Posts Tagged ‘Virtual Art Academy’

Affordable alternatives to becoming “self-taught”

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Many amateur artists seem to pride themselves on being self-taught.  But have you ever noticed how few professional artists claim to be?  There are exceptions, and my hat goes off to them.  No fooling. They are remarkable!

It’s true that self-directed learning may seem to be the only option some artists feel they have if they can’t afford either the time or money for formal training, or if they are geographically or socially isolated, as so many of us are now. But fully self-directed learning can be difficult and slow.  The greatest problem with it is that most untrained artists often don’t recognize what they don’t know.  So they don’t know what they still need to try to figure out.

Without guidance from knowledgeable sources, they may be oblivious to artistic principles or techniques that would markedly improve their work.  So unless they discover answers through conscientious observation or through trial and error, their work will be very slow to improve.

In truth, in today’s world, anyone with internet access has little need be solely selftaught.  Lessons, tips, artist blogs, comprehensive art courses, museum collections, on-line galleries, as well as discussion forums are all available.  Many are free; others can be accessed for a nominal fee, compared to the cost of attending a brick-and-mortar art school.  Online examples of both good and bad art abound. The difficulty for untrained artists is to discern the difference, beyond their personal preferences of subject matter or style.

So, although it’s an easy term to employ, claiming to be “self-taught” is a rather foolish act of hubris:  either unintentionally admitting to having limited one’s learning by choice, or failing to acknowledge all the influences to which one has been exposed.  After all, what part might have been played in one’s education by the galleries and museums browsed, videos viewed, how-to books read, community classes attended, other artists watched and listened to, …?   With rare exceptions, these are the teachers from whom most “self-taught” artists have actually learned.

Although the artist may not have received formal training, he or she is still both student and facilitator who decides what and whom to study.  That’s self-directed learning.  But unless the artist has painstakingly worked out the design principles and mastered the medium and techniques in isolation, it’s foolish to limit oneself to self-teaching.

I received little art guidance (and even less formal art training) in public school, but I later found many sites online that offered classes and how-to tips. I learned from knowledgeable friends who were kind enough to point out what I was doing right and problems I should watch out for. Eventually I was fortunate to find a comprehensive online course (Virtual Art Academy) that filled in the gaping holes in my understanding of art, with knowledgeable and encouraging feedback through its student forum.

So I certainly can’t claim to be self-taught! Nor would I want to. Guidance from other artists has been invaluable in my own artistic development.

Now I like to give back to others whose artistic endeavors may be self-directed, as my own were.  Although I completed the Virtual Art Academy course several years ago, I feel strongly enough about its benefits for artists wanting to increase both their skills and understanding of artistic principles that I remain actively involved in the student forum.  And I continue to learn as I review the continually supplemented and updated curriculum, and as I review the lessons with increasingly experienced insights.

If you would like to read more about me or my work, you can sign up here for my free monthly newsletter, “Around and About” in which I always try to share some of my own learning, struggles, practices, and more, including a monthly critique to provide some insight into what works, what doesn’t, and why.

I wish you increasing satisfaction and success with your own work.  And whether you’re formally trained or self-directed, I encourage you to keep learning!

My Teaching Philosophy, part 3: On artistic principles

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

It is important for serious students of art to understand basic artistic principles.  The more of those principles we understand, the easier it becomes to optimize our own work, no matter what medium we use.  And the greater appreciation we gain for the mastery of great artists we might otherwise overlook.

Although I do try to incorporate and discuss many of the principles in my classes, in conjunction with lessons on watercolor technique and during our subsequent coaching sessions, I can’t cover them all.  The spectrum of artistic principles is far too broad to allow me to cover everything comprehensively in the few short class sessions that I teach in our community every winter.

A brief overview of the principles applying specifically to artistic composition is available in my ebook, Elements of Great Composition: A Quick Reference for Photographers and Other Visual Artists.  Needless to say, there are many additional principles besides these that need to be learned, regarding use of color, creating the illusion of form, perspective, and so on.

Final-EGC-Cover-(small)Any self-taught artist who is serious about improving his or her work and learning to appreciate the finer aspects of art in general, would do well to seek out a comprehensive course that goes beyond the “tips” offered by many popular teachers for using a specific medium.  It should provide both a firm foundation of artistic principles and at least an overview of the development of various artistic styles throughout history.   I used the Virtual Art Academy, an online, self-paced course, to fill this gap in my own belated artistic education.  It is just such a comprehensive program, and I have found the training invaluable for my own artistic development.

My point is that, as artists, we should be continually seeking out opportunities to learn many different aspects of art.  These will gradually coalesce and contribute to a personal style by providing us more tools and information from which to draw as we strive to express our unique artistic vision.

As you settle into 2017 and envision the year unfolding ahead of you, challenge yourself to seek out some form of continuing education to both reinforce and extend your current understanding and level of mastery in whatever area your creative passions may be.

Errors Ennobled

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Barry John Raybould, author of the Virtual Art Academy curriculum, writes that “by doing something and getting it wrong, you learn much faster than doing something and getting it right! The trick is to make as many possible mistakes as you can in the shortest possible time.”

And that’s what the School of Oops! is all about. So by all accounts, I should be advancing by leaps and bounds!

In fact, I do learn from my mistakes … if I allow myself to. That means not only being humbled enough by the failure to acknowledge the mistakes and to identify specifically what they were, but also to have the knowledge and wisdom to figure out how to rectify those ignoble errors.

On a plein air outing this winter, I undertook a watercolor sketch that turned out to be a total flop, both in planning and in execution. Almost everything about it failed. I gave it up as a bad job and began another painting that was much more successful (though that, too, demanded a few strategic corrections in the studio to bring it up to high enough standards to satisfy me).

