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A Live Painting: What could possibly go wrong?!

When the organisers of the Coronation celebrations in one of the local villages approached me about getting involved, I first planned to do some kind of arty party in the park as a sort of promotion for my arty parties. However, when I considered all the logistics I realised that the possibility of sunshine drying out acrylic paint too quickly or rain washing it off would make it too much of a headache. I didn't have a large marquee of my own but I was offered a section of Whetstone Drama Group's marquee (thanks WDG!) so I figured l could just use that covered area to do a live painting so people could watch me working! I love to watch artists at work so figured there'd be others who'd like to do the same. I suggested to Steve, the organiser that I painted something with a royal theme. He suggested I paint the event itself, as it's happening. To me, this seemed a genius idea!


I planned it all out. I would grid up a canvas the same proportions as a photo taken on my mobile. Once at the festival, I would take a photo of the overall layout of the event and then use the 'Grid' app to scale it up. I'd paint in these key areas before guests even started arriving and then add details as I saw them across the day. I imagined a slightly abstract, contemporary feel to the artwork. Simple, right?!


I got myself set up and felt so well prepared. I used baking trays lined with dampened kitchen roll and tracing paper as 'stay wet' pallets for my acrylics, I had my easel, my gridded canvas, loads of brushes and paints, a large bucket of water and plenty of blue roll and rags.

Once I was set up, the first job was to get that photograph.



This is where the fun really began! I took a photo and began sketching but realised quickly that my plan was flawed. To encompass the whole scene on my canvas, the characters on the stage (a key aspect of the event that needed to be included) would have to be microscopic!


I realised I was going to have to be more creative in my approach and began a composition which brought the stage forwards in the frame but allowed room around it for people and context. This allowed me to also include the church, whose bells contributed to the atmosphere of this day.



As I sketched and painted though, my confidence began to deteriorate and I started to get a horrible sinking feeling that I was about to become an object of ridicule at the event. It wasn't looking good. It was looking more like a bad child's drawing than the envisaged masterpiece. I was so tempted to just pack everything up and go home but the visitors had started to trickle in, and I had committed to it now so was going to have to take the advice I so often give my arty party guests and mentees - if you just keep painting til its finished, you'll surprise yourself with what you can achieve. I wasn't totally convinced!



But then came the next problems. Firstly, it was the sheer volume of people. It is estimated that more than 1000 people attended the event and as the hundreds of people entered the ground, I realised I couldn't see anything, except the movement of people around me. Plus, it turns out people really are fascinated to see an artist at work and they do also want to chat to you (that's what you'd hoped remember Hayley!). Plus friends and relatives come along to support you, and they want to chat too. So, if there's anything harder than painting a very crowded live event, where nothing keeps still and you can't see the wood for the trees, its trying to do that whilst holding conversations!


This was tough. My painting was still looking extremely amateurish and I was feeling a bit embarrassed, refusing to tell people about the prize draw they could enter yet because really, who on earth would want to win this as a prize??!! Thank goodness for Steve Cutler (a friend and key member of the organising committee) who kept giving me words of encouragement, along with my husband Simon, who was there as the photographer and kept popping by to check I was OK and bring me coffee and a hog roast sandwich!


All I could do was keep painting and slowly but surely I started to relax and started to notice how excited people were to feature in the painting, even as these very rough splodgy versions of themselves. I began to enjoy finding characters and details to add to the painting and stopped caring too much what it looked like. No-one else seemed to care and they were just excited to see what I was doing.


Magically, in that way that often happens, in a way that seems outside of your conscious control, something amazing started to happen and a really fun image started to emerge. I gained confidence again and allowed the announcement of the prize draw and was pleased to see that people were entering their names. They actually like the idea of winning this little bit of craziness on canvas.


The late afternoon sun was dazzling by now, and my head was starting to spin a little. The event was coming to a close but I didn't feel that the painting was quite finished. I agreed that the draw should be done on stage at the end of the event but on the proviso that the winner would arrange collection after I had added some final details and finished it off slightly more professionally.


With the winner decided, I loaded up the car, helped a few others pack up, did a bit of litter picking and then collapsed in a chair at home. I had planned to get it finished the following day but needed that day too to recover! I managed to steal a couple of hours of Tuesday to add a few characters who I had promised would appear and to add some people on the stage. Later in the week, I contacted the winner to get a reference photo so that I could add her and her family.



And a few of the details in close up. I wonder if attendees recognise some of the details? The ferret? The Charles cutout? The lady with the giant teddy? Themselves even? I hope they won't be offended if I haven't painted them in a very flattering light - I'm there too, looking equally splodgy and strange! Can you see me hard at work painting the scene?




I am not claiming that this is in any way a great example of technical skill but I do feel it is a wonderful example of how great things happen if you just relax and go with the flow. I can't really imagine a much better representation of the eclectic mix of people and situations that hit Trinity Park in Whetstone on the weekend of King Charles' coronation. I'm genuinely pleased with it even though it is utterly bonkers and nothing like my usual style. I would happily give this another go if someone wanted me to paint another event - for a fee of course! It was absolutely exhausting but equally fun and rewarding, which is what I'm starting to realise is true of most jobs I do as an artist. Here's one final photo of me holding the finished canvas after giving it a layer of satin varnish for a slightly more professional finish. It's all ready for deliver to the lucky winner and I hope it makes her smile as much as it did me.



Ii wonder if anyone reading has any questions about it, or whether some of you are artists who have done something similar? Please do get in touch - I'd love to hear from anyone interested in the process, experience or outcomes of live painting.


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4 commenti


Bonita Keay
Bonita Keay
14 mag 2023

It turned out great! I knew it would. Thank you for helping me pack away. It was such a brilliant day x

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Hayley Stokes
Hayley Stokes
14 mag 2023
Risposta a

Thanks Bonita. It was lovely to see you there x

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Eliza Doalot
Eliza Doalot
14 mag 2023

courageous, talented and inspiring.

and a bit bonkers

love it Hayley 👍

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Hayley Stokes
Hayley Stokes
14 mag 2023
Risposta a

Thanks Eliza! I definitely felt it was courageous and a bit bonkers so am happy to add talented and inspiring to the list xx

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