Just Show up

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by Yves-Olivier Mandereau, Art Prof Teaching Assistant

As an artist, it is all too easy to sit around and wait for some elusive and imaginary muse to tap you on the shoulder. If we fall into that expectation, we will never get anything done. But as Woody Allen said, “80% of life is just showing up.” That is especially difficult for us as artists, because for the most part, our studio practice is up to us. Unlike working at a cafe or an office where you have to essentially punch your time card upon arrival, studio habits have to be diligently formed to induce the creative process. Creating art is less about motivation to create something beautiful, but more about forming habits of making.

During my sophomore year at school, I got frustrated when my pottery wasn’t yielding the results I wanted. I would sit at the wheel and throw for a bit, but would quickly dislike what was in front of me. In my frustration I would go for a walk, or grab a coffee, and wait ‘till I felt inspired.’ Maybe I was waiting for the right form or shape, who knows. This went on for about a month. When I realized that I wasn’t experimenting with the material enough, I committed to 5 hours a day on the wheel. This was essentially a way to experiment all the tricks and techniques I had been compiling from online videos, and books.

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Yves-Olivier on the Art Prof set with Prof Clara Lieu


What I realized was that as I was futzing around, I would get bits of inspiration and would ‘run with it.’ In the span of the week I had managed to experiment with the material, and I had enough work to fill a kiln—and I liked what I had made. None of that inspiration would have come to me had I waited on my couch for it to come. Had I not experimented to see what cooking oil would do on the wheel; or what happened when I poured lighter fluid inside a piece and lit it on fire; I would not have gotten the expansive results I had. Within all the experiments I picked my favorites, I wrote down my process for each, and crossed off experiments I had on my to-do list.

Just show up to your studio and put in the hours. At some point in between all the ugly paintings and scribbles that you’ll never show anyone, you’ll get some beautiful work.

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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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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.


ART DARES
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.


Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.

“Should We Protect Arts Education?” in Education Week

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by Clara Lieu

I recently wrote a guest blog post for the Leadership 360 blog in Education Week titled “Should We Protect Art Education?” Thanks to Jill Berkowicz, and Ann Myers for inviting me!

The article talks about my work with students in the RISD undergraduate program and RISD Project Open Door.  Working in such contrasting programs (one a degree program, one a free community outreach program) has led me to believe that the vast majority of the time, art education is a simple matter of access.  In my opinion, it shouldn’t be that way, which is why Art Prof is an important initiative towards equalizing access to high quality arts education.


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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ART PROF Teaching Assistant: Yves-Olivier Mandereau

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Our ART PROF staff likes to laugh about our initial impressions of each other. Sometimes those first impressions were perfectly accurate, and other times they were totally off.  Yves-Olivier Mandereau, one of the ART PROF Teaching Assistants, was no exception to these extremes. I didn’t know this at the time, but Yves told me later that when he entered my freshman drawing class at RISD back in the fall of 2011, that he was terrified. The majority of his work prior to art school had been in three-dimensional media, and he felt at the time that he really didn’t know a thing about drawing.

Whereas many students would have allowed themselves to be paralyzed by their lack of experience, Yves quickly accepted his limited background in drawing. Despite being out of his element in a drawing class, Yves was extremely tenacious and willing to take on anything. Yves is one of the most determined students I’ve ever had in my classes, he had an iron will and drive that I rarely see in students at that stage in college.

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A group critique in my class from 2011. Yves is on the right,  in the default state of most RISD freshman. Annie Irwin, another ART PROF Teaching Assistant is on the right in the front.


In group critiques, Yves distinguished himself with his candid, honest comments which were articulate and straightforward.  When students enter art school, most of them have very little experience speaking during a group critique, and it can be highly intimidating to talk about your work in front of the entire class. Yves was critical to his class because he helped establish a level of seriousness in our discussions that fostered mutual respect and honesty among his peers.

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Yves’ very first homework drawing he did in my freshman drawing class in 2011


Later, Yves was a TA for my RISD Project Open Door class, and we reconnected again a month before he graduated in 2015. I visited his ceramics studio and was surprised to see him making figurative ceramic sculpture(see below)-nothing remotely like anything he was making when he was in my class. Having a background in figurative sculpture myself, it was so great to see how he eventually found his way towards that path.  The changes and progression over the course of art school are usually quite dramatic.  Five years ago, Yves came into his first art school critique in my class with a drawing of a seed pod. (above) Today, he’s doing an artist residency at Zentrum Fur Keramik in Berlin, Germany.

