A Day with Kaleb Norman James | Top 10 Tips for a Fine Art Wedding

Pro Tips

This Lakewold Gardens wedding
inspiration in the hands
of Kaleb Norman James
was pure artistry.

fine art wedding table by kaleb norman james design in front of lakewold gardens in washington

Our collaboration shoot with Seattle-based and world-renowned wedding designer, Kaleb Norman James, at Lakewold Gardens in Tacoma, WA is here to inspire your fine art wedding dreams! Kaleb’s creative process was such a joy to witness, and we’re so proud of what we created together this day!

For so many reasons, working with Kaleb was so fun! Top of the list though is that he thinks like an artist. Every choice was intentional. I’ll never forget the first big decision we needed to make was where to set up our main reception table. Kaleb & I arrived to Lakewold Gardens early in the morning and talked through all the possibilities. Ideally we wanted to shoot the table in front of the main house—so pretty! But the ideal morning shade would soon turn to full, harsh sun. We measured the sun’s movement and realized we were already on borrowed time. We had to move fast! Kaleb & I looked at each other, decided we could pull it off, and got to work.

Kaleb made it look easy. Even on a time crunch, he was calm and collected (the sign of a true wedding pro). He created a perfectly inspiring table design, complete with his signature Kaleb Norman James style and lush floral arrangements, and with plenty of time to spare for me to shoot the table in ideal light before the sun hit this side of the house.

dogwood tree in bloom at lakewold gardens

How to Plan a Fine Art Wedding – Top 10 Tips

Witnessing Kaleb’s creative process firsthand was truly inspiring. So much so that we’re now inspired to share our top tips for having a fine art wedding of your own! Having photographed hundreds of weddings, we’ve had many, many, conversations with our couples and fellow vendors about wedding design and how to best achieve a fine art aesthetic in their photos.

#1 – Assemble A Vendor Team of Artists

At the end of the day, it’s your vendor choices that shape your wedding aesthetic. The main key to executing a fine art wedding vision is choosing vendors who specialize in fine art weddings.

Every vendor choice you make, from your wedding planner, to your florist, to your stationer, to your photographer and rental supplier, will contribute to the design of your wedding. If you dream of a fine art wedding, it starts with hiring a team of artists.

Remember this if nothing else: fine art wedding vendors see their work as artistic expression, and they have a signature style that can’t be replicated by anybody else. This is vastly different than those who see their work simply as “event production”, with a style that adapts and changes wedding to wedding.

If you dream of a fine art wedding, it starts with hiring a team of artists.”

After spending even just a bit of time with Kaleb planning and executing this shoot, his artist’s mindset is so apparent and it flows through every aspect of his work. Similarly as photographers, our eye is drawn to a certain kind of light, backgrounds, compositions, and colors to create fine art wedding photos. We can’t help it! It’s just how we think, how we see things, and what we love personally. You could say, it’s our specialty. We also choose to shoot real film (the kind developed in a dark room) because of its artistic qualities. You can learn more about a fine art photographer’s approach and mentality in this post!

kaleb norman james lights a candle and wedding decor

#2 – Choose a Venue With Fine Art Qualities

Your choice of wedding venue greatly impacts how achievable a fine art aesthetic is for your day. Learning to recognize fine art qualities during your venue search will set you up for an effortlessly artful day, but failing to do so can make planning feel like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Here’s what to look for:

Elegance, Beauty, & Timelessness – When it comes to identifying a wedding venue with fine art quality, a refined atmosphere is where it starts. We’re talking about those good bones and classy vibes, always leaning towards classic over cheesy and tasteful over trendy. Are there elements, objects, decor, signs, or colors that compete with your desired aesthetic? If so, it may be best to keep looking. Those features will continually battle against you and your wedding vision.

