Many folks driving up Chinquapin Road in Cruso often see resident Diane O’Neal cleaning up the roadside, making her neck of the woods look spectacular near her “Adopt a Highway” sign sponsored by “Portraits by Diane.”

What they may not realize, however, is that she is a totally self-taught artist who also creates spectacular portraits using only two very simple tools — paper and pencils.

“I pull the people and animals or whatever I’m drawing out of the paper,” said O’Neal.

Her initial enthrallment with pencil art budded when she was a young girl growing up in Leipsic, Ohio one day when a super realistic pencil drawing of “Black Beauty” fascinated her. Then, in her college days when she was bored in her dorm room at Bowling Green State University, she tried her hand at pencil drawing from album covers, singers like John Denver and The Carpenters.

“In that dorm room, I drew and smeared and blended and erased and erased more and taught myself,” she recalled.

Then, in 2007, she picked up the pencil again and began to draw seriously after she drew a few pictures and posted them in an international online chat room and one lady from England declared through her keyboard, “You’ve got to keep doing this!”

The encouraging comment all the way from England fueled her passion for pencil drawing and her first paid drawing was for a lady in New Zealand who requested a pencil drawing of her niece and baby brother.

The reaction from New Zealand further fueled O’Neal’s realization that her hobby touched the hearts of her customers.

“She sent me a note that said she gave it to her ‘mum’ in the mall and she started crying,” O’Neal said.

Once she drew several more pencil drawings as gifts for co-workers and baby showers and so forth, she was soon covered up with custom pencil portraiture requests.

Once she moved to Cruso from Island Lake, Illinois in 2013 with her husband Dan, she continued fulfilling her requests until she now has a thriving online business found on Facebook under “Portraits by Diane.”

So far, she has drawn over 200 pencil portraits for customers in nine countries.

“I’ve mostly drawn people and animals. One customer wanted a picture of their motorcycle so I draw whatever the customer requests,” explained O’Neal, who draws on the weekends in addition to her full-time job at ConMet in Canton, drawing from photographs that her customers either give her or e-mail to her.

“I pray before I draw each portrait,” she said.

Then, her self-taught process includes graphing out the outline points and sketching the outline, then she begins with the hair if she’s drawing a person and goes on to draw the rest of the portrait with a lot of smearing and erasing along the way, typically ending each masterpiece with capturing the light in the person’s eyes.

“These are people’s memories so I try to memorialize them and capture their personality that defines them,” O’Neal said.

During the typical six to eight hours that she spends on each portraiture, she prays often for the people she’s drawing, reflective of the slogan on her business card that reads, “Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil — it has no point.”

“I feel this is my ministry to people,” she stated.

Her neighbors Danny and Darlene Long were two people she has spent time drawing.

“Danny surprised me with this drawing of both of us for my birthday and, when he showed it to me, I was overwhelmed to tears because I like her drawings so much and he knew that,” said Darlene Long, who enjoys looking at her priceless portraiture hanging in its permanent place on her living room wall.

“I thought it was absolutely beautiful,” she added.

As O’Neal reflected on the over 200 drawings she’s completed over the years, she says her ultimate favorite part of the process is when she’s able to hand a finished portraiture over to a customer in person.

“Usually, they cry when they first see it,” she said. “That’s real gratification.”

Yes, they cry, but those tears are tears of joy – a true reflection of a woman’s work of art that truly comes from the heart.

To view more of O’Neal’s work, visit her “Portraits by Diane” Facebook business page. The price range starts under $200 and depends on the complexity of the drawing. If interested in ordering a custom portraiture, contact O’Neal at 550-2638, email or message her on her Facebook website.

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