Capturing the essence of your wedding celebration is essential and photography is perhaps the most important media to accomplish documentation of “your day.” It is so great to pull out the photograph album on a rainy day and relive your wedding, your party, your whole experience. But wait, what if, you could have that memory permanently showcased on your mantle, above your bed, prominently featured on your wall?? Well truthfully that can happen. You can add to your art collection and have your memories too. We recently had the good fortune to work with Ben Keys, a live event painter and the owner of Wed on Canvas. Ben painted Erin and Chris’s wedding at Dry Gulch in Breckenridge in July. Ben has quickly become our favorite wedding painter and our newest MVP! We sat down with Ben and his lovely wife and Studio Manager Jennifer to talk about this unique idea.
Tell us a little bit about what led you to becoming a Live Event Painter.
I had been a full-time artist for about 7 years, selling my work through galleries and creating commissioned paintings in the beach town of Wilmington, NC. One evening after a long day of painting, I came across a Craigslist ad posted by a bride from NYC. She was having a destination wedding in Wilmington and was looking for someone to create a painting live at her wedding. I had never even heard of such a thing! I had been painting cityscapes and landscapes from life on sidewalks and roadsides for many years. I was trained to paint fast, capturing moving scenes, moving clouds, and all while having conversations with locals observing. So I thought to myself, “I can do that!” I responded to her ad with a link to my gallery portfolio (benkeys.com) and she hired me. That one job became another and another, and Wed on Canvas was born!
How would you describe your painting style?
I would say that at the heart, I am inspired most by the French Impressionists. Their interest in painting light and visible brushwork caught my eye in Art School. I also love Edward Hopper for his interest in light and architecture. I would say my style is inspired by a meeting of the Impressionists with Edward Hopper.
What goes into preparing to paint a wedding?
Preparation usually begins with a consultation with my lovely bride, and studio manager, Jen Keys. (Yes! We are a husband-wife team!) Every client loves working with Jen for her sincere enthusiasm and wedding expertise. She has a background in weddings and bridal design, having worked with many planners and brides while managing a Charleston flagship for gown designer, Modern Trousseau. She coordinates with each client from the moment they inquire through the wedding date and delivery of the finished painting. Prior to the wedding, the subject and details of the painting are discussed with each client. This allows room for my creative liberty but also making sure the painting captures what’s most important to the couple. The day of the wedding, I arrive 3-4 hours prior to the event and then the painting begins!
It seems like this might be a very stressful job, hurrying to get all of the details when there are crowds moving around and a lot of activity. How do you approach this aspect of your job?
Haha. Every wedding and event is very different, so I try to always have a flexible mindset and adapt as needed. Painting at a Bat Mitzvah with keenly interested teens is very different than painting for partying adults. Each wedding or event setting is new and can present new challenges and opportunities. Painting outdoors for over 10 years, and having to work around rain, wind, bugs, changing light, moving people, cars and objects and anything else you can imagine was a great training ground for painting at weddings. It keeps me on my toes and pushes me to think and paint fast. I get excited for it as a fun, spontaneous challenge!
Jennifer, I know that you have a professional wedding background how have you partnered with Ben to make your business so successful?
Yes! I (Jen) have been in the wedding industry for years. Prior to launching Wed on Canvas, I was working with couture bridal designer, Callie Tein of Modern Trousseau. This label is unique in that every gown is custom made for each and every bride. Because of the attention to detail, I really fell in love with the relational aspect of getting to know the bride and hearing her vision for her wedding day. I think that has carried over to Wed on Canvas in that each wedding painting is tailored differently for each couple and becomes a beautiful expression of their love story … which is painted live on their wedding day!
How many weddings have you painted?
A lot, for sure! At the same time, I do paint a limited number of wedding paintings each a year. Because of the creative energy required to paint live during an event, I do not double book events back-to-back. The finished painting is as important as the actual live-aspect of the painting. So for that reason, managing work flow is so important to maintain the quality and focus of each piece.
Are there other events that you have painted and what are some of the most interesting ones?
We receive invitations and requests to be part of Galas, Fundraisers, Birthday Parties, Anniversaries, and Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, you name it! I traveled to South Florida this year to paint live during a Bat Mitzvah. It was an absolute blast! It’s an honor to be included in such special occasions as this.
I also recently painted for a client’s 40th Birthday Party hosted in downtown Charleston, SC. It was a small party, so capturing each person there was important to remember the day. The painting was such a hit at the party that they invited us to their home for a “Painting Unveiling Party” with the entire guest list from the birthday party in attendance. Jen and I felt so honored by that!
Another exciting event was at a wedding in the NYC area. The guest loved Pop Art and after showing her my pop art paintings, she hired me to create a very unique, pop art inspired, 40 x 50 inch wedding painting. It is the largest wedding painting I have created to date.
I know, working primarily in the South, you have probably seen some spectacular venues. Can you tell us a little bit about your favorites?
The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida and The Cloisters at Sea Island, Georgia have a sweet spot in our heart. The classical interiors of these venues contrasted with the glamorous, contemporary design work from wedding planners is a feast for the eyes. At the same time, Charleston offers so many beautiful backdrops for weddings! The William Aiken House is a favorite here in town.
Do you have any plans to expand your business? I know we (especially Erin and Chris) were excited that you had planned to be in Colorado and could paint their wedding. We had a very difficult time resourcing Wedding Painters in Colorado.
We were so glad to be part of Chris and Erin’s wedding day! Chris told us it was Erin’s dream to have a painting created on her wedding day, and we are honored that they flew us out for their big day! Dry Gulch is an incredible venue, and it was so refreshing painting mountains as opposed to the marsh. I would be delighted to return to Colorado! We do have plans for expanding Wed on Canvas, and hope to unveil them in 2015!
Another great addition to getting your brand new piece of art is that additional prints on canvas and stationary can be created from the original painting!
Another fun fact is that in the event that Ben is booked, there is always the option to have him create a painting from photos after the wedding. He is finishing an awesome example of this at the moment … but here is an example: This couple gifted a series of three small paintings to the bride’s parents as a thank you for all they did for the wedding. They chose three of their favorite detail shots and Ben used their photos to create the paintings!