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The best online art classes in 2021

Best online art classes
(Image credit: Robin Slee)

Here we've brought you the best online art classes today - whether you want to draw in pencil, paint or pixels,  there's something on this page for all mediums, all levels, and for all budgets (and that includes free!). 

We believe, there's no time like the present to get on a course, and take your art to the next level. Decide to invest in high-quality tuition, delivered by leading professionals, and you'll soon find your ability as an artist improving by leaps and bounds. 

So, we've brought together the best online art classes around right now. Number one on our list is Drawing Essentials with Glenn Vilppu; in our view the best online art class you can access right now. That's because it drills down into the fundamentals you need to master before you can develop your skills. And it does so in a way that speaks to a beginner as much as an experienced artist. But there are loads of awesome classes here, whether you want to go for digital art or traditional.

If you can't find what you're looking for here, be sure to check out our other quality how to draw tutorials, covering a variety of subjects or our specific charcoal drawing guide. 

01. Drawing Essentials with Glenn Vilppu

Best online art classes

Glenn Vilppu is a big name in art education, and for good reason; his six-week drawing class is the best of the best

One of the world’s most famous art teachers, Glenn Vilppu instructs professionals at animation, game and film studios worldwide, as well as universities, art schools and private art academies. And the one problem he constantly comes up against is that many students walk into the class without knowing the fundamentals, such as how to hold a pencil correctly. 

So this six-week course attempts to fill those knowledge gaps, and is aimed not just beginners but any artists, even professionals, who have never studied formally. 

At $800, it’s not cheap, but bear in mind you won’t just be passively watching video lectures. The aim is to replicate the experience of attending a real-life art class; so you get your work critiqued weekly, alongside group discussion and the opportunity to get answers directly from Vilppu. You’ll also be able to see critiques of the other students as well, as would happen in a regular live class.

Once you're done, Vilppu also offers some world-class figure drawing classes on his site. He strongly recommends you don't jump ahead, and take this class first, however knowledgeable you think you are.

02. Drawing and Sketching for Beginners by Robin Slee

Best online art classes

Robin Slee's introductory course is a great way to dip your toe into the water

Right at the start of your journey, and want to know what all this art stuff is really about? This introductory-level class on Udemy is a great place to begin, and at $19.99, it's far from a huge financial commitment.

Tutor Robin Slee, a self-taught freelance digital artist and illustrator, is keen to get you started on the right track, and covers fundamentals like how to hold a pencil correctly and how to make marks. That might sound childishly basic, but these are not actually intuitive things (as we mentioned in the previous entry, even experienced artists get them wrong), so it's pretty useful to nail them at this early stage. And Slee's instruction is clear, simple, jargon-free and easy to follow.

The course consists of over three hours of video content, segmented into 25 modules, accompanied by practical exercises for you to download. There's also a dedicated Q&A section where you can post your questions, ask for feedback, or share your results from the course.

03. SmART School

Best online art classes

Donato Giancola is one of the artists teaching at SmART School

Founded by Rebecca Guay, SmART School offers live classes in figure drawing for small groups. These interactive online lessons are given by industry pro artists such as Donato Giancola and Terese Nielsen, as well as editors, directors, agents and gallery owners, who use GoToMeeting to provide assignment critiques, hands-on drawovers in Photoshop, and Q&As with every student.

SmART School costs $2,500 per course.

04. Ctrl+Paint

Best online art classes

Each bite-sized video on Ctrl+Paint covers a different concept in manageable increments

Many free online courses are of dubious quality. Not so these pre-recorded digital painting videos from founder Matt Kohr, which are organised like a school curriculum. Ctrl+Paint also offers premium video lessons from $10 that take you through basic foundation art skills.

05. Tucson Art Academy Online

Best online art classes

All of Tucson Art Academy Online’s content has been put together by renowned fine artists who believe that craft precedes artistry. This artwork is by Phil Starke

Tucson Art Academy Online offers pre-recorded video lessons on pastel, oils, acrylic and watercolour from the likes of established traditional artists Laura Robb, Ken Auster and Sandy Scott, which you can access for 365 days. 

With Self-Study (which costs $395), that’s all you get; if you choose the Online Mentoring option (for $595), you can ask the tutor questions.

06. New Masters Academy

Best online art classes

The New Masters Academy website has over 850 hours of content from over 20 instructors, all experts at the top of their fields. This painting is by instructor Juliette Aristides

The New Masters Academy offers online courses for fine artists. Tutors include Steve Huston, Charles Hu and Kamille Corry. 

