Sure, a photographer can dutifully record every detail of your wedding. Every frosting rose on your cake can be preserved with perfect accuracy for the album. But how will you record how it really felt to be there? How will you remember the happy blur of friends and family; the colors and mood of the room as your new spouse twirled you for the first dance?

Imagine entering your reception hall to see an artist setting up a blank canvas. As you cross the room, the artist sketches your form–the color of your dress, or the shine in your eyes as you pass under the chandelier–and by the end of the evening, the entire reception is recorded in vibrant tones that capture the happiness of your wedding.

Hiring live painters to create one-of-a-kind masterpieces is a growing trend worldwide. Not only do you treat your guests to a unique form of entertainment, but at the end you have a piece of personalized fine art to hang on your wall.

Finding the Perfect Artist

You can't hire just anyone to capture the feeling of your wedding day. There are a number of factors to consider. First and foremost is the quality of the art. Look at artists' portfolios until you find someone whose work makes you feel something special. You'll know it when you see it.

While an artist should have some experience painting special events, don't limit yourself to only viewing event-based portfolios. You can get a better feel for an artist's style if you look at samples of all kinds of work, from portraits to landscapes. If you like some aspects of certain paintings, be sure to point it out so the artist can work the same style into your wedding painting.

Live painters should not only present their art well, but should also present themselves well. If your event will be a black tie affair, or have other dress requirements, be sure to communicate it with the artist ahead of time. Look for artists who have a pleasant, professional manner and will happily answer guests' questions, since part of the novelty of hiring a painter is in the live interaction.

While some fine artists charge hundreds of dollars an hour, not all live painting has to break the bank. If you can't find a local artist who fits your budget range, it's time to discover your own talent. Who knows? You may end up putting someone on the map and gaining an original painting that skyrockets in value once the artist becomes famous. If there's an amateur artist whose work you admire, either in your community or at a nearby school, offer your wedding as a chance to build an event-painting portfolio. If you don’t like the painting, you won't have invested much money, and if you do, it's a win-win. Ask local art classes if you can post fliers in their classrooms.

Getting the Art You Want

Meeting with the artist in person before the event is essential. Go through the artist's portfolio, as well as any other pictures of famous paintings you admire. Be very vocal and specific about what parts of what paintings appeal to you. Do you like the warm tones of the colors? Do you like the way the thick paint stands out from the canvas? Do you like the way the people seem to be in motion? The more details you can give about what makes you feel good, the better the artist can match that style in your wedding painting.

Sign a contract when you hire an artist, and be sure to cover details such as when the artist will arrive, how many hours of painting are expected, and whether there will be a charge for requesting changes to the painting after the event. Will the painting be given to you already framed and ready to hang on the wall? What happens if you don’t like the painting? The more details you include into your contract, the less chance there is for confusion later. This is especially important if you are working with an inexperienced artist.

Would you prefer a wide view of the entire room where each person is a light suggestion of brush strokes, or do you want a painting where you can recognize the faces of individual guests? If there is a specific aspect of the wedding you want the artist to focus on, be sure to mention it in your in-person meeting. You may want to make sure that your wedding gown is captured in realistic detail, for example, or you may want the artist to exclude the unfortunate piping around your venue's ceiling. A painting is much more flexible than a photograph, so embrace your media thoroughly and ask for what you want.

How many paintings would you like to commission? Completing a painting can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the speed of the artist and the size of the painting. It's up to you whether you would value a series of small sketches capturing the scene from multiple angles, or if you would rather the artist invest all of the evening in creating a large, detailed masterpiece. Some couples commission one painting for the ceremony and another for the reception as a matching set for their home.

Whether you prefer a detailed account of every guest and the type of shoes they wore, or your taste goes to sweeping, abstract impressions, you can find an artist who specializes in the type of painting you like. Leave plenty of time before your wedding date to interview artists of all styles so you can choose from a wide range of possibilities. You put a lot of energy into making sure your wedding is beautiful–now let it become a work of art!

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