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“As a kid I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think I didn’t know because no one allowed me to consider a career in the arts. In middle school, I always had the most fun in art class, yet art was never really considered a legitimate pursuit like science and athletics.

I was first exposed to ceramics in an “Art 1” class, where I learned watercolor and acrylic painting. I was hooked but didn’t see any way to deepen my exploration. My art teachers let me stay and work during lunch, but I was essentially on my own. I worked on the pottery wheel but was just making lots of little cups because that’s what I knew how to make.

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The summer after my junior year in high school, I attended the Pre-College Program at RISD, a six-week summer art program for high school students. I saved up all the money I could from busing tables and working for a catering company. The program was beyond anything I could have imagined. The intensity and depth of the classes were addictive. When the program ended, I said to myself, “I don’t want this to end.” That’s when I knew I had to pursue visual art seriously.

Having experienced the value of a quality visual art education, I have committed myself to encouraging and helping others pursue their passion. That’s why I’m here, to help other students experience a broader art education independent of school systems where visual arts aren’t supported.”

Visit Yves’ website here. (mature content)

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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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When to Stay, and When to Walk Away

Clay Portrait Sculpture

Lately it seems like my patience is being tested in a way it never has been before. Patience doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s a skill I’m constantly trying to work on.  I always want to keep moving forward, and when the work comes to a standstill,  it can be torturous. I feel like I’m doomed to linger in Purgatory for an undetermined amount of time. I fight a constant dilemma in my head with every single project I work on in terms of when to stay, and when to walk away.

When I’ve worked on a project for a long time, and start to get an itch to move on, I start to obsess over a stream of questions that have no definitive answers.  Am I just being impatient? Am I not giving the work enough time to truly develop and come to full fruition?  Am I cutting off my work flow prematurely? Or would further work on the project just be repetition of what I’ve already done?  Am I wasting my time if I stick around?  What if there’s something amazing that’s just around the corner that I could discover if I stick around for a few more weeks? What if there’s nothing worthwhile in the future, and I’m just beating a dead horse? What point am I at in the project, is this the end?  Or is it really just the beginning? Should I stop thinking so much? Is my thinking paralyzing the project?

I’ve had some projects naturally wrap themselves up in a neat package that feels resolved and complete. At different stages, I can feel confident about where I am in the project.  I know when I’ve got a long way to go, and I can clearly see the finish line slowly emerging as I approach. That was certainly the case with my last body of work, Falling, which I worked on for four years. When I was working on the mezzotint prints, I knew the project would be over when the prints were finished.

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Other projects can be incredibly rocky, chaotic, with a million unpredictable factors that are up in the air.  I can’t see the finish line at all. I have the choice to keep running, with the frightening thought that the finish line I’m looking for might never materialize.  Or, I can stop while I’m still ahead, with the possibility of either 1) feeling regret later or 2) feeling relieved that I didn’t waste time on a project that was going nowhere.

Sometimes I get so fed up to the point that I force a finish line by stopping and drawing it myself. This time, I’m going to keep running.  I’m going to wait for a finish line to emerge on it’s own time, no matter how long I have to run.


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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Art Supply Store Recommendations

As part of my “Art Supply Tips” series, I thought it would make sense to share my recommendations for art supply stores that I’ve accumulated over the years. Some are specific to the NYC and Boston area, but you can order from almost all of these stores online.

You would think artists would only need to shop at one art supply store, but I have always had to shop at several stores to obtain everything I need. In many circumstances, I have had to research and hunt extensively to find obscure materials. If you can’t find what you need, I recommend talking to store managers to see if they can help you track down an item.  The RISD Store manager once helped me find and special order 7′ x 4′ sheets of Dura-Lar that I would never have found on my own.

General Art Supplies:

Make sure you go to a professional art supply store.  While some craft stores like Michael’s and AC Moore do sell some art supplies, their inventory is very limited and items are frequently much more expensive than they would be at a professional art supply store. I happened to be at Michael’s once, thinking I might as well pick up a sketchbook while I was there. The sketchbook was $20, so I didn’t buy it, and the following week I picked up a similar sketchbook at the RISD Store for $8.

