In her studio in West Homewood, Sherri Arias is adding the final details to a painting she began during a wedding ceremony at the Grand Bohemian Hotel. A dab of pink adds a little blush to the bride’s cheeks, and a small handkerchief is added to the hand of the bride’s mother who sits on the front row.
The details of the painting are extraordinary. Anyone who was in attendance would be able to pick themselves out in the crowd. While the wedding lasted for only a few hours, Sherri was able to finish the majority of the painting before the bride and groom made their getaway exit.
When asked how she put so much detail into the painting in such a short amount of time, Sherri laughs. “I just can’t help it,” she says. “What’s not to love about a wedding day—two families coming together to make a covenant with one another. When a family will allow me to be a part of that, it is just an incredible blessing for me. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”
Sherri’s role as a live event painter is just one of many that has arisen over the past three years as she’s worked to established her self-titled business, S. Arias Creates. For the majority of her career, she was art teacher, working at both Liberty Park Elementary School and Homewood High School.
“I retired after 25 years of teaching before my daughter got married, and that’s really where this all began,” Sherri says. “In planning her wedding, I realized then that there was another world out there, and it dealt with romantic, beautiful things on a daily basis. I was like, ‘Why am I not doing this?’ It’s incredible.”
For her daughter Brittany Arias Sturdivant’s wedding, Sherri created a number of unique pieces of art, including watercolors of places that were special to the couple, like where they went on their first date and where they got engaged. These paintings were placed on tables throughout the reception. “That’s where it all started,” she notes.
Her next step was commissioned pieces. “This may sound odd, but for a number of brides, I painted scenes which hadn’t happened yet, like a portrait of a mother and bride together in their dresses,” she says. “Or I’ve even painted an entire family.”
Then in 2015, less than a year into her new business, she was asked if she could do live event painting. “We did a lot for this specific wedding—the program, invitation suite and favors. The bride’s mother was a former colleague, and I had actually taught the bride when she was in school,” Sherri says. “So when she asked me if I could do it, I said yes.”
Looking back on that first live event painting, Sherri admits it was one of her best ones: “I was hyper-focused on it, and it’s one of my better ones because of it. After I did it, I realized, okay, that wasn’t that bad. I can do this. I might be able to even advertise that I can do this.”
And over the next two years, she did. In 2017, she completed six live event paintings, and she says she already has that many in the works for 2018. She advertises that she’ll complete 70 percent of the painting by the time the event is over, and within the week—before the bride and groom are back from their honeymoon—she’ll be able to deliver the finalized piece.
“There are not many people out there doing live event painting, and there are even fewer people using watercolors because it’s intimidating and scary for many people. For me, I’m excited by the challenge,” Sherri says.
That challenge for her includes artistic touches photos can’t quite create. Often it’s a first dance she paints, and when a family member is missing for one reason or another, she can just paint them in like they were there. “I love creating for weddings because of the impact these projects make,” Sherri says. “It’s all those little special moments or memories that, as an artist, you’re tapped into. You’re sensitive to it and the emotional impact it can make.”
Sherri sees the impact of her paintings through the crowds that gather around her at weddings. “The guests love coming over and finding themselves in the painting, and that’s the fun part. My years of teaching pay off in these moments because I’m very comfortable with painting and drawing in front of people,” she says.
Along with live painting, a large portion of Sherri’s business is dedicated to the design of paper goods, including wedding invitations, programs and even customized maps. She partners with Alex Fly with Alex Fly Designs. Using Sherri’s watercolors, Alex completes the designs, including her own calligraphy. “Together, we can do just about anything the bride wants,” she says.
And then to take it a step further, Sherri rents out the studio she shares in West Homewood with her daughter, who runs Love Be Photography, as a venue for events like showers, teas and small parties. Studio Bham is great for people who are hosting a party but live out-of-town because they do everything for you except the food, and that includes supplying trays, drink dispensers and floral arrangements she creates.
In a way, Sherri has set up her business to work with a client from bridal shower to baby shower. She breaks out into laughter when this idea is mentioned. “I guess you’re right. We can do a lot in-house for one client,” she says. “But it just hasn’t happened yet.”
To learn more about Sherri and her work, go to sherriarias.net.