The best online art classes in 2018

Paintbrush mixing paints on palette

When it comes to online art classes, it really is true that you get what you pay for. Invest in high-quality tuition, delivered by leading professionals, and you'll soon find your ability as an artist improving by leaps and bounds. 

In this post, we've brought together 10 excellent art classes that we reckon are worth every penny. 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.

How to choose the right online art class for you

When it comes to choosing the right art class for you, there are a number of factors you need to take into account. These include what skill level you currently have: beginner, intermediate or advanced, as not all classes will be relevant to your level. It's also worth checking 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 any good, 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 in itself should set off alarm bells).

More obviously, 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 course work is provided, and whether there's an option to get feedback on your work from the tutors. (That's unlikely to be the case if you're going for one of the cheaper classes, of course, but once you're moving into the hundreds of pounds, it's probably something something you should expect). 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. 

Here are 10 of the best online art classes around...

01. Drawing Essentials with Glenn Vilppu

Black and white line drawing of four people relaxing

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

  • Pros: Covers fundamentals; critiques available 
  • Cons: Expensive; time commitment required

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 $600, 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 

Black and white sketch of two hands and a pen

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

  • Pros: Cheap; feedback offered on work
  • Cons: Only for total newbies; videos not downloadable 

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

Colourful abstract drawing of a woman

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

  • Pros: Covers fundamentals; feedback provided 
  • Cons: Requires time commitment; not the cheapest

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.

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

Closeup of paintbrush connecting with canvas

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

  • Pros: Low price; suitable for beginners 
  • Cons: No feedback; just 3.5 hours in total

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.

05. Mastering colour with Richard Robinson 

Richard Robinson

Struggling to get your colours right? Richard Robinson can help

  • Pros: Tight focus; low cost 
  • Cons: No feedback; only two hours long

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. 

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. 

06. Figure Drawing Fundamentals with Stan Proko 

Monochrome drawing of naked man's torso

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

  • Pros: Great value; comprehensive instruction 
  • Cons: Feedback prioritised for premium subscribers

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. 

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 $89, you can't say fairer than that. 

07. Painting portraits with Mark Carder

Mark Carder

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

  • Pros: No-nonsense style; videos are downloadable
  • Cons: Not right for beginners; no feedback

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 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.

08. Charcoal Drawing with Aaron Blaise

Monochrome drawing of lion

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

  • Pros: Famous tutor; engaging style 
  • Cons: Not right for beginners; no feedback

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. 

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 seems a pretty fair price. 

09. Ink Drawing Techniques: Brush, Nib, and Pen Style

Two ink drawings

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

  • Pro: Comprehensive guide; short and to the point 
  • Cons: Requires Skillshare subscription; no feedback 

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.

10. Activate the canvas with Nancy Hillis

Promo for Abstract Art course

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

  • Pros: Unique approach; potentially life-changing 
  • Cons: Expensive; no feedback given

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.”

Read more: