Saturday, July 11, 2009

Art School on the Cheap: Professional Skills Without the Pricetag

Before I get started in on this I want to be very clear: I'm not trying to sell you on any of these products. Rather I'm recommending them as someone who went to art school and came out finding my education lacking. These were some resources which helped me fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

Its no secret that art school is expensive. In fact, I would wager that cost is the number one limiting factor preventing young artists from pursuing their passion after they graduate high school. This is tragic, especially because of all the great resources which are now available for those interested in getting a art education without having to shell out the obscene amounts of dosh previously required. Here I'll try to list out some of the ones I've found useful, along with their rough price ranges. Its worth keeping in mind that I'm approaching this from the perspective of someone in the animation and game art industry, so my tips may be skewed.

Cartoon Smart: is a great resource for those looking to get started in Web animation, as well as a number of other subjects.  The site offers affordable video tutorials on a wide range of topics.  The tutorials are friendly, accessible, and packed with information, making this a resource well worth the money.

The ten-ton gorilla of the Internet art education world, Gnomon is a education resource for professional artists by professional artists. Originally just a series of professional classes held in Hollywood for visual effects and concept artists, Gnomon has expanded out to be come a multi-headed hydra offering a wide range of products and classes. The Gnomon Workshops are the bread and butter of their offerings, giving several hours of professional tutorials in the $60-80 range. Now that might seem steep, but when you consider these are in-depth tutorials from some of the industry leaders, the price is worth it. If that's to rich for your blood, Gnomon also offers Gnomonology which provides shorter format tutorial nuggets in the $15 range. For more intensive training at a steeper price tag, Gnomon also offers multi-week online classes for the tune of $1K-$2K at Gnomon Online. While definitely one of the priciest resources, Gnomon is definitely professional grade training presented in a great ala-carte style.

Online Art Communities:
By far one of the cheapest ways to learn is to get in the habit of posting to art communities. Basic accounts are almost always free, and they offer aspiring artists the chance to share their work and get critiques. is by far one of the most popular, with a wide ranging user base across all skill levels making it a ideal place for beginners.  However, for those serious about getting honest, constructive criticism that will help them grow, its best to start looking to more professionally oriented communities. is one such site, with a active and highly knowledgeable community dedicated to helping each other perfect their skills.  

There are an amazing number of great instructional books that can help teach you various aspects of art.  Despite what you might assume, none of them have ever been written by Chris Hart.  Here is a list of books that I do recommend (I own them) for the learning artist:

Launching the Imagination by Mary Stewart
The Vilppu Drawing Manual by Glenn Vilppu
Composition Photo Workshop by Blue Fier
Vanishing Point by John Cheeseman-Meyer (yes that's really his name)
Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet
Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Peck
Force by Michael D. Mattesi
Bold Visions by Gary Tonge
Digital Character Design and Painting by Don Seegmiller
Creating Characters with Personailty bt Tom Bancroft
Facial Expressions by Mark Simon
The Dynamic drawing series by Burne Hogarth
The Virtual Pose series by someone, I don't know who.

ImagineFX Magazine:
I could have included this in with the books, however it's a magazine and just too awesome to be lumped in with everything else.  ImagineFX is a art magazine printed in the UK, but is readily available in US bookstores in the computer/art section.   It offers great articles with science fiction and fantasy artists, as well as providing excellent art tutorials and product reviews.  Normally I have very little patience for magazines, but this is one of the few exceptions I have to it.  Each issue comes with a disc packed with freebies and video tutorials, making the magazine well worth its slightly elevated price tag.

Graphics Tablet:
A graphics tablet is a indispensable part of a modern digital artists arsenal.  It allows you to draw straight into your favorite graphics program of choice without the hassle of trying to use a mouse.   Even artists more interested in traditional art should at least look into dabbling in digital art, as it allows you to freely experiment and try out ideas without the material investment normally required. Yes, I know it seems like a big commitment, but at today's prices for a entry-level tablet, it should be well within the means of most young artists.

Scanner or Digital Camera:
Like the tablet, a scanner or digital camera can go a long way.  Not only does it allow you to save and share your artwork, it allows you to non-destructively experiment with it digitally, and even use it as the basis for amazing pieces of digital art. While a scanner is preferable for capturing a high quality digital version of your art, it can be a big investment for young artists.  A digital camera can be a good substitute, although its always best to take pictures of your artwork in a well-lit area and at as high a quality as possible.  Digital cameras also allow you to capture your own reference images, which is a added bonus.

The Internet:
I'm not going to even try to start listing out the thousands of awesome resources available to artists for free today on the Net.  There's too many to do justice to, and frankly half the fun is finding them for yourself.  There are endless blogs providing tutorials, stock photography sites offering free reference material, and any number of specialized communities (it's the Internet, after all).  So go and explore!

That pretty much wraps it up.  If you have anything to add to this, please feel free to add a comment.


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