You can learn art on the Internet—almost

May 25, 2017

With some exceptions, particularly in techniques like etching and lithography, my university art instruction 40 years ago was way too laissez-faire. The intersection of art and hippie-dom lent itself to a “do your own thing” pedagogy. In my introductory ceramics class, the instructor disappeared for a quarter, then returned to tell me that he didn’t like my aesthetics.

A drawing class at the University of Minnesota and a year drawing charcoal portraits at the Mall of America with a half dozen Beijing-trained artists gave me more specific instruction, but I’ve also found instructional videos on YouTube that provide the best of both worlds.

Drawing believable people requires a believable context. You can get bogged down in perspective, but Circle Line Art School’s “How to Draw People in 1-Point Perspective” shows you that the horizon is at your eye level, so the eyes of adults at the same elevation as you will be more or less at the horizon.

I’m jealous of “Sycra” because he’s good at inventing figures, which I am not. His “Draw the Figure!” instruction, beginning with stick figures, is limited to static poses, but he offers an alternative. Sycra’s also useful for foreshortened figures, in which the axis is perpendicular to the plane of the picture and for the planes of the face.

Talent isn’t a “gift.” Sure, Picasso and Dali could draw like masters from childhood, but placing features in correct relationships with each other takes a skill you can acquire—measuring. Perrin Sparks is an artist who has instructional DVDs for sale. In her excerpt, “Steps to a Likeness: Oil Portraits,” she demonstrates how to measures a face. The paintings on her website,, are very nice, but the method seems less flexible.

Wei works more like my friends from the Mall. Eyeballs have to be far enough apart that they don’t interfere with each other, but it wouldn’t be economical to put them farther apart than one eye’s width.

Wei positions the nose with a plumb line to determine what part of the eye is over the corner, then estimates the angle of a line from the outside corner of the eye to the corner of the nose, so the nose the right length.

The Fine Art Academy’s videos (for example, “The Girl”) let you look over the shoulders of advanced Chinese students. Reminds me of the Mall.

The Virtual Art Academy’s “Learning How to Paint Part 8—Composition” is part of a videoseries on developing a painting practice.

Tom Keating was an art restorer and forger who teaches art history by demonstrating techniques of great masters. Check out “The Master Tom Keating explains the technique of Rembrandt.”

Mural Joe is a decorator and house painter who has spent a lot of hours observing the effects of light and learning how to cultivate happy accidents. He works with indoor acrylic paints in black, white, red, blue, yellow, and magenta. (See his “How To Paint Waves” lessons.)


Mark Carder paints realistic pictures in oil, using his own paint and tools. He works with a limited palette of white, yellow, red, blue, and burnt umber. His blacks are a mixture of umber and blue. His YouTube channel, “Draw, Mix, Paint,” describes his method. He outlines his subject on toned canvas, mixes his colors from darkest to lightest, and then paints darkest to lightest.

Although he has more thorough instruction for sale, Carder is generous enough that you could learn to paint from what he’s posted online. He also shares formulas for adapting store paints to his instruction.

Although you can get excellent instruction from videos, there are parts of an art education that you shouldn’t count on finding online. It takes practice to become fluent. Teachers can remind you to keep working.

While some artists offer critiques, a face-to-face relationship with someone who’s made a lot of pictures is invaluable. Most likely, you will overlook things, good and bad, in what you’ve done. A sophisticated pair of eyes can point you in a useful direction when you’re stuck.

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