Something Out of Nothing

Lately I’ve been listening to the NPR podcast “How I Built This.” The stories are really inspirational and engaging, but what I wasn’t expecting was to see so much of what my life is like today, reflected in other people’s stories. Listening to the stories from companies like Air BnB, Kate Spade, Angie’s List, and more, I was surprised by what was consistent in all of these stories.

Every person spoke about their venture taking a minimum 3 years to get off the ground, using their home to some ridiculous capacity because there were no other options, and going humbling/menial tasks where you practically have to get down on your knees and scrub the floor yourself while singing for your supper.  Hearing Kate Spade explain how she was at one point, packing and shipping all of her hand bags herself from inside her apartment certainly sounded familiar!

Most of the time I’m too busy to do any amount of thoughtful reflection on Art Prof. However, this week I was at the Goetemann Artist Residency at the Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester, MA and I actually had some quiet hours to think more philosophically than usual.

When I first started thinking about Art Prof 3 years ago, I remember almost everyone who I mentioned the idea to responded with: “Why don’t you just teach a course on” or “How about trying to teach on Skillshare?” Yes, those certainly would have been the more practical routes, but in my mind, none of those were ever options that I seriously entertained.

This past week I’ve had to say goodbye to an incredible team of summer interns who did amazing work all summer and produced really exciting new content for  We produced a short documentary on this summer’s interns, and one intern commented how he was fascinated by watching how you “create something out of nothing.”

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Project Idea video on linoleum printmaking with intern Anjali Shankar

There are days where I want to tear my hair out with frustration when things are difficult.  I’ve had a few situations that were really upsetting and extremely difficult for a number of reasons, but for the most part, those are rare blips in the scheme of things.

The rest of the time?  My actions can’t keep up with my mind, and I feel an intense urgency working on Art Prof that I have never even come close to experiencing with any of my other work. I always swore that I would ever go near sleeping the hours of a RISD freshman ever again, but apparently, if the work you’re doing is compelling enough, you’ll do ANYTHING to make it happen.

Art Prof has been incredibly humbling, more so than anything else I’ve ever experienced. I’m not someone who hesitates much about doing what I have to do to make something happen, but Art Prof has brought this to a whole new level. I’ve had to trust complete strangers, ask for favors that I really should know better than to ask for, dealt with people who wanted us to fail, had the doors slammed in my face, (metaphorically) increased my rejection rate about 50000%, and received deafening silence from more groups and people than I can count.

And yet somehow, I’m having the time of my life.  

I wake up everyday with so much excitement for what I’ll do next, to the point where I’m actually bummed out when it’s time to go to bed and I have to stop working.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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Exploding with Ideas


Lately it seems like my hands just can’t keep up with my mind.  I have 20 years of content that is dying to come out of my head for Art Prof, I have years of work to create for Scars that Speak, and today I had another idea for series of drawings that I’ll work on until the day I die.

Sounds dramatic, but I really mean it!  I always joke with my college students about how old and uncool I am, but it’s true; in recent years the process has become noticeable in a way it never was before. The process begins with silly things like watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and realizing that I have no idea who the celebrities he interviews are, or when I mention Woody Allen to a student and they reply with “Who’s that?”

In terms of my mindset, I notice that I care less and less every day about what other people in of me.  I remember being so preoccupied with how other people would react to what I did, both in terms of things small and large.  Today, I really could care less.  That’s a great feeling, it’s really liberating and lets you do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

Many years ago when I was traveling in Japan, I was at a temple in a rural area.  At this temple, there was this GIGANTIC metal bell hanging in the middle of the temple.  The bell was just begging to be rung, but of course, there was a big scary sign next to it that said “DO NOT RING THE BELL.”  I walked a few feet away from the bell, and then I heard the bell ringing!  Right after, I heard some giggling next to the bell.  Standing there were two elderly women, who were taking tremendous delight in their “offense.” I hope I get to that point some day.

While the shift of mindset is terrific, the physical changes in your body can be alarming, the way they creep up on you incrementally, or when you just notice them all of the sudden. My stomach never went back to the way it was before I had kids, my heels are hard and dry, and I’ve started to notice bags under my eyes for the first time. Two years ago I lost a lot of weight, and all of the sudden, the skin on my neck started to sag.  (I think when I weighed more, maybe that skin was backed up with fat?)  I felt like that happened practically overnight. Then the other day, I noticed a callous on my ankle bone that was totally numb.

