Workshop Review-Michelle Dunaway

Workshop Review-Michelle Dunaway

Version 2

My day 3 and 4 attempt at portraiture.-Leslie Miller

Workshop Review-

Michelle Dunaway

Many of you have asked about the workshop I attended in January with Michelle Dunaway at the Scottsdale Artists’ School. It was a phenomenal experience- intimidating, galvanizing, exhausting, challenging, and overall exhilarating! The whole experience was blogworthy. From the road trip with artist and dear friend, Pam Wedemeyer, to the school itself, being in the presence of so much talent and energy, and learning from Michelle both the technical and spiritual side of painting was inspiring.

The night before the workshop, as I packed and prepared my things for the workshop, I noticed that I had signed up for an advanced class. An advanced class in portraiture! I was already quite intimidated, but this was icing on the nervous cake. I had never painted a live model. I had only worked with still life and landscape. Now, I was set up to take an advanced class in a new field for me. Still, I eagerly anticipated the chance to learn.
Artists can sometimes seem anti-social as we retreat into our creative spaces. Being able to share our thoughts and emotions about art with like-minded individuals is the key to not becoming a recluse. We left Tubac at 6 a.m., and though Pam is not a morning person, we talked non-stop the whole way there about our goals, ideas, and fears. What a boost to my spirit!

Scottsdale Artist’s School

I had no clue what to expect when we arrived at the school. The Scottsdale Artists’ School is located in a former grammar school built in 1928 in old town Scottsdale. The halls are lined with museum quality, awe-inspiring artwork by students and teachers of the school. The moment we stepped inside, I felt the buzz of energy and creativity, knowing good things were about to happen.


Leslie Miller, Michelle Dunaway and Pam Wedemeyer

There were five classrooms listed on the directory, Michelle Dunaway, Daniel Keys, Susan Lyon, Kathy Anderson and the Academy! 15 to 16 students for each of the workshops, a welcoming staff at the reception desk, Symi from England with a huge selection of handmade Rosemary brushes, a couple libraries filled with art books, props line the hallways and the aroma of linseed oil and fresh flowers fill the light-filled corridors. Models changing into costumes, backdrops and lighting being adjusted to cast the perfect shadows. Can you imagine the buzz?

The classroom Michelle’s class was held in was at the end of the hall and filled with light, two stages on either side set with an armchair filled with a beautiful ivory complexed brunette in a 1920 period costume, music from Downton Abbey fills the room along with the scrapping of easels being positioned and brushes placed in jars in preparation to create a symphony in paint. The four-day workshop format consisted of Michelle painting a demo, with loads of instruction and wisdom, on of the first and third mornings and in the afternoons, we would paint one of the two models while Michelle provided guidance and critique. Day three there will be two new models, males and of African American descent, a completely different complexion, facial structure and palette. Demonstrating two separate approaches to portraiture.

Take-aways from Michelle Dunaway Workshop

I have pages and pages of notes representing only a smattering of the things I learned, Michelle talks really fast! Here is a random listing of some of my faves.

  • Always State three intentions for a study painted Alla Prima.
    In other words,what are the things you want to convey most?
    – Is it the light?
    – is it color?
    – is it contrast?
    – is it an emotion?
  • – is it a likeness?
  • Painting is like drawing with puzzle pieces that fit together like a mosaic.
  • Paint the abstract shapes not the eyelid the iris or the pupil but the abstract shapes you see.
  • It’s not how fast but how accurate.
  • Better to have a small area really accurate then a covered canvas covered from edge to edge incorrectly.
  • Learn to not be so attached to whatever you put it down. It may need to change.That said, don’t change to chase the light or the model or the article of clothing but to make drawing more accurate.
  • So it is better to do something bold, then, selectively soften, than it is to be timid.
  • Brilliance tends towards color not white.
  • “Don’t paint everything in sight, paint things that make your heart beats faster.” quote by Daniel Gerhartz
  • The focal point should be completed to a higher degree of realism or resolve. Linger in these areas
  • Returning to them with each pass
  • Have Patience!
  • Michelle Dunaway thinks of painting as “a way of saying Amen visually”
  • Michelle uses small paint color tiles because she wants small color changes throughout the painting for added interest. In other words, Keep simple values but use many color variations.
  • Being attached to your vision but don’t be attached to each stroke take the leap sometimes. You need to let go of the good to get to the great.


Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll fill you in on the evening activities hosted by Scottsdale Artist School.