Using the Virtual Art Academy’s “Visual Music and Poetry” (VM&P) critique format proves extremely helpful in isolating specific aspects of any painting that either succeed or could be improved. By following the format, I was able to get most of the answers I needed for both the paintings. The second of the paintings required only a few adjustments. But the first sketch required some hard evaluation to identify what, exactly, had gone wrong. As I analyzed the work, I realized that the problems were not only in the execution but in my work habits, which, much to my chagrin, I realized had become careless. I was painting like a raw beginner, ignoring many of the principles I had learned over the past several years through the academy.

By identifying both the problems and potential solutions, I gained enough confidence to try the subject again. Then, keeping in mind the ever-important principles I had previously forsaken, I was able to undertake another version of the scene with somewhat better success. (See “Old-Florida River,” #160301, below.)  It’s still not ideal, but it’s a great improvement, and as I study it further, I recognize further corrections I could make and lessons to incorporate in future work.  Learning is an ongoing process in the School of Oops.


So even as we make mistakes, we can allow ourselves to learn from them. The more we make, the better? Maybe not. But the more quickly we can improve.

Benefits of Partnering

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

During the past couple months I’ve participated in several discussions regarding partnering with others who share similar interests. By “partnering” I don’t mean collaboration. Most of us agree that our skills improve more rapidly when we have friends at similar levels of accomplishment with whom we can interact. We can share advice and bounce ideas off one another to deepen our thinking and broaden our understanding and perspective. It opens us to new ideas and helps us appreciate concepts that we may not have previously valued.

Sure, it’s great to have friends and family who admire what we do, but unless they can actively help us exceed our existing skill level, our abilities will progress only as rapidly as our perception and humility allow us to recognize a need for improvement and as we can find the means to advance. Or worse, indiscriminate praise can nurture an egotistical perception that we have already reached the pinnacle of our potential and leave us satisfied to stagnate at status quo.

Evaluation sessions offer opportunities to raise questions and obtain objective feedback.

Evaluation sessions offer opportunities to raise questions and obtain objective feedback.

But knowledgeable colleagues, with whom we can form mutually beneficial partnerships, can draw our attention to aspects of our pursuit that we might otherwise overlook. These can include not only what we have been doing right (encouragement that we all need) but also which aspects could be improved. They can also either point us in the right direction to find satisfactory solutions or work with us to seek out the answers we’re looking for.

I have been very fortunate in my pursuit of art to have found several people with whom to partner. First was a mentor who pointed me in the right direction to learn more on my own. I also had friends (credible, if only minimally knowledgeable) who offered considerable encouragement both in my successes and to continue striving for growth. Next, I found an affordable, self-paced on-line art school (, where I was able to acquire excellent comprehensive academic training in artistic principles. And most recently I have been fortunate to be able to partner with several very knowledgeable and skilled artists with whom I can discuss and identify creative problems and seek out workable solutions. We all benefit from our shared intellectual and experiential “database” by reinforcing our own knowledge and by gaining insights from one another to further our understanding.

If you don’t already have someone to partner with in your own pet pursuits, I encourage you to reach out to others—whether in your neighborhood or online—who share your interests and see if you can offer one another a mutually supportive friendship.

A Corking Good Opportunity? …Or Cruising for a Bruising? Part 1

Friday, August 15th, 2014

I think my husband must have been a travel agent in some former lifetime. He is always on the lookout for a good travel bargain and seems to enjoy poking around online to compare and evaluate our various travel alternatives. In February, he appealed to my wunderlust by telling me about a repositioning cruise opportunity he had seen. Departing from Miami, it would stop in New York City, and then from Halifax, Nova Scotia, would trace the reverse of the Titanic’s route, stopping again in Cobh, Ireland, enroute to Harwich, England.

140301w Travel Plans

After some discussion, we decided to take advantage of the cruise but with a slight change in itinerary. We planned to disembark early, in Cobh, rather than remaining on the ship the rest of the way to England. We would catch a train or bus from nearby Cork to Dublin to pick up a coach tour around Ireland. This would provide us with relaxed transportation, a knowledgeable guide, excellent accommodations (though with less of the small-town local flavor than we seek when we travel independently), most of our meals, and a good overview of the island, which neither of us had ever previously seen.

I contacted a couple of online friends—colleagues from the Virtual Art Academy—one who lives in County Mayo and another who lives closer to Dublin. They both arranged to meet me on our tour’s one free day so we could become better acquainted and, weather permitting, perhaps enjoy some plein air painting together in Connemara.

After having spent a warm, comparatively dry winter amid the dense tropical foliage that surrounds us in Southwest Florida, while the rest of the United States was digging out from unusually heavy snow and frigid temperatures, I certainly had no grounds for complaint; but I was ready for a change and actually looked forward to the cooler temperatures, misting rains, and bright spring greens that I’d heard were typical of the Emerald Isle. I also looked forward, as always, to filling my camera with fresh images to inspire a new series of paintings.

Hanging over our heads was the ever-present, but largely ignored, question of whether our travel plans would move along as smoothly as we hoped. Or would we get tripped up? Would my friends and I be able to get together to canvass our painting opportunities?

A month before we were to leave, we received the unwelcome announcement that the coach tour we had booked had been cancelled. Ouch! That was a wrinkle we certainly hadn’t counted on. We scrambled to see if we could find an alternative tour that would suit us as well. Unfortunately, it meant that the planned get-together with my friends would probably fall by the wayside, which was most disappointing!

As you will have gathered if you have been following my blog, we did make it to Ireland. Next time I’ll tell you more.