A New Type of Tutorial: “Course Trios”

One aspect of Art Prof that we are trying to push is diversity of artistic approaches and media.  When I was a student in art school, I remember feeling like my head was exploding with excitement when I arrived on campus and was discovering so many new art materials. I found it to be an incredibly enriching experience to approach the same subject with different media.  I did portraits in drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture techniques throughout my four years in art school. Every media I experienced revealed something new about the human face that could only be experienced with that specific media.


That’s why I’m thrilled that we’re bringing that diversity of materials to Art Prof with our Course Trios, beginning with our Self-Portrait from Life course.

The idea is different than the linear tutorials I’ve seen online:  My tutorial provides the fundamentals  & premise of the subject.  In the case of the Self-Portrait course,  how to set up a mirror, light your face, basics in the structure of the skull, and thumbnail sketches.  From there, the course branches out into 3 different paths:  1) a self-portrait in crayon by myself, 2) a self-portrait in charcoal by TA Casey Roonan, and 4) a self-portrait in animation by TA Deepti Menon.

Watching Casey do his charcoal drawing tutorial from behind the camera, I found myself seeing the concept of the self-portrait with new eyes. In the video above, Casey talks about how as a cartoonist, he has a cartoon version of himself in his head that he can draw “thoughtlessly.”  He talks about how cartoonists are often accused of just drawing themselves, citing Jack Kirby’s  Incredible Hulk as essentially a self-portrait of Kirby himself. As a fine artist, all of this was totally new to me, and I found it endlessly absorbing to listen to.

I told Casey afterwards that my “basics” tutorial on drawing a self-portrait from life felt so generic compared to his!  However, we agreed as a staff that having one tutorial provide the core basics was critical to the other two tutorials making sense.  Hope all of you have as much fun learning these diverse approaches as I do!  If you want to receive email notifications when a new course is released, you can sign up here.


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

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2 New Drawing Tutorials


by Clara Lieu

I came up with the idea for Art Prof way back in October 2014, and it still constantly amazes me how far we have come since that idea first floated in my head. Way back in the fall of 2015, we shot a portrait drawing in charcoal tutorial, which I always imagined was going to be the featured tutorial when we launched the new Art Prof website.

In recent months I’ve been reviewing our content, as we prepare for our upcoming site launch.  Looking at this 2015 tutorial, it felt completely out of place within the context of all of our new content.  This 2015 tutorial (photo below) was really my first time on camera and it really shows if you watch this tutorial compared to our new content. I was very nervous at the time, so I heavily scripted every single sentence.  On top of that, I knew absolutely nothing about the video editing process, so I had no idea what could be done in terms of post production. It was exciting to learn so much, but as we all know, those first steps in a new experience are always awkward and challenging.


On the set of my first charcoal drawing tutorial, shot in 2015

In the 2015 tutorial, I worked with an editor and sat next to him to edit the content and add additional content like diagrams, terminology, etc. to the video. I guess the equivalent would be if I traveled to Turkey, and needed an interpreter with me every second I was there to get around.

By comparison, I am now fluent and could navigate Turkey entirely by myself: I know all aspects of the tutorial process and can think through the process much more quickly and efficiently.  I’ve spent countless hours learning video editing, and while I’m no expert, I can competently edit a video with little help.  I don’t script the tutorials at all.  I literally write down about 10 bullet points I want to cover, (see photo below) and then everything else I make up on the spot. Doing the tutorials ad lib is about 2% of the work I did on the 2015 tutorial, it’s about 1000 easier, and the results are significantly better.  When I scripted the tutorials, it made me nervous and stiff. Now, my approach to what I say is very similar to how I teach in my classes at RISD-completely spontaneous and unscripted.


I slaved over that 2015 tutorial, and put in a mind boggling number of hours into it, between the planning/shooting/post production, etc. Most of those hours were difficult and frustrating because I was so new to the process. However, I had to face the fact that this tutorial was going to be a major sore thumb within the context of our new content, so as painful as it was, I decided to scrap the 2015 tutorial and shoot all new tutorials for the new website.