The Standard $35 per month subscription gives you over 850 hours of pre-recorded video lectures; the Premium $44 per month level allows you access to an online 3D reference library and 20,000+ reference images.

07. Ink Drawing Techniques by Yuko Shimizue

Best online art classes

Yuko Shimizu offers an invaluable insight into the secrets of ink drawings as part of a Skillshare subscription

Yuko Shimizu is a Japanese illustrator based in New York City and a veteran instructor at the School of Visual Arts. In this online class, hosted on the Skillshare platform, she offers a detailed guide to essential inking and drawing techniques. 

Subjects covered include the differences between types of papers and inks; basic brush, nib, and ink techniques; Asian vs. watercolour brushes; and sketching and scanning essentials. In short, there’s a huge amount of ground covered in this 90 minute class, made up of 15 separate lessons, and everyone from the novice to the experienced inker will benefit.

You can’t actually buy the course separately; you’ll need a Skillshare subscription to unlock it. But at just £7 a month you might fancy that anyway; and at time of writing there's a two-month free trial offer, with the option to cancel at any time.

08. Draw and Paint Online: Beginner's Art by Peter Stanyer 

Best online art classes

Peter Stanyer offers high-quality, interactive art tuition at a very affordable price

Internationally renowned artist, author and tutor Peter Stanyer has taught art for over 20 years at many different levels in further and higher education. Aimed both at complete beginners and more experienced artists who enjoy recreational drawing, his online art classes will teach you the techniques you need to draw with confidence. 

All the fundamentals are covered here, including mark making, tone, colour, shape, composition, perspective and more. Requiring around 30 hours of study, this class involves a number of assignments made up of carefully structured, practical, drawing or painting projects. With personal tuition and feedback from Stanyer thrown in as well, this course offers excellent value at just £148.

09. How to Paint: Absolute Beginners Acrylics Course with Will Kemp

Best online art classes

Learn the foundations of working with acrylic paint in this three-and-a-half-hour online art class

Are you someone who “dreams of becoming an artist but keeps putting it off until you have more time?” If that’s you, then this relatively short and snappy art class could be the kick up the backside you need. 

Over three-and-a-half hours, Will Kemp - an award-winning artist who’s studied in Italy, run his own art gallery and taught in museums and schools - explains the foundations of working with acrylics and why they're the simplest and most effective way for a beginner to learn to paint.

You learn about setup and materials, colour mixing, pigment choice, brush-handling and palette-knife techniques, as well as gels and mediums. Once that's out of the way, you're then encouraged to complete three paintings (a still-life, a landscape, and a seascape) using three different colour palettes. 

This class is split over seven video lessons, which can be either streamed or downloaded. Kemp suggest you take time off for a “painting week”', in which you take a different lesson every day; alternatively, you might prefer to study one every weekend. He also includes downloadable reference material and although you won't get feedback on your work, at just £49, it's still a bit of bargain.

10. Mastering colour with Richard Robinson  

Best online art classes

Struggling to get your colours right? Richard Robinson can help

Fine artist and teacher Richard Robinson asked his students to name the biggest stumbling block when it came to painting, and an astonishing 72 per cent said it was getting their colours right. So in this two-hour art class, which can be both streamed and downloaded, he explains everything you need to know, from how the brain sees and analyse colours, to the key to colour relationships. It may have a narrow focus, but it's still a strong entry in our list of the best online art classes.

With 40 practical exercises to complete and 159 pages of printable lesson notes, this class is suitable for everyone from beginner to advanced. It's pretty cheap at just $45, but if you're still not convinced, you can ‘try before you buy’ by viewing the first chapter free on the website. 

11. Activate the canvas with Nancy Hillis

Best online art classes

Want to shift from representational art to something more abstract? Then this is the online art class for you

Fed up of making representational art, and want to walk on the wild side? This five-module, self-paced art class will guide you through your first steps in abstract painting. You'll discover how to experiment, loosen up as artist and unleash a brand new perspective on your art. 

In each module, Nancy Hillis, abstract artist and psychiatrist, walks you through a systematic process for reflecting on your inner landscape and mindset. Included are a written lesson and between three and seven video demonstrations that walk you through ways of “activating the canvas”. 

There are a few pricing options, but the cheapest one costs $197 and buys you one year of access to the class, which is suitable for both beginners and experienced artists; because it’s not really about technique but unlocking your creativity. In return, Nancy says, “You'll learn exciting ways to create bold, raw, immediate and alive paintings by activating the canvas intuitively.” A well deserved entry in the list of the best online art classes. 

