Michael Shane Neal’s studio is the stuff of dreams, and he loves it. He’s worked in many studios in the past 15 years, including his parents’ garage, a cramped attic and a place prone to flooding where he had to keep everything off the floor. These days Neal’s studio is just 20 yards from his back door. “Having a studio behind my home adds creative hours to each day because of an easy commute! I like that it’s at my home, but separate from my home,” Neal explains.
Before building his new studio, Neal decided the most important factors in designing it were the layout of the building, the 16-foot ceiling height and the north windows. He admits that he included some “luxury” features, such as a fireplace, but visitors always comment on the warm, inviting atmosphere, especially in the winter months.
“I’ve been very blessed and I’ve had some luck,” says Neal. But he also emphasizes that building the studio wasn’t something that came easily: It’s the culmination of nine months of construction, one year of intense sketching and consulting, and 15 years of determined planning and careful saving.
Persistence pays off
“You may notice that my studio is sunken. This is due to neighborhood restrictions on the height of my building,” Neal explains. “I wanted a 16-foot ceiling, but the entire building couldn’t be taller than 16 feet above the grade, so we regarded the land and built the studio several feet down.” Neal added that he wanted to capture as much ambient north light as possible, and he also needed to accommodate full-length portraits as tall as 90 inches.
“This interior view (at right) shows my taboret with my brushes and palette, plus a large computer screen and small laptop that I use to enlarge images I paint from between live sittings,” Neal says. He chose the dark-stained wood cabinets, woodwork and hardwood floors to avoid light reflection. There’s a multipurpose table and chairs just under the loft, and behind them are cabinets “that hold everything – paint, photography equipment, drawing supplies and marketing materials.” The back area of the main floor also accommodates a stand-up desk (because Neal prefers to work standing up), a kitchenette and a bathroom.
Aesthetics plus accessibility
“One practical aspect of the studio that has a creative twist are the four full-spectrum lights on the north windows, which I use on gray days and at night,” says Neal. “The architect designed them to look like columns when they aren’t in use.”
Taking care of business
“One of the nice aspects of having the business area in the loft is that it keeps the office-related materials away from my painting space. On the opposite end of the loft there’s also a small reading nook with a comfortable chair,” Neal says.
By Christine McHugh