Radiant Daze

Radiant Daze


Ever wonder why coyotes howl at the moon? Or why they get such a bad rap?
Or do you look at them and wish you could go up and hug their neck, like a puppy? Do you say ˈkīˌōt or kīˈōdē?

Radiant Daze LeslieMillerFineArt

Radiant Daze Oil on cradled Panel 36×36 $1800

A look at the folklore passed down for generations gives us a peek into the mysterious life of a coyote.
Legendarily the coyote is the bringer of fire. Take a look at some of the stories.

Hated by ranchers, feared by small pet owners and admired by naturalists the coyote has proven to be a survivor. Coyotes symbolize the freedom and the can-do, pioneering spirit that settled this country.

The coyote in the photo reference for this painting projects a feeling of confidence and bliss, knowing his place on the earth. It reminds me of that feeling when the sun is shining on your back, filling you with warmth and peace.

Reference Photos

I use reference photos and I’m not ashamed to tell you. I have a passion for animals, but it’s hard to get those suckers to sit still. I enjoy taking my own photos whenever I can. I also save time by searching out royalty free photos that inspire me via the internet. Some of my favorites sights include dollar photo club, Flickr- the commons, unsplash.

reference photo tips for artist

5 qualities to look for in reference photos

Top 5 qualities I look for in a reference photo

1. Color, Composition, Clarity:
I know this seems obvious, but why struggle with a poor quality photo when there are so many problems to address when painting?
2. Sentience: Am I able to feel an emotion that resonates within me when I look at it the subject.
3.Create: Does it ignites a passion in me to go paint
4. Captivating: Would I enjoy looking at it every day?
5.The Light! (As an artist the essence of the light is at the crux of my mission.)
(I am drawn to light and how it interacts with the subject)

Some of the Coyote reference photos in my files.

Some of the Coyote reference photos in my files.

Anthony Douglas Williams quote.

Counting Stars

Counting Stars

I am ready to start setting goals and counting stars!

“After ten weeks and 25,842 miles away from my easel, I am ready to be back. I’m ready to create. I’m ready to be inspired!”

24,901 mi-2

Where I’ve Been:

This winter, we were able to take a cruise around the African continent. Crossing Africa and South America off our list, we headed to Tennessee for Christmas with our family. We are so incredibly blessed with our family.
Right after the New Year, we drove to Port St. Lucie, Florida, to pick up our new RV. Since selling our home in Sequim, this is our “apartment on wheels,” if you will. I hope it will also be my studio on wheels, the workshop wagon, and the means to get me to art classes all around the country.

I am Counting Stars

With the wheels spinning, ideas and ambition itching, I have decided to set some goals for 2016. I would like to share them with you so you can help keep me accountable. These goals include:
[ ] have business cards printed by February 1
[ ] host an open studio, scheduled March 18,19,20
[ ] attend 5 workshops, 1 coming up soon in 2016, 2 more now scheduled
[ ] start an email list campaign By January 22, 2016
[ ] give away a painting each quarter in 2016
[ ] publish a quarterly newsletter in 2016
[ ] post on my blog 2x per week beginning Feb 1, 2016
[ ] complete 6 paintings for an Owl series by June 1, 2016
[ ] donate a painting to a charitable cause- animal shelter, horse rescue…in 2016
[ ] be ready to participate in  the quick draw competition (November/December)
[ ] see my art hanging in a reputable gallery (wheels are turning) by the end of 2016
[ ] Sell $X of artwork in 2016

Smart Goals

Most likely you have heard of smart goals, the mnemonic acronym …

Specific (Goals must be clear and unambiguous)

Measurable (Results must be able to be measured in some way, for example, the number of products sold each week, or the percent completion)

Attainable: Goals must be realistic and attainable

Relevant: Goals must relate to your vision and mission

Time-bound: Goals must have definite starting and ending points, and a fixed duration

here’s a link to the worksheets I used to set my Smart goals.

Goal Worksheet

Goal Worksheet

As I achieve my goals I mark them with a star. I also plan to implement a ★★★★★ rating system for my paintings. Now I am at about 2 for 10 I hope to see those odds change for the better.

Be in the Loop

I’ll have lots to share in the coming months I hope you’ll enjoy reading and give me permission to keep you in the loop.

Subscribe to Leslie Miller Fine Art

Sign up to receive quarterly newsletter, occasional
emails and a chance to win an original oil painting.