12. Figure Drawing Fundamentals with Stan Proko 

Best online art classes

Learn how a body is shaped, how it moves, and then how to draw it realistically

Historically, art schools have always taught a systematic process for drawing people that can be applied to figures of any body type, set in any position. Running across 15 and a half hours of downloadable video, this class delivers exactly that. 

One of our favourite best online art classes, it's taught by Stan Prokopenko, an accomplished fine art painter who works for the Watts Atelier school in California and shares his knowledge with millions online through both free YouTube videos and more weighty, paid-for courses like this one. 

Aimed at both beginners and experienced artists looking for a refresher, this figure drawing class will teach you how to draw human figures by breaking down shapes into simple forms. You’ll learn about structure, gesture, balance, exaggeration, proportions, shading and more. And for just $99, you can't say fairer than that. 

13. Painting portraits with Mark Carder

Best online art classes

Mark Carder has painted Presidents, so he's in a good position to teach you about portraiture

Mark Carder is a highly regarded artist who has painted commissioned portraits of two US Presidents and a US Secretary of State, among others. His best online art class demonstrates and explains the process of painting portraits using a photo as your source material. 

Carder’s style is direct and to the point, with zero waffle and targeted advice throughout, covering how to photograph your subject, draw the face, blend fleshtones, work with a limited colour palette, match colours, and maintain a likeness throughout the process. 

Some of the specific techniques Carder outlines are a little unusual, and the class doesn't cover how to draw a portrait from life. But if that doesn't put you off, these eight hours of downloadable videos, aimed at intermediate and advanced artists, are top quality, well structured, and offer fascinating insights from an artist at the top of his profession; all of which isn't bad for $100.

14. Charcoal Drawing with Aaron Blaise

Best online art classes

Disney's Aaron Blaise offers you the benefit of his expertise and experience when it comes to drawing with charcoal

Aaron Blaise spent 21 years of his life as an animator on such films as Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and Brother Bear, which he co-directed. He’s now left the movie business, but Disney’s loss is the art world’s gain, as he’s turned his hand to teaching digital painting. And it turns out he’s very good at it.

In this art class, Blaise creates a charcoal drawing of a lioness, in real time, across five hours and 30 minutes. He draws from a photograph, and you can download a high resolution version of this image, print it out, and follow along at home.

Blaise’s commentary is insightful, informative and really helps you follow what he’s doing. He always strikes the right tone: always helpful, never patronising, making this a strong entry in the list of the best online art classes. 

You'll need some basic drawing skills to follow this class, so it’s not suitable for total beginners. But overall, this is a high-quality class for anyone wanting to get to grips with charcoal, wildlife drawing, or both; and £45/$40 seems a pretty fair price. 

15. Computer Graphics Master Academy

Best online art classes

CGMA has over 90 active industry-experienced mentors teaching every term, who mostly hail from major art studios. Instructor Michal Kus produced this artwork

Another tried and true brand in this list of the best online art classes, Computer Graphics Master Academy is focused on getting its students work in the animation, games and VFX industries, and to this end offers 100 courses, from drawing basics to environment design. 

These are taught by over 90 pros, including Mélanie Delon, Patrick J Jones, Armand Serrano and Aaron Limonick, who provide live feedback and one-to-one mentoring in a virtual classroom.

With over 900 students worldwide, CGMA provides a vibrant network for discussion and career development through its virtual classroom community.

Classes cost from $599 to $998 per course.

16. Visual Arts Passage

Best online art classes

Visual Arts Passage enables industry-leading pros to mentor budding artists from anywhere in the world. This David Bowie portrait is by mentor Edward Kinsella

Visual Arts Passageh has gone up our list of the best online art classes as it is a mentorship programme for students pursuing a career in the art industry that boasts live, interactive classes. They're small classes and are taught by working professionals, including George Pratt, Jon Foster, Michael Bierek and Audrey Benjaminsen. 

It offers a foundations course, and lessons in entertainment and game art, and illustration. Applicants qualify for a one-on-one portfolio review.

Visual Arts Passage’s co-founder John English explains: "Students receive in-depth, one-on-one guidance from experienced artists in small classes. All lessons are delivered live and are fully interactive. Every student has a front row seat.

"Visual Arts Passage places art students on a track of challenging courses taught by working artists. This bridges the gap between the art student and the professional. We guide students from building foundational skills, all the way to crafting an industry-ready portfolio. It’s a map to the industry, paired with training by world-class professionals."

