What kind of materials does a live wedding painter use?

Renée / neetje
14 min readDec 23, 2022

Are you curious about what to expect when I come to paint at your wedding? You don’t get married every day, so I can imagine you’ve never hired a live artist before. Or maybe you’re looking into very personalised gifts for weddings, and you’re curious to know what it entails. Or are you a colleague and wondering how I do it and what I bring with me?

As a professional illustrator and painter, I am always looking for the best materials to bring my creations to life and capture the most beautiful memories on canvas. In this (quite extensive) blog, I will discuss the different materials I take with me and why I use them.

First of all, in case you are curious to know who’s coming over: I am Renée, see my about-page if you’d like to know more about me. I am based in the Netherlands so I will talk about materials that are available here and the measurements are mainly in centimeters. English is not my first language so you might spot some translation errors (feel free to message me about them).

This blog is divided into two parts:

  1. Essentials
  2. Optional

I’ll take you through in detail what my little workspace can look like and what I take with me why. And what I don’t anymore. This is a list that is still evolving, which I refine from time to time, based on my own experiences and thanks to tips from colleagues.

1. Essentials — what I always take with me

Easel

A good easel is a fine foundation. In terms of brands and models, I have tried several. Often, the bigger, the sturdier. That can be nice if you are going to paint on the beach in strong winds, for example. And a large canvas often does not fit on a small three-legged foldable easel. But big and sturdy also means heavy. And I can’t always load and unload my car close by, and sometimes that easel has to climb quite a few castle steps with me to get to the right room. Starting on the painting as an artist with tired arms is not very convenient.

These days, I have three easels that accompany me most often. Which of the three? It depends on:

  • the size of the canvas;
  • the setting of the site and the ground.

The first factor is the most decisive one. I cannot confidently put a 90 by 70 cm canvas on my smallest easel. A smaller canvas, sure. The easle might not be stable enough, but there are also maximum canvas height limitations.

After size we arrive at the second factor: if I were to paint on the beach or outside in a somewhat muddy field, I want an easel with a solid base that won’t sink. Also, if the space is very tight, I don’t want to take up more space than I should. People dancing against the easel or tripping over its legs would not be very convenient.

Brands and models:

I am a white woman with glasses standing behind three easles and paintings on them. From left to right, from small to medium and large. The smallest is 60 by 50 cm canvas, the largest is 90 by 70 cm.

Box easel, Mabef M/23 or M/22

The one on the left is a fold-out ‘box easel’; a smaller easel with three legs that also has a compartment where I can store some materials. I can carry it like a backpack, thanks to the straps. Compact and suitable for smallest canvases.

Medium size, Museo E32N Barcelona

You can fold these quite compactly and also lay them horizontally. I currently have a problem with one of the screws on mine, which is why I don’t take it with me. This one comes as a kind of DIY IKEA package, you have to assemble it yourself.

Large studio easel

To be honest, I can’t find out exactly which model this is. I have had this one since the first year of art school. It is a large, sturdy easel. There are ones available that have wheels but mine is without. A similar model (except for the rounded corners) is Talens’ Venice. And I sawed off a piece from the top so that this easel fits in the car.

These easels can be bought at professional art material shops.

There are also so-called table easels, but they have no legs, cannot always handle larger canvases and then I would depend on a stable table at the location. There are also large tripod easels, but they can’t be folded and if you’re going to carry a large and heavy easel anyway, I’d rather go for a studio easel. I did try a few metal easels too but I didn’t like them. Rather cold and often had sharp corners too.

Canvas

I buy professionally stretched, artist-quality canvases. Linen is ideal, sturdy and durable. On jobs where there is a bit more budget, I can take a linen canvas instead of a regular one. I often work on a canvas of normal depth (2 cm). On request, I sometimes work on a thicker one, a so-called ‘3D canvas’, about 4 cm deep.

