Live Event Painting a Gatsby Gala for the HDSA
The Great Gatsby - great book, great movie, GREAT party theme! TBT to one of my favorite events that I painted a few years ago - A Gatsby Gala hosted by the NE Ohio chapter of the HDSA.
Besides painting weddings, I’m often hired to create live paintings for other types of events - anniversaries, corporate events, birthday parties, fundraising galas and all kinds of celebrations. In fact, live painting charity events is how I got my start doing this in the first place.
Each year, I reserve at least a few prime dates for non profit events and it’s been a wonderful experience to get involved with some really great organizations. One such organization is the HDSA, or for lack of brevity, the National Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
The HDSA is the world’s leading nonprofit organization in raising money to fight Huntington’s Disease. With chapters all over the country (and world), social workers, support centers, educational programs and outreach, their mission is to improve the lives of everyone affected by HD.
So what is Huntington’s Disease? The HDSA describes it as “a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain.” As the brain deteriorates, so do a person’s mental and physical abilities, often in the prime of their life. With so many affected by this horrible disease (30,000 symptomatic Americans and more than 200,000 at-risk of inheriting it) and no known cure, you can see why fundraising events are so important for this cause.
Each year, the NE Ohio HDSA chapter hosts a big fundraising gala in the Fall, benefiting Huntington’s Disease research. They always come up with a fun theme for the event and lucky for me, 2013 was “A Gatsby Gala – A Celebration of Hope”. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m slightly obsessed with the Jazz Age… And what would the Roaring 20’s be without Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? (Yes, I am counting down the days until the second season of Z: The beginning of Everything… and bookworms looking for a captivating biography, I highly recommend Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald). I could not have been more excited to paint a whole celebration themed around my favorite era! Cigarette girls, flapper dresses, feathers, boas, beads - I was even asked to dress up to match the theme too!
They chose the perfect venue for this event - The Crawford Auto & Aviation Museum in Cleveland. If you’ve never been, this place is definitely worth a visit. You’ll feel like you’re transporting through history as you walk alongside the nearly 200 antique, vintage and classic cars AND airplanes on display throughout the museum. Imagine standing next to an airplane from World War II - those things are big in real life! It’s really exciting to be able to see one up close and imagine the places it’s been and what it has seen. Not to mention the antique cars from the 1920s that perfectly complimented the Gatsby theme! I wondered what kind of fancy aristocrats once drove around in the vehicles I painted… that would have been almost 100 years ago!
You might notice this painting is a little different from my usual live event paintings, and that’s because when I was hired to paint this event, the client specifically requested that instead of painting an exact photo-realistic scene, that I instead focus more on the energy and feeling of the event. My goal is always to capture the energy of what’s going on around me, but in this case, the specific request that I let my imagination take the lead really allowed me to paint a more expressive and artistic interpretation. This was quite fun to do, and and to make it even more exciting, they asked if I could move my whole setup halfway through the event and paint in two different locations! This was definitely a challenge, but it worked well given the direction of the painting to be more expressive in nature. I really enjoyed painting this piece. It was as much a surprise to me as it was to the guests what the finished painting would look like. (Usually I decide on a vantage point and have a clear idea of the scene before I start painting… but not this time! It was way more spontaneous!)
Fun as it was, the pressure was on. I had to have the painting finished enough to be presented in front of everyone during the live auction at the end of the night. Not easy to do when you’re working with a 3x4ft canvas! Lucky for me, the energy of the event was so inspiring, I got right in the zone and by the time the auction rolled around, the painting was ready to go.
Live auctions make me nervous, because you never really know how receptive the crowd is going to be. There are just so many variables beyond my control…. But this night, everything fell right into place and I was thrilled to see my painting sell to the highest bidder for $5,000.
I always offer the opportunity for my clients (or winning bidders in the case of an auction) to request customizations to their painting. In this case, the buyers were car enthusiasts who had a particular appreciation for the venue that night. They asked that I make sure the painting include antique cars and airplanes on display at the museum, and a more sentimental request, they gave me a photo of their own favorite car to include as well. (It’s the yellow in the middle of the painting towards the bottom.) It was so cool to learn more about their hobby when I delivered the finished painting. These buyers actually had an underground garage below their house where they fix up vintage cars - So cool!
Here’s the finished painting - I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading and please, can someone else throw another Gatsby party for me to paint? I might just have to do it myself - maybe a new painting series on the way? :)