Most couples have hundreds of photographs taken at their wedding to capture the special day, but what if the day could be captured in a beautiful piece of art, painted in real time? Meet Bethany Browne of Connecticut, an artist who creates live paintings of weddings which perfectly capture the joyous occasion on canvas.
By Rachel Dvareckas
How long have you been doing live paintings and how did you get into it?
I’ve been doing this for about two years, but I’ve been painting for about twenty years. I have a degree in fine art with a concentration in painting. I was praying about what job I should have; my kids are a little bit older and I just felt like God put in my head to paint at weddings. So, I called up my friend who is kind of a high-end wedding photographer and asked her if it was something that I could do. She said, “Come along with me to a wedding and try it out.” And so, I did, and I absolutely loved it. I felt like it was a very enjoyable thing for myself as well as the guests who were getting to see this painting come to life, and then the bride and groom get to take it home with them. It’s a great experience for everyone.
What is the prep work like for you?
I will usually email the couples and figure out really what they’re looking [to have painted]. Many couples go with their first dance, their first look or their ceremony. Or, a lot of times I’ll do [a portrait of] the couple in the landscape of the reception. So, we figure out what scene they’re interested in, and then I also take into consideration their color preferences. For example, some people want muted neutrals and natural colors to make sure that the painting will match the decor of their home. We go through all of that, we have a contract. And then, the day of the wedding, I’ll pack up all my stuff — my easel, my paints, everything that I’ll need — and drive to the reception and get there about an hour before the reception starts. I coordinate with the other vendors to find a spot that is advantageous for me to paint and won’t get in anybody’s way. A lot of times I’ll actually have two locations during the wedding because it’s nice for the guests coming in after the wedding to see a blank canvas. They’re like, “Oh, what’s going on?” Then, by the end of the night, they will see a finished, and a lot of times framed, painting. So, it’s kind of a ‘wow’ moment for them. It’s also fun entertainment while they’re eating dinner to have something to watch, especially for a lot of elderly guests who might not dance. And during cocktail hour it makes a great conversation for people.
Do you feel a lot of pressure when you’re doing a live painting?
I would say I really just enjoy it. It is in the back of my head that I have to finish by the end of the night, because usually they’re going be taking it home with them. But for me it’s just really enjoyable. I kind of just go into my painting zone and have a great time. I do chat with guests as well; a lot of people like to come up and see what’s going on or ask questions, which is really fun, or take photos.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
Some couples choose to do an unveiling — so when I finish painting, I’ll take it to a back room, frame it and then bring it out and put a sheet over it. And then the photographer and/or videographer will come over and I’ll unveil the painting. Seeing the reaction is my favorite. It’s just so worth it for me. It’s a really joyful moment to know that there’s this meaningful piece of artwork that was actually part of their wedding day that all their guests saw be created, and now that they have and will be in their home as a reminder of their special day.
How many weddings have you painted, so far?
Last year I think I did twenty-seven. This year, because of COVID, I had ten that were postponed. And I think I’ve done, just between micro weddings, probably six. I have four more for October because it’s kind of picking up again.
A lot of people will book me at the last minute. I had one bride tell me, “You were the first person I’ve talked to because I knew I wanted a painter.” She booked a year in advance. And I’ve had brides book two years in advance, but for other people, it’s a week before their wedding when they hear about it and they’ll ask if I’m available. And if I am then that works out great, too. I actually have one like that this weekend, where she just heard about it from her wedding venue. So, it was two weeks before the wedding. I probably turn away about an equal number that I book. Because there’s specific dates that a lot of people are looking for.
How has the pandemic change your approach to doing it?
During the main quarantine I switched my marketing strategy to painting people’s anniversaries from photos or painting micro weddings. I did one micro wedding where the sister-in-law was actually watching her sister’s wedding on a Zoom call. They got married in a courthouse and the SIL sent me screenshots of the call and I was able to create a wedding painting just based on that. The SIL was really wanted to do that to give her a special memory of her wedding since everything else has kind of been taken away from her. She wanted to give her a painting just as an extra special touch. So, a lot of switching things to commissions from live paintings to just painting in the studio and shipping out paintings to people.
How far do you usually travel?
I do all of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I’ve flown down to Florida to do one, that’s probably the farthest I’ve gone. But those three states are my main areas.
What’s the usual cost for a live painting?
It starts at $995 and goes up to $4000 based on things that they want. I offer cards like blank thank you cards with an image of their painting on it. I offer prints for their parents, so if they wanted a professional artist’s print on acid-free archival paper as a gift to one of their parents or grandparents, I also offer black and white sketches of things like the father/daughter dance, the mother/son dance, or the venue. I offer mini bouquet paintings, like an 8×8 on gallery canvas. I also offer framing and wiring of the painting so it is ready to hang on your wall. And I offer different size options. So, just based on whatever the couple wants, I design custom contracts all the time, or grant special requests. Basically, my philosophy is it’s the bride’s day, so I’m going to do whatever she wants to make her happy. I’ve had different adventures, like when we rode on golf carts around the golf course because the groom had this one spot in mind where he thought it’d be a beautiful painting with a scenic pond. We kind of got lost on the golf carts and then had to ask somebody where to go. It was a fun adventure. I’m up for any adventure to make it a perfect experience for my brides and I have a satisfaction guarantee with any of my work.