I’m enough of a perfectionist that I’m willing to part with material I invested tons of labor into for the sake of maintaining consistency and quality on the new website. The 2 new tutorials are on how to draw a still life and self-portrait using Caran d’Ache crayons. With my new skills in video editing and being on camera that I’ve been honing for 2 years now, I think these new tutorials are a vast improvement.


Drawing in color is such a great way to get acquainted with color without having to break the bank paying for tons of painting supplies. I think so many people think about drawing media as being only black and white, and don’t even consider very often that you can really learn a lot about color through drawing.  Using color in drawing is a good option especially when the large number of painting supplies is too expensive, or if you haven’t taken a painting class yet. (in my opinion, painting really is one of those techniques where if you don’t have proper training, and don’t know exactly what supplies to purchase, it really is insufferably difficult to do)


The self-portrait drawing tutorial demonstrates how to draw a self-portrait from life.  I was surprised that when I looked up “How to draw a self-portrait” on Youtube, that there is no video that shows you how to draw a self-portrait using a mirror.  Every video showed the artist drawing from a photo of themselves.  I found one video where the artist held a mirror in his hand, but didn’t use it.  (why are you holding a mirror if you aren’t going to use it to draw a self-portrait?) I am hoping this tutorial fills a gap-because clearly, there is a huge one when it comes to drawing a self-portrait from life.

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.

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.

Art Critique for Carol Haggerty’s Art Class

We were thrilled to award the Art Teacher’s prize for the September Art Dare to Carol Haggerty, who teaches at Millis High School. The Art Teacher’s prize allows each student in the class to submit an artwork of their choice for a 1 minute video critique from Prof Clara Lieu.  Watch Carol’s class video critique above.  If you are an artist or an art teacher, consider submitting to our December Art Dare!

We were really impressed with the way Carol’s students experimented and pushed themselves with charcoal.  You can see below that each student developed their own visual language for drawing with charcoal, and the excellent results they got. Below you can see several of the charcoal self-portraits that students in Carol’s class created in response to the Art Dare.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org 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.

From a Former Student: “I Never Said Thank You”

Final Crit

The vast majority of the time, I love teaching and I savor my time in the classroom with my students. A student once wrote in my course evaluations that I was “born to teach.” I even enjoy nerdy tasks like writing student progress reports and making spreadsheets and assembling slideshows and course materials that a lot of other teachers find tedious. My students are endlessly fascinating and frequently entertaining.  The second I think I’ve seen it all, something will happen in my classroom that takes me by surprise. There is literally never a dull moment when you teach.

On the other hand, I have to admit that one of the toughest parts of teaching is that at times it can feel like a thankless job.  One of my former teachers told me that she viewed her students as leeches who latched on and sucked her blood all day long until she had nothing left.  I’m not sure it’s that dramatic for me, but the honest truth is that most of the time teachers give much more than they get back.

When I was a recent college graduate, one of my first jobs was teaching art at the Learning Project Elementary school.  One of the unique aspects of teaching grades 1-6 was that you always got immediate feedback from the students.  The kids told you exactly what they were thinking right in the moment.   If they thought the activity was boring, they would not hesitate to declare outright, “This is boring, I want to do something else.”  If they were having a blast, you would hear immediate comments like “This is SO FUN! I love drawing TREES!!”As the teacher, the students’ enthusiasm was infectious and energizing.  I found it incredibly satisfying to have instant, concrete validation that you were doing something right.

Final Crit

Teaching college is a totally different ball game.  College students wear poker faces most of the time, and the majority of them would rather die a thousand deaths before they let me know what they were really thinking.  I remember the very first college class I taught, I was mortified that I had done a terrible job with the class because the students barely said a word to me all semester.  (although looking back, that really was an exceptionally quiet class by comparison) So I was pleasantly surprised, when a student who hardly spoke a whole sentence the whole semester described my class as “her favorite art class ever,” in my course evaluation. The other extreme is I’ve also had students who were fine during class, but who lashed out at me with angry, aggressive emails explicitly describing how I directly caused them to develop mental illness and destroyed their lives.  Teaching college students can be a constant guessing game that you can’t ever win.

