Falling in Love Again… with Charcoal Drawing

You all know by now that I am a life-long artist. I discovered drawing in the second grade and have never looked back. It’s been a passion for me like no other.

But life gets in the way, you know. You get busy with “things” and big chunks of time pass by while you’re distracted. Then you look up and think, “I’d better get busy! Where has the time gone?”

I had a wake-up call along those lines last fall when I was fortunate enough to attend the Figurative Art Convention and Expo (FACE) in Miami, Florida at the Biltmore Hotel. I had done some freelance work for the sponsoring company, Streamline Publishing, and asked for a pass to attend that convention in lieu of payment. Boy, was that a good decision on my part!

The convention was the most glorious ART EVENT I’ve ever attended. The venue and the organization of the program were flawless. The quality of the presenters was so top notch it was OVER the top. For the 5 days I was there, it was total immersion in a world that usually I only dream of.

michelle dunaway 2

Michelle Dunaway painting Streamline Publishing Founder, Eric Rhoads

Have you ever truly thought you “died and went to heaven?” Well, that was what FACE was like for me. Every day… from 6am to midnight… it was all art… all the time. Because not only did the lectures and demos run all day, there was studio time with live models every night. And there I was – with people just like me – for the sweet, sweet duration.

biltmore pool 2

The Biltmore itself is an iconic destination. Not only is the service and room lodging a high-end experience, the pool is one of the largest in the entire county. Before he was the original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was a swimming instructor on site. And Esther Williams was filmed doing the backstroke here in her 1944 movie, “Bathing Beauty.”

biltmore pool 4

So just to relax after a long day of “art bootcamp” I would ditch out of the studio time and be down at the pool about 9pm to take a leisurely swim in the night air. It was absolutely glorious. At that time of night the pool was pretty much deserted and I could silently paddle around the circumference of that enormous body of water and feel every care just literally fade away from my body. It is one of the most wonderful sensations in the world.

But come the next morning it was up with the crack of dawn and down to have the provided buffet breakfast. The couple hundred people there would be gathering in small groups to chat and check their schedules for the day. And that was because the event organizers provided more than one choice for most time slots. Talk about a wealth of available classes! How fun to choose your own direction and have such a major event be tailored just for you! This kind of thing is the result of very careful planning by the staff of Streamline Publishing and a genuine concern for the participants who make special financial and travel arrangements to be there. And to me, in this day of generally deplorable customer service everywhere, I find that sort of attention to detail to be extraordinary. These people actually CATER to you to make sure you not only get your money’s worth, but have a very special experience.


OK. So I sound like I am selling this event – and actually I am. But let me tell you… they did not ask me to do this… and they don’t KNOW I am doing this. I was just that impressed and wish I could go again. This year’s event is from November 10-13, 2019 in Williamsburg VA.  I hope all my artist friends will check it out at FACE 2019.

If you register by the end of July you can get a spot for just under $1K. Sadly, that is not in my retirement budget and then you have travel and hotel and food expenses on top of that. PLUS the dealer expo where you can buy wholesale art products – paints, brushes, pencils, charcoal, canvas, etc. Believe me, the deals at that expo are outstanding and I came home with a boatload of products last year. Such fun!

But the REAL BOTTOM LINE is this…

You learn more at an event like this than you do working by yourself for a FULL year or two.


Seeing what current working artists are doing… being able to talk to them and observe them as they work… and meeting people from literally all over the world who are there to learn and observe as well…  It is an incredible thing. It is so exciting and mind-expanding that it’s like getting infused with ROCKET FUEL to take off on your own when you get home. And what I came home with was a renewed interest in improving my drawing and using charcoal as a medium. I hadn’t done that in decades.

Now I wanted to draw anything and everything but I have a particular love of portrait work, which is a skill that demands a lot of discipline. No one wants a portrait that doesn’t look like the person. And in fact, the portrait must look BETTER than a photograph because you are trying to capture something about the “life” of the person, not just an image or a likeness.

This means you not only have to be an artist, but a bit of a detective. What gestures make that person who they are? What mannerisms can you work into the art that will speak to those who know them and make them delight in the portrayal? It is NOT just drawing a picture – it is capturing a moment in time. It is something a static photo can never do.

