Michael Latala loves to challenge himself.
Latala is an Arlington Heights artist who paints wedding scenes -- usually the exchange of vows or first dance -- during the ceremony or reception.
"It's kind of exciting and nerve-wracking," Latala said. "As much as I've done it, I always know that I'm going to do a good job. It's what I do. I work at my craft a lot."
Of course he's doing fewer live events because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he's keeping busy painting by commission, using photos to give him a sense of the scene.
When Latala does paint in person, he often arrives a couple of hours before the ceremony or reception, working with the wedding planner to find an out-of-the-way spot from which to do his work. A former storyboard illustrator at Chicago ad agencies, Latala will start a painting of the ceremony by working on the background that will surround the bride and groom when they take their vows.
In the case of a morning ceremony and an evening reception, Latala usually has the painting done for the reception.
"I have the painting done. They put it on an easel, they get me my check, I might have a beer with them and I'm on my way home," he said.
When the reception immediately follows the ceremony, Latala stays to paint, chatting with whoever stops by to ask what he's doing and how he does it. It's an unusual skill, and he enjoys talking about it.
"From a marketing standpoint that's fantastic for me," he said. "I'm there doing a painting. I've got my business cards and brochures out. People are coming up to me. I can't tell you how many weddings I've been at where people have come up to me and said, 'Oh, I wish I knew about this for my wedding.' Well, I can paint from a photo or an anniversary or whatever.'"
He charges a flat fee based on the size of the painting ordered.
"If I do a good job and I spend an extra two hours on it, I'm not going to remember that in two years," Latala said. "But they will look at it and say, 'Wow, I love this painting.' And I never give them the painting until I am satisfied with it."
He tries to stay busy to keep his skills sharp, just like any performer. But there's another reason too.
"I love doing it," he said. "That's the big thing. I love what I do."