Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Friends, I am really excited! As you have been hearing over the past few weeks, we’ve got a lot of women entrepreneurs on this podcast. I put a call out a while ago on my Instagram and asked for people who had interesting businesses to reach out. Katie is one of them, so I’m really excited to have her here. Before I jump into what Katie does, I’ll actually let her introduce herself. So Katie, tell us who you are, where you are, and what you do.
Katie: Hello! I’m Katie obviously, and I live in Lexington, Kentucky, and I am an artist that specializes in doing live painting. When I saw that call on your Instagram, I was like, “That’s me. I’m a woman entrepreneur. I can call myself!”
Julia: No, for sure! We’re really excited! I am particularly curious about live painting. I was watching some of your Instagram reels, Instagram stories, watching what you do. But before we get to what you do now, when did you start painting? Were you like, since you came out of the womb, you were like, I’m a painter? What’s that journey been like?
Katie: Well, I’ve always been really creative. I’ve always been drawing, always been making things, but I didn’t start painting until I was a senior in high school. And that kind of just hit me where I was like, I really wanna be an artist. I wanna do this full-time. So I did end up going to undergrad for fine art, and then just kind of continued to do it as a hobby until about 2020 when I lost my job, and then I was like, I have a talent that I could possibly do something with. So I pursued that fully as my job.
Julia: That’s awesome! So tell us more about that. How did it become a job for you? Tell me more.
Katie: Well, the weddings definitely put me into a really good spot. I had a friend ask me to do hers in 2018 and did one or two every year from there. And then during 2020, I kind of really started to push it and tell people that I could do this. In 2021, I had I think 18 weddings.
Julia: Oh, cool! That’s awesome!
Katie: It was really cool, and they’ve kind of just snowballed from there.
Julia: So before you keep going, let’s talk about what this is. You live paint, what does that mean? Tell it to all the people who don’t understand.
Katie: I talk a lot about weddings, and mostly because that is the main source, but I do live events. So I have this big French easel that I bring with me. She’s really pretty and wooden, and then a box with all my paint, and I’ll have my canvas. And whatever we have discussed beforehand, I’ll paint that scene. So with weddings, guests will get to come in, so I start painting once your guests arrive at the ceremony. So they’re always kinda like, “Oh, what’s happening?” They’re too shy to talk to me. And then by the time the ceremony is over, I’ve done a lot of work on this painting, so people will come over and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, there was nothing on it, and then now there’s stuff on it.” So it’s kind of a really cool entertainment piece for galas or just other really big events. And depending on the size, I can finish it there, but then other sizes, I’ll bring back to my studio and just do the final details.
Julia: Okay, cool. I saw another one where you did live sketches of people during the reception.
Katie: Yeah. That is another package that I offer. They’re just small watercolor sketches, I try to stay between six to eight minutes per couple. So they’re really fun, they’re really gestural. They’re not super detailed, but people really love them because it looks like them.
Julia: I loved them! I thought it was so fun. I’m gonna be honest, I am a wannabe artist. I can’t imagine the pressure though. Especially your first wedding, did you feel a lot of pressure while you were doing it? Or were you like, this is my jam?
Katie: Absolutely! So the first wedding, I didn’t even charge my friend because I was so scared that it was gonna be absolute crap. She still loves it to this day. I personally don’t love it, but I know she does, so that makes me happy. With everything, I talk about this a lot, every time you do something for the first time, it’s gonna be nerve-wracking or it’s gonna be terrible. Sometimes when I get to a venue and something’s not as perfect as I hoped it would be, I do get kind of nervous. That’s where my spirituality comes in, so I usually just pray and ask the Lord to calm my heart down and give me the strength to push through the nervousness and create something beautiful. And it always works out!
Julia: That’s awesome! So my other question, technically, people are moving, how do you know what is gonna be a part of the picture if people are moving?
Katie: I do take reference photos. Usually, there’s a specific pose that I’m looking for. If a couple requests a first kiss, I’m gonna obviously take a bunch of pictures of their first kiss, because that’s over in an instant. It’s not something that I could just throw in there and like, “Can you guys hold that kiss for five minutes while I get you in here?” But I can take reference photos and I work from those throughout the night, especially when I have to move from the ceremony location to the reception location.
