Love Your House? Have Its Portrait Painted

Arlington artist Neil Shawen creates architectural renderings that can be framed and turned into notecards.

Courtesy of Neil Shawen; istock (frame)

Some artists specialize in commissioned portraits of people, or even beloved pets. But for Neil Shawen, there’s always been something soulful about architecture. “I kind of stumbled across the realization that I could draw houses,” says the Arlington native, a former educator, now retired and living in Falls Church.

So he’s made a little business of it, drawing house portraits for real estate agents and private clients. His watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings can be made into personalized notecards ($110 for 50 cards with envelopes). Original artwork (matted) starts at $220.

If your house needs a face-lift, he’ll even throw in a little analog Photoshopping. “Sometimes I’ll get a request to trim the bushes or change the color of azaleas—or close garage doors and put away kids’ toys that were left out in the driveway. And I can grow grass a hell of a lot faster than you can,” he laughs. “I can play God on a very small scale.”

Though he can work from photographs, Shawen prefers to draw from life to get just the right perspective—which sometimes means slogging through mud, standing on top of a ladder, or sketching a home from the roof of his car.

And if the commission is meant to be a surprise? “I’ve learned to have a sense of humor and a good story in my back pocket in case I get caught,” he says, recalling the time he convinced one homeowner that he was an economic development official trying to document her historic home in Fauquier County. She was elated and invited him in for a home tour. “I’ve had the police called on me before, too,” he says with a grin. “I managed to scoot away before they showed up.”

Adventures aside, it’s a vocation that’s allowed him to preserve and honor the heritage of a landscape that is rapidly changing. “I remember when Rosslyn was just a turnaround for trolley cars and home to a few bowling lanes,” says the artist. “I don’t even recognize Ballston anymore. There are a few landmarks that are still here. I guess I’m becoming one of them.”


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