The Art of Live Painting

By Brittany Nader


The painter packs up his artillery for the evening – large canvases, vibrant paints, brushes and a palette. He makes his way to a dark studio filled with people. Across the room, guitars, drums and bass shine in hot lights as a band sets up to play a set. The painter mirrors their actions with his own tools. He pours his paint while the vibration of instruments booms across the room during a soundcheck. The show begins, and the artist listens to the sounds and lets his brush dance along the canvas, creating a unique painting inspired by the music.

Justin Roberts began fusing his love of music with his passion for painting back in 2009. Five years prior, he attended a metal show at The Robinhood. In the corner, he saw an artist named Sean O'Connor painting. It was an intriguing juxtaposition of hobbies fusing together in one loud and pulsing space. Here, he learned about live painting, a type of improvisational performance art where an artist paints an original work in a bar or music venue. 

Roberts does not have one specific music style that inspires his art, as he has painted alongside local rock bands like Simeon Soul Charger and Aliver Hall; trance and reggae artists like The Lorax Tree and Tropidelic; bigger names like Dark Side of the Moon and Roots of Creation as well as DJ acts like Sharks After Dark, Pleasurewave and Hot Knees.

"I do shows with many styles of music, so I paint something that illustrates or captures the style or genre of the band, but in my own surreal style," Roberts said. "I'll paint a landscape setting with shapes and objects flying around that act as visual interpretations of sounds."

Typically, Roberts will paint for a band's 45-minute long set, but sometimes he is able to paint for hours at shows that take place in local art galleries. Roberts said he has even participated in all-day-long live painting sets with other live painters. He will often set up shop on stage with his back turned to the audience so everyone can has a full view of the artwork as it is being created.

"I pace myself to finish the painting by the end of the show, and I never go into a show with a solid idea," Roberts said. "I just go with the music and work with whatever happens."

His large 36 by 48-inch paintings are vibrant and saturated worlds of color. Shapes, lines and earthy objects cut through space in a surreal, psychedelic way. Roberts said used acrylics so the paint dries as he is working on it and he can build up layers of dreamy color. Some paintings include the band's name or symbols inspired by the music intertwined with abstract markings and creatures.

"Its kind of like creating a band's backdrop during the show, or something like a show flier or album cover sketch," Roberts said. "Sometimes the piece sells after the show, or someone who's seen the show might get a hold of me later to buy it; maybe someone in the band."

Roberts, who studied fine arts at Columbus College of Art and Design in 2007, lives and works in Kent. He said he has learned many tricks of the trade from his artist parents who own Kustom Art and Signs, a commission-based art company, on Akron Boulevard. 

Roberts said he has participated in roughly 100 live painting shows and will continue to pursue it as long as possible. He can be seen hard at work in venues like The Stone Tavern and The Kent Stage, as well in larger spaces in Cleveland. His passion for art and music is in full force and continues to thrive. He can be seen scouting for shows in the area and lugging canvas through the instruments on stage ready to create a truly unique work of art that illustrates the sounds that echo throughout Northeast Ohio.