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!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bonnie Boyd Wallace Cook
    Jul 16, 2019 @ 20:46:29

    Beautiful gift for your granddaughter’s friend’s parent. Absolutely beautiful work & memorium, Starr. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Jules Jacobs
    Jul 20, 2019 @ 16:51:06

    Good to see you back. Missed you.

    Julie Jacobs



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