I would not be where I am today as an artist — an actual award-winning artist — were it not for the online art community. When I first began learning to draw back in 2015, my instruction came from a little book I downloaded for my Kindle. It was probably several weeks before I thought to browse online for drawing tips, and that search — information on how to draw hands — led me to The Virtual Instructor.
First and foremost, I can’t say enough good about Matt Fussell, the virtual instructor himself. From that first free lesson video I watched, it was apparent that his way of teaching just clicked for me. I signed up as a member at his site, and I’m still a member. If you visit the site and read through the various testimonials, you’ll find part of an email I wrote to Matt, thanking him for the instruction and encouragement he provides for aspiring artists.
But Matt’s site is not the only resource out there. In this awesome world of internet connection, artists from around the world can join together for many different purposes. We’ve created a little community here with our different art blogs. It’s fun visiting others, exchanging ideas, and keeping up with what’s going on in the world of art.
There are, of course, many talented artists who are willing to share their knowledge and demonstrate their skills for a price. While there are some free lessons at The Virtual Instructor, there are others available for a price or through an annual membership like I have. For me, it’s been worth every penny I’ve paid, and I recommend the site to anyone who wants to learn how to draw.
But I simply can’t afford to join every paid art site or purchase too many online art courses, no matter how tempting they might sound. At one time, I did take advantage of a special offer and joined another online art instruction site. I learned a bit from it, but overall, I wasn’t fully satisfied with the instruction. Unlike Matt’s teaching methods, this artist’s way of explaining things just didn’t click. After a few months, I decided I’d rather use that money for other things, and I cancelled my membership at that site.
The key, of course, is finding a good fit. It is, truly, like putting a key in a lock. If you have the wrong key or the wrong lock, it’s not going to click — and neither should I, I’ve learned. So much is out there — only a click away — but not all art instruction is created equal, and not every teacher is right for every student.
My advice? Investigate classes that interest you. Check out any free videos offered. Learn as much as you can about the teacher and his or her methods. If possible, talk to others who’ve enrolled in the courses. If a course seems to click for you, then look for a sale, or a trial offer. If it’s not a good fit, you can usually cancel. Just be sure to read all the terms and conditions before you sign up.
And what of all the free tutorials you’ll find online? Are they worth the click? Definitely, but with a few caveats.
First, it’s important again to find an instructor whose teaching style works for you. When I was doing watercolor a few years ago, I loved Angela Fehr’s videos on YouTube. There are many other watercolor artists with videos, but I seemed to connect best with her way of teaching.
Second, keep in mind that many art instruction tutorials are little more than advertising strategies designed to lure you into purchasing additional instruction. Now, some free videos — like those offered by Matt Fussell — actually do provide a complete lesson. Even if you don’t sign up for a membership at The Virtual Instructor, you’ll still benefit greatly from any of his free courses. Others, however, aren’t so instructive. You might get to watch a “speed demo” of a painting, or get only a short “excerpt” from the painting process, a bit like a trailer of a movie. To watch the full lesson or get the step-by-step information, you must pay a price. No problem, really, if it’s something you feel will be useful. Once again, it goes back to finding the right key for the right lock.
Third, remember that anyone can upload a video to YouTube and provide instruction. In other words, you don’t need any real credentials to become an online art instructor. While browsing through videos, I’ve seen a few that have left me doing a bit of head-shaking.
Fourth, expect a little confusion if you watch too many videos on a specific topic. Art, we all know, is a very personal experience, and we each have different ways of approaching it. With oil painting, as an example, one video teacher insists on toning a canvas with gray, another explains that you should only use a coral color for toning, while yet another tells you to start with a color that complements the overall color of your painting. What I’m saying here is that online instructors can be a bit dogmatic, suggesting that their way is the best way or even the only way something should be done. Watch a few such tutorials and you’ll come away more confused than ever, with lots of unanswered questions about the painting process. Ultimately we have to find our own way. Video instruction can help, but if it leads to confusion, maybe it’s better to shut the videos down for a while.
Fifth, find videos that will really be useful. There are so many art videos on YouTube! Where do you begin? How do you sort through them all? No easy answer to that one, I’m afraid. But if you start watching a video and realize it’s not going to help you, just stop watching. “Helpful” videos are those that encourage us, those that help us use and improve our skills. Videos are not helpful if they demonstrate skills that are far beyond our current abilities, or if they’re so simple that we don’t actually learn from them.
Sixth, be sure to play through the entire video lesson before attempting it. When you find a tutorial you want to follow, watch it from beginning to end. Make sure you have the materials you need. Be sure you understand the process the artist uses.
Maybe I’ve made the whole idea of watching art tutorials seem a bit more complicated than it should be. Maybe it can be fun to just sit back and watch any and all art tutorials we find. Maybe we can learn by doing that.
But, for me, I’ve found it more rewarding to be a bit picky about when and where I click for art instruction. There’s a lot out there. Some excellent. Some worth watching. Some that seem to be designed just for me. Those are the videos I want to find and enjoy, and I’m happy to pay the price for further lessons when I find instructors I truly connect with.
So, happy clicking, everyone.
If you have favorite YouTube art channels — or if you have a channel of your own — please share in the comments.