Muted or Neutral Color Palette – Wedding venues featuring a muted or neutral color palette make the perfect backdrop for a fine art wedding! For our shoot with Kaleb, we carefully chose Lakewold Gardens for its whitewashed brick estate and stunning white trim. That’s not to say that a fine art wedding palette can’t include some pops of color, but it does help if the backdrop itself is fairly neutral. This naturally creates a light, bright, and romantic feeling throughout your wedding design and photos. Look for things like neutral colored architecture and foliage.

Beautiful Light & Open Space – The most essential element of getting fine art wedding photos out of your day is giving your photographer a setting with glorious natural light and plentiful open space. For outdoor weddings, you’ll want to choose a venue that offers a variety of sun and shade throughout the day and plenty of open sky. For an indoor wedding, tons of natural light pouring in through large windows and open doors is where it’s at!

Stunning Backdrops – Expansive views of the horizon, vineyards as far as the eye can see, lush gardens, or a private estate as a focal point for your day (bonus points for old-world charm!) are the types of elements that lead effortlessly to a fine art wedding aesthetic.

For more on choosing a fine art wedding venue and to see our recommendations in the Portland, OR area, check out our Curated List of Best Wedding Venues.

wedding entrance at lakewold gardens styled with floral arrangements by kaleb norman james

#3 – Find Your Inspiration

All great art begins with inspiration and wedding design is no exception. Finding that one thing that inspires a vision for your day is like finding the golden ticket to the fine art wedding of your dreams. A source of inspiration guides and filters all of the creative decisions you’ll make, from your color palette to your florals, your decor, and possibly even your choice of dress—oh be still my heart when the dress itself is cohesive with the overall wedding design!

One of the best sources of inspiration may actually be found at your wedding venue. Is there an element or feature there that you just absolutely love? For our shoot with Kaleb Norman James, he found inspiration in the hand painted wallpaper of the Lakewold Gardens estate. All of his design choices, from the color palette to the florals and everything in between, was meant to feel representative of that wallpaper. This is such a great example of how to find and use inspiration in wedding design!

Finding that one thing that inspires a vision for your day is like finding the golden ticket to the fine art wedding of your dreams.”

Now you may be thinking, “But I’m no artist? And I don’t even know where to begin with inspiration?” That, my friend, is why you hire artists. You bring the broadest of concepts, hopes, and dreams to a team of wedding artists and they’ll find the inspiration and work it through to fruition on your behalf.

dogwood trees at a lakewold gardens wedding in tacoma washington

#4 – Work With Your Venue, Not Against It

When seeking to create a wedding day that feels cohesive and intentional, embracing what your venue has to offer helps immensely. Often this means embracing the color palette present at the venue, both in the architecture and foliage. Fighting these elements can create a disjointed feeling in your wedding design (again, this is a big reason to choose a venue with a neutral color palette if you can).

In this shoot, Kaleb embraced the lush dogwood trees on-property and allowed them to become a central figure in his wedding design. He sought to create florals that felt complimentary—full of local, late spring blooms like dogwood branches and peonies.

#5 – Value Beauty Over Function In Your Wedding Design

Fine art by its very definition values beauty over function. It’s so easy to be pragmatic when planning, designing, and allocating your wedding budget but in many ways, the decision that “makes the most sense” isn’t usually the one that leads to the wedding of your dreams. It’s not even a matter of spending more necessarily! Often times it just means spending better and shifting funds to prioritize certain areas of your wedding over others. We hereby give you permission to break free from that budget template you found online! This is your day, so you go’head and bump those percentages up in your top priority budget categories, even if it means having to reduce a bit in others.

It’s not even a matter of spending more necessarily! Often times it just means spending better and shifting funds to prioritize certain areas of your wedding over others.”

And it’s not even all about the money. Sometimes it’s just the tiniest artful choices that send your wedding into the fine art stratosphere! A wax seal here. A touch of calligraphy there. Like is it “normal” to dine with florals arrangements situated so they overlap your plate? No. But it sure is pretty.

wedding place setting by kaleb norman james design

#6 – Hire a Floral Artist, Not a Wedding Florist (There’s a Big Difference!)

