The easel was covered in dust. For almost a decade, Kristen Catalano Schenck’s professional painter’s easel — a gift from her parents — sat stashed in the closet of her childhood bedroom, while she pursued other avenues in retail and as a professional trainer after graduation at the University of New Orleans.
She dabbled in other areas of art. She designed t-shirts, painted a mural of a gator playing volleyball on the wall at Coconut Beach, sold personalized umbrellas for bridal party second lines. She even lived one of her dreams with an internship at Walt Disney World. Through it all, she never stopped talking about what she wanted to do with the easel: live painting.
After a wedding, her parents’ friends raved about a live painting an artist had created on the spot for the bride and groom. They immediately thought of Schenck and proposed the idea as a career opportunity. She was intrigued.
“As a child, I did live drawing everywhere I went,” she says. “I used to draw the back of people’s heads in church; I drew my Maw Maw at the beauty parlor; I sketched other gymnasts at my gym … but live painting? It was still a unique idea for a career.”
Just this year, a friend begged her to paint her wedding, so Schenck finally made the investment in professional grade paints and a large canvas and dug out the easel. Before she even made it to the wedding, she had a second event booked to paint a wedding venue open house at Chicory. A business was born.
Art is a part of her family legacy. Her grandfather owned Shoemaker Signs, Inc. He painted billboards and wall ads, and the original Houston’s restaurant sign. He also made things out of found objects and had a huge, old shop of endless supplies in his backyard that Schenck loved to visit. She loved to consult him on her drawings and says he was the one to show her how to draw free-hand. Her parents encouraged her too.
“My parents always said I should do whatever I wanted to do,” Schenck says. “They said, ‘If you want to draw and that’s what you want to do for a living, then maybe one day you’ll have a studio.’” There was never an emphasis on the money, only on the dream. “They love that I’m finally able to use my talents. And do something that I love.”
Schenck’s husband, Scott, is also a huge supporter and takes care of their 17-month-old daughter, Riley, during live painting events.
Painting a wedding is not like painting a still-life bowl of fruit. Most people request that Schenck paint the first dance or first kiss, both moments where the entire wedding party gathers around. But it ends quickly. Schenck takes photos to help her relive a moment when the wedding party is on the move again. She also has to multitask because wedding guests frequently gather behind her to chat and get sneak peeks.
“This kind of live painting is such a challenging thing — especially when I’m painting the bride and groom,” she says. “I need to get them perfect in my eyes.” For that reason, she typically takes the canvas home for finishing touches. She likes to capture every single aspect that the couple didn’t necessarily have time to notice — flowers, centerpieces, lighting — and likens each piece to a treasure map with tiny details.
She can’t help but form an emotional bond with the bride and groom. “They hug me; I become a part of it all — it’s like a big piece of their big day.”
Schenck has already branched out to painting weddings from photos and reproducing her event paintings as thank you cards. She is open to live painting any event — birthdays, anniversaries, grand openings or a retirement party.
Since her first two events in March, she has noticed a lot of the techniques her Paw Paw taught her coming back. She’s also noticed herself getting a lot quicker. “I already have a wedding scheduled for next May,” she says. “I can’t wait to see what it’s like to live paint by then. I may not even need the extra time afterwards!”
The easel was covered in dust, but now it is covered in paint. “And the more paint I get on it, the more excited I get,” Schenck says. “I’ve never felt this way about a job. In fact, it’s not a job, it’s doing what I love to do.” nolalivepainting.com