My First Speed Painting: I Painted In Front of My Entire High School with No Practice
The first time I picked up a paintbrush to paint live onstage, my entire high school was watching.
Let's rewind a little bit...
I've been an artist ever since I could hold a crayon, but painting live onstage is a totally different ballgame. When I was in high school, I was very involved in the theater and my art classes and was always looking for new ways to express my creativity and step outside the box. I tried my hand at light design, I ran our makeup and hair backstage for shows, I even got to help design sets for the final play of my senior year.
Then one of my mentors in the theater came to me with a wild idea. Keith said, "Have you ever thought of painting live onstage?" I hadn't, but I figured it was worth a shot!
I did some research on imagery I wanted to recreate alongside our jazz band for their assembly on New Orleans Jazz and started mapping out how I wanted to make these paintings come to life. It was actually my dad's idea to paint one of them upside down and "see how it turns out!"
I successfully performed 3 live paintings in front of my entire high school with virtually no practice and I'd say they turned out pretty okay!
Fast forward a couple of years as I stepped back into the pageant space and was craving a way to express my visual art talents onstage. I had seen speed painters on America's Got Talent, but I had never seen anyone do something like that in a pageant, much less, in 90 seconds.
I thought to myself: "If I can do this in 8 minutes with NO practice, why can't I do it in 90 seconds with a LOT of practice?"
So I did!
I remember the first time I pitched the idea to Juven (when it was our very first year working together!) he was a little hesitant because of the uncharted waters, but he made sure I felt supported as I navigated what it looked like to figure this out.
My dad and brother built my first custom spinning easel in Virginia while I practiced with my canvas propped on a kitchen chair in Kansas. They literally shipped it to me in pieces, with detailed instructions on how to assemble and take it apart, with one week to spare before the state competition. This thing had to hold a giant canvas AND fit in the back of my Honda Civic - and it did!
My first 90-second speed painting was a portrait of the reigning Miss Kansas at the time, Theresa Vail, with a soundtrack of me singing "Brave" by Sara Bareilles. It was cool and I made Top 10 - but I could do better.
The next year, Dad and I dreamed up an easel that allowed me to face the judges while I was painting. This time, I worked with the wood shop at my university to bring the concept to life. I painted a soldier at salute with the Captain America theme song behind me. I made the Top 10 cut again, and it was awesome.
The third year I painted at the state competition, I wanted to do MORE colors than ever before, a BIGGER canvas, throw some glitter, AND.... do a costume change. Phew! I had this concept where the canvas would start as a tornado, and that would ultimately spin around to turn into the yellow brick road leading to the emerald city - and when I spun the canvas, I would ALSO spin and do a costume reveal into a Dorothy outfit. Big dreams, I know.
Well... I got to the competition week, after literally practicing in the Kansas wind in my driveway because the easel didn't fit in the basement apartment where I was living at the time, and it was time for the rehearsal stage run. All my peers were watching, all of the talent coaches and directors were in the room, and I went to spin my easel and as if in slow motion - THE ENTIRE THING FELL OVER.
My easel knocked over the table where my paints were, yellow paint drenched the stage, and I'm pretty sure I blacked out. Apparently, I changed out of my painting clothes at an inhuman speed and was back onstage to help clean up the mess, and my memory comes back as I'm sobbing and cleaning my brushes in the dressing room. I called my dad in hysterics, assured him nobody had died, and he helped me game plan on how to pull myself together and put some safety guards in to perform that night.
I performed, threw the glitter, spun the canvas, and successfully had a costume reveal, but I didn't feel like I really nailed it. I assured myself that I'd have a "take 2" on finals night in the Top 10, but I didn't place. After all that, I never heard my name called on the stage that year.
It took a lot to come back and compete again after my easel quite literally falling in my face - and truthfully, there were lots of reasons that I chose not to speed paint when I returned to the competition the following year. The biggest one: speed painting just wasn't working in Kansas. I was putting in so much work throughout the year leading up to the competition to bring a new, cool, fresh painting to the stage, and no matter what I did, I just didn't feel like it was going to "click" in the midwest. So I went back to my roots in the theater and sang for my remaining years in the competition. My mindset was that if I wanted to paint at Miss America, first I had to get there. The time I had spent prepping my painting and easel was turned instead to building my platform and my plan for the kind of Miss Kansas I wanted to be. And the game changed.
Fast forward two years, y'all know that story - I was crowned Miss Kansas 2019 and it was finally time to get my brushes wet again and get ready to paint at Miss America!
I painted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and went back to the basics - a stable spinning easel, one color of paint, and a great concept that really meant something to me. I worked with a Kansas-based poet, Emily Wilkinson, and another one of my high school theater mentors, Kenji, to bring the concept to life. First - I wrote a letter to the Supreme Court asking RBG's permission to do any of this... and got it (cue excited squeal).
We wrote a poem that incorporated quotes from RBG with the theme that we are "Free to Be" anything we want to be here in America because of the path paved by women like her. Then Kenji took the poem and organized a power group of women and girls from my high school to record the poem and we stitched their voices together to make this dynamic backing track for my 90-second performance. It was all tied together with a simple and, most importantly, stable easel built by Cody Ramsey in Wichita.
It all came together on the Miss America stage in a moment that I hope I'll remember forever. I got back to my hotel room that night and posted a picture, tagging everyone I could think of on Instagram, including Ruth's personal trainer. He saw the post, and asked if I had a video - ofc I said ofc. And the night before Miss America finals, I got a message from him saying that he had shown Ruth the video and she was in awe. I have a photo where I have tear stains down my freshly tanned face after I read that message. I didn't even care if I won Miss America at that point - Ruth had seen my painting.