Julia: So in terms of live painting, it is in essence like you’re painting a particular moment, but you’re painting it over the course of the night? Is that the idea?
Katie: Yeah. And I talk a lot about feeling the atmosphere of the event. So you may be seeing a particular moment, but I’m incorporating the way that I’m feeling in the event and the music that I’m listening to, and that all just really plays into what each painting looks like.
Julia: That’s so cool because for those of us who admire art, art should make you feel something. And so, it’s cool that you can incorporate that. So your friend asked you to do it, had you come up with this idea beforehand? Had you heard of live painting at weddings before?
Katie: Yes. I had heard of them. I actually wanted to do it for my wedding, but my husband and I were dirt poor. I wanted to do it, but I obviously cannot do it for my own wedding. So I just heard of it, but I didn’t do anything. And then my friend, she had heard of it and asked me about it and I was like, “Oh yeah, sure!” That was 2017, was when I got married, so that’s when I had started hearing about it. But it’s slowly become a trend in this area.
Julia: That’s cool! I had not heard about it before you. But it’s kind of reminiscent of having a live musician at your reception, or almost this feature entertainer, but just an incredibly serene experience in a way. And then also, I feel like there’s gotta be this element for at least guests, of mystery and transformation, of like, wow! Just like you said, there used to be nothing on that canvas and now there’s something.
Katie: It’s really fun! It’s super fun because I’ll see people start looking at it, and by the end of the night, I know certain five people are always gonna be checking in every 20, 30 minutes, just to see what’s different.
Julia: That’s awesome! And then those are the people you are like, “And here’s my business card.”
Katie: Exactly! Always listen to social media, always like, “Follow along, you can see all the other ones that I do too. Is anybody getting married?”
Julia: I’m gonna come back to that. But what has been challenging about your business?
Katie: Man, most of the boring stuff. I have enjoyed setting up my website, I have enjoyed doing social media, but ultimately, I just wanna paint. But if I just paint, no one’s gonna know about it. So really, what we’re talking about is the marketing side, and just trying to figure out what’s gonna work for myself and who do I need to put my stuff in front of? Who’s my ideal audience? Having to figure that out has been really tough, and not wanting to narrow it down, but also realizing you do need to narrow it down, because not everyone’s gonna be able to afford a live painter.
Julia: For sure! For sure! My husband and I just bought a photo booth camper, like a photo booth that’s built into a camper. And so suddenly, we’ve been thrust into this wedding and event industry, and it is just like a whirlwind, first of all. But also, you are so right! Not everybody’s gonna pay for a live painter, not everybody’s gonna pay for a photo booth camper. It’s almost like we have to find these people who are getting married and want something that’s a little extra, a little extra something, something. And so it’s fascinating because even yesterday, my husband and I were talking about some pricing, and I was like, this is a premium product. It might not feel like it to us, but not every Joe Schmo on the street is gonna pay for this. That’s fascinating! So in marketing, what have you found that has worked for you and then what has not worked for you?
Katie: I’m constantly learning that. Because social media has been changing so much over the last two years. So I have recently been getting a lot of people from reels, which is awesome, on Instagram. I haven’t quite yet gotten TikTok down, so I feel ancient when I’m on that app. It’s just kind of figuring out how to put myself out there as myself, and not just as someone who’s trying to sell something. Because this is still art, it’s something that I love to do as far as representing and expressing myself. But let’s make it professional, but let’s make it fun! I don’t know. Definitely a lot of just trial and error with things.
Julia: You did a recent 30 days of art or paintings. I can’t remember. Were you featuring paintings that you had already done or were you actually making these paintings a day? Tell me more about that challenge.
Katie: That was actually started by another artist that I follow who when I started getting into live painting, I found her. She is a live wedding painter in Mississippi. Anyways, she does this 31 and 31, she does a painting a day. I joined her challenge and we have this Facebook group and a bunch of different people, there were writers, there were musicians, there were other artists. But the caveat of it is to do a painting every single day in January. And by the end of it, you’ve probably learned a different style or you’ve developed your skill in a certain way. So every one of those paintings was done the day that I posted them.
Julia: That’s crazy! That’s a lot of work too.