In my current (2023) packages, I offer these sizes:

  • 90 by 70 cm (~ 35.4 by 27.6 inch)
  • 80 by 60 cm (~ 31.5 by 23.6 inch)
  • 60 by 50 cm (~ 23.6 by 19.7 inch)

See the picture with the easels for an idea of how big the canvases are. Neetje for scale! I prefer to work on the smallest size, 60 by 50 cm. I can put quite a lot of details on it and then there is less logistical hassle than with a very large canvas.

I am a white woman with glasses and medium long dark blond hair. I am wearing a light floral dress and I am holding a 50 by 60 cm canvas. Showing a painting of two grooms, sitting down during their ceremony.

I buy the standard sizes in bulk, and also have a box available for those (for at the end of the evening), so they are slightly cheaper than a canvas of any other size. But of course, a square canvas is also possible. As a customer, you can choose the size yourself. The largest I paint on (for a canvas to be finished the same day) is 100 by 80 cm.

I paint the sides too (and that’s where my signature and the year will be), and I make sure there’s a wire on the back. So you can hang the painting of your wedding directly in your living room at home, without a frame. Although I can of course think along with you afterwards and ask my supplier about the options if you’d prefer a frame.

The underlayer is already on the canvas when I arrive at your location. This serves two purposes:

  • the paint picks up better, the canvas doesn’t suck up the paint as much;
  • the colour is already a mid-tone, this is called “toning the canvas”. That the canvas is not pure white when I start.

I usually use paint with the pigment burnt sienna for this. An orange, red-brown colour, which creates a bright and warm base. Then I can also directly use white for the lighter areas, and the colour underneath shines through a little. Natural colours like skin tones but also green bushes and leaves look good with an orange-brown underlayer.

Two photos. In the one above, I’ve mainly done an underlayer and sketch in burnt sienna. The wedding couple has some colours and details. The photo below is completed, with grass and water and trees and buildings.

I can tailor this colour to your setting. Say your indoor location has more neutral colours, with lots of off-white or light grey, then it would be crazy for me to have a bright orange underneath. Then I’d rather work with burnt umber, which is a bit more subdued. Or suppose it’s a festive evening with bright lights, then I might set up a purple background, for example.

With lighter and darker tones, I first do a sketch with paint. I look for general proportions and perspective. Then I add the wedding couple and more colours or details, step by step.

Me in the middle, with bride and groom next to me, holding the painting that’s almost a panorama, a bit longer, 120 by 50 cm.
Photo by Ernst-Jan van Pel

Paint

I work with acrylic paint, a synthetic type of paint, which is odourless, water-resistant and dries quickly. So there is always the option of a new layer. It is easy to mix and many colours are available. If I want to work in transparent layers, I add some liquid medium, which makes the paint less opaque. Often, within 30 minutes of the last brushstroke, it is safe to hold or put the canvas against something. Should it still be wet when I present it, I always give a little warning about that (after all, it would be a waste of that neat suit if paint gets on it).

The brands of paint I work with are Rembrandt and Amsterdam, both from the Dutch company Talens. Made in the factory in Apeldoorn, where I once had a guided tour. High-quality artists’ paint that stays colourfast (so you won’t be looking at a discoloured canvas five years after your wedding). The supplier guarantees 100 years of ‘lightfastness’, that’s what the +++ on the tubes mean.

A few tubes from the Amsterdam and Rembrandt brand.

With the primary colours yellow, cyan (kind of blue) and magenta (kind of pink), and black and white, I can often get by just fine. For a long time, those were the only tubes I took with me. Nowadays I also like to take a few other pigments with me, for example Prussian (dark) blue, which I like to use instead of black. Black flattens a colour; mixed with it, the colour becomes more pale and muddy. Whereas mixing with dark blue often gives a nice deep colour. Depending on the theme, I also sometimes take gold, silver or neon colours, in mini tubes. For the little finishing touches here and there.

