Reddit AMA #2 (Ask Me Anything) with the Art Prof


This week I did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) in the subreddit /learnart. Below are some of the questions people asked, and you can read the entire thread with my (very long) responses here.

“What do you think is the most prevalent difference between self-taught artists and those who have gone to art school(s)? Are there any benefits of being self-taught, aside from the money issue?”

“How does an artist learn to see?”

“In the art world right now do you think that the business aspect of becomes more important due to the high competitiveness?”

“In your years teaching at RISD, what are characteristics that successful students have in common? Have you noticed similarities?”

“What is your opinion on digital art? I have noticed that digital art is sometimes disregarded as not quite being art since you have access to tools not available in traditional art.”

“Do you have any tips/websites/books/blogs on how a student can find their own voice, how to express it? And how to teach that to a student, or at least guide them in knowing how to express themselves verbally and through their work?”

“I spent most of my life drawing in pencil, and find that I have a very poor understanding of light and color. Could you recommend any exercises that I could complete in an hour every day that would best help with improving color and light comprehension?”

“I am an emerging artist. I have tried to contact commercial art galleries but there’s no interest. My press releases to art magazines and traditional media are ignored. How can I get more exposure to the right people, collectors looking for emerging artists who can judge by themselves the merit of a piece of art?”

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.


Ask the Art Prof: Can a Math Teacher Become an Art Teacher?

Pastel Portrait Drawing Assignment

“I presently enjoy the rare chance to teach drawing in my math class. We have discussed perspective and symmetry so my math students are working on drawing in perspective. After teaching high school math classes for almost ten years, I am more than ready to get out. I would like to teach art or digital imaging at the high school level.

However, I feel trapped in this high-demand, high-pressure, test-obsessed field with no room for advancement or creativity. Although I could obtain a certification to teach art in my state, I have never been to art school. I suppose my question is about how feasible this is. Could a math teacher teach art?”

Technically speaking, if you obtain the required certification and degrees to teach studio art, you can do it. However, being an effective art teacher is much more than degrees and certification. A huge part of being a successful art teacher is the ability to draw from your own experience as a visual artist. You can read, write, and analyze all you want about art theory, art technique, art education, etc., but until you have the hands-on experience of actually making your own artwork, your ability to teach studio art will remain superficial. The equivalent would be a soccer coach who reads about soccer techniques, but has never physically played a soccer game.

Teaching studio art at the high school level has its own unique set of challenges. Most high school art teachers teach general art courses that cover a wide range of techniques. For this reason, you need to have expertise in multiple techniques: drawing, painting, sculpture, and more. You have to know all of these processes inside out, which requires many years of working with those techniques through your own artwork. Teaching a course as specialized as digital imaging at the high school level would be rare, usually only private preparatory schools are able to offer a course like that.

There are many aspects of creating your own artwork that would tremendously inform your capacity to teach studio art. Troubleshooting is a significant part of creating your own artwork, and you will learn much more from your mistakes than from your moments of success.

For example, it took me years of mistakes to figure out a reliable technique for stretching canvases. Despite technical demonstrations by my teachers, I made many errors: my canvases were too loose; I didn’t accurately measure my rabbit skin glue sizing which resulted in cracked oil paintings, etc. It was only after making these blunders that I could see what was required to execute the technique properly. These experiences are critical to being an art teacher because you acquire practical strategies for difficult problems.

So much of my time as a teacher is devoted to showing students how to fix things when something doesn’t work out. Students will make mistakes, and you have to be able to provide your students with options no matter what goes wrong. The demonstrations I give emphasize ways of dodging potential problems. As much as I try to anticipate problems, new issues always arise that you could never foresee. One of my colleagues told me that a student once accidentally ran a pencil through a printmaking press! Since hearing this story, I am adamant about telling students that absolutely nothing is ever allowed on a printmaking press other than the press blankets. Being told what to avoid is just as important as being told what to do.

Making art is usually a very physical process, and seeing a professional in action can be tremendously influential. The individual demonstrations I give to my students can have a greater impact than any verbal description I can provide. In my drawing classes, I often ask students to simply watch my body movements while I draw. I tell them to not look at the drawing I’m making, but instead to see the direction my wrist moves in, the sweeping motions I make with my arm, and to observe the swift pacing of my movements. These physical actions could never be portrayed in a book, they simply have to be experienced in real life and can only be demonstrated by someone who has done it many times before.