Classes cost from $499 to $1299 per course.

17. CG Spectrum

Best online art classes

CG Spectrum helps students find employment through network nurturing and an emphasis on folio and demo-reel building. This artwork is by student Katinka Thorondor

CG Spectrum offers courses in animation, 3D modelling, concept art, visual effects, compositing and game design – it's one of the best online art classes that help students get the training they need for industry life. 

Live lessons take place as either small group classes or one-on-one mentoring, and the pro mentors – who include Craig Elliott and Jake Collinge – stay connected with students throughout each week of their course.

Classes cost from $2,895 for a group class to $3,795 or more for a one-to-one class.

18. The Oatley Academy

Best online art classes

Founder Chris Oatley is a former Disney artist

Founded by former Disney artist Chris Oatley, The Oatley Academy of Visual Storytelling is one of our best online art classes because it specialises in real-time mentorships with a host of industry professionals that include Paul Scott Canavan, Brett Bean, Shaun Bryant and Jenn Ely. 

Many graduates have gone on to become animation artists or illustrators, working for the likes of Disney, Marvel Animation and Cartoon Network. 

Prices vary according to the guest mentor. Self-guided courses covering topics such as visual storytelling are also available – these cost $19/month or $209/year.

19. Gnomon

Best online art classes

Gnomon provides online courses for artists who are seeking training direct from Hollywood, coupled with the convenience of learning from home. This artwork is by student Omar Taher

Gnomon is known as the MIT of visual effects, and its online courses provide the same academic rigour as its campus-based ones – making it a strong entry in our list of the best online art classes. Live classes by industry pros such as Ron Lemen and Dave Pasciuto take place once a week for 10 weeks and are available four terms per year. 

Note that online courses are only open to artists living in California or outside the US, and cost from $993 to $1,323.

20. Learn Squared

Best online art classes

Learn Squared offers a new form of online art education, in which industry-leading artists teach skills to each other. This artwork is by instructor Jingna Zhang

Covering topics like matte painting and creature design, Learn Squared offers something a little different: pre-recorded videos in which one top industry artist – Aaron Limonick or Maciej Kuciara, say – instructs another in a discipline they’re unfamiliar with.

Depending on the payment level (between $249 and $500 per course), you also get access to videos, project files and mentorship from tutors.

21. Proko

Best online art classes

Stan Prokopenko’s premium courses supplement his free YouTube videos.

California-based artist Stan Prokopenko offers both free video lessons on YouTube and paid-for courses in anatomy, figure drawing, portrait drawing and caricature via his website. 

The latter consist of pre-recorded video lessons, assignment demos and examples, eBooks, critique videos and 3D models. He also offers personal critiques to premium members via email. Courses cost from $59 to $225 per course.

22. Watts Atelier of the Arts

Best online art classes

Watts' online programme provides you with structured learning that will help you establish a strong foundation in the arts. Artwork by student Pavel Sokov

Since 2013, the Watts Atelier college has made its art courses available online. This involves pre-recorded video lessons and PDF workbooks. 

For $299 per month you’ll also get a weekly critique by a Watts trained pro artist, and for $499 per month, two 30-minute live video-coaching sessions and a weekly critique by one of the Watts Atelier instructors, which include Erik M Gist and Lucas Graciano. This may be listed lower down on the list, but it's still definitely one of the best online art classes out there! 

The best online art classes: How to choose the right art class

When choosing the right art class for you, take into account your current skill level – beginner, intermediate or advanced – as not all classes will be relevant to your level. Also, check who's teaching the course, and what their credentials are. That said, just because they're university-level tutors may not mean their classes are amazing, or vice versa if they're not; so it's always worth checking out the reviews and testimonials on their site. (If they don't have a section for these, that should set off alarm bells).

And of course, different art classes require different media. So check what materials you'll need, as this could significantly affect the overall cost of taking the course. It's also worth seeing whether videos are downloadable, whether coursework is provided, and whether there's an option to get feedback on your work from the tutors (That's unlikely to be the case with the cheaper classes, but for more expensive ones it's probably something you should expect).

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Rosie Hilder

Rosie Hilder is the acting editor of Creative Bloq. Before joining the CB team in 2018, she worked as operations editor on Computer Arts, 3D World, Paint & Draw and Mac|Life magazines. Her interests lie in branding and illustration, tech and sexism, and plenty more in-between.