Manganelli’s portraits draw on skills honed over a lifetime


Vero Beach artist Agnes Manganelli is a people person, with an ability to capture a person’s unique personality in her infinitely detailed portraits, drawn with colored pencils.

Utilizing the thin tip of a pencil she can replicate the finest details of a person’s face, from the depth of the eyes to every strand of hair. She describes her calling as drawing the human spirit.

“This is not a mainstream medium,” says Manganelli, whose creations are in a league of their own. “I just love what I am doing.”

The countless First Place and Best in Show ribbons she has amassed are a testament to the dedication and talent she has been culling since she was an 8-year-old child. She believes hers is a talent that was gifted to her, honed over the years by her personal schooling.

Rather than watch television as a child, Manganelli filled her time drawing.

“At age 8 I received a McCall tracing box, and upon illuminating the image to draw, I realized I could pretty much trace almost anything,” she says.

After acquiring a BFA from Temple University’s Tyler’s School of Art for Graphic Design, she studied fine art in Rome. She also worked as an advertising art director in the New York City area for more than 15 years, winning numerous designer/art awards.

“Back then, we didn’t have computers, so we had to hand draw all of our colored comps for our clients to show how their ads would work,” she explains.

“We worked with a device called the Lucigraph, which we called the ‘Lucy,’ which looked like a covered phone booth. It allowed us to shrink or enlarge our drawn images.”

The optical concept behind the device has been known for over 400 years, and was even used by the Old Masters as an aid for their drawings and paintings.

As a stay-at-home mom while her children were young, other mothers quickly discovered her talent, and she received her first of many commissions for portrait requests of their children, and occasionally their dogs.

Now well established in her career, her expansive client list spans the globe. With so many satisfied clients, she is happy to say there is always a project on her desk.

Manganelli has a way of capturing the joy on the faces of her subjects, many shown in motion. She has a special ability to use colored pencils to highlight a face and movement with lighting in a fashion that sets her work apart from other mediums.

She feels her portraits “capture a moment in time, to commemorate your family members.”

Using photographs as a reference, either those she has taken or using a favorite photo from a client, she works her magic from the office of her lagoon-side home. From start to finish, it generally takes her some 70 to 100 hours for each portrait, and only when she is 100 percent happy with a piece does she tell the client it’s finished.

Manganelli begins by consulting with the client about the piece, including background to be depicted, and whether they want her to use certain colors to complement the room where it will be displayed.

“I once did a portrait of a couple who wanted the beach as a background. But on the day we met for pictures, the ocean was wild and windy, and we had to go to a different location to take the picture,” she recalls, adding that she used artistic license to draw a calmer beach as the background. Problem solved.

Since childhood, she has preferred to use Prisma Color Pencils. She calls them soft and waxy, which she finds best for detail as well as for the shading she creates by layering her strokes.

The use of colored pencils also has great mobility, as they can be used anywhere.

Manganelli says her paper of choice is 140 lb. Hot Press Watercolor Paper from England, which she buys from New York Central Papers. She describes it as a drawing and print-making paper that is sumptuous and silky smooth to the touch, noting that the colored pencils sink into the paper.

After moving up to Vero in 2004 with her husband and three children from Stuart, right before our famed twin hurricanes, she immediately joined Vero Beach Art Club. She now serves as its historian.

“The club is filled with really nice, regular folk,” she says, pleased that it is such an active part of the community.

She notes that, having begun in the mid-1930s, it is among the oldest art clubs in the country. It now has a membership of more than 500 people.

She recently had a booth at the art club’s 73rd annual Under the Oaks Fine Arts and Crafts Show, and says she had also been thrilled to be accepted into the Vero Beach Art Museum’s Treasure Coast Creates exhibition.

Outside of her artwork, Manganelli is an active volunteer with various other nonprofit organizations, including the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County and the Hibiscus Children’s Center, and even had 14 inches of her hair cut to be donated to cancer patients.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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