So I came home totally hungover with high-level drawing and painting instruction and raring to go. I got busy on a few portraits right away.

This one is Anya. She was my granddaughter’s best friend. She passed away unexpectedly at age 16 to the devastation of her family and friends. This portrait was done as a gift for her mother despite the tragic situation. For me, to have my drawing skills sharpened up from the FACE convention, I was able to make a portrait that will live on for someone who desperately needed that very thing.

Anya 12.4.18


This one is also Anya. Can you not see the absolute sweetness in her face?

Anya 2 - 2018


And here’s another of my grand daughter’s friend, Alex.

Alex Dec 2018


Then, my own dear little grand daughter Josey. She has a most special place in my heart.

Josey sun 50%


Being able to do portraits is a discipline like no other. They mean so much to the folks you do them for. I’ve been doing them for decades – both drawn and painted – and I can’t tell you how many people have told me that if their house was burning down, that’s the one thing they would grab on the way out. It really is that special.

This is one of the Caudill Boys, commissioned by my special friend, Corrina Caudill. She had this awesome picture that I was able to use and it was a pose that was pure delight for the family. Corrina was able to make photographic copies to frame for her mother-in-law to spread the joy.

Caudill boys sun 50%

Now tell me… how can you look at these wholesome boys and not smile? THAT, my friends, is a moment captured in time. A moment preserved that will remind everyone who they were as they grow up and move on in their lives. Someday, one of those boys will meet his future spouse and they will see that drawing and exclaim, “how cute you were!” Not just because it looks like them – but because it tells a story of their childhood. How special is that?

So yes, I absolutely fell in love with charcoal drawing again. It is so smudgy and expressive – I love working with the “vines” and pencils and blenders that turn a mark on the paper into the vision of someone you love so much. It’s not just artwork – it’s magical imagery at its best.

This coming week I plan to do a few more charcoal portraits I have orders for. I know they will make my friends very happy – but I have bartered them for goods and services in return. I love doing that, but it isn’t helping me build up some cash to be able to go to events like the FACE convention this fall. I think I need to re-assess my methods to include some actual money changing hands. Either that or be like a Renaissance artist who had a patron who sponsored them for things like that in return for drawings and paintings. That would be an awesome arrangement!

Meanwhile, I HAVE decided to become an Amazon Associate to recommend products I use and provide a link to them for people who are interested. This should not deter anyone from reading my blog. It is simply to make a small commission if someone goes through one of my links to purchase an item off Amazon. Such items are exactly the same price as always so it doesn’t cost any extra at all. Amazon just gives the person providing the link – in this case, me – a little bonus for driving the traffic their way. And it isn’t very much. I checked and say you get 4% on a $20 item – that’s a big whopping 80 cents or so. Now I’m sure that adds up, but my blog does not have a gazillion readers – not even a hundred readers. But I will work on that and see where it goes.

If you enjoy my blog, please sign up to follow and you will get a notice when I publish a new post. It makes me happy to keep in touch with you and I hope you will read and comment when you have time.

Thanks so much, my friends.



Note: Products used for Charcoal Drawing:

This basic set of charcoal pencils by General’s is all you need to get started and see if you like the medium. Don’t worry about getting more pencils or a sharpener – in a later post I will tell the REAL way to sharpen a pencil and you will be amazed!



“Vine” Charcoal is very traditional and quite a lot of fun…

Then you will need a blender of sorts… here’s a beginner option. I promise I will go into more detail of using these soon. But honestly, you can pick up a smaller pack at Hobby Lobby and use your40% coupon. OR you can use a tissue or your finger. Just don’t spend too much money when trying these things out.

And YES you will need an ERASER. Sometimes it is the best way to get back the white of the paper while you still can. This little basic beauty will do the trick…

Or spend just a couple bucks more and get this…





Disclaimer: I have yet to figure out how to post my affiliation with Amazon except that it says I have to say, “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

So there… I  said it. I will figure that out before I post product links again. And please, if you are one of my friends who doesn’t give a fig about such things, just come here and read and have a good time. You know I will try these crazy things and give them up if they don’t work out.

Good day all!


