How a live wedding artist achieved her dream job thanks to TikTok – Insider

“I went undercover as a guest to surprise a bride and groom,” said 28-year-old Australian artist Rebekka Lord-Johnson in a 50-second TikTok posted on November 22 that was about to go hugely viral.
The clip showed the process of her creating a painting of the couple in real-time during the ceremony, which she said she was able to surprise them with by hiding among the trees before telling them what she was really there for. The video, which included the groom’s reaction to the final artwork, received over 12.8 million views.
This is what Lord-Johnson does for a living: part painter, part performer, and part content creator, she charges for her services as a live wedding artist, an unexpected career that was inspired by TikTok and has lent itself perfectly to growing a following of over 554,000.
In 2021, Lord-Johnson was working as a marketing coordinator in the construction industry, but a COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne meant she had to stay at home. She used the time she saved from no longer commuting to teach herself the skills required to become a professional wedding artist.
“I didn’t want to be in construction for the rest of my life,” Lord-Johnson told Insider, saying she knew live wedding painting was for her when she saw a TikTok posted by @watchmaggiepaint, a wedding artist based in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2020.
Lord-Johnson had some experience drawing portraits using graphite pencil and she had taken an art module at college but said she had “no idea” what she was doing. 
To train for the job, Lord-Johnson told Insider she woke up at 5 a.m. before she started work to practice her painting, and when she clocked off from her day job at 4 p.m. she practiced for a further two to three hours each evening, in a routine she kept up for six days a week. But not everyone was encouraging.
“My family’s from a medical background. They’re all nurses. So it was very much like if you pursue an artistic or creative career, you’ll be a starving artist,” Lord-Johnson said, but she told her family to trust her.
She started by offering her services to create graphite portraits at weddings, and after four bookings she began receiving requests for paintings, she said. 
In November 2021, she was commissioned to paint at her first wedding and posted the results on TikTok the same night, but it was a TikTok of a live wedding painting Lord-Johnson posted on December 5 that first went viral, with over 3.4 million views. 
Lord-Johnson said she was aware of TikTok but it was her best friend who pushed her to post on the app. “She was the one who said, ‘Hey, I think you should actually get on this platform and see what happens.'”
Lord-Johnson sees her job on the day as part painting, part performing, as it includes speaking with guests who gather to watch the artwork while it’s still in progress.
“The guests are really mesmerized by what you’re doing. It’s something they’ve definitely never seen really in Australia before. So they get really excited,” she said.
Lord-Johnson described live painting as “mild cardio” for seven hours. “Once I actually put it in as an exercise on my Apple watch,” she said. “I didn’t realize that my average heart rate when I paint is about 120 beats per minute, which is pretty high for me.”
To capture the likeness of the bride and groom, she films footage of them throughout the day, as this is often more effective than a photograph which can miss an important moment. “Right after a kiss, that’s generally the cutest moment because they look at each other with so much love,” she said.
To ensure she’s able to paint, entertain, and create TikTok content simultaneously, Lord-Johnson travels with a special kit she made that’s designed for the unique role, which includes multiple camera stands so she can film herself while she works, and a fold-up French easel packed into a small crate that she can wheel around the venue.
There is a clause in Lord-Johnson’s contract that stipulates she can upload a video of her filming at the wedding to TikTok, but she makes sure to only include footage of guests who are clearly aware they’re on camera.
To date, her uploads have received over 30 million likes on TikTok, with multiple videos being viewed millions of times each, and she said she has “nailed how to make a video go viral.”
At first, Lord-Johnson focused on the technical aspects of the TikToks, such as the angles and lighting, but she changed her approach. “If there’s not a good captivating story behind it, no one’s going to watch it,” she said. “It’s more about the story behind the bride and groom and the story about the painting, rather than how it’s filmed.”
She partly credits her husband for her success. “If it loses his attention then I know it’s not going to perform well. So I test all my videos on his really bad attention span and he’s got the secret recipe for viral videos,” she said.
After each video went viral, Lord-Johnson said she received “so many inquiries” that she now thinks of TikTok as beingresponsible for all of my success.” Her services are currently fully booked until April 2024, with a “large cancellation list” in case anything falls through.
Lord-Johnson said she aims to complete between 65 and 70 weddings in a year, but she will take on fewer paintings throughout 2024 and 2025, instead focusing on making them “really high quality,” and has no plans to slow down with the TikToks.
“People tend to copy the viral video and I never want to get to the point where people get a little bit bored with it,” she said. “So I’m always changing it up and trying new things.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.
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