During my lectures and demonstrations, sometimes I look at my class and see a sea of dead pan, sleep deprived facial expressions, (I have concrete evidence, see the photo below) wondering if any shred of information I’m teaching is being retained.  Then a year later, I’ll run into a student and they’ll repeat back to me verbatim something I said to them during that class.  So I guess they are paying attention?

Final Crit

As a professor, there are so few moments when you know absolutely for sure, without a doubt that you’ve made a positive impact on a student. So that’s why when I received this lovely email below from a former student, it was a rare moment for me to hear a student be so honest, direct, and reflective of her experience in my class. These are the gems I get from my students once in a while, that tell me that yes, my students are indeed listening.

“I just want you to know how much of an impression you made on me in your drawing class.  I’ve been taking art in school since sixth grade. I’m fortunate that I go to a school where art is taken seriously, and the curriculum is really great. I’ve done other summer programs with plenty of one-on-one time with art teachers who took the time to sit down with me and teach me techniques I was curious about. Despite all of that though, I think that you’ve had more influence on my art and my attitude towards art than any other teacher.

For the first few weeks, I’ll admit your critiques terrified me a little. I wasn’t used to hearing anything truly and purely constructive about my work. Critiques before then were always fluffed up with compliments and apologies. But your critiques were straight to the point, and I appreciate that more than I can say. Not only did it make me a better artist at the time, but it also made me able to grow more as an artist in the long run.

I remember during the critique for our chiaroscuro self-portrait drawings, you said that I managed to take my drawing to a level beyond that of “just a homework assignment.” I’m not sure why that’s the thing that stuck in my mind, but I felt so ridiculously proud when you said that. I think it was just the past several weeks of instruction finally coming together to allow me to make a work of art that I was really proud of. I poured everything into that drawing, and I had so much fun with it (even as I was crouched under my bed with an aching back for 10 hours), and for you to recognize that meant so much to me.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the impostor syndrome, but it’s a term for people who feel that they don’t deserve their accomplishments -that whatever they’ve achieved is due to luck, timing, or deceit, rather than their own hard work. I feel that way so often.  When people compliment my art, some part of me thinks that I don’t deserve the praise I get. I just don’t feel like a “real” artist, and the fact that some people view me as such irks me for some reason. Looking back at the work I created in your class, though, I can almost shake that feeling, especially with the one self-portrait I talked about above.

To this day, that self-portrait is still one of my favorite pieces that I’ve created. I attribute that to the fact that in your class I felt like I was actually learning, and making visible and tangible progress, whereas so many of my other art projects in school until that point felt like they weren’t truly mine. Up until that point, art in school felt like no more than following an instruction manual-that’s how specific our assignments were. It was hard to take ownership of my art when I was just copying down step after step that my art teachers gave me. On the chance that I was given freedom to create something original, I didn’t even know what to do with it. In your class though, I learned to take ownership of my art.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about myself as an artist, and I realized how much of my confidence and ability came from your instruction. I don’t think I ever thanked you personally for the impact you made on me, maybe because I didn’t even know it then. Thank you so much.”

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org 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.

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Video Critique Program
I offer 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for aspiring/professional artists working on a body of artwork, and for students working on an art portfolio for college admission. Watch sample video critiques and get more info here.

Merging References

Figure Study No. 51

Someone asked on my Facebook page how long it takes me to do these 8″ x 10″ lithographic crayon images the other day.  I was curious, so I timed myself and it turns out that each drawing takes about 5 minutes, which is much shorter than I had thought.  I guess it’s hard to have any sense of time when you’re drawing!

