The answer is, it depends. ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ This newsletter is about drawing. It goes out every Friday. Want to draw? Then check out my free workbook!

#14 - Should You Go To Art School Or Can You Become A Good Artist By Being Self-Taught?

The answer is, it depends.

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I have been to an art academy. I went for slightly less than three years. A few weeks before the end, I realized it wasn’t the right course for me anymore, and I quit.

It is a great art academy. They taught me a lot of the fundamentals. They got us to fill sketchbooks; they took us outside to draw from observation, we drew and later painted still-lifes—which is a topic unto itself I have to talk about some other time—, and we did model drawing classes, of course. We drew, we painted, we copied masters, we had art history lessons.

It was an excellent basis for me to start from.

So why did I quit?

At that moment, I wanted to become a story illustrator, whereas the academy course was about making you a painter, an artist, someone who creates things to hang on walls and sell in galleries and try to get into museums.

I just knew that was not what I wanted to do!

If I had stayed, I would have had to go into the fourth year and then the fifth year, making final finished works. That meant it would take me in the wrong direction for another two years.That is lesson number one: figure out what you want to do first, and then find the education that helps you get there.

I don’t know if art academies near me could have taken me to where I wanted to go, but I instinctively felt that this was not the right academy for me. I didn’t know why just yet at the moment, but now I do.

But it was an excellent start for me! It was a great basis.

You have to keep in mind that in the end, no one will ask for your diploma! Your work will speak for itself. If a customer is looking for an artist, they might look at your portfolio. They might try a small project with you. And then they decide whether they want you to do work for them.

Nobody ever asks you for your diploma.

It’s not about that piece of paper. It’s about what you learn!

One great thing about art academy is the opportunities it provides you to network to meet other artists. If you do skip art academy and do online art courses, this is one thing you should also try to focus on. Try to find a tribe of artists, a community where artists can talk with each other.

Instagram is not great for that as it discourages conversations through its user interface design. There are Reddit groups, but they don’t seem to be too active. I believe there are active Facebook groups, but I’d rather steer clear of that platform. Not many artists are on Twitter either. I don’t know any thriving online communities of artists right now. Tumblr and deviantArt used to be the places to go, where artists could just communicate, just talk shop.

This aspect of art academies seems to be hard to replicate online at the moment.

One of the significant insights I got from the art academy was that learning a skill is a skill in itself!

You can learn how to learn new skills. Whether you are learning to make music or learning to draw or program, the way to go about it tends to be the same. The basics are the same. You have to practice a lot. A caveat on that: you don’t have to draw every day. Sometimes, life gets in the way. Sometimes you have to do things, and there just isn’t enough time in the day. In those days, be kind to yourself.

But you have to draw a lot, and you have to understand the fundamentals of that skill that you need to learn. And you have to copy the masters to learn the tricks they used, and you have to learn about the history of the art form, the conventions, and the canon of masterpieces. All these things you can learn.

Only copy from masters to practice, by the way! Don’t pretend it’s yours, and don’t sell the work without permission from the original artist.

When learning music, you need to learn to read notes, learn the chords, learn music theory, practice every day, and practice existing songs.

The same happens with drawing: You have to draw every day. You copy the masters. You learn the fundamentals like perspective, anatomy, et cetera.

With programming, it’s the same. You need to learn a particular type of programming language, but then it becomes much easier to pick up other programming languages. The thinking, the way of solving problems, stays the same. And it is again about practicing every day, and in the beginning, it is about creating programs others have already made—basically, copying the masters.

Each time you want to learn a new skill, it’s the same model, the same approach you have to follow.

Now we come to the meat of the question: do you have to go to an art academy?

In principle, you don’t have to if you understand this mechanism for learning a new craft. Nowadays, you can design your school. There are so many online courses right now that you can choose from and combine into your customized curriculum, and they are often far cheaper than an art academy. You have Proko, Watts Atelier, Schoolism, and many other places where you can go for online art courses and learn a lot.

These places have excellent courses! I have done several there and learned a lot.

As I mentioned before, the art academy prepared me to become a painter, and I didn’t want to become a painter.

When I left, I figured out that I wanted to learn how to tell stories. Schoolism, for example, has courses on that which could help me.

You can start to turn things upside down: you think of the type of art you want to make, and then you find the online courses or mentors to match!

You can mix and match and combine different teachers. And you should, because they will teach you different things and sometimes contradict each other.

That was an interesting thing about the art academy: the teachers would contradict each other! One would say, “do a quick underpainting and use turpentine to thin the paint.” And another teacher would say, “never use turpentine! It breaks down the linseed oil in the paint!” And they were both correct in a way as they were trying to help you become a better painter. Teachers can contradict each other and still both be right. It’s advantageous to have more than one mentor presenting many different viewpoints on art creation to start to figure out what is right for you.

You can do that online too. The courses will sometimes contradict each other, but not as much as at the art academy.

If you have the money for it, do try to do many different online courses! You will get many different perspectives on things. These online courses tend to be much cheaper than art academies, and you can decide to go to an art academy later anyway.

There are so many great resources online right now; it’s incredible! There are YouTube videos you can learn from.

With Practice Drawing This, I did not want to compete with all the available online courses and educational resources because they are so good! How could I possibly compete?

