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Turning your relationship milestones into art

by HILARY SHEINBAUM THE NEW YORK TIMES | August 2, 2020 at 2:27 a.m.
An image by Khyati Patel, an illustrator in Vadodara, India, is shown. For some couples who post- poned their engagement photo shoots because of the coronavirus, artists have stepped in to create custom illustrations and portraits.
(The New York Times/Khyati Patel, Littlethings)

As the coronavirus pandemic upended wedding plans and industry jobs, many couples rescheduled their engagement photoshoots in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Others hired illustrators to commemorate their forthcoming nuptials, ceremonies and other relationship milestones. Here are a few creative examples from artists.



For couples yearning to announce their engagements without getting dressed up (or wearing a mask), all it takes is an online order.

MariaAlejandra Ramirez, the owner of Moda Illustrated in Miami, works on 25 to 40 matrimony-focused projects each year, including engagement illustrations and save-the-date announcements.

In lieu of live sketching, Ramirez asks clients to send her as many photos of themselves as they'd like. She also encourages images of inspirational outfits, bouquets and pets. "The more pictures they send me the better," she said. "That way, I can get a better feeling of what their style is."

Next, Ramirez draws subjects with an Apple Pencil on her iPad Pro and utilizes Procreate, an illustration application equipped with a digital collection of brushes, inks and other media. Photoshop is used to add text. Prices range from $150 to $400 for custom designs, and the final work is delivered in two to four weeks.



During the pandemic lockdown, Khyati Patel, an illustrator in Vadodara, India, received a variety of made-to-order requests, including congratulatory cards for brides and grooms and proposal cards for bridesmaids through her Instagram account.

“The more pictures they send me the better,” says MariaAlejandra Ramirez, the owner of Moda Illustrated in Miami. “That way, I can get a better feeling of what their style is.” (TheNewYorkTimes/MariaAlejandraRamirez,ModaIllustrated)

Using a photo provided by the couple for reference, Patel draws a rough pencil sketch and then a fine outline. She uses watercolor paint and watercolor pencils to depict subjects' skin, hair and clothing. Details are added with metallic acrylic paint and a white Sakura Gelly Roll pen. Garments are shaded using colored pencils and watercolor paint. Patel digitally scans the entire piece to enhance its background using the Autodesk SketchBook application.

Patel, who has clients in India, the United States and Australia, spends 10 to 11 hours on each project and fulfills orders within 15 days. Her pieces cost between 2,000 and 5,000 Indian rupees (about $26 to $66).


In mid-March, before the stay-at-home order went into effect in Washington, Grace Wahlbrink and Zachary Hill, both 31, mailed 60 illustrated wedding invitations to family and friends for their May 10 nuptials at Iron Gate restaurant. (They have tentatively rescheduled the wedding for Sept. 13.)

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Wahlbrink, who works in digital marketing, and Hill, a supply planning specialist for Northrop Grumman, decided to forgo an engagement photoshoot that would cost $1,000. "It was one last thing we needed to do within the craziness of the wedding-planning process," Wahlbrink said. "Neither of us cared much about it. We didn't want to prioritize it."

Instead, Wahlbrink's personal friend, Riley Sheehey, a watercolor illustrator in Falls Church, Va., created a portrait for the couple's invitations.

Sheehey uses one or two photos as reference, combining detail requests and inserting pets, to develop a sketch subject to two rounds of edits. Once her clients approve, Sheehey applies watercolor paint.

Between 2016 and 2019, Sheehey designed 60 original wedding-related works, starting at $600. Each requires five to six hours from start to finish with a two- to three-month turnaround. Upon completion, she sends the original painting and a digital scan to the couple, which can be taken to a printer for duplication.



Allison Lewis, the owner of Bright Eye Designs in Owensboro, Ky., has crafted artwork for couples who have postponed their weddings.

Some partners are still getting married in private -- often without professional photographers on-site. As a result, Lewis is also remotely illustrating newlyweds saying "I do" at home.

"Most of the covid couples I have worked with recently send me a photo from their wedding day to re-create," she said. "These photos are typically the bride and groom in their wedding attire but in their living room or backyard. I really enjoy doing these illustrations because I know how intimate the moment was for them."

Lewis, who designs her sketches using Procreate, asks her customers to submit their favorite photos before they collectively agree on one to re-create. Her sketches take between two and six hours to complete, with a one-week turnaround. Each piece sells for $50 or more, depending on the amount of detail.

Similarly, Ashby Florence, a digital illustrator in Washington, has been re-creating images of recent weddings. Her company, That's More Like It, which charges $15 to $40 per piece, has experienced a 15% increase in business since March. "Almost all of my wedding-related commissions have been due to coronavirus," she said.



Each year, Nicole Updegraff of Oahu, Hawaii, completes 10 to 15 wedding commissions, including illustrations for websites and thank-you notes. The quantity of wedding requests has remained consistent, but many of her clients have had to shift their plans because of the coronavirus. A bride and groom originally expecting 250 guests at their wedding got married on May 30 with six people in attendance (including an officiant and a photographer). Updegraff's work is featured on the couple's recently sent out thank-you cards.

Updegraff starts her 1.5- to 12-hour process by requesting separate, clear, close-up photographs of the individuals' faces and full-length pictures for height and size references. She speaks directly with clients about their visions and the elements they wish to include before opening her sketchbook and working with watercolor markers. Next, she transfers the art to her iPad Pro, and uses her Apple Pencil and Procreate to add fine details and clean up the graphic.

Updegraff charges $150 to $300 for single figure illustrations, and $300 to $500 for couples illustrations, which are delivered within three to five business days.



For Alicia Ann Wilke, a family illustrator in Rockford, Mich., nearly all wedding commissions within the last six months have served as anniversary gifts. Often personalized with wedding dates and names, featuring groups of people, Wilke's designs are drawn on Procreate, and then painted and printed on 8-by-10 inch card stock. Each composition costs $80 to $300.

In March, during the onset of shelter-in-place orders in several states, Brittany Register of Auburn, Ala., began creating digital portraits. By June, Register had completed 15 wedding-specific commissions, including a bride and groom whose ceremony was canceled one hour before walking down the aisle. Using photos of subjects, Register utilizes the Procreate app on her iPad Pro and spends one to three hours on each piece. She completes orders within two weeks. Her custom creations start at $17.

Cassie Barraud, 29, of Queensland, Australia, found Register's Etsy page while browsing engagement presents. Barraud's sister Chantelle Rowntree became engaged to Josh Pratt, both 23, of Queensland, on April 3. "Given it was covid lockdown time, this gift was something special, as we couldn't have a celebration," Barraud said. "It's something different and a nice memory of this special moment in their life."


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