Atlanta painter's super speedy portraits win the Internet for a day

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Atlanta painter's super speedy portraits win the Internet for a day

Atlanta-based "live event painter" Maggie Smith Kuhn has loved Reddit for a while (she used to use it for work, to keep atop of trends) and one night last week, Reddit loved her right back.

Kuhn's Thursday post — a series of examples from the "party favor" portraits she does for wedding guests, which are actually watercolors completed in 10 minutes — made the site's front page, exposing her work to its millions of daily visitors and sending hundreds of messages to her inbox.

The Imgur link in her Reddit post has been viewed more than 430,000 times. And then Buzzfeed called.

The site's Thursday story "took [me] worldwide," Kuhn said. Since then, she's gotten calls from prospective customers in Spain and Dubai. And though Kuhn said the furthest she's ever traveled for work is Canada, she won't automatically turn them down.

"I'll go anywhere," she said.

Basically what Kuhn does (believe it or not, and some of her subjects don't, at first) is create a work of art at an event while the guests watch. She does weddings, parties and more.

"And in my case, and this makes me one of the only ones in the world who do this, I finish the work of art at the event," she said.

Winning over the Internet took her a few years, beginning in earnest with her 2009 graduation from the University of Georgia's art school. But, really, Kuhn said it began when she was a kid and used to bring a sketch book with her and draw people as a way of meeting them.

She said she's a speed talker, her brain going a mile a minute, and she's been painting for so long — but it wasn't until she met other artists that she realized just how fast she was.

Out of college, she began to paint professionally as she also worked, for four years, at SnorgTees, learning about business and marketing. When the side gigs got too demanding, she shifted to painting full time, as she always planned.

Now, Kuhn said she works about 40-50 events a year, with 80 percent being weddings and 20 percent being corporate events and parties. She's done a good amount of fashion work, and once "basically went on tour" with John Hardy's jewelry during a trunk show.

She also does commissions, and has a Sept. 17 show with India Shawn at The Sound Table, where she's been asked to create 10 pieces of art to go along with Shawn's new 10-track album.

Sitting for a portrait with her is often like getting your hair cut, she said: It's casual and you can chat and it doesn't take too long. (It's her male subjects that she sometimes has to remind to be less stiff in the chair.)

Each new portrait becomes a calling card, so that a guest at one wedding will reach back out when they prepare to walk down the aisle.

"I think it takes a regular party and it makes something special happen," Kuhn said. "Because my skill is rare, it's kind of incredible to some people. They've never seen art made in real time."

Even after all that, she said she is still wooing speed-skeptics: "There is always someone (who thinks I won't finish) who wants to make a bet with me."

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