The Visual Arts Resource that Didn’t Exist, and that Still Doesn’t 

Ed Emberley

My mother likes to tell me that I learned to draw before I learned to talk.  I drew voraciously as a child, and some of my favorite drawing books were by the children’s book author and illustrator Ed Emberley. His drawings are so quirky, playful, and incredibly expressive.  The instructions in his books are delightfully simple and easy to follow. There are so many god awful instructional drawing books out there for kids, and Ed Emberley’s books are unique, timeless classics that still resonate with me today as a professional artist.  I’ve been reliving moments from my childhood with his drawings with my own kids, who draw daily from his books. There’s something very special about seeing an image you haven’t seen in 30 years, but upon seeing it, feeling as though you drew it yesterday.


On the back page of Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals, is the above image. I found Emberley’s statement so remarkably poignant and moving.  So often I see long, pretentious explanations for why artists do what they do. Emberley’s statement is right to the point, and so incredibly honest and genuine.

I kept thinking about Emberley’s statement over the past few days.  His words relate to the motivation for my forthcoming project, which is going to be announced in a few weeks. Essentially, my project is for me, what Ed Emberley’s books were for him.   I desperately craved a rigorous, comprehensive visual arts resource in high school, but nothing like that existed.  Twenty years later, there is still nothing out there that measures up to what I wanted as a teenager.  Now I’m taking action to change that. Don’t miss the big release, subscribe to my email list today!

On the set of ART PROF at WGBH Studios in Boston, MA

Sneak Peek

My pie in the sky from October 2014 is no longer pie in the sky…subscribe to my email list to make sure you don’t miss the big news!

On the set of ART PROF at WGBH Studios in Boston, MA

Video Critiques for Professional Artists & Art Students

Since I expanded my video critique program to include professional artists a few weeks ago, I’ve critiqued many more portfolios. Above is a recent video critique I did for a professional artist.

Many of the artists who have contacted me for a video critique have commented about how difficult it is for them to find trusted feedback on their artwork. One artist said that since they are not enrolled in a degree program or art class, and don’t live in an area where there is a strong artist community, it was really tough for them to find someone who could provide a professional evaluation of their artwork. In this way, these video critiques are a good alternative to being in school and/or taking a class.

I also do video critiques for students working on a portfolio for college/art school admission, you can watch a sample below. If you are going to be applying for college/art school next year, now is the time to get feedback on your portfolio, while there’s still plenty of time to make changes.  Many students wait until a few weeks before their application deadline to get a video critique. Consequently, there’s no time left for them to improve their portfolio before their application deadlines, so start as soon as you can!

Video critiques are 30 minutes long for a review of portfolio of 8-20 artworks for a $60 USD fee. More info here

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Ask the Art Prof Live #1: Graduate MFA Programs

You can watch the first broadcast of ASK THE ART PROF LIVE below. The next broadcast will be Thursday, April 14 at 9:30pm EST.  Like my Facebook page, and you’ll get notification when the live video begins.


“Every year only a small portion of students go to graduate school. Why do you think it’s like that?

“What do you think are the most important values you can learn from graduate school?”

“Do you think it’s better to go to graduate school right after a bachelor’s degree, or after working for a few years?”

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Beyond the Classroom

Accordion Bookbinding Project

I’ve been teaching studio art at the college level for 11 years now, and lately I’ve been noticing that there’s been a shift in terms of my relationship with my students.  In the very beginning of my teaching career, none of my students had graduated yet, so I didn’t have a lot of interaction with students who were alums. Today, the freshman at RISD who I taught in 2007 have now been out of school for five years, which is long enough that my interaction with them after they leave RISD has changed a lot.

After a class ends, my students stay in touch with me to varying degrees: some students I literally never see again, some I run into on campus, others I’ll get a cup of coffee with to catch up, some have an identity crisis at some point and need advice, I’ve provided job references, hired alums to help with some small jobs related to my studio practice, and I’ve even had a few students call me on the phone in tears.

My relationship with my students changes tremendously once they are no longer in my class.  Once a student leaves my class, there’s no longer a grade that is looming over their heads.  When the grading situation no longer exists, I’ve found that it makes for a much more relaxed atmosphere and I can relate to them on a more casual basis.

When a student becomes an alum, my relationship with a former student shifts again. After all, we’re working both in the same professional world now.  I remember when I was still in graduate school that a music professor once told me “eventually you and your former professors will become colleagues.”  At the time, that seemed like such a strange concept, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around regarding one of my former professors as a peer. I was still in student mode, so I still felt intimidated by my professors, even with ones I really liked.

Opening reception

Me with one of my former RISD professors back in 2012 at a solo exhibition I had.

