Workshop Review, Portrait Society of Atlanta

FOLIO, Portrait Society of Atlanta Summer 2004.

Michael Shane Neal is familiar to PSA members through his program for our May meeting, and for his many prestigious commissions and awards. The week-long workshop, in historic Franklin, Tennessee, started Sunday evening with Shane’s introduction to the theme of the week, “Painting from Life.” He showed slides of portraits by Sargent and other great masters, with photographs of their subjects. His presentation left no doubt as to the value of learning to paint from life. The artist’s ability to be selective, to simplify, and to put the stamp of his own personality and feeling for the subject into his painting results in a much more compelling experience for the viewer. Each student was given an 82-page notebook with outlines of the lessons and subjects to be covered, illustrated in black and white and peppered with quotes from the old masters. This was an invaluable tool to refer to between classes, and to take home for future reference. Mr. Neal ended the evening with a head sketch from life, setting the mood for the days to follow.

Each student had a comfortable space in which to work around one of four models. Shane’s able assistant, Becka, was always available to help with unforeseen problems. Our focus was on value, color, structure, volume and quality of edges. The first lesson was to draw a ball and a box in charcoal or pencil and to relate these shapes to the head. Next, we painted the head from a cast using the gray scale to understand the planes of the head, and to apply what we had learned from the ball and the box. Between working sessions every day, Shane gave an ongoing lecture illustrated with slides. At the end of the day, he started an oil portrait of Richard (Dick) Rhodes, a fellow student, which he worked on every evening. It was wonderful to see this portrait develop step by step, as we learned to apply the very same principles he was using.

Soon we were ready to sketch from our live models; first a charcoal sketch on paper and then a 19” x 20” oil sketch. By the time we got to our final painting from life (approx. 20” x 24”) we were all warmed up and ready to go. Each student was given a photo of the model taken from the vantage point of their easel. The photos, while good, were often ignored as the beauty, power and excitement of the live model grabbed our attention. The progression of lessons, from the first day to the last, was so well planned and flawlessly presented that one was inspired to give one’s highest energy and attention every step of the way. The last three days we continued work on our final paintings, with the same daily routine of painting interspersed with lectures, demos and individual critiques from Shane. At the end of each day he resumed work on Richard’s portrait.

There were so many pluses to this event. For a serious learning experience, it was useful to keep the same model morning and afternoon for each consecutive day, instead of having a different model morning and afternoon or having to change stations. We had time to get to know the model, and to contemplate errors and correct them on the spot. In addition to this and the great notebook, each student received a CD with pictures from the workshop. Participants also visited Shane’s home where his wife… greeted us graciously with their little daughter …, and where a tour of Shane’s “almost finished,” grand new studio, was another unexpected treat.

On a scale of 1 to 10, this workshop rated a 10!

by Martha Sanders