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Dick Blick
Dick Blick has an excellent range of professional art supplies.  They’re the art supply store I go to first, and I can usually count on them to have the vast majority of art supplies that I need for both myself and for teaching.

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New York Central Art Supply
I am embarrassed to admit that I never went to this store when I was living in NYC.  I love that they are an independent art supply store, and their paper inventory is legendary among artists.

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Your local hardware store
I spend almost as much time at my local hardware store as I do at the art supply store. The art supply stores often carry the same items, but these items are almost always less expensive at a hardware store. I am always stocking up on tape, sand paper, solvents, cleaning supplies, and tools. On top of that, usually within 2 minutes of walking in the door, someone always asks me what I need.  I try to avoid Home Depot if I can, (although sometimes it’s unavoidable) I find shopping there to be really unpleasant.  I’ve had the staff there literally walk in the other direction when I was asking for help, and the overwhelming size of the store makes finding what you need daunting.

Sculpture Supplies:

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The Compleat Sculptor
When I was completing my MFA in sculpture in NYC, I was constantly making runs to this store.  This store has a dazzling array of obscure tools, and everything related to mold making and casting, and much more.  The other students and faculty complained all the time that their prices are too high, and one of my teachers always called it “The Compleat Rip-off.”  However, given how specialized their materials are, the incredible selection, and the knowledgeable staff, I think their prices make sense. Their website isn’t easy to navigate, so if you don’t know what you’re looking for in advance it can be tricky to browse.  If you can visit the store in person, you’ll develop a better sense of their inventory and know how to order online more easily.

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RISD 3D Store
The RISD 3D Store is like the love child of an art supply store and a hardware store.  They have a wonderful range of sculpture materials/tools/hardware supplies, and unlike hardware stores, the staff know that you are shopping there because you’re an artist. The best aspect of this store is that you can have materials custom cut for you.  You can custom order sheets of plexiglass, plywood, plastic, glass, etc., cut to any size you want, in any quantity. You can get large scale canvas frames built and stretched, and sculpture armatures constructed as well. This store is also the only place where I’ve been able to have untempered masonite custom cut. (tempered masonite is not good for artwork)

Amherst Potter’s Supply
I usually buy ceramic clay for creating sculptures from this local ceramic supplier in Hadley, MA. If you live in MA and order online, you can get your materials in 1-2 days.  If you’re in the NYC area Jack D. Wolfe is an excellent ceramic retailer.

Printmaking Supplies:

The selection of printmaking supplies available at most art supply stores is always terrible. These stores carry about 5% of what a professional printmaker needs. The printmaking supplies also tend to be crazy over priced at most general art supply stores . Once, I was desperate to buy some tarlatan, and I felt scandalized by how much I paid for a tiny scrap of tarlatan at Dick Blick.   If you’re serious about printmaking, you’ll have to order all of your supplies online.

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Metalliferous
When I was in graduate school in NYC, my printmaking professor suggested Metalliferous to buy copper plates for intaglio printmaking.  Not only were the copper plates well priced, but they had an amazing range of sizes and thicknesses of copper plates. I highly recommend visiting in person, this store is an extraordinary treasure of metal supplies.  Every nook and cranny in the store was densely packed with any metal supply you could imagine.

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Renaissance Graphic Arts
I personally haven’t ordered from this company before, but when I used to teach printmaking at a college in Boston, this is where the the printmaking department purchased all of their supplies.

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Graphic Chemical and Ink
This store is where I order the vast majority of my printmaking supplies, they pretty much have everything you need for printmaking. I happen to really like their etching ink, ever since I discovered their Renaissance Black Etching ink, I’ve been completely addicted.

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Tools for Working Wood
In graduate school, I created a series of large scale woodcut prints.  The woodcut tools that I purchased at the general art supply store were awful; the shape of the tools was awkward, and carving the wood with these tools was downright painful.  My printmaking professor recommended Ashley Iles carving tools that were available only at this store.  I loved visiting this store, it was one of those tiny hole in the wall stores in NYC, with a guy behind the counter who was quite a character. Unlike my old tools which were straight, the Ashley Iles tools were back bent, creating a much more comfortable position for your hand when carving.  The tools were incredibly sharp, and there seemed to be an endless variety of shapes and gouges. I felt like I went from carving wood to carving butter because of these tools. At $37 a tool, (I bought 6 tools) I felt financially traumatized, but the tools completely revolutionized my woodcut technique and were worth every penny.