Essentially, you have to be an artist before you can be a studio art teacher. Students look to their teachers to be role models, and they need to see that their teachers have active studio practices. This makes the idea of being a professional artist real for students. Initiate your career change by building your own history as a working artist. Collect your own tricks of the trade, and share those experiences with your students. Inhabiting both roles as artist and teacher will enrich your art students beyond measure.

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 articles
“How do I become an undergraduate art professor?”
“What should I be working on now if I would like to be an art professor?”
“What makes a student artist stand out from their peers?”
“How did you become an art professor?”
“How do I become a teaching assistant?”
“How can I make the transition to teaching art at the college level?”

Ask the Art Prof: What Can a Painting Student do to be Relevant in a Digital World?

Portrait Drawing

“My daughter is a freshman at art school this year. She has chosen painting as her major. How does an artist in a classical medium like painting choose electives that will make them relevant in a digital world? What types of courses should she choose to make herself more marketable? What types of internships help guide a successful career for a painter in a high tech world?”

To be relevant as an artist today, your daughter will first need to achieve an awareness and comprehension of the contemporary art world. If she can take art history courses that focus on contemporary art, this will be highly influential to her development as an artist.

In art school, I didn’t take the initiative to study contemporary art. At the time, I dismissed all contemporary art based on just a few pieces I disliked. I was very ignorant, and I didn’t take the time to thoughtfully study and seek out contemporary art I liked. The consequence was that it took me many years after graduation to develop a sense of the contemporary art world. When I started working professionally, I quickly realized how important it was to not work in a vacuum. To create a context for my artwork, I had to acknowledge and understand the art being produced today, regardless of whether I liked it or not.

The digital world we live in has created a common misconception that incorporating digital media into your artwork is imperative to be relevant as an artist today. Actually, there are many contemporary artists out there working in traditional, hands-on processes who are very successful. Taking courses that teach specific software is only important if these techniques are integral to the making of the artwork. The one exception might be Photoshop, which is necessary for producing high quality images of artwork. One of my colleagues used to say that as artists, “we live and die by our photographs.” The majority of the time, one’s artwork is not seen in person and the importance of having strong photographic documentation of the artwork is absolutely essential.


The area where digital media is crucial is in the marketing of the artwork. In my opinion, these are skills that can be primarily addressed after art school is over. Most art schools don’t offer courses on marketing, and even if they did, each artist’s path is so artist-specific that a marketing plan really has to be custom tailored to their needs. While she is still in art school, it would be best for your daughter to choose courses that she has a genuine interest in, and that will contribute to her studio practice.

Some students invest too much energy worrying about the future, to the point that they compromise their art school experience by enrolling in electives that they dislike, but that they think will help them professionally. For example, a lot of students think that it’s necessary to take a web design course in order to prepare for the professional world. On the contrary, there are numerous options today for making a website that don’t require any previous expertise. For an artist who simply wants to have their own website, learning how to build a website from scratch is just not mandatory anymore.

In the fine arts, the options for internships would be to work at a gallery or museum, or to work as an assistant for a professional artist. Being in a gallery or museum context would provide a glimpse into how these venues function, as well as an understanding of the details in the process that are frequently not discussed at art school.

One of my students who interned at a museum said she couldn’t believe how much work went into simply framing and handling the artwork, as well as the complexities of the relationships between the artist and the museum staff. By experiencing this first hand, the student became fully aware of what is required of an artist in terms of preparing the artwork for a professional exhibition. Research the galleries and museums that you are considering, find out what kind of programming they offer, and what types of artists they have shown in the past. Depending on the mission of the organization, the experience at the internship will vary tremendously. A mainstream commercial gallery operates very differently than a small regional museum.

Getting a position working with a professional artist is much more elusive. These positions usually are not advertised and are found through personal connections. Additionally, the professional artist has to produce a high enough volume of work that they need assistants and also have the financial resources to support an internship. I actually don’t recommend this route; many of my former students and peers have worked as assistants for professional artists and the majority of them ended up doing mindless labor for very little money.

