It was delivery day and Leah Jay Hicks and Joe Hicks were waiting at her parents’ house in Richmond, Va.
In what could be described as an Ed McMahon moment, Ben Keys, a wedding artist who owns Wed on Canvas, rang the doorbell. Rather than a large sweepstakes check, he presented the newlyweds with a framed oil painting, which he began creating the month before, on Jan. 7, their wedding day.
The Hickses are among couples who want a true artistic influence at their wedding, skipping unflattering caricatures or a photo booth.
Mr. Keys depicted the couple’s first dance on the 24-by-30-inch canvas.
“It’s a most beautiful and sacred moment for everyone,” he said. “When they’re dancing, I get a strong sense of who they are as a couple. They smile at each other and show their affection. That inspires me.”
Mr. Keys’s work was more lifelike than the couple expected.
“Seeing us was magical,” said Ms. Hicks, 25, who stood next to her husband, squeezing his hand tightly as Mr. Keys revealed his work. “The memories came flooding back. It was like I was in the ballroom, dancing.”
“It took my breath away,” she added. “There was so much depth. He highlighted our cake and flowers, and who was wearing what. He did my friends perfectly. I didn’t remember the seating arrangements, but looking at his painting I could see where everyone was.”
Ms. Hicks knew she wanted an artist, thanks to word of mouth and Pinterest. After investigating a number of professionals and deciding on oil as opposed to watercolor, she chose Mr. Keys.
“Sometimes people cry when they see the finished product or how much I’ve accomplished at the end of their event,” said Mr. Keys, who still gets nervous when making the delivery.
Mr. Keys caps his wedding gigs at 40 a year, and he said he turned down over 100 requests. Inquiries from event planners, anxious brides, even mothers-in-law regarding his availability doubled in 2016 from 2015.
“This has taken off greater than expected,” said Mr. Keys, who has focused solely on weddings for the past five years. Prices can range from $3,500 to $5,000, plus transportation and accommodation expenses for two nights. Each painting can take more than 20 hours to complete and is delivered eight to 10 weeks after the wedding.
The Hickses show off the painting that depicts their first dance at their wedding reception.CreditJulia Rendleman for The New York Times
Some couples choose other types of live art: sketches by illustrators, paintings by watercolorists, and also work created by an iPad app.
Abigail Smith and Oscar Zamorano hired Ronald Bayens for an oil painting to colorfully celebrate their day. The couple married Nov. 26, 2016, in Auburn, Ala., at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, named after the bride’s grandmother, who died the previous year. Hiring a painter seemed to be in keeping with their passion and theme, and was a thoughtful nod to her grandmother.
“I haven’t seen the final product yet,” said Ms. Zamorano, 30, who lives with her husband in St. Louis. “But we saw different stages of it coming to life throughout the evening. When you can see it progressing, and when you see people’s reactions, it’s very exciting.”
“He painted in several people at the wedding,” she added, “but we sent him photos of other guests we wanted added in who are meaningful to us.”
Mr. Bayens, whose fee was $4,500 and was a gift from the bride’s parents, chose a space in the Grand Gallery to honor the couple.
“I loved the idea that we could make the reception even more personal,” Ms. Zamorano said. “We loved our photographer, but wanted another way of remembering our occasion that we could display. Your wedding goes by so fast. Anything you can do to remember how everything looked and felt during the process makes it even better.”
While some artists rely on more traditional methods to encapsulate a moment — a blank canvas, easel, rainbow of colors, set of pencils and brushes — others are using technology.
Emily Brickel Edelson is a founder and lead fashion illustrator of Chic Sketch, a live-event service that turns you into a custom sketch. The company’s mobile app will do something similar. For $9.99, a user can send a photo; a fashion artist will transform it into an illustration and email it back.
“I can do a very flattering, fashionable digital sketch on my tablet of anyone at the wedding in three to five minutes,” Ms. Brickel Edelson said.
The two-year-old company sends up to three illustrators to portray guests at any wedding. Chic Sketch can print out a 2-by-3-inch sticker of your drawing while on site, broadcast the sketches on a TV screen or projector, and offer a time-lapse video recording of the artist making your chic-self come to life. Prices run from $1,500 to $4,500 for a four-hour event.
“People are awe-struck,” Ms. Brickel Edelson said. “There’s an emotional attachment. You can see it in their faces. It’s an elevated selfie.”
Portability helps, too, as Ms. Brickel Edelson can follow the couple, or guests, whether it’s inside or out, in a small area or at the cake cutting.
That was part of the appeal for Catherine Peridis and Bradley Greenawalt who hired Chic Sketch for their cocktail reception. Ms. Brickel Edelson, who was set up at a table in the garden at Wave Hill, along the Hudson River in the Bronx, sketched 30 of Ms. Peridis’s guests, (there were 110) and emailed or texted everyone their personalized artwork.
“Fashion is such a big part of me and what I do,” said Ms. Peridis, who is a freelance stylist and creative consultant. “We did a black-tie wedding, and everyone got dressed up. This was a great chance to give my guests a special memento of them looking beautiful.”
“Some friends still have it up as their profile picture on Instagram and Facebook,” she added.
In January, the St. Regis Princeville Resort, in Princeville, Hawaii, collaborated with the fashion illustrator Dallas Shaw, crowning her its resident in-house artist for 2017.
“I work for luxury designers so this is a special something for the bride to get that’s not readily available to them,” she said. (Ms. Shaw’s first book, “The Way She Wears It,” was released on March 28.) “I’m not the traditional watercolor person who will draw your guests. It’s not a portrait or a jury drawing. These brides are looking for something way more stylish.”
Ms. Shaw, who charges $2,500 plus tax, travel expenses and accommodations for her and her assistant, will create three custom 9-by-12-inch illustrations of the couple while on the property. Newlyweds looking for a fashion statement without the large price tag can opt for an original 9-by-12-inch illustration pulled from an image provided by the couple of their wedding for $1,000 plus tax.
“Everyone has a photographer and has photos taken,” she said. “This is a piece of luxury she can have in her home just for her.”
Other couples place importance on the entertainment, interaction and camaraderie of having an artist at their wedding.
“This is so much more than just a still photo,” said Vanessa Garcia, 29, who married Andrew Becerra on July 9, 2016, at the Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards in Temecula, Calif. “Having a live painter gave our guests something different without separating them from the wedding experience. It brought them together.”
The Becerras found Lisa Owen while visiting a wine store where they stumbled upon her roadside gallery. Like the Hickses at their reception, they requested Ms. Owen depict their first dance. Their oil painting, which cost $1,250, now hangs above their fireplace in Corona, Calif.
“Lisa let people add a touch or paint a stroke if they wanted to, so my guests felt they were helping to create this,” Ms. Becerra said. “I have something no one else will ever have. This it our piece. You can’t put a price on that.”