Whether you're planning to get married or not, the idea of a live wedding painter is intriguing. We've all seen fun entrances and live performances at weddings before, and we are guessing most of us haven't actually seen live wedding painters. They can be quite an experience for wedding guests, as well as for the bride and groom themselves. Picture this: It's your big day and a banquet hall is turned into your dream wedding venue with a gorgeous mandap. And a live wedding painter steps into the open space with a blank canvas. As their hands start to paint, they turn a blank canvas into a wedding keepsake. Having painted for numerous Indian weddings, Lakshmi Sarkar has helped leave the ordinary behind and turned each wedding day into an unforgettable experience. Our founder, Arjita Shrimali, caught up with Lakshmi to ask a few questions about live painting, her background, and what she recommends for wedding couples who want to add an extra sparkle to their big day.
Source: Lakshmi Sarkar
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Lakshmi Sarkar. I am an artist, although my background is in architecture. I'm an accidental artist though I never was meant to be in this field. I've always been in the creative field and that part of it isn't surprising to people, but I'm trained as an architect.
Years ago, when my son was an infant, he fell sick and that was a life-changing moment for us. He fell sick in January 2007 and I never went back to the corporate world. I was always looking for a creative outlet which I found in painting. I would paint and as my daughter was born, later on, I would paint during the nap times and when they would go to bed. It just kept my creativity going. Things picked up eventually in 2015 when I started to do more fashion-related content. Instagram was pretty big by then so I was posting more work and one thing led to another, I was gaining traction. People seemed to really like what I was doing and the best part about it was I wasn't even setting out to do anything in that realm.
I wanted to sketch people because I'd never sketched people before. I'd sketch but they were fashion illustrations where you can add your own style to it. There are no real rules to it. It's not finance so that part of it did not intimidate me. As I got into fashion, life sketching came my way as well, and I grabbed it. I started to do events with a lot of corporate clients. When live painting came my way, it was almost a natural extension of live sketching at events. Only this time I was working more with private clients and not the corporate world. It's a little different because you're working with someone to create a very, very important part of their day.
It comes with different specifications to it as well as expectations. Live art by itself is like a performance. You are putting yourself out there. It's a very vulnerable moment to be in. It's very raw. You cannot put up any filters on what you’re creating, it's live.
I really enjoy that aspect because it wasn't completely new to me either because when we were students in architecture, the part of the curriculum involved us going out onto the streets, sitting, and sketching the building. You would have passersby just watching so I'm used to that. It can bother you if people are watching over your shoulder but I have gotten used to it and I enjoy it. So that’s how live painting happened. I never said no to an opportunity. It was okay for me to take on a new challenge. I was very excited to do live painting and especially weddings, which I enjoy a lot. Initially, it was a little intimidating because you are not just painting in front of a couple of people, but hundreds of people. So, it comes with its own challenges.
Source: Lakshmi Sarkar
There are two aspects to how I work with couples. One is the commission part of it, and the other is the live painting. When I do commissioned work, they'll send me pictures of their favorite moments, or sometimes it is a set of two or three pictures. They ask me to combine these, for example, and make sure that this person is in this frame so I compose the scene for them. That's one aspect of it. I do that here (her home) by myself. I have no background to what happened at that moment or in that frame. Of course, I can tell what's going on, but I don't have the contextual surroundings, the chaos, the craziness, and everything else that is happening. I have to envision all of it. As anyone can attest to during the pandemic, you would know what it is like to work alone by yourself. So that's the case with the commissioned works.
On the other hand, with live painting, it's in front of you. In front of so many people, the family and the couple who are way too busy to see what’s going on; everyone is involved in it. As I said, it's a performance because there is nothing I can do to make anything look anything other than what is there. What you see is what you're going to get.
For instance, if it's a morning ceremony or if it's the reception, I'm getting to be seen as a very objective person in the room and getting to absorb everything that's going on. I have to document everything and so I am mindful of the fact that I've guests around me watching the ceremony going on. I try to stay out of people's way, but I will always inform them. I'm not just some random person but I have to document this. I have to be very mindful of the photographers, the videographers, and I have to work with other vendors as well.