One thing that is noticeably different about doing these figure sketches is the way that I have been using my reference photos. With the series of 50 self-portrait drawings, I stuck with using a single reference photograph per drawing. These figures are proving to be more complicated because there’s just so much more to tackle in terms of the form. I have three rounds of reference photographs for these 50 figures, which is a lot of photographs.  I’m finding that each round of photographs has something distinctive about it that is important for me to capture in the drawing. So it’s a challenge of picking what aspects of each photograph I want to use, and how to merge them together smoothly in the drawing.

Looking ahead, I’m anticipating that these 50 figure drawings will take a few years to make.  This is significantly longer than anything I’ve ever done before; most of my projects take about one year to complete. The scale that I want to work at is a little frightening, (6′ x 4′) and to be able to work at that scale I have to be really prepared. So unlike the 50 self-portrait drawings where I simply did one portrait after another, I’m going to plan out all 50 figure drawings in advance with many, many sketches first. I also currently don’t have a studio space that can accommodate working at that scale, so that’s another issue I will have to come to terms with at some point. For now, I think it will likely be at least a year of sketches and studies before I even think about the final drawings. The sketches for each figure will be made in this order:

1) 8″ x 10″ lithographic crayon sketches on charcoal paper
2) 18″ x 24″ lithographic crayon sketches on charcoal paper
3) 3′ x 2′ etching ink and lithographic crayon studies on Dura-Lar

Figure Study No. 50

Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Know when Your Artwork is Good Enough to Show to the World?

Boston Printmakers at Brickbottom Gallery

“How does an visual artist know when their artwork is good enough to show to the world?”

On the Internet, you’ll find an overwhelming range of quality in art, everything from random pencil doodles scribbled on lined notebook paper to the most highly polished, professional artwork that exists. Since the range of quality is so massive, there really is no “standard” whatsoever for what should be shown publicly.  What it really boils down to is what your motivations are for showing your art. If you’re looking to work professionally, my answer would be to get over it and get your work out there immediately. If you’re making art for yourself, then go with your instinct and do what you’re most comfortable with.

Self-critique can also be a good process to go through when wondering whether to show your work. It’s a way to evaluate where your work stands in the context of what’s already out there, and provide some validation.  If you don’t have art  teachers to ask, then the best way is to search for artists who are working in the same media, genre, and subject matter and compare your work to theirs.  If you feel their work is significantly better than yours, thoughtfully ask yourself what it is that they’re doing differently in their work. Analyze their methods and visual strategies and see if you can employ some of those initiatives in your own work. If you think your work holds a candle to what they’re doing, then empower yourself to take the plunge and get your work out there and seen.

Unseen & Unknown: Opening Reception

When you finally do make the decision to show your work to the world, you have to brace yourself for the wave of comments that occurs and be ready to handle it.  Showing your art can be both incredibly rewarding and difficult at the same time. Every time you show your artwork publicly, it’s like walking the plank. Putting your work out there is a big risk every time. I’ve had people say lovely, moving things to me about my work.  I’ve also had people make brutal, insensitive, comments.

I had a professor in graduate school who came up to me in person, completely unsolicited, one day and said to me “I’m very disturbed by what you do,” and then went on to describe in great detail what a terrible artist I was. I was so completely startled by her comments that I was left speechless. I once had an exhibition of my 50 self-portraits at a college gallery,(see below) and there were complaints from students and staff about how dark and upsetting the work was, so much so that the gallery director had to put a disclaimer by the exhibition.


Clara Lieu, 50 Self-Portrait drawings from “Falling”

I try to focus on the positive comments I receive, but you do have to be prepared for the occasional insult/annoying comment.  So how do you deal with it?  First of all, acknowledge that insensitive comments are always going to hurt.  Let the comment sting you momentarily, and then move on and try to concentrate on the people who are appreciating your work. And actually, the worst response is no response.  There’s a saying in the art world that “as long as they’re talking about you,” you’re doing fine.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org 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 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

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