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January 30, 2011 8:48 PM   Subscribe

How should I approach teaching classes in digital painting?

Time for part eleven billion in my infinite-part series of questions on digital art!

I'd like to teach (and get paid for teaching) classes in digital painting. The techniques I'd like to teach would have the following prerequisites:

Students must already have
- a pressure-sensitive tablet
- Photoshop CS or later (no questions asked about the provenance of a student's copy this software, as far as I would be concerned...)

Everything else, however, is an open question for me: online classes via Skype, or in-person? Community-based adult education sorts of classes, or, "You know, for kids?" One-on-one tutoring, or group classes? And what about selling instructional DVDs? How do I work this stuff out?

Digital painting is a technology-intensive and somewhat "futuristic" skill, but I still think people would want to learn it through somewhat traditional pedagogical methods. For example, I'd love to teach natural media painters how to replicate their working approaches using Photoshop; but I would also be happy teaching an absolute beginner who doesn't even have real-world painting experience.

What would you suggest for someone who wants to teach this?
posted by overeducated_alligator to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'd start with the idea that "digital painting" for typical students - who you have not identified in your question - age range, experience level, etc. - is not going to be best served with Photoshop. I would strongly suggest you consider something less difficult to learn, and more applicable to the task you seem to be proposing - ArtRage (www.artrage.com) starts at $20, and is specifically designed for _digital painting_.
posted by dbiedny at 9:01 PM on January 30, 2011

And, on the other hand from where David's at, production-VFX-level digital matte painting requires a lot more than just Photoshop, as even the brief rundown of this Gnomon Workshop instructional DVD details.

The sorts of people who want to learn production VFX skills tend to want to learn them from people with established cred in the field-- the school I attended's senior Photoshop instructor was the guy who came up with the term "giclee" for high-end archival prints of digital work, for instance, and our old color theory prof was a Disney animator and traditional watercolor artist who was hell on wheels on a tablet because it was all the same skillset with different tools. You need prior credentials to establish the fact that you know what you're talking about and can actually provide the information students need to work in a VFX studio environment.

Without more details on what, exactly, you're trying to teach, to whom, and for what purpose, I don't think we can divine an approach for you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:37 PM on January 30, 2011

You should probably take a look at some of the most popular digital painting classes and workshops available online to see if there's something you can offer that would make your classes competitive. (Price? Methods of teaching? Level of student?) etc. Determining the weaknesses or holes in current popular classes should help you narrow your focus a bit more. CGTalk, Gnomon, and ConceptArt.org are the obvious heavyweights to check out. Some artists (I think Jeremy Sutton is the guy I'm thinking of) have taught classes atelier style.

As I'm sure you know, there's a huge difference between an artist already accomplished in another medium and someone who's never lifted a paintbrush. It's like learning how to program vs. learning a new programming language. The type of student you want to teach will make a difference in your approach.

Your work (style & subject) will also influence the type and level of student you'll attract as well as how much they're willing to pay.

These are the types of things I would consider if I wanted to teach (or take) a class in digital painting.
posted by xyzzy at 9:38 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As others have mentioned, I think you'll have to narrow down who you're trying to reach with your class. It sounds like you're more interested in teaching amateurs with an interest in learning a medium, as opposed to training professionals who're looking to expand their skillset. If that's the case, you might want to start by finding a local organization that teaches classes in the arts, and seeing if you can set up a program through them. They'd help you figure out a lot of these details, and provide you with an existing community of potential students.

If you want to do this entirely online, that will be much trickier. The people who I've seen achieve some success in online tutorials have been established artists with an existing fanbase. If you aren't already a trusted, respected member of an online community of artists, it's very difficult to stand out from the crowd and advertise your services. And if you want to then charge for those services, you'd have a very steep hill to climb, and it might come down to how much free work you're willing to do up front to get people interested. A well-recieved series of youtube video tutorials, for instance, might give you a platform to build a business on, but you'd have to spend the time and energy making them first, and there'd be no guarantee of a return on your investment.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:58 PM on January 30, 2011

Best answer: I started learning digital painting with Photoshop, and then I went to Painter, and now I have problems because I want it to behave like Photoshop, and when I'm in Photoshop I want it to work like Painter. Drives me mad. But were I to start over, Painter is the superior program for digital painting. Cheaper, too, in the long run.

But aside from that, I'd start with scanning, technical information on resolution and stuff. It still amazes me how many artists don't understand this. It's harder to learn to sketch straight into a program for beginners, and good scanning as a prep for working digital is great to learn. You could also prepare a standard linework and use that for coloring practice to show the students various techniques. I really like inking by hand, for instance, and then bringing that in paint.

Plus there's so many styles - cell coloring, painterly, effects enhanced ... Really depends on what segment you are aimed at. Are your students going to be anime/manga fans, for instance, or serious art students? Who will you be advertising to?

Your main problem with doing this in person is getting access to a suitable computer lab, and finding enough students to make it worth your while. Online classes or tutoring would be easier to arrange on a small scale. DVDs? Probably not so good. There are lots of free tutorials on the internets. Your advantage is your personal input and guidance.
posted by griselda at 10:00 PM on January 30, 2011

Response by poster: Your main problem with doing this in person is getting access to a suitable computer lab, and finding enough students to make it worth your while. Online classes or tutoring would be easier to arrange on a small scale.

That's one of my concerns. I'd prefer to teach in a local community art program because of the hands-on benefits of teaching in person, but I worry that the cost of computers and tablets will be prohibitive. I wouldn't even mind buying an extra tablet or two and lending them (with a deposit) to a couple private students.

As far as skill levels go, I think I could teach a range of students and tailor classes to their needs. I don't think I'm getting up to ultra-pro Gnomon level, but I also wouldn't charge $1,000, either.

Think more like the music school graduate who gives local guitar lessons? They put up flyers, and usually assume their students will have access to a guitar. I'd like to do the same thing, only with digital art...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:46 AM on January 31, 2011

Best answer: Digital Painting is a big area, sort of like any other medium, like say watercolor. You have your beginners who like to try something new, your middle to advanced artists who want to paint portraits and killer robots, and then your non digital artists who use it to help their workflow/process (but probably aren't interested in doing things 100% digital). And also given that not everyone knows how to use photoshop/tablet/a computer it's also a computer skills class.

Some things to think about:

-Is this a class for people who already know how to draw, just not digitally?
-What sort of style (photorealistic, sketchy, graphic, painterly) will they learn?
-What sort of people would you be willing to teach (age, skill level, and interest), and what could you say they would learn by the end?
-How does the class incorporate real life art and art methods (does it use scanned in drawings, photo references, painting from life, color theory)?

Cathy Johnson teaches traditional art classes online using resources like blogs, groups, and flickr, with materials mailed on CD. You'd have to be an established artist to go this route, though.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 10:47 AM on January 31, 2011

Have you considered joining an existing atelier, or doing a few short workshops at one? Depending on your professional work experience/locale, that might be best for you - hunt down your local equivalent of Concept Design Academy if you have one.
posted by tautological at 6:06 PM on January 31, 2011

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