I am trying to do something different; I am trying to focus on drawing exercises. These are drawing exercises I do, and they are just practice.

I had this Instagram account where many people followed me, and I noticed that tutorials were very successful. People would like them, bookmark them, share them, look at them for a long time. I felt they thought they were learning and becoming a better artist just by scrolling past and studying the tutorials. But that is not how you become better at drawing. You become better at drawing by drawing! You have to pick one tutorial and then do it.

I started to feel guilty about making these tutorials because they were keeping people away from their sketchbooks.

So what I am trying with “Practice Drawing This” is to focus more on the actual drawing.

To summarize: I don’t think you need to go to an art academy, but if you don’t go, you need to arrange for a few things in its place.

For one, there are things you don’t even know you don’t know.

For example, many comics artists are self-taught: they didn’t go to the art academy. Many of them started as a child. They copied comics pages, Spiderman and Batman, and that is how they learned to draw. And in many of their works, I can see that they don’t understand composition design. They know how to guide the eye through the page, but the pages they create are so cluttered with detail that I get tired thinking of studying all that detail. I think it’s one reason comics never caught on with the larger audience.

If you don’t see it, you sometimes need a teacher or mentor to point it out for you. You might figure it out yourself eventually, but there is a chance that you may not.

I had aspects of design and composition pointed out to me by designers and my art academy.

There are now great online courses on composition design. Marshall Vandruff, for example, has an awesome online boot camp on composition design.

And like mentioned earlier, finding an online community like you would naturally have at an art academy can be a challenge.

When you work together, you challenge each other. You see that another student can do something, so you know it can be done, and you stretch yourself and try to achieve it. Or maybe you look over each other’s shoulders and glean tricks from each other.

For example, I once saw a fellow student use the back of a fountain pen nib to suggest leaves.

Of course, nowadays, there are many videos where you can watch an artist draw in real-time—don’t watch timelapse videos. They are not realistic. Try to find videos where you can watch the artist draw in real-time. You can learn so much from just watching how the artist holds a pen or pencil, how they move their arm, how quick or careful and deliberate they draw, at what size they draw, et cetera.

And other artists can provide a network. You might be able to pass each other on jobs or have an exhibition together. That can be much harder when you are working in isolation.

And art academy provides structure. You have lessons you have to attend. You have model drawing class on Tuesday, still life drawing on Wednesday, et cetera. And you just show up.

When you work by yourself, you have to find the time and motivation to start every time, and this can be hard when you have an off day. When you’re going to an art academy, an off-day just means you carry yourself to the drawing class, and you attend anyway.

At the same time, you could also save yourself a lot of money and not go to an art academy and learn by yourself. But you need to find out what you don’t even know you don’t know. Maybe also look at adjacent fields like sculpting, graphic design, et cetera so that you can pick up ideas from other areas and discover the things you are missing.

You have to figure out first where you want to go as an artist. What kind of artist do you want to become. And then look at the art academies and decide if any of them is for you. Look at their curriculums and see if you can learn these topics on your own through books, online courses, or YouTube videos.

Also, consider that the art academy is only the beginning. Art academy is only four years, and art is lifelong learning. When you leave art academy, there is so much you have to learn still!

My art academy was about training you to look at something, choose a frame, and then copy what you saw inside. This was excellent training to learn to see, draw and paint. Still, it is not much training when it comes to composition, where you add or remove elements or move elements around or change the shape of a shadow to get at a better two-dimensional design.

They also did not teach me one thing about storytelling. People who finish at that art academy can’t quite start as a comics creator or storyboard artist just yet. Storytelling is a whole different thing from making paintings designed to hang on walls.

There is only so much you can learn in four years, and an art academy has to choose a curriculum that fits into those four years, so when you finish, you are not a complete artist yet. You still have so much to learn. But if the art academy does it well, they teach you how to delve into a new subject by yourself and learn by yourself. If they are good, you learn how to learn.

And that is what makes art fun! You are constantly learning new things, constantly growing. But art academy is only the beginning. Four years is not nearly enough to learn everything about making art.

My Favorite Drawing Exercises

Try to figure out what type of artist you want to be five or ten years from now, and start from there and choose the courses you need.


Metaverse For Artists?

This week, Facebook announced a name change to Meta, signaling that they were betting on an even more immersive online environment.

For obvious reasons, the fact that Facebook will control such an environment naturally worries me a bit.

Yet, I looked into what it might mean, and they seem to be steering toward Augmented Reality.

What is Augmented Reality? It’s a technology where you show reality as streamed through video, but you overlay virtual objects over it.

There will be many ways this will affect artists, but this one suddenly dawned on me. Imagine drawing from a live model and then super-imposing that model over your drawing to see where your proportions were off.

Or seeing perspective lines super-imposed over your drawing as you draw.

You will be able to place 3d models in space over your drawing to “trace.”

Kind of like the tool I just presented in this post! Like mentioned earlier, with my new free online tool, you can draw from reference and then transparently overlay that photo reference over your drawing through your mobile camera.

You don’t have to wait five years for augmented reality for artists. You can try it out right now with my free online tool!

You can get a taste of what the Augmented Reality future might hold for artists! Maybe it won’t be all bad after all.

So, THAT happened this week. I’m five years ahead of the curve ha ha.

Try it out:

Augmented Reality For Artists!

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