This may feel like a sub-point under “Assemble a Team of Artists”, but it’s such a big one it’s worth pulling out and highlighting! There are wedding florists…and then there are floral artists. Kaleb Norman James is the perfect example. He approaches floral design with a “never enough floral” mentality, creating lush beauty at every event he touches. He values less traditional, asymmetrical arrangements and is continually inspired by blooms reminiscent of an English garden. Kaleb’s work is an artistic expression that truly speaks for itself. His florals perfectly illustrate why hiring an artist in this vendor category makes all the difference for achieving a fine art wedding and stunning photos.

#7 – Commission a Stationer For a Custom Invitation Suite

In this shoot, Floraison Design Co. shows us that a custom invitation suite is one of the primary visual components that elevates the fine art quality of a wedding, both experientially for your guests and as represented in your photos. Like any artist on your vendor team, your stationer seeks to understand the unique vision of your day, and through your paper suite expresses it as only an artist could—cohesively, consistently, and intricately woven into the complete wedding design.

Now we hear you, invitation templates have come a long way, but they will always be a far cry from the unique works of art created by a talented stationer. Floraison demonstrates this next-level of paper artistry in her hand-illustrated envelope liner inspired by the wallpaper found in the Lakewold Gardens entryway, again going back to Kaleb’s core source of inspiration. There’s not a template in the world that could replace such artistry and intentionality!

Pro tip: some stationers offer semi-custom invitation suites! Still worlds better than a template, but a little more budget friendly if the full-custom route is out of reach.

…a custom invitation suite is one of the primary visual components that elevates the fine art quality of a wedding.”

custom wedding invitation by floraison design co at lakewold gardens

#8 – Intentional Table Linens

Remember, fine art values beauty over function, right? This tip falls in that bucket. To elevate your wedding design, forgoing the “included” basic white table linens for something with more style, texture, personality, or refinement goes a long way. Kaleb gave our table elevated character by carefully selecting a gray velvet linen from St. James Rentals, part of his private collection available through Kaleb Norman James Design. My what a difference a good linen makes!

#9 – Hire A Fine Art Film Photographer

Now what would all that good, fine art wedding planning be without choosing a likeminded photographer to capture it all? A fine art wedding photographer understands the light, bright, and romantic aesthetic you’ve sought to create. Again, it’s just how they see the world.

As film photographers (again, talking old-school rolls of film developed in a darkroom), photographing a wedding day is an incredibly intentional process. We seek to produce something special, handcrafted and one of a kind.

If you’re currently engaged, we’d love to join your team of artists! Reach out anytime.

wedding reception table design by kaleb norman james

#10 – It’s Okay If You Can’t Have It All

To have a stunning, unique, fine art wedding, you really don’t need to have a huge budget and every single element dripping in perfection. Take a deep breath, friend, truly. I mean, if you can have it all don’t let us stop you haha, but for most of us, even just a few careful choices can create the aesthetic you’re after. Just a couple of choice elements that make a big statement can make a difference, like over-sized floral arrangements only on the head table and smaller arrangements on the guest tables, or again a semi-custom invitation if full-custom is beyond reach. You can still achieve a lovely, fine art wedding aesthetic by making artful choices in a few key areas rather than average choices in all areas.

“…you really don’t need to have a huge budget…even just a few careful choices can create the aesthetic you’re after.”

bride standing by pool at a lakewold gardens wedding

Vendor Credits

Kaleb Norman James Design: Planning, Design, & Florals

Photography: Sweetlife Photography

Venue: Lakewold Gardens

Dress Boutique: The Dress Theory Seattle

Gown: Lihi Hod

Makeup & Hair: Jen Lagers

Rentals: St. James Rentals

Stationery: Floraison Design Co.

Styling Boards: Heirloom Bindery & Locust Collection

Model: Coral Tate

Veil & Earrings: All About Romance

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