When Christian and Nola Martin were married on Aug. 18th, their reception at The Four Seasons featured all of the expected elements: food and drink, a band, a cake and a photographer. But there was an additional element that was slightly out of the ordinary: In a corner of the room, fine artist Patricia Bennett stood at an easel, painting the wedding reception as it was happening.
Bennett, 35, is what’s known as a “live event artist,” a painter who captures a celebration or happening as the action unfolds. Since painting her first party in June, she’s been painting three to five events per month, everything from corporate gatherings to bar mitzvahs to weddings.
A Baltimore native, Bennett studied at The Art Institute of Chicago and The Schuler School of Fine Arts of Baltimore, but never planned to make art a career. She got into live event painting at the suggestion of a friend, and now it supplements her other fine art work. (Bennett charges about $1,500 plus expenses to paint an event.)
In preparation for painting an event, Bennett tours the venue, draws sketches and gets a sense of what the client hopes to capture, including the names of the people who should be depicted. Then, she arrives about two hours before the event to set up her equipment— an easel, a canvas, acrylic paints and often a bright light.
She first paints the scene in black and white to establish shapes and composition. Then she incorporates color and, as the event progresses, adds in people and detail. By the time the event ends, the painting is complete. Bennett totes it home, lets it dry and then signs and delivers it.
Although Bennett usually paints from a corner and could simply blend in with the background of the reception, she becomes a point of interest for guests, who approach with questions, including requests to paint them into the scene. “I’ve noticed that I’m able to talk to guests and paint at the same time,” says Bennett, who lives in Mount Washington with her husband and two children. “I get into a zone when I’m painting an event. Nothing can break my focus.”
Because the painting must be completed in a short amount of time, Bennett focuses less on detail and more on the event as a whole.
“Christian and I call it ‘The Monet of Our Wedding,’” says Nola Martin. “The look of the painting is very soft, and there is less specific detail.”
For Martin, hiring Bennett was a perfect way to both entertain guests and capture the spirit of the evening.
“The photos captured the little moments, like getting ready with my bridesmaids in the hotel, but the painting captures the entire evening,” says Martin. “You can really see all our friends and family, my husband and I, and the happiness we all felt together. That’s what makes it so special.”