One of my peers from graduate school worked at Jeff Koons’ studio after graduating and he found the experience demoralizing and extremely dull. I once visited him at the studio, and it was literally a factory, packed with room after room of art school graduates toiling away at tedious tasks that had been assigned to them.

While taking these combined initiatives will contribute to your daughter’s preparation for the professional world, these concerns should largely stay on the back-burner until graduation.  The principal responsibility she should have in art school is to savor this opportunity to concentrate solely on the creation of her art within the context of a vibrant artistic community.

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 articles
“How do you achieve a luminous effect in a painting through color and value?”
“Does painting what you see limit your artistic possibilities?”
“What is the practical meaning of color theory?”
“How do you compose a striking painting with color?”
“Is hard work and experimenting continuously such a bad thing?”



I’m experimenting with cropping my digital images, and reshooting a few faces this week. With Photoshop and digital photography, it feels insanely easy to try out all sorts of different versions of cropping. I’m trying to cut back on the amount of negative space there is in the background, and to de-emphasize the foreheads, which tend to make the face look a little bald.

Cropping experiment

Cropping experiment

Gallery Possibilities

Digital experiment

Now that I’m creating digital pieces, I’ve been trying to brainstorm what the eventual end product will be if presented in a gallery situation.  The one aspect that I’m sure of is that I want the images to be very large-the bigger, the better.  It seems to me that I have a few options to explore right now:

1) Create large scale digital prints that could be framed and matted. I don’t really like this option very much because printing/framing on the scale that I want would be obscenely expensive.

2) Have each image be projected on a digital projector on the wall, this would easily allow for the image to be extremely large.

3) Have each image on a large scale screen. I like this option, for some reason digital images always look better on screens than when they are projected.

4) Create an animated piece of each image emerging very slowly in and out of the darkness that would loop on a screen or be projected. My husband is an animator, so I’m going to get his help to give this option a try.

Thursday Spotlight: Wendy Seller

Tell us about your background.

At the age of 10 I began making marionettes, and built a full-sized stage within my parent’s newly renovated “den”. For the next 7 years I constructed highly complex marionettes that had up to 25 strings, enabling me to move mouths, eyes, fingers and other body parts. I wrote plays for children’s parties, designed changeable sets, and rigged up multiple layers of lights for theatrical effects. I bribed my friends to assist me in operating my puppets during my hour-long performances (for $2 each), which were usually performed for children’s birthday parties. For years I was convinced that a field in Puppetry was my chosen path.

My vision for my future changed when I attended the Rhode Island School of Design as a freshman and discovered a broader view of possibilities within the field of art. Although no major seemed ideal for my interests, I chose Sculpture as a field of study and continued this through graduate school and into my professional life. I was fortunate to receive three artist-in-residence positions from the Massachusetts State Arts Council right out of school, which permitted me to continue working as an artist while conceptualizing several large-scale projects with children in two public elementary schools in Boston and one in Hull, Massachusetts. I was one of five young visual artists accepted into this state-funded program to assist young artists, and in my first year worked with all 230 children in a South Boston elementary school to collectively redesign an old gymnasium into a two-dimensional and three-dimensional aquarium of exotic fish.

Professionally I was working on a series of wooden box sculptures with surreal environments, until it became clear that the mediums I was using (fiberglass and polyester mediums) were just too dangerous for long-term use. After reading a book on Eva Hesse, who died from a brain tumor in her early 30’s, I began to rethink my chosen path.

In the mid 80’s I turned to painting and started an entirely new way of thinking about my work. I became a highly driven and ambitious painter. Having entered the field of painting from the back door, the slow evolution of developing these works in oils matured into visions that became distinctively my own. This process was linked with periods of frustration because my paintings took so long to actualize. By the time they were finished, I had conceptually moved beyond them.

