Monday, October 20, 2014

Live Painting Prowess

My latest set up with my 30x20 canvas at the beautiful HGA offices in Rochester, MN, as they hosted a reception for the Transform Conference. The modern yet warm space marks a strength that this architecture firm is known for.
I promise, it doesn't have to be scary. Painting is a process--a truly interesting one! Who wouldn't want to stand and watch something come about from some simple strokes?

I remember the first time I was asked to paint publicly. (Wait, was it the first, really?) I was working as our church's staff graphic designer and I often worked my illustration work into the process. Our uber-creative communications director thought that some live painting might add to the impact of that year's Easter sermon. 

As usual, I went, "um, okay," and treaded into the unfamiliar territory. I always strive to procrastinate on the freaking out part. I was able to move past the, "what did I sign myself up for?!" feelings with a concept that truly came from above. (It always does.) The year's sermon focused on the crimson blood of Christ and the beauty that comes from Christ's pain. 

Having a plan gave me confidence.imagined it in stages, from the red background to the dark thorns, to the crescendo of a white rose blossoming from the crown of thorns. I took the sermon text and planned out when my three phases would play out. It was a simple plan. Complications--there were three services--were easier to manage; when I needed to fill time, I added splatters, when I was running low on time, I jumped to the next phase.

A plan doesn't equal a sketch. The piece above was done to encompass the Transform Conference hosted by the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. I could not attend the conference. So, as far as subject matter, I had only the logo as a guide. I thought of a simple composition with the logo and a color scheme. If nothing else popped into my head, I could at least offer a stylized piece that was compositionally harmonious with attractive colors.

Don't be an introvert. This is a social form of creativity. People are curious. People want to hear your brain as they watch your hand. Even if you're up on a stage and have little interaction with the crowd, be ready, they will come. This is not for the reclusive artist. You can't opt out of the interactive piece, and you wouldn't want to! It's a gift to be able to get feedback and draw fuel from the noise around. 

Lower your expectations. I doubt the Mona Lisa was painted with an audience behind. WOW paintings require concentration, it is a luxury. And it is obsolete in live painting. These pieces are half performance, half painting. They are not great works of art though they can be quite beautiful. Your mind will be busy enough to focus on every detail of your painting. That's okay. If the audience notices you're tense, they'll lose joy in watching as well.

Provide surprises. Another time I painted live, I painted cherubim (as in a type of angel). These suckers have six wings. Weird. I'm sure it'll be awesome to see someday. But for now, it's a bit bizarre on a painting. I abstracted these using a stencil three times. People watch you paint to see your talent, and they love to see your cleverness too. I used a straw while painting with watercolor. It might seem hokey, but if it works, it works!

Other practical tips:

  • Bring more supplies than you need. If nothing else, they provide eye candy. 
  • You may want to set up a sign for times you really can't talk. Folks will respect it; mostly, they're just trying to grapple with how to act during this new experience, too.
  • Have an assistant. My assistant got me drinks, fresh water, fed me, fielded basic questions, and watched to make sure no one was monopolizing too much of my time. 
  • Watch your time. Bring a watch or notes, etc. Pace yourself.
  • Set up business cards for your next gig.
More than anything, the key is a to loosen up. Go with the flow and choose joy over perfection.

Keep painting,