For many years, I was the former student who made the effort to stay in touch with my former professors after school.  I’ve known several of my former professors for 20 years now.  I see two of them regularly, and I greatly cherish my friendships with them. Now, I’m the former professor, hearing from my former students who reach out to me.

My experience in studio art classes is that art professors and art students go through so much together. (especially at RISD) In every class, I go to hell and back with my class several times, all of us trying to stay in one piece along the way. That experience alone is enough to create a special bond.  However, just because I interact with a student in a positive manner in the classroom, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a friendship will grow afterwards. I’ve had many students who were absolutely phenomenal in my class and accomplished extraordinary work, but who I didn’t connect with beyond the classroom.

To foster a connection after school, you have to be able to relate in a completely different context. (i.e. not in a classroom setting)  When a student truly connects with you as a person and stays in touch with you over many years, it’s really special. With 11 years of teaching behind me now, my friendships with my former students have developed a depth that I could never have anticipated. I’ve had some pretty intense conversations with former students which have been extremely rewarding. For me, this is one of the best parts of being a professor.

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Video Critiques for Aspiring and Professional Artists

RISD Section 19

Due to popular demand, I am now expanding my video critique program to include video critiques for aspiring and professional artists, in addition to video critiques for students preparing a portfolio for college admission.

Many artists of all ages and levels of experience have emailed to me over the past few months asking for me to critique their artwork. The people who have emailed me have said that they have no one who they can ask for feedback on their artwork, so I am pleased to be able to provide a solution for this need.

Each video critique is 30 minutes long, covers 8-20 artworks, and costs $60 USD. Get more information here, and you can watch a sample video critique of a student’s portfolio for college admission below.

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An Email that Could Have Been Written by My 16 Year Old Self

Gesture Drawings in Ink

I get emails daily from my blog readers on a diverse range of topics. Everything from questions about what drawing supplies to buy, advice on MFA programs, and concerns about careers in the visual arts.  You name it, I’ve gotten an email about it.

Once in a while, I get an email that is much more than questions.  I recently received an email that I found to be particularly poignant and moving.  I was riveted by this email because I felt that it could have been written by my 16 year old self.   While I admit that my memories of trying to study visual arts in high school still make me boil,  it’s very rewarding to hear that I am filling that same void I experienced 20 years ago for someone today. I always say that no matter how difficult a class I teach is, if I can just reach one person, then that makes it all worth it.   I’m delighted to know that I’d a meaningful impact on one of you in this way.

Here’s the email I received:

“Firstly, I would like to thank you for your blog. It has given me great insight and joy to read about your perspective on art school, teaching, and being a practicing visual artist. Your blog has also given me amazing tips that have helped me build my portfolio. I feel I owe a great deal of my confidence in my work to your writing, so thank you so much.

Secondly, I would like to share my experience in high school art classes. I am much like you described yourself in your blog post. I am withdrawn, shy, and lack confidence. Although I have always excelled in academics, I always have felt like I don’t belong in my school. Since I was little, I could not stop thinking of things to make. I loved every art class I took; I would finish a project and beg to know what the next one would be in order to think of what to make.

As I started my freshman year in high school, I saw that most people thought of artistic people as outsiders, so I felt I shouldn’t do anything artistic anymore. Although I felt I left part of myself behind, I hoped that it might lead to friends or to popularity, but it obviously was not the case. As sophomore year began, I met my Art I and AP Art History teacher. She was a wacky painter that would push you both academically and creatively to the extremes. Because of her, I rediscovered my passion for art and fell in love with the history and study of art. I have been enrolled in her class since junior year, and it has been my escape from everything that makes me anxious or sad.

This summer, I attended the RISD Pre-College program and was inspired by my peers to push my technique and pursue ideas that are outside of the norm. I thank two of my favourite teachers there for believing in my vision, but more importantly, teaching me how to believe in it myself. I have seen a resurrection in my creative process.

 I think the greatest problem in my school is ignominy that comes with being an artist. Because it is a private school in a country outside of the US, most student’s parents are politicians, economists, etc. so creative fields are completely alien to them. I see people every day that are amazingly creative and tremendously talented, but they say that they could never dedicate themselves to a creative field because they want to “have their lives matter.” I find this not only deeply troubling, but also the reason why schools all over the world don’t emphasize the arts so much; because the students don’t take advantage of creative opportunities.

At the high school level, I think an individual’s responsibility is to find what they love and explore it to the best of their abilities, but the reason why people that could be artists don’t pursue it is that the school system does not push the arts. A school should give students the opportunity to study their artistic passions and should promote the development of visual language throughout the curriculum, not only isolated art classes.”

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