John Howard Sanden portraits  
Discovering the Studios of Renowned Artists

Presenting the places where the magic unfolds.

American Artist, November 2000.

By Ann Kayalil

Connecticut studio

Above: the artist at work in his Ridgefield,
Connecticut studio. Right, Exterior of the studio.

"In his studios, Sanden requires
perfect light, an ideal tempera-
ture, and a quiet and orderly
working space."

Connecticut studio

A studio for a portrait painter is critical not only as an ideal workspace, but also as a space that is attractive to clients and makes them feel comfortable. John Howard Sanden is no exception, with two studios to meet the needs of his clients as well as himself. His New York City studio in Carnegie Hall, which he has occupied for the past 26 years, is one of 140 studios in the building. Besides providing a convenient and interesting location for his clients to visit, the Manhattan site is easily accessible to suppliers and services, as well as placing the artist across the street from the Art Students League of New York, where he has taught and lectured since 1972. In addition to the main painting area, the Carnegie Hall studio has a loft bedroom, a bathroom, closets, and a kitchenette.

Sanden's other studio, a quiet building in Ridgefield, Connecticut, spares him a more than two-hour commute into the city. This studio, built in 1998, is where he finishes his works and does his correspondence and record keeping. It is attached to the home he shares with his wife and son.

Sanden sees most of his clients on location so that he gets a sense of their surroundings, but he may ask them to come to his New York City studio for further sittings. During these sessions, he makes sketches and takes reference photographs. Typically, he prepares sketches for about four or five portraits and then transports them to his Connecticut studio, where he can work uninterrupted until completion. In his studios, Sanden requires perfect light, an ideal temperature, and a quiet and orderly working space. Early in his career, Sanden admired Norman Rockwell's immaculate studio and has tried over the years to make his various work spaces similarly tidy.

When designing a studio, Sanden says that having enough space, not only for the artist but also for supplies, is essential. Plenty of bookshelves for reference material and organized storage for items such as paints, canvas, and packing materials is also a wise idea. His 625-square-foot Ridgefield studio has 16-foot ceilings at the peak and a large north window, which begins four feet from the floor and rises to a height of 14 feet. There are three units of fluorescent lighting to add to the natural light, one hanging in front of the window and two mounted to the ceiling above. Sanden's Carnegie Hall studio is a long space, at 14 feet by 20 feet, and has 14-foot ceilings with two large windows giving north light. He also has fluorescent lighting on the ceiling above the windows and on the column between them.

Carnegie Hall studio

Carnegie Hall studio
Carnegie Hall studio
Since 1974, the artist has occupied this tenth floor studio in Carnegie Hall, on West Fifty-Seventh Street in New York. Above, the north windows look out toward Central Park. Right, the studio includes comfortable living arrangements as well as efficient workspace.

In addition to his painting, Sanden teaches, lectures, judges competitions, and writes books. Now, he is concentrating on his painting, and his focus has paid off. In 1994 he received the John Singer Sargent Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Society of Portrait Artists. He has painted more than 600 dignitaries and notable figures, including the Rev. Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth.