Bride Surprises Groom with Live Wedding Painting at The Club at Hillbrook!

Here’s a good story for you - Last Summer, I was almost hired TWICE to paint the same wedding.  That’s right, a bride and a groom both contacted me separately, to hire me to paint their wedding, as a surprise wedding day gift… for each other!  The bride was a step ahead, and when the groom emailed me, thank goodness I was careful with my wording that I was already booked to paint “a wedding” that day.  

It was great to work with such an enthusiast, happy couple, both of whom were equally excited about the painting.  Capturing this special day on canvas for Kristen and Mike was a wonderful experience and I thank them not only for hiring me to do so, but also for introducing me to one of my favorite wedding venues in the Cleveland area!

Both their wedding and reception took place at The Club at Hillbrook, near Chagrin Falls, OH. The part of the celebration I captured in this live painting was cocktail hour, which occurred between the two. This decision was largely based off the fact that cocktail hour was set to happen on Hillbrook’s patio, which was SO gorgeous on that perfect, Summer day, it would have been painful for me not to paint it!

Truth be told, there are countless picturesque views at Hillbrook that deserve to be painted.  I could be perfectly content setting up at various locations around this dreamy, fairytale mansion, just painting for months.  Such charming Old English architecture, so many authentic details! (My favorite are the diamond-shaped, leaded glass panes in the windows, thousands of which cover the exterior.)  It’s almost magical how this 40 room mansion exists in a harmonious partnership with the natural beauty surrounding it. Twisted vines crawling along stone walls, cheerful flowers spilling from windowsill flower pots, stone pathways winding through thick beds of ivy…  and all encompassed by huge, majestic trees towering above, shadowing the grounds below and causing freckles of sparkling sunlight all across the lawn... (*swoon*)

I grew up in the suburbs East of Cleveland, and I’m still surprised I hadn’t heard of this place before.  (It’s also a B&B, so you don’t have to be a member or part of a wedding to visit!) When I first arrived at Hillbrook, followed the winding, wooded drive into the forest and saw the mansion emerge from the trees, I could not believe this hidden gem was just minutes from my childhood home!  

A gorgeous, straight on view of the Club at Hillbrook by Amilia Photography, who traveled all the way from Nashville, TN to shoot this wedding

The backstory of how Hillbrook came to be is pretty interesting.  This Tudor style architectural masterpiece, built in 1919, was inspired by another actual mansion originally built in Ashford, Kent, England in 1472.  The visionary and original owner of Hillbrook (Edmund S. Burke, Jr., former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and founder of the firms that later became Bethlehem Steel) actually had part of that English mansion transported all the way from Europe and rebuilt exactly as it stood in England. It’s not every day you find architecture dating back to the 1400’s in Ohio!

The magnificent home functioned as a private residence for Burke and his family until 1946 when he sold it to Paul R. Johnston, who converted it to the country club that it is today.  If you’re curious to learn more about Hillbrook’s history, check out this blog post that includes some great old photos of what it looked like in the 1930s.  It’s fascinating to see how the space looked almost a hundred years ago, and I especially love that they’ve kept so much of it the same!  It makes the old world elegance and nostalgic charm you experience at Hillbrook that much more authentic.

After such a grand first impression, I was surprised at how welcoming and comfortable it felt when I walked through the front door and entered the foyer.  I could sense a calm, but excited wedding day buzz…. Following the happy chatter I heard in another room, I came upon the parlor where Kristen and her bridesmaids were all getting ready.  It felt like a ritzy slumber party, complete with champagne and photographers! Another great perk of this venue, the gorgeous interior of Hillbrook provides an amazing backdrop for “getting ready” photos. Laughing, cheersing, flower girls running around, bridesmaids touching up their hair and makeup… There was such a happy air of excitement and anticipation for the fast approaching ceremony that would happen just outside in a couple hours!  

After saying our hellos, I headed outside to determine my setup location and prepare for the surprise, which was scheduled to take place just after the first look.  I had to be sneaky because the groom and the rest of the bridal party were getting ready nearby. Luckily, with the help of Gina and her team at Hillbrook and Amilia, the wedding photographer, we were able to orchestrate everything perfectly.  When the first look photos were done, Amilia led everyone back to the patio where they came upon my setup, and Kristen unveiled her surprise gift to her groom! The surprise was a success and it was great to see the look on Mike’s face when he read the message painted on the canvas.  

Once we were finished with the surprise, I got to work painting in the background before guests started arriving.  I continued painting during the ceremony, and as guests made their way up to the patio for cocktail hour, I started adding them into the painting.  The way I typically work, I wait to add the bride and groom until after the wedding, so I can select the perfect portrait photo to work from as I fit them into the scene, taking my time to get the details just right.  Thanks to Amilia Photography, I had some incredible photos to work from, not only of the bride and groom, but also the bridal party, which I emphasized in the crowd on the patio. (The photos below are just a few of the great shots she got that day.)

Turns out, the surprise live wedding painting wasn’t the only surprise of the day.  I was so happy to serendipitously run into Kurt and Beth of For Real Wedding Films at this wedding!  I had just met them a month earlier while painting a wedding they filmed at The Lake Erie Building, and we were in the process of coordinating a promo video for my live wedding paintings. Still in the brainstorming stages of this project, it was a total coincidence they were also hired to do the videography for Kristen and Mike. The video below, which they shot that day, was not even planned!  These guys are so talented and I cannot wait to have them shoot another video for me soon. Their films are the BEST and they are so friendly and positive to work with. If you’re in the market for a wedding videographer, I highly recommend giving them a call! They did such an excellent job, there’s really not much more I can say about this live wedding painting that isn’t better communicated through their video - So without further adieu, Enjoy!