There are times when I get in their shot and nobody wants me to be in the shot. When you're painting live, many times people don't even know what's going on. They walk into the room and they're like, “Well, what is this? What, what are you doing?” It's the surprise element that I really like. I talk to them and live painting always draws people in because they're very curious to see what's going on. It's a great conversation starter. I like to tell people that historically, painting was always there because we didn't have cameras back in the day and people just painted the Kings and the Queens.
Live painting creates a whole different sense of involvement because it is happening right there. For example, with the photographs and videos, you get to see once the photographer/videographer has got them ready for you. But in the case of live painting, I am usually present the whole day and even the guests are involved to such an extent that I become good friends with them (laughs). It's really cool to have that kind of interaction with the audience, which I would not have if I was by myself. I'm not just painting but as a live painter and as someone who enjoys talking to people, a part of my job is engaging with the audience. I talk to them and they give me feedback as well. Sometimes people don’t actually give you feedback because they feel it when I am in my groove and want to see what I am creating and how I compose it. Sometimes I won't get the right photograph at all. I have to Photoshop certain family members also so there’s cut-paste work involved as well.
It's definitely the Vogue feature. I never expected it and it came on pretty early when I was working as a fashion illustrator. 2016 was when it became pretty serious. I was doing things in 2015, but I hadn't started working with corporate clients. 2016 was when things started picking up and in 2017, I got an email from Vogue and I couldn't even believe it. I actually thought it was a spam email. I actually Googled the person and my husband thought it was a prank (laughs).
It's a pinch-me moment. I got to illustrate 14 different designers including Manish Malhotra and Rohit Bal, and that issue was to highlight the 10th anniversary of the couture collection that Vogue had been featuring. I got to sketch incredible designs. It was three weeks of 10 to 16-hour days of constant work. It was and it is still one of the best moments of what I've done so far. I'm really, really happy about that one.
It's not realistic. It's not fine art. There's a lot of color for sure. I like to create movement. Whether it's the swish of the dress or the folds of the outfit if the model's walking or even if I'm at a wedding reception, I love painting those because there's dancing going on and you can play with a lot of colors and the lights. I try to bring a lot of movement into the artwork because you want to convey that sense of style. If it's a fashion thing, you want to create a certain oomph to it. That's how I like to think of my artistic style. Also, if it doesn’t make you feel anything, I don’t think I have done the job. I want people to feel some kind of emotion, whether they relate to it or want to look at it again and again.
I used to teach art to kids as well. I used to always tell them, for example, the way the light is hitting my face, it seems to be more yellow here, there’s darker brown here. That's how I like to look at something because we, ourselves, are products of nature and we are made up of different colors. It's not just brown, there are yellows, pinks and even blues sometimes. If it's just one color, I add some other elements in there just to make it pop a little bit more and to have the viewers’ attention. You want to draw the viewer and make them think, such as, “What does she use or what color is that? Why did she use that?”. Many times, I tell people to look at it from a distance. I do it too at events. It's difficult for me to stay objective so I have to step back, take a look at it from a distance. It's a matter of perspective, where are you looking at it from.
Source: Laksh Sarkar Creations
From the moment I am assigned to work with someone, I work pretty closely with them because I need to understand the vision for the wedding. It’s very simple; sometimes it is the pheras or the first dance. Many times, they leave it up to me. It’s scary but there are brides who want a certain aspect of the ceremonies and I have another idea where they do trust my vision. I do work very closely with the couple or whoever it is who's hired me. There are emails that go back and forth. I'll set up a day where we talk and I like to FaceTime with my clients because it's good for them to see me. It's good for me to see them and talk face-to-face where we discuss what we are going to do at the wedding.
A lot of the painting depends on the size. The smallest that I do is an 18 by 24 (inches) and the biggest one is 30 by 40 (inches). I've not done anything bigger than that. If it's a small size, I will talk to them about the number of people that we can paint, because I don't want to forget who the focus has to be, the couple. We can add 50 people, but not much is going to come out of it, unless it's a 30 by 40.
It's the vision; I need to understand what it is they are looking for. Whether it's just the family or I need to add more bodies to fill the gaps, depending on the size of the canvas. That is the main communication happening between us. I have all the colors but I like to make sure what paints I need to prepare for the couple, food and decor. At times, the decor changes as well after I have spoken to them which is a surprise for me. I have to work within that environment so I never know what I am walking into. Also, I let them know that I need to be in the room where I have a clear view of the ceremony or the dance floor, whichever is the case, I need to be there.
Ambiance plays a huge factor in painting live. If it is a local wedding, and depending on whether it is the morning ceremony or the reception, I usually paint through the day. I take the painting back home at night to add the final touches and deliver it to them at the previously decided mutual pickup point.
But if it is an out-of-town wedding, I try my best to finish it while I am there. Sometimes I stay an extra day to finish it up and deliver it. I never promise that I am going to deliver it the same day because if I feel I can add more to the painting, I will.
Yes, there's a reason why you can't just put a painter into a live painter scene because one, you're navigating with all these changes. Also, the key is also to know that on that day, whoever's your point of contact will not be available to answer any questions. I will always ask for the wedding planner or some kind of point of contact with whom I can keep in touch. That's very, very important because the wedding itself is consuming by itself and we want to be as helpful as possible to make that run smoothly. I try to give utmost importance to each wedding. Even if I've painted ten weddings, I want to make that 11th person feel like that person is my only client. I try to deliver the best that I can because I feel every painting has a little piece of me in it. I get very emotionally attached to my paintings. The part of me goes with each painting as creepy as it sounds.
Source: Laksh Sarkar Creations
Yeah, it is a performance but it is very unscripted. I do have to go to each wedding, I still have a method for it. But other than that, there is a script that changes with every wedding. What I did at one wedding, will not apply to the next one. I have to rethink something. If I don't get the shot that I need to paint, I can’t be panicking, I need to move on to the next plan. What I do is document the next scene or conjure up a scene in my head and try to navigate through challenges like someone blocking the bride or the groom. That is part of the job and I have to be prepared for these things to happen because they do happen.
I like to engage with my clients. I like to get to know every person who gets in touch with me. Every person is different but I try to get to know them as much as possible and I try to keep up to keep in touch with them. Even after the painting has been delivered, I do my best, although it's not always possible, to stay in contact with a lot of my brides. That kind of personal touch goes a really long way because it's not only on the surface but a very personal thing that I did for someone. So, adding that personal touch by keeping in touch with them throughout the process and hopefully afterward, it goes a long way. I think it is also about relationships. As someone who does original work, I think we share that communication because, at the end of the day, we work together to make sure that we get you something that’s solely yours. The other part of it, I think, also has to do with my style. A lot of people who hire me, like my style.
I remember one of my brides telling me, I like the way you paint sarees. She specifically hired me because they liked the way I paint sarees. If it is blue, you'll see other colors there too. So, something about that speaks to them. Maybe they're not able to pinpoint it exactly that way, but I think a lot of it has to do with the way I paint a certain outfit or I'm able to bring about that one specific element that speaks to them. One of the grooms had a dimple and I managed to get that and the bride loved it.
This year, my goal is definitely to work with corporate clients, if the opportunity comes. I want to be able to work with a client who is maybe very South Asian, South Asian festival, especially. Let's see how it goes.
Source: Laksh Sarkar Creations
Changing seasons has a huge effect on how I paint stuff. If it's spring, there'll be thick flowers like cherry blossoms. I love fall and it's my favorite season. I'm constantly looking at flowers because nature is the best artist, right? Mother nature is the best artist. The colors, my goodness! I'm not much of a gardener but I love flowers. I'm always taking pictures so that's my biggest inspiration. Also, I love how designers put things together. Anything that's light and flowy will immediately catch my eye. I also find my inspiration in the handicrafts of India. I understand anything that is handmade because as an artist, I can understand how much work goes into anything that is done by hand. I get inspired from watching Indian artisans.
I am also fascinated by how things are put together. As evident by my (architectural) background and my work as an artist, I understand that there's a lot of integration and similarities between the two because as an architect, you're really thinking about structure. On the other hand, you see the colors in the flowers, décor and the bridal outfit in weddings.
Emotion plays a huge role. The couple and the family have gone through so many iterations of what the wedding would look like, and the painting is a beautiful interpretation of what's been going on and how colors come together. I love it when I deliver a painting and there are tears of joy from the couple and the family. It feels as if I have done my job.
Have you ever considered using a live wedding painter for your big day? If not, it might be worth thinking about. Not only do they add an element of fun to any event, but they are a unique way of adding a personal touch to your special day. To get in touch with Lakshmi Sarkar, reach out through her Desi Bride profile.
For more interviews like this, check out The Desi Bride blog today.
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