In March 2010, Dean Paules ate breakfast in one of the oldest houses in Washington, D.C. He sat across from one of the military's most powerful men, charged with leading the thousands of Marines around the world.
The situation didn't fluster him. He was too busy examining how the light reflected off Gen. James T. Conway's face.
"I like to observe people, so I can present them in the best light," he said.
Paules has traveled all over the country to meet with congressmen, senators, judges, doctors, scientists and CEOs -- all paying five figures to have him create their likeness on canvas.
"This is the life of a portrait painter," joked the artist, who was 78 at the time.
"A good portrait painter," corrected his wife, Jo Ann, who handles the business side of Paules Portraiture in York Township.
Paules has become just that in the 20 years since he sold his share of a successful plastics business, Crescent Industries Inc. in New Freedom, and switched to art full time.
Recently, two high-ranking government officials -- Conway, the commandant of the Marines, and the former administrator of NASA, Sean O'Keefe -- commissioned Paules to paint their portraits.
About 50 percent of Paules' clients come from agency referrals. The other half of his clients come by word-of-mouth and the Internet, a boon for Paules because it eliminates the agency middlemen.
Although technology has changed the way Paules markets and sells his work, the way he creates it remains the same.
After spending a day with his subjects, Paules poses them for hundreds of photographs. Many subjects feel uncomfortable, but the process helps Paules paint the best portrait possible.
"You look at a face and you know what handsome and beautiful is, and you look at some people, and you know they aren't quite that," joked Paules, who is mostly self-taught. "So how do I try to make them appear as best as they can?"
Paules mixes and matches elements of different photos, which he develops from film in his darkroom. One might have the best expression, another the best posture. Combined, they form the most flattering, regal image of the subject, Paules said.
After all the prep work -- and the first brush of paint touches the canvas -- Paules spends about a month on each portrait. A "three-quarters" portrait -- which would be everything above the bottom of a man's suit jacket -- costs $35,000. He made about $2,500 when his career started. He spends about 250 hours on each painting.
Despite a recession and a fast-changing digital landscape, the portrait hasn't gone out of style.
"People say, 'Why a portrait and not a photograph?, " said Burt Borgelt, a former president and CEO of Dentsply in York whose portrait Paules painted. "There's something about a portrait that's more meaningful. You see a photo, and it's not the same next to a painting. It just doesn't have that same quality feeling to it. It almost feels secondary."
Only a privileged few live to see their portrait painted. As a result, Paules gets to boss around some interesting -- and powerful -- people.
"Where else can you tell someone who has hundreds or thousands of people under his control, 'Close your mouth, John, you opened it up again,'" Paules said.
Booked through next year, Paules won't be slowing down. Although approaching 80, he scoffs when asked if he has any plans to retire.
"If I were to retire from anything else, this is what I would want to be doing," he said.
Paules' notable subjects
People who get their portraits painted tend to be important, but a few individuals Paules has portrayed are especially prominent:
· William Goodling: long-time York-area congressman
· Dick Armey: former House majority leader
· Tom Ridge: former Pennsylvania governor and Director of Homeland Security
· Alberto Gonzales: former U.S. Attorney General
· George H. Hitchings: winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
What did it cost?
· $20,000 -- George Hitchings, Nobel Laureate
· $30,000 -- William Greene Jr., assistant headmaster Gilman School for Boys in Baltimore
· $15,000 -- David Johnson, CEO of Campbell's Soup
· $35,000 -- Alberto Gonzalez, former U.S. Attorney General
About Dean Paules
Lives in: York Township
Job: portrait painter
Family: wife Jo Ann; daughter Deborah Stokkan
Favorite painter: Adolphus Bougereau, French realism painter in the late 1800s