People, artists, artistic genres that have been influential in your work

I have always had a love for surrealism, where elements not generally found together in reality could purposefully and intuitively enter the world of the imagination. As I dove deeper into the world of painting, I studied the works of Belgium painter Rene Magritte, Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo, Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimbaldo (best known his inventive heads made of objects such a fruits, vegetables and flowers), the more contemporary Mexican artist and poet Alfredo Castaneda, and the theatrical self-taught contemporary Russian painter, Ilya Zomb. These artists served as guides in my finding a unique voice. I had no interest in being them or painting like them, I just wanted to learn from them.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

In 2009, without warning, I took another 180º turn with my work when I reluctantly enrolled in an Adobe Illustrator class to strengthen my teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design.  Despite my initial distaste for digital media as a tool for my own art making, I experienced a eureka moment that radically altered how I thought about my image-making process. While struggling with an assignment for this class (and wishing I was painting), I discovered a direct parallel between my “process of layering” with oils and the “digital layering” capabilities found in the computer-generated programs of Photoshop and Illustrator.

What materials do you work with: describe your technical process

During a sabbatical leave from the RISD in 2011, I set up an intense working schedule and blocked out my calendar to focus solely on developing a new way of working. My first experiments offered tremendous freedom in my artmaking process. As my ideas matured, my intensity for pushing this work into unexplored territory escalated. A year later, I had a solo exhibition of these 18 new works at the Nesto Gallery at Milton Academy, thanks to the gracious support of the Director, Anne Neely, and a generous Professional Development Fund Award from the Rhode Island School of Design. Discussing these works in depth with many invited professionals brought greater insight. The exhibition was entitled “Letting Loose: Digital Collages by Wendy Seller”. There seemed to be a flaw in calling these “digital collages”- they are indeed “my paintings” and I remain (from the heart) a painter.

What do you find the most challenging part of being creative?What is the best part of being creative?

I am not alone in saying that the most challenging part about being creative is finding enough undistracted time to do what you need to do in our studio, without being pulled away with the necessities of life. When you are a thoughtful person and concerned about helping others, it is even more difficult, as the process of creating art in this age requires diligence and selfishness. I am very guarded and stingy when it comes to protecting my time. It takes “time” to get my head in the right place so that I can detach from the day-to-day reality, and there is a strong pull to respond to the daily barrage of incoming emails, especially if you are one who needs to keep your life in order.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

As a student and young artist, I read many books to motivate me and help me to more forward and still do! I put myself through RISD, so I cannot say that things ever came easily for me. One book that was, and still is, inspirational is Letters to a Young Poet, by poet Rainer Marie Rilke. I continue to recommend it to my students. There are many others that have assisted me in my evolving process.

Please tell us where we can find you.

I will be doing a four-week residency at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, Ireland in August 2012, utilizing images I have taken within this extraordinary country. In September, my piece “Irish Gal” will be included in the exhibition Strange Glue: College at 100 (Part I), at the Thompson Gallery located at The Cambridge School of Weston (Weston, MA). In October, ten paintings will be shown at the Taft Gallery at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA, and in February 2013, I have a two-person show at the Tabor Gallery at Holyoke Community College. For information on any of these, contact me at my website.

My website is at I can also be found on the RISD website.  My studio, which I designed and built from scratch within an abandoned elementary school, has been referred to as one of my greatest artistic achievements. Images of this can be found on my website (under “Studio”) and on the Claflin School Studios website.

Want to be featured on Thursday Spotlight?  Get information on how to submit your work here.


Digital experiment

I knew it was a good sign when I got up this morning and couldn’t wait to get into the studio, the first time in many weeks that I’ve genuinely had such a strong impulse. Since my creative crisis, all I did was try to find excuses/ways to avoid the studio; it was really unsettling to witness. Having uninterrupted chunks of time to work in the studio is incredibly precious when you’re an artist, so it was even more unnerving for me because the summer is supposed to be one of the few periods during the year when I have this kind of time to dedicate to my artwork.

Last night I started playing around with lighting and digital media, making some very crude digital sketches in Photoshop. These images still have a very long way to go, but I’m truly excited about the possibilities.  I’m finally thinking with clarity and focus, and feeling good and positive about where things are going.

Digital experiment

I can’t tell right now whether I like the simplicity of the single portrait, (above) or if the double exposure image (below) has more potential.  I think the double exposure image may communicate the idea of an emotional mask better. What do you think?

Digital experiment