Framing:

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The Picture Place
Some artists frame their artwork themselves to save money, but nothing compares with the quality of a professional custom framing job. Custom framing is expensive, but poor framing is always glaringly noticeable and can make your artwork look terrible. Finding a good framer is like finding a good car mechanic, you either need a good reference or you have to be really lucky. When I lived in Jamaica Plain in Boston, I chose a frame shop just because it was nearby. The framers there were really friendly and helpful, and that’s where I met the framer I who I work with exclusively now.  He eventually moved to the Picture Place in Brookline, MA, and he has framed all of my artwork for over 15 years.  I trust him to make excellent framing choices for me.

Photography supplies & services:

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B & H Photo Video
Generally speaking, I get all of my photography equipment from B&H.  They’re located in NYC, but they ship very quickly and usually I can get what I need within 1-2 days. The one caveat with this store is that they don’t process orders from Friday evenings to Saturday evenings, and they are closed on every Jewish holiday.

Color Services
This is a high end photography lab, they do printing for some of the most renowned visual artists in the Boston area. I have only used them once, to print photographs of my beeswax face sculptures. I was astounded by the range of options that were available in terms of paper choices, mounting, surfacing, etc. They are not cheap, but it is definitely worth it if you’re serious about getting high quality prints made.


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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Ask the Art Prof: When and How Should You use Photo References to Draw?

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“When and how you should use photo references to draw?”

Too often I find that people use photo references out of laziness.  Be careful that if you decide to work with photo references, that it’s for a very specific need, not because of convenience. Photographs should only be used when direct observation of a subject is absolutely impossible. If you’re an illustrator and you’re creating a illustration about dinosaurs, obviously that’s not an image you can draw from life. However, there are many subjects where it’s very possible, and in some cases very easy. For a still life drawing, get the actual objects and set them so you can directly observe them from life. I’ve literally seen students search for a photo of an apple online so that they can draw an apple.  Is it really that hard to buy an apple to draw from life?!?

If you are drawing a self-portrait, it’s easy enough to get a mirror and draw from that. The 15 minutes it takes to figure out how to set up your mirror and drawing board to draw a self-portrait are seriously worth the time. Anything that you can possibly observe from life should be done in this way. Nothing can substitute experiencing a subject in real life: being able to touch it, smell it, walk around it, inspect it, experience it, etc. Staunchly set direct observation as your number one priority whenever possible.

I’ve also seen many professional artists work with a variety of other references that are just as effective, if not more so, than photo references.  Artist James Gurney fabricates sculptures of dinosaurs for his paintings. After sculpting the dinosaur in clay, he paints the sculpture and then draws from the sculpture as his reference. You can watch him go through this process in this terrific video below.  It goes to show that photographs are not the only option, and that other methods can provide a level of depth and understanding of a subject that photographs are incapable of providing.

Artist James Gurney  on how he paints dinosaurs by sculpting clay models.


My RISD colleague and former professor Andrew Raftery painstakingly creates complex 3D models of interior spaces and using wood and wax figures as references for his incredible engravings.

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You can visibly see in this side-by-side comparison of Raftery’s 3D model  and finished engraving how critical the creation of the 3D model is in constructing the interior scene. The lighting and spatial relationships are literally re-created in the 3D model and are thus incredibly convincing in the completed engraving.

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If you’ve decided that photographs are indeed the only option for your drawing, the next stage is to do everything in your power to shoot the photographs yourself. If that means taking a trip to the zoo to take photographs of the gorillas, then do it.  I know it’s very tempting and easy to go on Google Images and simply pull a photograph off the Internet. However, when you use someone else’s photograph, your drawing will be vastly limited. You won’t be able to control the point of view, you can’t zoom in to get more details, and most likely the resolution of the photograph will be poor.  Take the initiative to go to your subject and photograph it from every point of view.  Shoot close up shots of specific areas so that you have all of the information you need.