Glass Art and Mosaic Garden

Boy, I sure haven’t been here to post for a very long time. Years, maybe? I guess I ran out of steam for blogging – I tend to be fickle about my “projects” – but I’ve been doing some arty garden stuff lately and wanted to add it to my Pinterest page. But without a link to this blog, where I can explain what I did, no one can follow up on the pics I put on Pinterest. So this just might get me blogging a bit again.

To start with, this is the Glass Art and Mosaic Garden that was fairly finished up yesterday and installed on the side of my house.

Glass Art and Mosaic Garden

This project started as a result of two things… (one) I LOVE seeing all the images on Pinterest of interesting garden art… and (two) I never keep up with watering my flower pots once mid-to-late summer starts, so I need a low-maintenance garden. I’m lazy. What can I say?

And I’m a sucker for starting large projects I don’t have room for in my now-small apartment and just wrecking the place all-to-craziness. Before you know it I’m tip-toeing through a path to the bed and sleeping surrounded by glassware, pvc pipe and tile adhesive.

But yesterday I got all of this moved outside and my daughter, Ellyn, helped spread pea gravel and river rock as needed. I just can’t lift those bags anymore.

Here are some more photos:




I tell you what…

It is really FUN to collect the stuff for a project like this. Myself – I’m not a big “shopper” for clothes or electronics or entertainment. But when it comes to dishes and glassware and kitchen items… watch out. Now I don’t mean expensive stuff. That’s just not in the budget. BUT!

There is an incredible Thrift Store not a half mile from me and it is the most dangerous place I know. Ask my kids. They want me fitted with blinders just to drive past it.

Can I help it if my treacherous little heart goes pitter patter at the sight of a cut glass relish dish? For 99 CENTS!!! What’s a girl to do? Let just anyone walk off with it? No-siree – it will go home with me and have visions of being featured at a magazine-worthy dinner party in the garden with friends who swoon over my good taste. (OK… so it COULD happen, right?) Straight out of the pages of Country Living, I tell you.

Now for a glass art project – shopping for glass was a treat. But I DID limit myself… 99 cents or less for most pieces. Should I find an item that was marked an outrageous $3.99 – back to the shelf it went! There’s no fooling me, you know!

Except for this little guy. This rabbit was very fine, name-brand, handpainted and was a whoprabbitping 5 bucks. However, I had a 50% off coupon… hahaha… you really can’t fool me on these things.

But I’m getting sidetracked here. Back to the folks who might link here from Pinterest…

Gathering the glass is fun expedition time. All the possibilities swirl through your head and you don’t know how any of it will really end up. And even when you get home and lay out all your goodies, the arrangements will change every time you leave the room and come back. Or maybe that was just me. But it’s all part of the process. Which is this…

GE SiliconeFirst off, you have to stick all this stuff together to make the “totems” or whatever they are called. I have made quite a few now and I will say that my favorite adhesive is GE Clear Silicone 2+ in this tube that fits in a caulking gun. It is under $5 at Lowe’s and for my entire batch of creations I used about a tube and a half.

This silicone is weatherproof and here in Ohio, I have left previous glass sculptures out year-round and they show no extra wear from winter weather. In my area we can get to about -20 degrees F and the silicone holds up fine. It’s a bit flexible, so will contract and expand as needed.

To bond glass to glass or glass to ceramic, make sure both items are really clean at the contact point. Wipe both pieces off with rubbing alcohol to remove any oil that might have gotten on them from your fingers. And be sure to get it right the first time. Silicone is a great sealant, but you can’t take it apart and start over because silicone doesn’t stick to itself. Once it’s on there, it’s on there. You’ll never be able to scrape it all back off for a do-over.

Now I DID try that, of course, because I changed my mind mid-stream. And of course, it didn’t work. So I’m waiting for delivery today of a glue called Devcom Home Silicone Sealant that supposedly sticks silicone to silicone. I could only find it on Amazon. I’ll have to update you if it does the trick.

