Michael Shane Neal
International Artist|August - September 2020
Michael Shane Neal
Using a Photo Reference Wisely

John Johansen (1877-1964) was a great artist who lived and worked in the National Arts Club in New York City. His portrait of Mr. Frick at the Frick Collection is a fine example of his work. As an artist who worked exclusively from life and sketches for much of his career, he found the transition to utilizing photos as reference confusing and difficult. He once told his protege, Everett Raymond Kinstler, that he simply couldn’t “read” a photo. So uncomfortable with using photos for reference, he sometimes would add a line just below his signature on completed works: “From Photographs.”

As a student of Everett Raymond Kinstler for more than 25 years, I have learned that there is no substitute for painting from life. That admonition was repeated in almost every class, art conversation, or critique. I believe it wholeheartedly, and I have learned more from painting from life than at any other time.

That said, one thing was true about Mr. Kinstler, if anything, he was practical. He understood the challenges that face commissioned, portrait artists. Time, distance and circumstances often dictate that an artist will not have the privilege of numerous sittings and hours of time with their subject. Fortunately, we can employ many resources to aid us as tools for creating works of art. Life sketches, mannequins, and even stand-in models can be used in your studio. The most attractive and convenient “stand-in” photographs. Of course, they have limitations, but when used wisely, photographs can be excellent resources to aid an artist in creating a portrait.

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August - September 2020