Creativity
This New Website Is Offering Free Art Lessons from Professors and Artists
Art Prof video still. Courtesy of Art Prof and Alex Hart.

Art Prof video still. Courtesy of Art Prof and Alex Hart.

For many people, finding an art class that is both accessible and affordable can be difficult.
“A lot of kids don’t have art programs at their school, or the programs they do have are meager and underfunded,” artist and art professor told me on a recent afternoon. “Many adults, too, don’t know where to start—or can’t afford the courses that are available.”
In 2017, Lieu launched Art Prof, a website that offers a wide range of art classes, captured in videos. Taught by professional artists and university art teachers, courses range from the basics, like drawing, to more complex or niche mediums, like types of sculpture, printmaking, and animation. Professional development advice is available, too, in videos with titles like “Facing Artists Block” and “Selling Your Art.” What’s more, lessons are fun. One instructor, illustrator Casey Roonan, often starts lessons with an impression of actor Matthew McConaughey in the cult film Magic Mike. In other videos, a pet guinea pig makes cameos as a very cute, albeit silent, studio assistant.
Art Prof video still. Courtesy of Art Prof and Alex Hart.

Art Prof video still. Courtesy of Art Prof and Alex Hart.

Most important to Lieu, however, is that the site and its courses are completely free. “The second there’s a financial barrier, that’s going against our mission: to be accessible to everybody,” Lieu explained.
A longtime adjunct professor at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Lieu recognizes the value of art schools, continuing education courses, and online programs. Knowing that tuition costs can be extremely prohibitive, and that websites like Lynda.com and Skillshare.com have paywalls, she wanted to provide a no-cost alternative for those who can’t afford classes, or who live in areas where art instruction isn’t readily available.
The concept of Art Prof came to Lieu about four years ago, while she was teaching at RISD and writing an advice blog for artists called “Ask the Art Prof.” She started the column expecting to receive queries from her RISD students, but quickly found herself responding to all types of artists, from professionals and university students to schoolchildren and retirees. The questions she fielded ranged from “How do you draw the human face?” to “How can I tell if I’m skilled enough?” Simultaneously, she was volunteering for an outreach program called RISD Project Open Door, which offers art classes to Rhode Island teens who have little or no exposure to the subje.
Art Prof video still. Courtesy of Art Prof and Alex Hart.

Art Prof video still. Courtesy of Art Prof and Alex Hart.

“Before then, I hadn’t realized there was such a huge range of people who wanted to study visual art, and who really had nowhere else to get the information that they needed,” Lieu remembered. “I thought, ‘There’s gotta be a way, with the technology we have now, to give people that access.’”
In step, she began speaking with fellow professors and her RISD students about her blossoming idea: to develop art classes for anyone who can connect to the internet. In 2016, she and her business partner, producer Thomas Lerra, launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised $30,000 to fund the creation of the website and a core group of instructional videos. Last year, they launched Art Prof, and continue to persist on donations alone via Patreon.
“It’s a little bit Khan Academy, in terms of being an encyclopedia; a little bit Antiques Roadshow, it terms of the interactive critiques; and, of course, a little bit Bob Ross,” Lieu said of the site.
When it comes to instructional courses, Lieu and her staff of teaching assistants (many of whom are her former students from RISD) began by producing foundational videos on drawing, collage, mixed media, and painting. These videos are geared towards beginners, both in terms of skill, which is entry-level, and cost of materials.
Even the more advanced classes that have begun to pop up on the site offer a range of options when it comes to supplies. In marker drawing, balsa wood sculpting, or oil painting, for instance, instructors shed light on both economical and higher-end materials that can be used for a given project. The site also comes equipped with what Lieu refers to as the “art supply encyclopedia,” a sweeping list of the materials mentioned in Art Prof’s videos, and where to snag them.
Art Prof’s videos also encourage aspiring artists to develop their own process and style. “We don’t want to tell people, ‘this is how you draw,’” said Lieu. “Our approach is: Here are five ways of drawing. Now you figure out, on your own, which parts you like and which parts you don’t like.”
With new videos being added on a regular basis, it seems that Art Prof is on its way to meeting one of its goals: offering something for everyone. “I want to reach people who don’t have access to art classes, but also people who do have a high school art class, but want more, beyond what the teacher can give them,” Lieu said. “Really, I hope that we become a comprehensive encyclopedia for all visual artists.”
Alexxa Gotthardt is a contributing writer for Artsy.