IMG_20190711_152258941_HDRNote: My mistake was this… when you are building totems you have to build from larger at the bottom to smaller at the top. You can’t have two pieces with a small circumference “join” below the halfway point of the piece – it will buckle and not hold the weight above it. Now if it isn’t a LARGE piece, you can reinforce the join by putting a plate between the two smaller pieces like the blue plate in this blue and yellow piece. Still, this one is pretty uniform in width all the way up. If I had tried to put something large on top, it wouldn’t hold.

IMG_20190712_092236655Another note: This blue and yellow bird piece is sitting in the hole of a cinderblock. The cinderblock is stacked on another cinderblock below it. How is it holding there? Two things… The stacked cinderblocks are filled with pea gravel to keep them in position on the ground. Then there is another ceramic jar you can’t see right IMG_20190712_092318900below the flowered plate. It was filled with some pea gravel for weight before being siliconed to the bottom of the plate. The cinderblock hole is filled with pea gravel up to the point where that jar can sit without pulling down on the piece above it. It is quite heavy and sturdy there and shouldn’t move even in a storm.

Likewise, other pieces had a “jar” of some sort on the bottom that got buried and surrounded with pea gravel and river rock to hold it in place.

IMG_20190711_172324550IMG_20190712_092301831Then, for the tall, skinny ones, rebar was put into the cinderblock hole, pounded into the ground and pea gravel poured in around it to hold it in place. Then all you had to do was slide the piece onto the rebar.

tile adhesiveThere ARE a couple of mosaic pieces as well. I bought some 2′ sections of PVC pipe and glued both glass and ceramic tile to them using Mapei Type 1 Ceramic Tile Mastic from Lowe’s. A quart is about $7 and it was plenty. After the mastic was set, I grouted the pieces with Sanded Grout – the “sanded” is supposed to be stronger for outside use.

sanded groutAll you do to mix the grout is add water and stir until it is like thick oatmeal. I used a plastic spoon and disposable container and added black craft paint to darken it. Glop the wet grout all over the tiles and push it in between each tile to get it solidly in all the spaces. I tried using a small putty knife for this but found it better to just use my finger to smooth it all out. Wearing latex glove will protect your skin. Scrape off any huge excess of grout to make the cleanup easier.

Then you wait about 20 minutes and start rinsing it off with a damp sponge to expose the tile. It’s helpful to have a bucket with some water in it to squeeze out the sponge fairly often. Be sure to get as much grout as you can off the tiles – it IS cement. Later you can go back with a cloth and buff any haze off the tiles.

I did attempt to use grout sealer to finish it all off but I didn’t like it. I just got out an old can of trusty polyurethane and gave everything a good coat of that.

triple thickIMG_20190711_172703530For pieces like the bird figurines and the frog and lizard, I just gave them a coat of Triple Thick to try to weatherize them a bit. Fast and easy fix for that. Triple Thick is about $7 at Hobby Lobby but you can use your 40% off coupon, of course.

I did some decorative painting on some of the pieces with Deco Art Americana Gloss Enamels. I know you can heat set that paint in the oven but I didn’t. I just gave it a coat of poly or Triple Thick and will hope for the best.

Note: I did all this by the seat of my pants. I would read instructions from others until I lost patience and then just dive in and do something. If you would like to leave suggestions in the comments below, feel free. But keep it positive. I don’t need criticized for doing things “wrong” – this isn’t the Sistine Chapel here. It’s just my little garden that I will enjoy no matter what. I hope you enjoy it, too.


Those little bits of blue glass on the globe were glued down with E6000. It runs about $4 at Hobby Lobby and is a good, universal glue.




Don’t you just have to have a pink flamingo or two?


And a few Frogs and Lizards?


Froggy has a crown made of two water bottle caps glued together, beads added and painted gold.

So now the Glass Art and Mosaic Garden is in and I sat outside last night with a glass of wine and admired my handiwork. It’s a no-water garden for sure. And by the way – the bit of greenery you see in the big blue pot is fake. You really can’t tell from any distance. It is plastic, not silk, and was purchased during a sale at Joann Fabric.

You die-hard crafters know all the shops and coupons I refer to here, so go make your own water-free garden now. It’s rain-proof, no-maintenance and winter-friendly, so what are you waiting for?

Check out my Pinterest page for lots of ideas. And thank you, Pinterest community, for sharing your ideas and expertise with me.




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