Painting Love in Real Time

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by Kristina Domitrovich
photos by Blake McCollum Photography and Lindsay Pace

Ed.D. Felicia Brown Pollard, doesn’t necessarily consider herself an artist, because for her, painting is something she’s done since she was a young child.

“It was always available to me growing up,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed art, but to me it’s just a creative outlet.”

Her mother would paint and even make her own canvases, sometimes using sheets if she had to. Pollard remembers when her mother would challenge her and her siblings, “Okay, see if you can cover every piece of this paper with color, don’t leave any white spaces.”

“Now I know as a mom, she was just keeping us busy for the longest amount of time,” she said. “But it didn’t bother her to hang those up in the hall or something just for a few days, so we would feel like what we put out there was valuable.”

Now Pollard is a school administrator, and her workweek is spent being the assistant principal at a school in Lafayette County School District. She said this helped her get into the wedding industry in a roundabout way.

“Me being a school administrator honestly kind of opened the door into me getting into the wedding business. And it sounds strange, at first,” she said. “It hit me that part of my job is duty and discipline and making sure things run smoothly and safely. With a fire drill, you’re telling people what to do on really important days. Like, ‘If something happens, this is what you do,’ as an assistant principal. Well, a wedding is just a really important day, so people want direction that day, and it’s kind of the same skill set, honestly.”

Her first interaction with the wedding industry was doing the calligraphy on her college roommate’s invitations as a wedding gift to her — another artistic knack she picked up from her mother. Later on, when a girl in her church was getting married, she asked Pollard to direct the wedding: “Well sure, I mean I’ve never done it before, I’m sure it can’t be that difficult.”

It snowballed from there. She went on to direct countless other weddings. She added live wedding paintings into the mix a few years ago, when she “noticed there was an uptick in live painting” on social media. In 2018, a girl she used to babysit was getting married, and Pollard knew the family very well; but she also knew the guest list was incredibly small, and she didn’t want the bride to feel like she “needed to take up a spot.” So she went to the bride’s mother, and asked if she could paint the wedding, and “she jumped on it.”

Pollard said the biggest challenge to live painting is the time constraint, but she felt comfortable because she knew the family, and knew she could finish the piece later if necessary. While at the wedding, she had another couple approach her, and ask if she’d come paint their wedding, too. Pollard said most of her art so far has been through direct requests like this, or through word of mouth with her ties to the industry through directing.

She still directs weddings, too, but sometimes even those brides will ask her to paint their special day; when this happens, Pollard has to paint the reception instead of the ceremony, because she’s too busy with the rest of her duties. She said painting receptions has become more popular recently anyways, because people often want a painting of their first dance.

“The reception kind of wanes on into the night, and a reception kind of goes on,” she said. “So there’s not a crunch time, but when you paint a ceremony, there’s a definite time when the ceremony is over.”

Pollard usually shows up two hours before the wedding to get set-up and start painting in the background, whether it’s for the ceremony or the reception. She’s learned a few things along the way. One wedding ceremony she was painting was going to be an outdoor wedding; but there was a storm coming through that pushed it indoors within 15-30 minutes of the wedding starting. Pollard quickly had to repaint the background.

“I’ve learned to adapt kind of to my environment,” she said.

Now, she carries around an extra canvas, just in case she has to start over with a new background. She also carries around a lamp, because each church has different regulations for where they’ll allow her to set up, and one time she was “tucked away in a balcony in the dark.” She also packs a fan and an extension cord with her, because she never knows what the weather will be like and how close she’ll be next to an outlet.

Once she’s done with the background, she’ll start filling in guests as they arrive.

“If the mother has on a blue dress, she’s going to have a blue dress seated on the pew,” she said. “So I start that when they walk down the aisle.”

She’s learned to ask a few questions ahead of time, like what colors the groomsmen and bridesmaids will be wearing, so she can get a jump on their figures. She said the groomsmen are easy, “basically it’s facial hair, hair color, and a suit, a suit, a suit;” but bridesmaids are a little more complicated.

“One popular trend, it’s kind of dying out now, but in the last three years, it’s been popular for every bridesmaid to wear a different color dress, like in the same color family,” she said. “I have to reflect that in my painting, so instead of going through with one color, I have to change those out and make sure I have the (right) dress on the blonde bridesmaid, not the brunette.”

She said there’s a lot of intrigue while she’s working, and people often come up to her to watch or chat, but she doesn’t mind at all.

“It doesn’t make me nervous if people want to come and talk. I hear a lot about people who have cousins or grandmothers or aunts that paint, and people have a story to share. For me, I love the social nature of it,” she said. “Little kids come over sometimes and they want to know if I painted them in there.”

Pollard said she does these paintings as “a labor of love” and uses it as her creative Some of her favorite parts of painting weddings is getting to paint churches’ stained-glass windows, and listening to the prelude music as guests start walking in, and said those moments are almost spiritual to her. But her favorite part of weddings is when the groom walks his mother down the aisle.

“That there’s the sweetest moment to me,” she said, a mother to two boys.

Last year, she was able to paint five weddings for students who were all in the first class she taught, and she said that was incredibly special for her, “I think you’re always attached to your first class of kids.” Last year, she also said she’s had the special honor of being asked to paint smaller weddings due to COVID, which she said have all been so intimate and heartwarming. She said she particularly remembers the first micro wedding she was able to paint; the regulations had just been lifted from 10 to 20 people for outdoor events, and with that, she was able to attend and paint the ceremony.

“To get to paint that was exciting, and to me, it was just kind of the first step of, ‘We’re going to be normal again, it’s going to take some time,’” she said. “Getting to be a part of that and see it, it was pared down, but it was very intimate. It was gorgeous, and love still happens.”

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