GARDNER — An increasing number of couples tying the knot are selecting an old-fashioned way of capturing an image of their special day — a live wedding artist.
In addition to hiring professional photographers and setting up photo booths, many brides and grooms are hiring an artist to set up an easel at their reception and create a painted work of art that will serve as a unique keepsake of their wedding day.
“I usually just go (to the venue) a couple hours early, bring my easel and paints, and set up,” said John Folley, an independent artist who recently moved with his family to Gardner. “And about two hours before anything takes place, I’ll just start painting the background, the ambience, whatever’s happening. I’m just trying to get colors down first.”
Folley, who studied art and philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, said he works with couples in advance of their big day to determine which moment of the event they would like to have preserved in oil on canvas.
“Usually, my couples will ask for one of three things: either the first dance, the ceremony itself, or maybe the cocktail hour,” he said, adding that the unusual sight of an artist at work provides a unique experience for the guests at the event. “People will watch and ask when I’ll be finished, and they can’t believe that it will be finished by the end of the night.”
Folley’s wife and studio manager, Deirdre Folley, said the combination of her husband’s classical training and laid-back, fun-loving attitude provide wedding guests with a perfect icebreaker at each event.
“People love to watch him paint because you can see a canvas go from blank to a masterpiece literally in hours,” she said.
Folley, who served as an art instructor and chair of the art department at The Heights School outside of Washington, D.C., said he enjoys combining his passion for painting with the desire to provide an important service to his customers.
“I love painting, I love still life and art history, but I wanted to figure out how I could engage with real people and where they are at in their lives and how to be of service to them, and I think (event painting) is really exciting because it does those things,” he said.
Although he’s mostly hired by couples, Folley said there are times when the groom or other members of the wedding party have enlisted his artistic services to provide a surprise gift for the bride or her parents.
“I had one (job) recently where it was a brother who wanted a painting for his sister who was getting married,” he said.
Mary Whitman, the wedding and events sales manager at the Colonial Hotel in Gardner, said live wedding painting is definitely a growing trend at local weddings.
“I’ve seen (live artists) here a couple of times and it’s been awesome,” she said.
The wedding business is picking back up after a few slow years during the pandemic, and Folley’s booking calendar is filling up quickly, he said.
“I already have almost as many events booked for this year as I did for last year for the whole year,” he said.
Folley, whose studio is in Lancaster, said the trend of hiring a live painter at weddings is growing because more and more people are seeking old-fashioned handmade images in an increasingly digital world.
“I think that we crave that human vision that a painting is,” he said. “I think that we have so many photographs and so many videos and mechanical images, that having that image with a human touch is really special to people. And actually, seeing an image coming into existence builds itself into the memory of the day.”
The finished painting also provides couples with an heirloom to frame and hang in their homes, Folley said.
“It’s something that you can keep in your family forever,” he said.
Live event painting isn’t restricted to only weddings. Folley said he has been hired to set up his easel at a variety of functions, including fundraisers, birthday parties, and school and corporate events. In some cases, the finished painting is auctioned off for charity.
To learn more about live event painting and to see Folley at work, visit johnfolley.com/.