- Live wedding painter Rebekka Lord-Johnson has 554,000 followers on TikTok where she shares her art.
- She spends 7 hours painting the bride and groom during the ceremony while guests react to the results.
- Videos of Lord-Johnson unveiling the finished paintings have millions of views.
“I went undercover as a guest to surprise a bride and groom,” 28-year-old Australian artist Rebekka Lord-Johnson said in a 50-second TikTok posted on Nov. 22 that was about to become very viral.
The clip shows her creating a painting of the couple in real time during the ceremony, which she said she was able to surprise them by hiding in the trees before telling them what she was really there for. The video, which included the groom’s reaction to the final artwork, received more than 12.8 million views.
That’s what Lord-Johnson does for a living: part painter, part artist and part content creator, she pays for her services as a live wedding artist, an unexpected career inspired by TikTok that lends itself perfectly to ‘ growing a following of over 554,000.
Lord-Johnson only recently taught herself to paint and planned for it to become her full-time job
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 needed 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 in Atlanta, Georgia in 2020.
Lord-Johnson had some experience drawing portraits with graphite pencil and she took 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 work to practice her painting, and when she clocked off from her day job at 4 p.m., she spent every night practiced for another two to three hours, in a routine she maintained for six days a week. But not everyone was encouraging.
“My family is 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 has her family told to trust her.
She started by offering her services to create graphite portraits at weddings, and after four bookings, she started receiving requests for paintings, she said.
In November 2021, she was commissioned to paint at her first wedding and posted the results on TikTok that same night, but it was a TikTok of a live wedding painting Lord-Johnson posted on December 5 that first went viral has, with more than 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’.”
The role at weddings is not only to paint, it is also entertainment for the guests
Lord-Johnson sees her work on the day as part painting, part performance, as it involves talking to guests who gather to look at the artwork while it is still in progress.
“The guests are really mesmerized by what you’re doing. It’s definitely something they’ve never really seen before in Australia. So they get really excited,” she said.
Lord-Johnson described live painting for seven hours as “gentle cardio”. “I put it on my Apple watch once as an exercise,” 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 that may miss an important moment. “Right after a kiss, it’s generally the cutest moment because they look at each other with so much love,” she said.
To ensure she can simultaneously paint, entertain and create TikTok content, Lord-Johnson travels with a special kit she made designed for the unique role, which includes several camera stands so she can film herself while working, and a folding French donkey packed in a small crate that she can drive around the venue.
Lord-Johnson thinks going viral on TikTok is the key to her success
There is a clause in Lord-Johnson’s contract that states 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 are on camera.
To date, her uploads have received more than 30 million likes on TikTok, with multiple videos being viewed millions of times each, and she said she “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 isn’t a good compelling story behind it, no one is 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 was filmed.”
She credits her husband in part for her success. “If it loses its attention then I know it’s not going to perform well. So I test all my videos on his very bad attention span and he has 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 “responsible for all my success.” Her services are currently fully booked until April 2024, with a “large cancellation list” in case something falls through.
Lord-Johnson said she aims to complete between 65 and 70 weddings a year, but will take on fewer paintings during 2024 and 2025, focusing instead on making them “really high quality”, and has no plans to not to slow down the TikToks. .
“People tend to copy the viral video and I never want to get to the point where people get a little 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.