my "art school" journey

Though I was always a bit crafty as a kid, I did not grow up with the inclination to draw and paint all the time. The frustration that came with imperfect work deterred me from even trying. I'm not sure exactly why I picked up the hobby of learning to draw, but I think it had to do with my love of art supplies. Walking through an office supply store is one of the greatest joys in life, but there's little point to having a collection of drawing and writing utensils if you don't draw or write.

So in spring of 2018, I began the journey of learning to draw. This journey is documented more thoroughly on my sketchbook flipthrough page. The purpose of this page is to document and reflect on the various art courses I have taken so far along my journey. I have many, many more courses I desire to take, and it wasn't until 2022 that I have dedicated myself to buckling down and doing all I can to learn from the resources the internet has to offer.

By and large, the biggest resource that I have at my disposal is the Discord community hosted by Justin Donaldson and his assistant Rachel Danae as well as his moderator, Liam. The environment of an in-person art school is difficult to replicate through online courses, but this community has really provided me with the support and critique I need to grow. I've also made some very cherished friends!

Below is a list and reflections of the various courses I've taken, ordered chronologically.


date studied: much of 2018 & off-and-on in 2019
status: incomplete, abandoned

Draw-a-Box is the first course I ever undertook; I found it via the r/learntodraw subreddit. It really benefitted me by drilling into my head that art talent is not innate and can be learned and trained. However, because I had never really drawn before I undertook Draw-a-Box, I became really demoralized and burnt out on the curriculum. I did not balance art for fun and art for learning well. Part of Draw-a-Box's philosophy is that "Mileage is Key," so I tried to brute force my way into competence by drawing countless ellipses and boxes without any real substance or goal other than "finish the program." After three or four modules (half the program) I moved onto other ways of exploring art, and I do not regret that. It may be worthwhile to return to the curriculum one day, after I have a bigger portfolio and more clear art goals. But for now, this curriculum will be shelved for a long while, maybe forever.

Digital Painting in Photoshop

Aaron Blaise

date studied: October 2020
status: completed

I learned about Aaron Blaise via the Proko youtube channel and fell in love with his animal art and his ability to effortlessly capture the small details of the natural world. I've watched hours and hours of his streams, more than any other art educator out there. I've never met him or spoken with him, but in many ways he feels like a mentor to me, even if it's a very one-sided mentorship.

This course was my first course by Aaron. When COVID hit, Aaron put many of his courses on deep discount to make art education more accessible to everyone at home, and I took advantage of the sale. It was a great crash course in Photoshop for someone like me who had gotten their first digital art tablet. One thing to note about Aaron's courses is that typically, the latter part of the course is less instruction and more demonstration. I can follow along to a point before it becomes watching/listening to Aaron work.

Perspective Drawing

Aaron Blaise

date studied: October 2020
status: completed, desire to retake

This course deserves a retake because I absolutely need a refresher in perspective and I would love to draw more buildings from life. I could work this into a month-long plein air perspective challenge.

Human Anatomy

Aaron Blaise

date studied: Winter 2020
status: incomplete, on backburner

A good course that was very informative, but one that I didn't spend a ton of time studying or applying diligently. I will continue it when I move on to studying gesture and the body.

Paint Nature with Confidence

Justin Donaldson

date studied: Spring 2021
status: incomplete, backburner for now

A bundle of nature painting tutorials that I have yet to complete; I did many digital and traditional cloud studies but still feel that I have a lot to absorb about the subject. Once I am more adept at some other fundamentals like lighting and form, I would like to revisit this bundle.

Anime Background Bootcamp

Justin Donaldson

date studied: January - April 2021, and again Winter 2021
status: completed twice

Justin's anime background course is a series of studies of Ghibli backgrounds followed by Justin demonstrating crafting a Lord of the Rings paintings based on the concepts involved in that week's Ghibli painting. This course was difficult for me on many levels as it challenged my traditional painting skills, my knowldge of color theory, and my patience. However I learned a lot both times despite the struggles I encountered. The course was a mix between principles of landscapes and principles of traditional wet media - I think I would benefit from taking a wet media course on its own to learn more about water control and paint application.

Birds of Prey

Aaron Blaise

date studied: Spring 2021
status: incomplete, on hiatus

Naturally, being a bird fanatic, I jumped on the opportunity to take this 56 hour long course all about birds. I have taken about 3-4 modules but life fell in the way of pursuing it further. I want to turn this into an organize challenge where I make a completed painting featuring each bird species and a background.

Beginning Watercolors

Ryan Fox

date studied: Fall 2021
status: complete

This was my first in-person art class. The instructor had a quite unique style of painting that was fun to replicate; it was also the first time I'd used 100% cotton watercolor paper.

How to Draw Horses

Aaron Blaise

date studied: April 2022
status: complete

In the art community discord I am in, I made a one-off joke asking if there's a horse-themed art challenge for April called Neighpril. My joke took off and a few of us ended up drawing horses throughout the month. For my part, I took this course within the span of the month. I even did a full painting as a captone. It was very fulfilling to study one animal in-depth all month, and I want to model this approach to tackle art challenge based on art courses many time more in the future.

Painting with Procreate

Aaron Blaise

date studied: May 2022
status: complete

As a new iPad owner I felt I deserved to give this course a listen. It doesn't come with many excercises - just an overview of the program's features, which was really helpful to me, and then a few demos demonstrating Aaron's approach to digital painting. Since I had already taken the Photoshop course and his process is no different between the two programs, I really just listened to the demos while I did other things. Still, it's always education to see a master at work. One note though: the audio quality throughout much of this course is terrible. It's like there were two audio tracks echoing each other. Do not pay a lot of money for this course because there are ones out there with higher production quality than this.

Form and Rendering

Justin Donaldson

date studied: May - July 2022
status: complete

Justin took some really complex concepts and not only broke them down using explanations that were easy to understand, but also using exercises that helped me work through these concepts in bite-sized ways. Perspective is a huge aspect of this course - I've taken my fair share of perspective courses over the years, and Justin taught me perspective concepts that none of the other courses mentioned. I feel much more equipped to tackle rendering now having finished the course.  I know that I'll be retaking it someday, too.

Learn to Paint with Gouache

Justin Donaldson

date studied: August 2022 - October 2022
status: in progress

Course in progress.