Katie: Yeah, it was! It was a lot of work. I think I got super discouraged a good week and a half, but by the end of it, I was like, man, I can do something every single day. There are habits that I do every single day, but when it comes to incorporating a new one, I’m like, it’s really not that hard. You just gotta make yourself do it. Sometimes I was doing it, and finished it at 11:45 at night, but I still did it.
Julia: Good for you, Katie! I think what’s so cool about that is that you did it obviously with a community of other people who are also showing their talents in a like-minded way, even if it’s like a writer or a musician or something like that. We all have these talents. And so, to be able to embrace that is just a really cool technique. Awesome!
We talked a little bit about the challenging part of your business. What do you love about your business?
Katie: Golly, I love my clients! I could probably cry when I think about them because they just let me put my heart into things. The amount of messages that I get back from people, like if they bought a painting for somebody, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, so and so cried.”. And it’s like, I don’t love that I made them cry, but I do, because it’s meaningful that I got to make it and that people trust me to make things, but it’s even more meaningful that it means something to the person that’s receiving it. And they’re gonna love this painting and they’re gonna cherish it for the rest of their life. That is something that I absolutely love, and just getting to meet really interesting people and go to really cool places. It’s just a joy, and literally a dream come true.
Julia: What’s one of the most fun events that you’ve ever gotten to paint? It’s a curveball question.
Katie: Oh, goodness!
Julia: It’d just be one of the top five, it doesn’t have to be the favorite.
Katie: Yeah. I feel like I’m gonna forget it. I had this couple almost two years ago. The bride is part of an Irish dancing group, so she does Irish dancing and then so does her son. But they had an Irish triad band. So they had a live band and they played all this Irish music, and the whole reception was just so much fun. I will never forget that. Their painting was their first dance. There was so much movement and so much energy, and I don’t think that I ever stopped smiling that night.
Julia: That’s awesome! I don’t Irish dance, but my cousins do. If you’re an Irish dancer, you’re an Irish dancer! This is a piece of you! And so, I would imagine that’s pervasive even throughout the painting, like all of the liveliness of it. So I’ll have to look that one up.
Sweet! So before we close, we have a lot of people who are entrepreneurs listening to this podcast, a lot of other marketers, what’s a piece of advice that you have really taken to heart? Because now you’ve been in business for like five years? Am I doing the math right?
Katie: Well, technically only three.
Julia: But you’ve been doing it for a while, so your business is like a toddler now. What’s some of the things that you would tell other people who are wanting to start or even that you might have told yourself at the beginning?
Katie: I think this is something that I’m actually still learning right now, but it’s still a really good reminder, is one, be gentle with yourself because it’s all learning. Even if you went to school for marketing, you’re gonna walk into an actual scenario and it’s gonna be something completely new. But the first time doing something, it’s gonna be ugly. It’s not gonna go completely perfectly. If it does, amazing, and let’s celebrate that. But be gentle because things are gonna be hard, and the first time doing it is not always gonna go the way that you had planned, and that’s okay. I love that you just said that my business is still a toddler, because toddlers still stumble and fall all the time. I’m like, why have I not figured this out by now? I’m like, it’s because I’m still a baby.
Julia: It’s true. Our business is five years old, and it still stumbles a bit. So I like to think of it as a five-year-old learning how to ride a bike. No matter what age we are, we should always be learning new things. The falls just might not be quite as crazy, or they could be, I guess! I have a 10-month-old learning how to walk right now, and so it’s just as crazy how much you have to fall to figure out how to stand and stuff. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
Katie, I am so grateful to learn about your business. If people wanna stay in touch with you, where can they find you?
Katie: You can find me at katienelsonfineart.com https://www.katienelsonfineart.com/, and you can find all my social media through there as well. But it is Katie Nelson Fine Art on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/katienelsonfineart, Instagram https://www.instagram.com/katienelsonfineart, TikTok. And then if you wanna email me directly, which is the best way to contact me, it’s just email@example.com.
Julia: Well, it’s consistent everywhere guys!
Katie: That’s great!
Julia: She found the right handle!
Katie: Thank you.
Julia: That’s awesome! We’ll have all of those links in our show notes too. Katie, thanks for sharing about your business. Thanks for sharing how unique it is. I am so excited to watch you on your journey of art making. So thank you for joining us.
Katie: Thank you for having me!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.