As a high school art student at Mount Carmel Academy, Christina Pappion had a need for speed.
“My instructors said I painted too fast,” said Pappion, 32, who would finish in one class an assignment her teachers expected to take a month. “Traditionally, painters paint slowly, but I wanted to get it all out and move on to the next.”
That style eventually lead Pappion to create live-event paintings, and that technique served her well with her latest work: the 2017 commemorative poster for the Crescent City Classic, the iconic 10K road race that takes place Saturday, April 15.
“We saw the work that she did and felt her unique style would complement our event and mission statement,” says Tim Levy, president of Crescent City Fitness Foundation, which produces the race.
A Gentilly native , Pappion began drawing at age 6, when her grandfather handed her a pencil and paper after she said she was bored. She pursued a degree in painting at the University of New Orleans despite objections from friends.
“Everyone said it was the dumbest idea — ‘You're going to go to school and paint?’ ” she said. “My thing was, if I am going to pay my loan back, at least I went to school for something that made me happy.”
Pappion graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and worked as a coordinator for local nonprofits. But after the birth of her second daughter in 2013, the desire to paint overwhelmed her. She realized she wanted to make a career of art — and that the idiosyncrasy her high school teachers criticized would serve her well as a live-event painter.
Pappion launched her business, Pappion Artistry (www.pappionartistry.com), by cold-calling event planning companies. Soon, she booked her first gig: a fundraiser for Pierre Thomas’ ICAN Foundation. At weddings and corporate events, she sets up her canvas and acrylics and paints the scene in her fluid, Impressionist style.
“I like seeing people smile; they like seeing me paint — everything is win-win,” said Pappion, who counts James Michalopoulos, Terrance Osborne and George Rodrigue among her inspirations.
After seeing Pappion paint live at a wedding, Crescent City Classic board members tapped her to create the poster.
“Our posters have become collectors’ items in the region, so we look hard to carry on the tradition and hire artists who uphold those standards and put their artistic twist into a poster,” Levy said.
Pappion’s poster, a vibrant depiction of the post-race festivities painted after last year's race, doubles as a veritable "Where’s Waldo" of Crescent City Classic characters. Locals might recognize the tutus, Blues Brothers costumes, bunny ears and Viking ship that are staples of the race.
“(The poster) feels realistic, but at the same time, it has a whimsical, dreamy-type feel — it captures the spirit of the people and New Orleans,” Pappion said. “I had a spot painting right by the stage; I actually danced with Rockin’ Dopsie at the end.”
“Having an artist sit there and paint the event— that’s a first in Crescent City Classic history,” Levy said.
This is not the only first marked by Pappion. With a mixed French Creole, African-American and Portuguese ethnic background, she is the first person of color to create a Crescent City Classic poster.
“It’s cool that things are changing,” said Pappion. "I knew art was a talent, but I didn’t think I could make a full-time living doing this because for so long, people told me you couldn’t. … But nothing is impossible.”
Today, Pappion paints full time from her sunny home studio in Mandeville, where she lives with her husband Isaac and their daughters Sophia, 6, and Gabriella, 3. She counts Drew and Brittany Brees as clients and is booked for weddings almost every Saturday night.
“I thought art was only for certain people — it wasn’t for me. I was a starving artist for so long,” Pappion said. “There was a turn because I believed in myself and kept pushing. … God gives gifts for a reason; you just have to pursue them.”