Brushes, palette, water and tape

Of course, that paint has to be applied in a certain way, ending up on the canvas. For this, I use different brushes. I take various sizes with me. At the start of the live wedding painting, I will use some larger, flat brushes for the first layers. Later in the process, I use smaller, pointed brushes for details. I actually rarely use a palette knife (dries slowly, messes easily) or those fan brushes you might know from the Bob Ross videos.

The brushes I don’t use at the time I keep in a (mason) jar or small vase. I have several different pots and vases at home, so I can also match the colour of it to your chosen decorations.

As a palette, I often use small plates made of recycled cardboard. These have a bit of depth, so water and medium do not drip off — as with a traditional flat palette. I often keep my palettes slightly tilted when I am painting intensively.

For making the paint, and lightly rinsing the brushes in between, I always have some water with me. A thin layer in a (mason) jar, and spare water in a neutral bottle. In addition, I carry painter’s tape. I use that:

  • sometimes to extra secure the canvas to the easel, at the back. For example, when the wind is strong on the beach;
  • to tape (mask) surfaces when tight lines are required (e.g. on windows or other elements from buildings).

Camera, tripod and tablet

Yes, I have a camera. No, I can’t be hired as a wedding photographer, haha.

The ‘live’ in ‘live wedding painting’ stands for performance, painting on the spot. Not the ‘life’ painting, as in ‘model drawing’. My wedding couples don’t have to pose or pose for a long time, they can enjoy the day. Those reference images are not meant for an album or for an after-movie; I take photos and videos purely for reference. Because as useful as it would be in my field, I unfortunately do not have a photographic memory.

The tripod I am always taking with me is not for the camera, but for a tablet. It is a type widely used in the music industry, and it’s used to show sheet music on the screen. I take out the micro-SD card from the camera, which goes into the tablet. This allows me to quickly switch from photographing to painting and to select the right photo or video still I just made. I can adjust the height of the tripod so that it is conveniently next to the painting at eye level. Whether I am sitting or standing.

This is very nice, because this means I have one hand available. When I am painting, I already have a palette in one hand and a brush in the other, so holding the tablet too would cause too much cramp.

I can also combine different photos in the canvas. For example, if you would like me to paint the first dance, and you’d like the flower girl on the painting, but she has to go to bed early.

Other

Sometimes the venue likes to offer a table, but usually I bring a fold-in one myself. It is sturdy, just the right size and a nice height. I can put all my materials on it and other things fit underneath.

I take a small (shoulder) bag with personal things like my mobile phone, cards, handkerchiefs etcetera. I also sometimes use my phone to photograph if something spontaneous happens in between, like a cute dog running by.

2. Optional — depending on setting and wishes

Outdoor or indoor?

Are you having a beautifully sunny wedding in an orchard, in a festival setting, or romantically on the beach? Then I will ask if it is possible to find/make a spot somewhere in the shade for my workplace. Unfortunately, I cannot bring a parasol including a heavy base in the car. Of course, I do bring my own sunscreen.

Is there any chance of rain? I don’t get cold easily, but I prefer to work under a canopy or tent then. Just so the paint doesn’t spill and my equipment is safe and dry.

What kind of floor are we talking about? Nice and natural in the grass, on rented decking, sand, pebbles, a marble castle floor or tiles? If it’s better to catch any paint drips, I’d be happy to bring a piece of vinyl for under the easel. If it suits the setting, I could bring a Persian carpet instead. If the desired venue has very rough ground, such as large stones, let’s discuss what the options are.

Outdoor wedding, forest environment. Bride and her father come to look at the painting.
Photo by Beate (Beetjehome)

Light

Is your wedding in an atmospheric, dark space, or do you want me to come later in the day to paint, for example, the dinner or your first dance? In that case I will also bring my painting lamp. I clamp it onto the easel and it is from the Daylight Company. The rod is flexible, I can bend it in all directions. The lamp has three intensity settings. This way, I can still see the colours well and don’t accidentally make anyone’s skin purple or orange. I also take a power strip with me, but an outlet nearby would be convenient.

