While many pageant participants sing or dance for their talent, Annika Wooton, a junior from Richmond, Va., ups the ante — she speed paints. Last year, Wooton began using speed painting as her talent for the very first time.

Wooton, a longtime participant in the Miss America program, is in her third year competing in Kansas and recently won Miss Greater Wichita a few weeks ago. At Miss Greater Wichita, Wooton painted Batman in just 90 seconds as the Hans Zimmer soundtrack blared in the background.

One of her favorite parts about speed painting competitively is when she flips the canvas on her spinning easel made by her father.

“Every time I flip my canvas, I just hear the audience in surprise, or like when I did Batman, I heard someone go, ‘Wow,’ and it’s just awesome,” she said.

Now, Wooton has advanced to the state-level competition which will be in June. She’ll compete for the title of Miss Kansas. If she wins that, she will move on to compete in Miss America. Until then though, Wooton said she has big plans for Miss Kansas.

“I am doing very new things. I don’t want to say entirely, but there’s a new surface, and a new direction,” Wooton said. 

Wooton said one of her biggest inspirations for speed painting and live painting has been the small community of people who do it.

“They inspire me to do bigger and better projects because I see what they’re capable of, and I want to push myself as well,” Wooton said.

Earlier in February, Wooton chose to compete in KU’s Got Talent to keep her skills polished and nourish her competitive spirit.

“It was just really a place for me to practice my talent for the competition. I’d never painted on three canvases before, so that was a first time thing,” Wooton said.

Wooton began speed painting in high school after she was asked by her friends in the theatre program if she wanted to live paint while the jazz band played at an assembly.

After being thrown into the prospect of live painting, Wooton decided to take her talent to a competitive level.

“I guess it was just me and the crazy idea to take provisional art on stage,” she said.

She participated in the Miss America pageant in the teen division for a few years during high school, but quit to focus on school. Wooton recalled the first time she competed for the Miss America pageant program.

“I was terrified, but once the music started, the adrenaline hit,” she said. “I ended up having more time because I was going so fast, I had that adrenaline. At the end, it was really rewarding.”

Wooton said that usually after selecting her subject for painting, she then selects the music to accompany it.

“The first painting I did for competition, I actually recorded the song I was painting to. So it was also me singing. It was ‘Brave’ by Sara Bareilles. It was kind of like me being ‘Hey I’m being really brave in doing this,’ ’” Wooton said.

She said a fun part to speed painting is having to be quick thinking.

“If something doesn’t go according to plan, I just have to fix it,” Wooton said.

Dailey Tasker, a junior from Wichita and a friend and collaborator of Wooton’s, has attended several of her live painting events. The two met in the art school, and Tasker helps provide critique for Wooton.

“She’s really self-motivated in all that,” she said. “That’s her spot, that’s where she shines, and it’s cool to see an art form that’s more individualized and her bring it to the stage, and to bring people in on her process.”

Wooton said she’s excited for the upcoming Miss Kansas pageant despite the stress that accompanies it. She said she looks forward to spending time with close friends she made in the pageant, but also excited to “build really good experiences painting.”

For Wooton, speed painting and art is more than just a talent for a pageant.

“Art is what I’m devoting my life to,” she said. “I’m studying that here, so it’s neat to put that on stage in front of a bunch of people.”

— Edited by Valerie Haag