A painter at the wedding can capture a scene in a unique way

Katie Curry wanted a sentimental wedding keepsake that depicted the joyous moments after her ceremony as she and her husband, John, walked back down the aisle on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

What she didn’t want was a portrait that included the backs of the guests’ heads. She had a photographer and a videographer, but her ideal came to life in a painting created by a live-event painter, Laura Swytak, who attended the Aug. 4 ceremony in Malibu, California.

The painting, which shows the beaming newlyweds and their immediate family members but none of the seated guests, now hangs above the fireplace in the couple’s home in Newport Beach, California.

“It brings us a lot of joy, and it’s very special and it’s unique,” Curry said. “I know you can commission a painting after the wedding based on a photograph, but that’s why I wanted to do it live. She was there and could get a feel for the event.

“She did a fabulous job capturing the moment of our ceremony, the entire ambiance, everyone’s reactions and just the emotional aspect too,” she added.

Live-event painting at weddings, when an artist paints a scene during the event, is still a small trend, according to Ivy Jacobson, senior digital editor of the wedding website The Knot. The site’s 2017 survey of about 13,000 couples found that 1 percent had an event painter at their weddings.

“We believe it will catch on in years to come, especially in this digital age,” Jacobson said. “It’s one of the few things that doesn’t provide instant gratification. It’s fun to have something that you can’t see the results of immediately. It makes it more special to see the final finished work of art.”

Watching the painter at work also becomes a form of live entertainment for the wedding guests, who can watch the painting take shape. Jacobson notes that today’s couples are looking to delight and surprise their guests with unexpected forms of entertainment.

Curry felt a live painter would add “a cool wow factor” for her guests. She was right.

“The guests did think it was cool,” said Curry, who learned about the trend on Instagram. “A lot of people went up and talked to her and asked her about it. A lot of people were surprised that that was a service.”

Jacobson says that having a painter is a great option if there are many guests who don’t want to hit the dance floor. “It’s a nice thing for guests to gather around and watch it being done throughout the night,” she said.

Curry’s artist, Swytak, who is based in Laguna Beach, California, paints about 35 weddings a year, and was perhaps a pioneer in the business, starting in 2006.

She works with couples to determine what part of the wedding they want her to paint, usually a scene from the ceremony or first dance, and whether she should focus primarily on the couple or play up the crowd as well. She arrives early to start painting the landscape or background, and continues painting while guests mingle. She also videotapes or photographs the event for reference.

Unlike a photograph of a single, defined moment like the bouquet toss, she likens her paintings to “a dreamy panorama” in which she paints “the best moments of everybody” and “collages a lot of different moments together” in an artful remix that draws upon her own feelings from the event.

“The most important part is that I capture the feeling of it so when they look at it, it will bring them back in time,” she said. “You feel the emotion of the couple.”

“It’s the best of the day through an artist’s eyes,” she said.

Curry credits Swytak with capturing the mood and look of the day. “It’s almost like a mesh of 10 different photos,” Curry said.

The price range for a wedding painting varies, depending on such factors as the amount of detail, the hours spent on the piece, and the artist’s level of expertise. Swytak’s work ranges from $2,500 to $5,000. Some couples receive her work on the night of the wedding, but most have her do touch-up work in the studio.

Swytak says a wedding painting appeals to sentimental couples and art lovers.

“A lot of people cry,” she said. “People are very emotional when they see their painting.”