Online art classes are here to stay. Here’s how they will help you develop your painting and drawing and feel closer to a community of artists.
This week I have attended two online art classes – the Royal Academy’s Saturday Sketch Club and the Royal Drawing School’s Flux and Flow watercolour course (week 3 of a 10 week class). In doing so I have recognised that these classes don’t just offer an opportunity to develop painting and drawing skills. They are capable of allowing you to feel part of a community, to meet like minded creatives, and to help maintain a sense of wellbeing: not dissimilar to a regular, in-person art class, but without the travelling! Here’s a closer look at the reasons why you should try an online art class.
Classes Are Efficient and Inclusive
In an online art class, all reference materials are put on screen so that you can view it without obstruction. The etiquette of keeping your camera turned off if you are late arriving and not fully prepared avoids latecomers becoming distracting for other artists in the group. When a tutor wishes to share examples of work and demonstrate techniques, they can do so through slide presentations and live or pre-recorded video demonstrations that will occupy your full screen and allow you to be in prime viewing position. In Flux and Flow at the Royal Drawing School, tutor Nicola Durvasula began her introduction to figure painting in watercolour with a slide presentation of examples of work by artists such as John Singer Sargent, Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore. She discussed the context of the work and highlighted specific techniques before sharing 20 second video clips she had pre-recorded, demonstrating how these artists might have approached their painting. Throughout this discussion, we were able to contribute our own thoughts and ask questions, in an environment that felt inclusive, unintimidating and supportive. Not only that – we could all see the presentation without needing to stand on tiptoes!
You Are Guaranteed to Get the Best View
As an extension of this point, another great benefit of an online art class (and in particular, a life drawing class) is that everyone gets the best view. The model will work with the tutor to identify the right poses for the session, and assuming the tutor and model are also communicating via the internet, what the tutor can see of the pose will be exactly what you will also see. Consequently, no one in the group will be short changed with an awkward angle.
Of course, undeniably, working from an image on a screen is, in some ways, no match for being in the same room as the life model. Tonal values are often exaggerated as are angles, and colours can also become distorted. Also, as was the case when I took part in the Royal Academy’s Saturday Sketch Club, I only had access via my phone, and was a little disappointed I could not see the amazing facial expression of Lucia (the model) that everyone else was enthused about! However as many of my fellow artists remarked during the class with the Royal Drawing School, the limitations of the screen can very much be seen as part of the challenge.
You Don’t Need to Worry about Getting to Class
Not needing to worry about geography is hugely beneficial for a number of reasons. First of all, anyone can sign up to a class, meaning that a London based art college can attract students from all over the world, which in itself can help create a diverse and dynamic group of learners. It also means that leading art academies are not only available to those in close proximity. They are available to any artist who would not be able to commute, whether it be as a result of being too far away, because of a disability or mobility issue, or because of logistics such as childcare responsibilities or prohibitive travel costs. By removing such barriers to learning the inevitable consequence is that each individual attendee can engage with a group that has within it, a wider variety of different perspectives. Even if you are local to an art institution, an online class can minimise the amount of necessary commuting you’ll need to do if you have signed up to an evening class, allowing you to avoid the dreaded rush hour.
It is not just the benefit of reaching a wider audience, however. The lack of consideration for geography means that tutors and models can hail from anywhere in the world as well. This means that you can directly benefit from the international connectivity that many art institutions enjoy. Gaia, the model who worked with the Flux and Flow group, explained that as a Cardiff based life model and dancer, she would not have had the opportunity to work with the Royal Drawing School had it not been for the development of online classes. This also allowed her to work within her own environment, with the freedom to use familiar furniture and props at the drop of a hat, depending on what felt appropriate to each individual class. The online class allowed the life model’s creativity to flourish, too.
You Will Feel Connected and Part of a Community
It may be surprising, but yes, an online class can generate a similar sense of connectivity and community that an in-person class can create – and possibly even more so. When a class is given on Zoom, or another conferencing software that allows you to view fellow participants, a good tutor will be able to encourage learners to share their ideas, works in progress and feedback within the group. As I joined Flux and Flow 3 weeks into the course, I was struck by how familiar the other artists appeared to be with one another, and how inclusive and welcoming the group were to me. Perhaps this is because everyone’s presence is represented by an unignorable face within a square on screen. Other forms of online learning, such as a Facebook or Instagram Live demo event, can offer the view of the artist and/or model, with a chat function open so the audience can offer feedback and thoughts. This setup is more anonymous, but still to a degree creates a sense of community.
Working Alone and as Part of a Group – Enjoying the Benefits of Both
Nicola Durvasula, tutor of Flux and Flow, loved the fact that no one was able to look over their shoulder at their neighbour to see how they were interpreting each of her instructions. Everything I say is open to interpretation, and so it can be fascinating to look at the work after an exercise and see how varied the outcomes are, she explained. Use of an image sharing platform called Padlet, allowed the artists to photograph and upload their work, so that Nicola could share her screen and discuss each work in turn. The setup was simple but worked exceptionally well.
You may be able to revisit classes
If you miss a class, or you wish to repeat a class, some institutions record their classes and may be able to offer them to you at a later date (although it’s worth checking with the particular class you are interested in). Such flexibility means that you can join a class at a time that suits you, rather than needing to fit your schedule around the class (although this is at the cost of being able to communicate with other participants).
How an Online Art Class Can Benefit Your Well Being
An online art class allows you to surrender to the instruction of a teacher, and gives an opportunity to try a technique or approach you may not usually engage with. So long as you are able to fully let go of any expectations of yourself, this can be a therapeutic process that allows you to fully immerse in the present. If you live and work largely in isolation, to find yourself among fellow artists who take an interest in each other’s work can make you feel better connected, open an opportunity to make friends, help remedy feelings of loneliness, and build both social and creative confidence. The students of Flux and Flow confidently told me they had made real friendships as a result of the online class and looked forward to bumping into familiar faces both on other online classes, and in person at the Royal Drawing School studios in the future.
The growing popularity of online art classes serves to make art education accessible for all, bringing people together, and allows more of us to access the very best art tuition available in the world today.