Photo of how I’m painting two grooms. The daylight lamp above the canvas helps with having enough light to see the colours clearly.

Theme and colours

Imagine this: you’ve just carefully put together your dream wedding, and everything is blue, and oh no! I arrive in all red. To be able to properly match my workplace to your chosen theme or colour palette, I have a wide selection of possible pieces of fabric/sheets that can go over the table. From olive green to gold with decorations, from burgundy to natural shades.

I also like to tailor my clothes to the dress code or theme. Some couples have very specific tastes, such as a Viking or James Bond theme. I love that. Even if it is not so distinct, feel free to let me know in general terms. For example, “casual”, “colourful” or “glitters”.

Fabrics next to each other, a few of the broad selection I have to put over the table.

Timelapse camera and tripod

The tripod I mentioned earlier holds the tablet with photos. If I bring an extra tripod, it is to film the process, with my SLR camera or Gopro.

As standard, I photograph three moments from the process. For an extra fee, you can also have an extended timelapse/montage made. Then you can see all the steps afterwards, even if you (logically) did not come to take a peek every ten minutes. This does require a bit more space behind or next to me, so guests don’t trip over the tripod.

Vegan/vegetarian food

I often paint on location between 5 and 7, including around dinner time. And even though I am sometimes so focused that I forget to eat and drink, getting enough nutriens during such an intense day is obviously a good idea. Is a vegan meal an option with your caterer? That way I’m sure I can eat it. Sometimes this proofs to be a bit difficult, or the booking is so last-minute that the caterer can no longer accommodate it, then I bring some food myself. And I pay very close attention! That I don’t (again!) mistake my paint water for orange juice! Would not recommend, brrr.

Conclusions

You can imagine that everything together takes up a few square metres. It is also useful for the composition and coherence of the picture if I can take two steps back from time to time. And standing in the walkway next to the kitchen or close to a loud speaker box, won’t make me very happy and productive. So I’d like to check with the client and/or the location what would be a nice, fitting spot. Whether that’s as a ‘fly on the wall’ in a corner, or on a stage with a spotlight on the easel.

I take most of the things mentioned above in a large rolling suitcase, apart from the canvas, easel and folding table. That suitcase won’t be in your field of vision, but I keep it close by, under the table, hidden by the tablecloth. I can reach into that if I need something from it.

Two things I used to take with me:

Varnish

This transparent layer protects the canvas, from dust, moisture and discolouration. But on such a hectic day as your wedding, varnishing is not practical. Because of the stench of volatile fumes: you don’t want to inhale them. Or smell a whiff of them when you’re just starting that delicious dinner. And not every wedding has a suitable place outside in the evening to dry the canvas, a covered place where the canvas can lie flat and where it doesn’t matter if the varnish drips along it.

Varnishing with a spray can adds about half an hour of drying time, and it only offers a thin coat. I prefer to work with a thicker layer of silk gloss (in between shiny gloss and matt) varnish from a jar. That dries for at least a day. When a client purchases a premium package where I render the details further in the studio, I do provide a layer of varnish.

Brush soap

Acrylic paint is synthetic, so dirty brushes with dried paint actually have a hard coating on them. If I don’t clean it properly, it damages the bristles on the brushes and it may bring along small grains when I use the brush next time.

Cleaning the brushes involves a lot of splashing and I use fine soap that smells like lemon. But that can also take some time. If I did it in between painting, I would have to clean a brush quickly and briefly, which can leave soap in the brush, which in turn repels paint. Besides, it is not convenient to occupy the washbasin near the toilet after a long day of painting and rinse everything out there. Some locations also have beautiful sinks. I prefer to do it at home when I can do everything at once. Then I prefer to take extra brushes with me and can focus on the painting itself on the spot.

Questions? Tips? Feel free to share!

Feel free to check out my page about live wedding painting packages if you’re interested in getting a painting for yourself or your loved ones.

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Renée / neetje

Dutch live wedding painter, illustrator and courtroom sketch artist.