Review – Dick Blick Medium Vine Charcoal

I must admit before I start here that I’m not really one for charcoal as a drawing medium. It requires a fair amount of space that it’s alright to be perpetually stained with black. So, you basically need studio space in order for it to be at its peak performance, and I do not have studio space. But, I can take art classes, and that is where most of my experience with vine charcoal comes from. There are quite a few places to buy it cheaply, and the manufacturing process is probably one where it would be difficult to weed out natural inconsistencies. From my experience with several different brands, I have a hard time really telling the difference; but the main ones I’ve gone with is a set from Dick Blick, mostly because they were the last ones I was able to try out.

Vine charcoal is a particularly finicky type of drawing medium that goes down smoothly with a rich black color, and wipes away to nearly nothing with a hand or a cloth (though, if applied directly to paper, even an eraser won’t be able to remove the last ghost of a line). The sticks themselves are essentially raw: they are just vines that have been charred. Most sets (including this one) give you a pretty good selection of widths, all at around the same length. Even the girthiest of these break quite easily and most artists break them down a more manageable size both for this reason and to make manipulating them easier (I personally don’t for the most part, but then again I am persnickety). This particular set performed well. I was able to sketch with ease and clarity, while erasing and blending quickly and as cleanly as possible (and the dust trapped in my cleaning cloth made excellent shading powder in other drawings).

Blick offers a wide range of relatively inexpensive products of quality along with their brand-name selection. These fit in nicely and will get the job done. If you’re already ordering art supplies and want some vine charcoal I’d certainly recommend this (or if Blick is actually your local store)(shipping would probably be too much to make this worth ordering alone). And while there certainly may be better charcoal out there somewhere, you won’t have any problems practicing or finishing drawings with this stuff (just be sure to get a fixative if you don’t want it to disappear).

Ann Coulter Doll – In the Collection

If you had asked me to give you a list of strange ideas that make very little sense, there would be a non-zero chance that if the list got long enough I would have written down something like “ an Ann Coulter Barbie”. And the fact that something very similar to that exists, (and is a thing that I now own) is one of those things that makes the real world so surreal.

With very little attempt made to actually look like Ann Coulter (as opposed to a generic, blonde, doll-lady) and a voicebox installed (that now makes sounds like some insane person mumbling because I haven’t replaced the batteries) the doll comes in a “try-me” box, through which you can press a button to hear her “catchphrases”. On the box is info about how to replace the batteries and other standard box stuff no one looks at. Flipping over to the back, there is a photo of Ann over a blurry US constitution and a synopsis of her career. Strangely lacking is a justification for this item’s existence.

These photos are so pixelated I can’t believe someone proofed it.

The line of “toys” (dolls? collectables?) that this doll/action-figure-thing is a part of is the “America’s Real Action Heros/Talking Presidents” series, which had such other notable figures as Dennis Miller, Dr. Laura, Laura Bush, Uncle Sam (who, as you may know, is not actually a real person), Bill Clinton, and 4 versions of George W. Bush. Bush is, of course, the best of the line, because one version comes in a fighter-pilot uniform so he at least somewhat blends in with your GI Joes, unlike the super-adventure-having-terrorist-defeating-squad of Bill Clinton, Uncle Sam, and Ann Coulter.

Despite having a great idea (talking president dolls), and super marketable characters (like, they couldn’t do Roosevelt, or Reagan, or Kennedy, or someone cool… maybe keep with the whole “presidents” theme, I guess it would’ve been harder to get their voices) it seems that the company has disappeared. Indeed their website,, leads (me) to a healthcare website and nothing remotely close to a weird collectable doll website.

I don’t know how to feel about this one. I can’t really talk about it as a toy since I haven’t taken it out of the box and it obviously wasn’t really meant to be a “plaything” (I’ll bet the articulation is terrible). I’m still just sort of in shock that it exists. It’s like that time William “The Refrigerator” Perry became a member of the GI Joe team, except without the sledgehammer, or the interest. It just feels like it’s something from another dimension sitting on my shelf, and as a conversation starter that’s not bad.