Art Prof has been consuming my days lately, but I really need to keep drawing.  I don’t have time right now to devote entire days to drawing, so I’m settling for sketches.  Today I drew this fragment above, of the bags under my eyes that are emerging, and the dark patch I have on my right cheekbone. (don’t worry, I’ve had it checked) This sketch was a piece of my body that I see aging. I started thinking, what if I drew “drawing fragments” of the parts of my body that have started to show the aging process? A project like this would certainly satisfy my love of drawing from life,  (which I actually haven’t done for years) and would be manageable given my already hectic schedule. I’m also interested in the idea of coming back to directly drawing myself, given that in Falling, I used an actress as a surrogate for myself.

On the treadmill I began thinking about assembling these fragments to create a figure, except that large sections would be missing. I’d keep making these fragments until I assembled a figure, and then start again.  I would continue drawing these fragments, knowing that with each year, there will be more signs of aging, and the figure will become more complete.  Until I get to the point where all of the fragments are a full figure. I’m not sure I’ll have the patience for this, as it really would take years for a project like this to make sense.  I love that something new is percolating, as if I didn’t already have enough to do!

When You Have No Words, Speak with Art


by Clara Lieu

(first published on the Huffington Post on 12/2/16)

As a professional visual artist, all of the artwork I’ve created in my life is about as far away from politics as you can get. Not once in my entire career, or even as an art student, have I ever had any remote desire to address politics in my artwork. I once received an assignment in art school to illustrate a newspaper headline. I remember that I intentionally chose a headline that had nothing to do with politics. I had zero interest in talking about politics in my art and did everything I could to avoid it.

This year’s presidential election completely changed that. The election results left me in utter shock. I spent the day after the election reading a flood of emotionally charged statements and messages from my friends and family. I wanted to contribute, but every time I sat down to write, I simply had no words.


Kathe Kollwitz, Outbreak, 1903

Recently, it occurred to me that many of my personal favorites from art history depict difficult, and often times violent political events: Kathe Kollwitz’s print Outbreak, Picasso’s epic Guernica, Leon Golub’s painting Interrogation II, Goya’s painting The Executions to name a few.


Francisco Goya, The Executions,1814

I know these specific artworks like the back of my hand. For years, I’ve analyzed their color schemes, deconstructed their layout and backgrounds, examined individual brush strokes up close in person, and more. Revisiting these artworks after the election, I realized that despite my comprehensive, formal understanding of these works as art, I really had no clue what pushed these artists to create these startling images.

Now, I completely understand where those artists found their motivation. For the first time in my life, I feel an intense urgency inside me that desperately wants to make art about events that are unfolding every day. I can’t just move on with my life and pretend that everything will be fine. Otherwise, I am just a bystander.


Leon Golub,  Interrogation II, 1981

Despite my surge of desire to create political art, deep down I’m petrified to start. Most of my past artwork has been about personal experiences. The intrinsic nature of personal narratives is that they are experienced by only the artist, and therefore generally do not invite contentious public reactions. By contrast, political art inevitably invites intense scrutiny from the audience. Political art is frequently charged and startling, and easily elicits heated emotional reactions in a way that a still life painting of apples never will. For me, if I get up tomorrow and paint apples, that means I’m saying that everything is fine. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that nothing is fine right now.

I couldn’t agree more when people state that “words matter.” I would add that images matter just as much, and that art has always been a powerful means of communication that can resonate for centuries. This presidential election has galvanized me to make political art. The next time I step into my studio to work, it will be with a new sense of purpose.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts which provides equal access to art education for people of all ages and means.

Be notified of our early 2017 site launch by subscribing to our email list.


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Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.

Art Prof Etsy shop is OPEN!

Caution:  Art Prof sticker, designed by Olivia Hunter

Check out the new Art Prof Etsy shop!  You’ll find fun items like stickers and T-shirts designed by Janice Chun, Casey Roonan, and Olivia Hunter. All sales will go towards funding our mission to provide a free visual arts education for people of all ages and means.





ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

NEW REWARD #4! Art Prof iPhone 6 or 6S Case

Left:  back of the case.  Right:  inside of the case.

ART PROF Kickstarter Campaign 

NEW Reward #4: Art Prof iPhone 6 or 6S Case

Pledge $20 or more

Estimated delivery: Sept. 2016
Ships to: Only United States

Carry Art Prof in your pocket!  Art Prof themed 3D printed iPhone 6 or 6S case, made out of PLA hard plastic. These cases can be ordered in red, black, and white.  Design by Art Prof Intern Olivia Hunter.

Both views:  case on the phone.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Our Kickstarter campaign hit its $30k goal on July 19!  Get info on our future launch by subscribing to our email list.

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Last Audio Critique Pack Giveaway!

We’re doing one last giveaway before our big announcement on June 14. Win audio critiques from myself, and artists Casey RoonanAnnie Irwin, and Alex Rowe on one of your artworks. Unique opportunity to get trusted advice from not one, but four professional artists!

To enter, do one of the following by Thurs., June 2, 11:59pm EST:

  1. Subscribe to my email list
  2. Like my Facebook page.
  3. Retweet my tweet about this giveaway

I will message the winner with directions, the artwork and a statement is due Monday, June 6. If you win, your artwork and critiques will be posted on my blog. You can have your artwork posted either 1) anonymously, 2) with your name or 3) with your name linked to your website.

Below is a sample Audio Crit Pack:


Jeff Wrench, “Chelsea Rose”, acrylic paint on wallpaper and paint chips, 11″ x 17″
Visit Jeff’s website

“This painting is from an an ongoing series of portraits on wallpaper and paint chips, based on my snapshots or (in this case) photos provided by someone I’ve met online. I’m trying to paint intuitively and quickly. I am interested in rough, semi-abstract marks and colors that still converge into convincing and recognizable images. The found background is another source uncertainty in the process and opportunity for happy accidents. If successful, I think such an painting can ‘vibrate’ in the viewer’s mind, and maybe excite the imagination in ways that a realistic rendering would not.”

Casey Roonan, Teaching Assistant
Casey Roonan, Illustrator & Cartoonist
“Stay open, and keep asking yourself questions, and try to really be conscious of all the decisions you’re making.”
Mentioned: Lucien Freud, Alice Neel

Sara Bloem, Teaching Assistant
Sara Bloem, Multimedia Artist
“I want more information about how you’re choosing the subjects of these pieces.”
Mentioned: Jean Arp

Lauryn Welch, Teaching Assistant
Lauryn Welch, Painter & Performance Artist
“I love the idea that something can be seen both as a collection of patterns, as well as having a character to it, like an identity.”
Mentioned: Jenny Saville, Euan Uglow, Chantal Joffe, Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard

Clara Lieu, Visual Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD
Clara Lieu, Fine Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD
“I want to know more information, more specificity, for example, where did you meet this person online?”
Mentioned: Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud, Francis BaconOskar Kokschka

Follow up from Jeff on our audio critiques:

“Clara, this was great for someone like me — I’m not in school and I haven’t really found a way to get thoughtful input on my art. And mostly when I’ve found someone who I trust to give input, it’s been about the actual painting process — while much of the input here was about concepts. So that was new/surprising/interesting to me. Many of the critique comments highlight things I hadn’t explicitly thought about, so I am excited that pursuing these ideas may lead me to some interesting development. Thanks to all four of you!”

Subscribe to my email list! I send announcements only a few times a year. There’s a big announcement coming on June 14 that you won’t want to miss.

Ask the Art Prof Live # 7: How do I Improve My Art? How do I find My Artistic Style?

Other than “keep practicing,” how do I improve my art?

Set short term and long term goals.

Recognize your automatic pilot and the plateau.

Build in periods of experimentation.

How do I find my artistic style? Related article.
Mentioned: Picasso and Cubism

Style doesn’t develop overnight. Jackson Pollock

Try everything! Be a restaurant critic and sample everything that exists.
Former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s memoir “Born Round
Mentioned:  mezzotint, lithography, intaglio printmaking

Make a series

Your style will keep evolving. Alberto Giacometti

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color
#5:  Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#2:  Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs