Pageant contestant has unique and colorful talent

Annika Wooton stands next to her speed painting of the Emerald City from The

In 90 seconds, most people could probably fry an egg on a preheated pan, fill up an empty tank of gas on a compact car or peel and cut up an apple with fingers fully intact. Most people, however, could not produce a large-scale painting of anything remotely recognizable before an audience while wearing high heels.

Since high school, University of Kansas senior Annika Wooton has been perfecting her speed-painting performance for the Miss Kansas pageant, in which she has placed within the top 10 for 3 out of 5 years. She currently holds the title of Miss Kingman County 2017.

“The first time I did speed-painting was my senior year in high school,” said Wooton, who did a live painting performance during a school theater concert. “That was 2012. I grew up in the theater so I’d sung for my talent for a while and I kind of thought if I could do a painting for a concert without any practice, then why can’t I do one in 90 seconds with a ton of practice?”

For five years, speed-painter and University of Kansas senior Annika Wooton has been competing in the Miss Kansas pageant. She is pictured on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 with one of her recent speed paintings of a DJ.

At the beginning of a video from the talent segment of the June 2016 Miss Kansas competition, Wooton is seen working feverishly to prepare portions of a 5-by-5-foot canvas with bright yellow and red all the while wearing a white dress. The ever-changing orchestral music builds suspense. In a moment of feigned hesitation, Wooton turns to the audience and pauses before reaching into a pocket and slinging a handful of glitter at a meandering swath of yellow at the top of the painting.

Moments later, Wooton is already starting into her finale as she makes a broad, multicolored swipe of her fingers over the lower half of the painting before spinning it on the easel. In a twirling, clothing-transformation maneuver, she spins herself away from the painting and out of her white dress to reveal a blue, Dorothy-style gingham dress underneath. At stage right is Wooton’s painting, a “Wizard of Oz” landscape of yellow brick road and red flowers leading toward the Emerald City with a rainbow overhead. Loud cheers are heard and the lights go off.

Although the actual performance is finished in 90 seconds as per the official pageant rules, Wooton explained that the preparation for the live painting during competition begins months before and in front of a much smaller audience of friends and family. Wooton, who comes from a family of artists in Richmond, Va., said that she relies on them — especially her brother — for meaningful critiques, encouragement and videotaping duties.

“My brother is really helpful in all of this. We’re very close. He knows how I think and how to push me further. He is that outside set of eyes for me,” she said.

Annika Wooton works on a multi-paneled painting of a soldier during the 2015 Miss Kansas competition.

“The first time I use paint is thrilling,” said Wooton, who often practices with dry brushes until closer to competition. “I always have him videotape that because as much as I practice without paint and I think I have it timed to the music, adding in the physical is going to add seconds here and there and that’s so important in a 90-second piece.”

“Risky” is the word she uses to describe speed-painting before a live audience, and when doing so she references an onstage practice run just hours before the 2016 Miss Kansas performance when the painting was spun and it all came crashing down.

“I don’t know if I spun it too hard. Yellow paint went everywhere. It was a brand new Marley floor (for dancing) and I felt terrible,” she said. “I’m thankful that the producers even let me do that on stage (during competition).”

After cleaning up her brushes and herself, Wooton regained her composure and pulled it together for the big show.

“Bad rehearsal, good show,” she said. “That’s the power of live performance.”

Although the talent portion can take a considerable amount of preparation, Wooton points out that there is plenty more to the competition than lipstick and sequined dresses. Her personal platform for this year’s Miss Kansas pageant is raising awareness of the increased need for art in schools.

“I’m planning on going to a school tour where I can do speed paintings to have that visual engagement but also to talk about how to use creativity, not just in arts fields but to progress innovation in our country overall,” she said. “It’s my mission to change the way that people think about art and help them realize the value in our communities and in our schools and to kind of initiate the change to hopefully have our politicians also value that and then come back and fund it.”