Michael Shane Neal Demonstrates

Internation Artist Magazine, Issue 67International Artist Magazine
June/July 2009.

I began the process of creating my portrait of Chief Judge Scirica with a visit to his chambers in Philadelphia. My commission was to create his official portrait for the court. A big believer in homework. I read a great deal about my subject before our first meeting.We began by enjoying a nice lunch together before I completed a photo-shoot in his chambers.

I made numerous digital photos trying multiple poses, and also created a quick sketch in oil on a canvas board as my first introduction to my subject in paint. No matter how brief the sketching encounter (in this case 40 minutes), I find it too be very valuable part of the process of getting to know my subject. It will also help me to select good reference photos that more accurately capture the gesture and character of my subject. Like sketching the landscape, I remember more from this experience than to I do from any snapshot with a camera.

This entire process took most of the afternoon. I am now ready to return to the studio where I will study the reference and begin the portrait.

Michael Shane Neal Demonstrates, International Artist Magazine, Issue 67Stage 1. Drawing

I love to draw (it was my first love as an artist), but I love to paint even more! Consequently I begin by sketching only the major proportions in soft charcoal . I fear a detailed drawing will lead to a filling in of the shapes and not the massing of major proportions. The latter I believe can help to create a more “painterly” approach throughout. Hopefully with accuracy and energy I attempt to “feel” the gesture onto the canvas while utilizing the length of the head as a unit of measurement of the major proportions. Once established I can refine the drawing with paint.

Stage 2. The Effect

It is always a challenge to work on a white canvas (a mid tone is easier to judge value), but sometnmes I use white to make me think a little differently. Always using one process can be dangerous! There are many “roads to Rome” as Sargent once said! Here I establish the overall effect of the portrait. Considering the direction of the light source. relationships of color and value. I also squint to simplify the shapes and to create the broadest relationships I can.

Stage 3. The Particular

Now that the canvas is fully covered and the major effect is established. I can now spend time developing the areas of focus such as the head. I am only just now thinking of likeness in a more specific way. In the previous steps I was only seeking the character of my model, the gesture of his pose, and the overall effect of the composition .

Stage 4. Ship Without a Sail

The portrait is now coming into sharper focus I begin to refine the head, hands, and robe, but I also begin to grow stale from the reference photos. Although I have returned to them constantly along with my oil sketch and the memories of my sitter, I crave time with my subject instead of pushing forward from the photos I arrange for a sitting in my studio and I leave the portrait until our next meeting .

Stage 5. Life Sitting

In This stage I have enjoyed two days of life sittings with my subject. We began late in the afternoon, enjoyed dinner together, then spent the following morning in the studio. The two sittings totaled about 7 hours of painting. The purpose was to develop the portrait further, refine the likeness, get feedback from my sitter., and make additional photos as reference. I am constantly thinking about value, proportions, structure and volume, edges, and color relationships.

Stage 6. The Finish

In the finished portrait I have spent considerable time on every area of the portrait. No portion has not succumbed to numerous adjustments as I worked to find my subjects likeness, quiet strength, and unique character. I even elected to reduce the size of the canvas by a couple of inches vertically. I am constantly striving for simplicity in effect, brushwork and composition. With the simplicity of my earlier stages in mind I often edit once more anywhere I can as I near the finish.