Should You Allow Art Instructors to Paint on Your Classwork?

By Niki Hilsabeck in Misc > Art Opinion

Nearly every artist takes art classes at some point in their careers—after all, it’s one of the best ways to learn, and grow, as an artist.


The style of teaching each artists receives, however, varies widely from class to class. Some instructors prefer to give hands-on demonstrations, painting directly on students’ works in progress; others prefer to demonstrate from their own easels, leaving students’ creations untouched.

If you’ve ever had an art teacher paint on your artwork, you’ve probably felt SOMETHING about that experience. Maybe you hated it—maybe it didn’t bother you at all. Here are my own personal “pros” and “cons” that I hope will help anyone struggling with this particular situation:

Con: It can drastically change your painting

If you’ve got a set vision for your work in progress in mind, and your instructor comes over and alters it, how do you feel about the work afterward? Did those changes open up a new path for you? Are you confused by the changes, and wish you could paint over them or restore what you had?

Allowing your instructor to paint directly on your piece means you are placing a great deal of trust in her. If you don’t feel that you are benefitting from having the instructor make changes directly on your work, you might ask him to provide a separate sketch or demonstration so that you don’t lose your motivation.

Do keep in mind that artistic growth requires stepping out of your comfort zone—if you regularly object to your instructors’ input (hands-on or verbal), you might want to redefine what it is you’re hoping to get out of your art classes.

Pro: You’ll see exactly what the instructor is teaching

Sometimes, the clearest way to guide a student (especially when making corrections) is to paint directly on the work itself. Art instructors often begin by verbally explaining brushstrokes or blending techniques, but a quick flick of the brush onto a student’s canvas provides an immediate visual guide, allowing the student to continue working where the instructor leaves off.

In a big class, where the instructor’s time with each individual student is limited, a few sample strokes on a painting can steer a student in the right direction without a lot of time spent explaining and clarifying. This allows the student to continue working in a state of flow, rather than having to stop and restart after a period of discussion.

Con: Your work might not feel like your own anymore

Works created in art class can be a touchy subject. . . After all, one of the joys of making art is that it belongs to you when it’s complete. If someone else has put their artistic touch on your work, it can feel like it no longer belongs to you alone.

When this happens, you have to decide which is more important to you: making a piece of art that is solely your creation, or learning the technique firsthand from your instructor. If you decide to accept your instructor’s physical input for the sake of instruction, you’ll also have to accept the finished piece as the product of a valuable lesson rather than your own artistic creation.

Pro: You’ll take a tangible learning tool home with you

Let’s say you ran into trouble getting the tilt of the model’s head correct during portrait class. If your instructor helped correct this problem on your work during the class, you’ve got a physical reminder of that lesson to take out and examine, should you run into similar trouble at home. Without the work in hand, it may be difficult to visually revisit what you learned that day.

Keeping a collection of classwork corrected by your instructors can come in handy, since it brings you a little closer to that experience of having an expert there to guide you as you work (especially when you get stuck).

Con: You won’t be able to sell your work

Selling classwork can get sticky—most art shows prohibit classwork in the submissions process, and many class assignments are based on the instructor’s reference material, leading to issues with copyright. If your instructor has painted on your work, you definitely won’t be able to call it your own, so bear that in mind if you know that your intention is to eventually sell or show it.

Pro: You’ll keep a piece of your instructor’s talent

This is a very personal pro for me. Your relationship with your different art instructors will vary. I’ve had a couple of instructors whose works I would love to one day purchase, but may never be able to afford. Having some works that I created with the help of those instructors makes me feel like I have a small sample of those artists’ works, and I enjoy seeing how their styles influenced my own over time, especially when I look back on my work as a beginner.

It’s a sentimental value to place on a piece of canvas or paper, but if you value an artist’s unique touch with the brush, what better way to have a little piece of it than to keep some classwork that artist has painted with you?

Overall, I’ve valued what most of my instructors had to offer in terms of experience and creativity. Having visual evidence of what they offered me in class has proven a unique addition to my collection of artistic experiences, and gives me something to go back and enjoy when those experiences are over and the opportunity to work with those instructors again is gone.


We'll send you articles & tutorials right as we publish them, so you never miss a post! Unsubscribe here at any time.


This post may contain affiliate links.