have to just show up and paint what I see. This is their painting that they’ll treasure forever—I’m simply here to make it happen!”
By Brittany Branson / Venue: The White Sparrow in Quinlan, Texas
Jillian has found that homing in on the couple’s vision is key to a successful painting. “Each couple has a different idea of what they want,” she says. “Some want more help and direction than others, and some have more specific requests than others. We work on what is most important to them, which might be a moment like the first dance or first look, or a specific location or background.”
Heidi’s take on the planning process is one that allows her to fully immerse herself in the activities of the big day. “I call myself a visual journalist, and my goal is to be completely present and focused on the happenings around me,” she says. “So, we don’t actually plan or coordinate anything about the painting beforehand. We just let it happen.”
Says Andy: “I love chatting with couples, hearing their voices, their stories, and their vision. We talk about key aesthetic elements, about what they want their guests to experience, about their story. We view art works together—mine or that of others—so we can have a shared crash course in our artistic tastes. So, there is a combination of logistics that I invite their planning team to join in, as well as the fun world of talking about the work of art that will someday pass along in their family. I communicate right away that I am not only the artist planning this work of art and experience, but also part of the team, and a person a couple can let loose with and have fun with!
By Andy Greenlee / Venue: Pioneer Farm in Warwick, New York
What is your process on the day of the wedding?
In short: These pros like to be prepared. Live wedding painters often set up and scope out the scene and atmosphere hours before the actual painting work begins.
“I set up a few hours beforehand,” says Heidi. “I like to see the decor and get a sense of the room. But typically, I don’t start painting until after the first dance. The room will change with people inside it, and the moments start to take on their own momentum—and there I am, translating them onto a canvas.”
Jillian says about her own process: “Most of the time I arrive before the cocktail hour or reception starts to get set up and start the initial background of the painting. As the guests arrive they see me painting, but don’t quite know what I’m doing. Many of them come up and ask more about it, but most sit back and watch. I continue to paint throughout the evening, during dinner, toasts, and into the dancing. By the end of the night, I have most of the painting finished and people surrounding me to watch me. They think it is so much fun to see an entire painting done in one night.”
Brittany’s process is similar. “I always prepare to stay on site at the wedding for at least five hours, but I always arrive early to scope out the location and make sure I’m all set and ready to go,” she explains. “I bring my portable easel, paints, canvas and drop cloth to help ensure nothing gets messy. And then … I get to work! I usually start with a quick rough sketch before I begin painting. While on site, I try to get as much of the background and venue completed as possible, and to finish the day with a likeness of the couple.”
“I arrive hours before the guests do, often setting up to work amid tables, chairs, and linens being organized,” says Andy. “I review my notes, images, and conversations leading up the big day to get the narrative in mind, and I begin. I sketch right onto the canvas, design the flow of the key moment and tone of the painting, and I paint. All day or evening I work, welcoming guests as they visit and revisit the painting. Many of them will see themselves in the painting! I take photographs to ensure that if I need more time to work on the painting in my studio, I have the resources and references to do so. At the end of the night, I often display the painting so that guests can see it as they leave.”
By Jillian Gunlicks / Venue: Blue Haven Barn and Gardens in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
How long does it take you to complete a painting?
The timeline can vary—some artists may finish your painting by the time the reception ends, while others may head back to their studio to add the finishing touches before presenting it to you. Variables that can impact the length of time required to complete the painting include type of paint used, such as oils and watercolors, the size of the painting, and the intricacy of details included in the painting.
“Ninety percent of the time, I complete the painting on site by the end of the night,” says Andy. “If I have more work to do to complete the painting, I spend three more weeks touching the painting up in my studio. I often will share images of the painting in progress with the couple so they can see how it’s going. I paint both in watercolors and in oils, so drying time varies. If I’m using oils, the painting is transported in a professional painting box to keep it safe while it continues to dry. If the painting is in watercolors, the painting is boxed already dry and ready to take to a framer.”
“Most of the time, it is completed by the end of the night,” agrees Jillian. “If it’s a larger painting, I may have more work to do after that night. “Most of the time, I do take it home to do some touch-ups and look everything over. Weddings often don’t have the best lighting, so I like the opportunity to work on it in the daylight.”
For Heidi, “two to three hours is normal,” she says. “I start and finish it entirely at the scene—that way, all of the guests can see the entire process. The day after the wedding, I spray it with an adhesive to protect the painting and keep the colors from fading. After that, it is the couple’s to take home with them and keep forever.”
By Heidi Schwartz / Venue: Allenbrooke Farms in Spring Hill, Tennessee
Brittany’s process combines on site painting with time in the studio to add the finishing touches. “I typically spend five hours painting on site, and then however many hours needed once I get back to my studio,” she says. “I always take the painting home to make sure it’s safe, and give myself an opportunity to complete details, such as faces. I typically finish my live wedding paintings within two weeks of the big day.”
What is your best advice for couples interested in having a live wedding painter at their wedding?
In short, just two words: budget and plan.
“Start searching now for painters now, and budget for it! Live painters are no different from other wedding vendors,” explains Brittany. “We book up in advance, have different ranges of fees, and different styles! I can’t tell you how often I hear ‘Awww, I wish I had this at my wedding!’ or ‘Aww, we’ve maxed out our budget. I wish I had thought of this sooner!’ And make sure you love your painter’s style—because you’ll be the one living with the painting forever and ever.”
Brittany Branson / Photo credit: Kirsten Smith Photography
Jillian agrees. “If you are debating having a live painter at your wedding, just remember that this is a very unique idea that not many people have at their weddings,” she says. “It is a special keepsake that you will have for a lifetime, and a source of entertainment that people will remember from your wedding. Once you decide to hire a live painter, book early. There are not many wedding painters, and dates fill up fast.”
Andy notes that it’s important to make sure that the painter’s work matches your own vision, and is someone you feel comfortable working with. “Above all, choose an artist whose work excites and impresses you—don’t hire a live painter just to have one,” she says. “Also, you should welcome the artist into your love story. You’ll want to match the personality of your live painter with your family, friends, and wedding team. Once they have a sense of who you are, let them have artistic license to capture your wedding from their highly trained, professional (and passionate) eye. You’ve chosen one of the most unique and best guest experiences out there, so let your painter go for it! You won’t be disappointed.”
And Heidi? Her advice is simple: “Contact me!”
Want to capture even more special moments from your big day? Find out five seriously awesome reasons you should have a first look.