The only time I would advocate using someone else’s photograph as a reference is if there is absolutely, one hundred percent, no other way to get the visual information you need. For example, if you are doing an illustration of an elephant, and you need details of the wrinkles in the skin, that’s a circumstance where you’ll need to use someone else’s photograph. In general though, someone else’s photograph should be the last resort in terms of references.

Illustrator James Gurney

Illustrator James Gurney


When you do get to the point where you are working from a photograph, think about it as a process of gathering raw information which you then edit and manipulate. There is nothing artistic or creative about copying a photograph verbatim.  If that is your intent, you might as well xerox the photograph and be done with it. I

Instead, take the raw information from the photograph and process it and shift it. change that raw information into something new and engaging. Be highly selective about what visual information you choose to use.  Just because something is in the photograph, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to use it in your drawing. Think about yourself as an editor, where you get to choose from a vast buffet of visual information. Comb through all of the visual information in the photograph and use only what is going to help facilitate your drawing in a positive manner. I also find that it’s very helpful to work from multiple photographs, so that you are not so reliant on a single photograph for all of your information. You can take visual portions from each reference photo and mix them together according to your needs.

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Drawings that use photo references successfully always look better than the photo reference.  If the reference photo is more engaging than the drawing, then it means that the drawing hasn’t done anything to fully manipulate beyond just copying the reference photo.

In the above image, you can see that the drawing at the figure gripping it’s face has very aggressive charcoal marks that are not apparent in the reference photo.  The reference photo looks static, flat, and posed.  The drawing took major liberties with the charcoal marks and therefore is much more full of action and tension.

In the image below, you can see the student’s reference photos that he shot at the bottom.  The reference photos provide raw information, but the two drawings are far more interesting than the reference photos.  The reference photos have very flat, boring black backgrounds and the facial expressions are not very dynamic.  In the final drawings, the student greatly manipulated and distorted the facial expressions to make them much more dramatic and exaggerated.

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It’s extremely difficult to use a photographic reference well, very few people do it successfully.  In my drawing classes at RISD, I spend half the course giving assignments that must be done from direct observation the entire time. In the second half of the course, I open up references so that students can work from a variety of visual references:  imagination, from photos they shot for the specific drawing, from photos online. When I switch over to open references in my courses, the reaction of pretty much all the students is: “Thank goodness, this is going to be so much easier now that I don’t have to draw from life and I can work from photos!”

Actually, the complete opposite happens: students realize after the first critique that creating excellent reference photos is an art in itself.  I critique their photo references:  we talk about their light source, choice of location, their choice of models, what their models are wearing, the posing of the models-the works. So many problems emerge in the reference photos: tons of factors distract in the reference photo, the set up looks fake, etc. Making the transition from the reference photo to the drawing presents its own unique set of challenges which is not nearly as straightforward as many people initially think. Personally, I find drawing from a reference photo much more difficult than drawing from life, because the temptation to simply copy the photo is always there.  When you draw from observation, you have to visually interpret and innovate.

I firmly believe that the only way to truly learn how to draw from a photograph well is to establish a solid understanding of fundamentals in drawing with years and years of experience drawing from direct observation. Once you have solid skills drawing from direct observation, these skills will allow you to draw from a photograph successfully. This article talks about how direct observation will provide the basic foundation to be able to work from any visual references successfully.


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.

subscribe


FB  Youtube   tumblr   Pinterest   LinkedIn   Instagram   Twitter   snap_chat  email  etsy


Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.


ART DARES
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.


Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


Related articles
“How can I tell if I’m skilled enough?”
“How do you find your own individual style?”
“How do artists manage to get their soul out into images?”
“How do you develop an idea from a sketch to a finished work?”
“How do you make an art piece more rich with details that will catch the eye?”
“How do you learn the basics?”
“Is it bad to start another piece of art before finishing another one?”
“How do you work in a series?”
“How do you know when to stop working?”

July Deadline

Studio View

I can feel myself anticipating the finish line for my projects: both the 50 face sculptures and the self-publication of my book will be complete by the end of July. This timing with my book isn’t by accident, the idea is to start selling the book in August.  I think this is a good month to self-publish because in August many people are on vacation and have time to sit down to read a book.  I’ll do an official book launch party when school starts up in September and go from there.