Back in the “Good Ol’ Days” (before the internet) finding good art instruction was a fairly simple matter. There were only two basic choices: art school or private instruction.
The internet—and especially YouTube—changed all that. Now, if you have internet access, you also have access to literally thousands of choices. You could spend all day every day doing nothing but watching art tutorials. . . and still not see them all.
Which begs the question: with so many options, how can you possibly find the best tutorials for your skill level and ambition?
I believe that in order to get the most from a tutorial, you first need to know how to choose the right one. So that’s where I’ll begin. Then I’ll share a few tips for getting the most out of the tutorial you select.
How to choose the best art tutorial for you
The mere idea of choosing a tutorial can be paralyzing if you don’t have a few basic guidelines. Here are the most important (in my opinion):
Tip #1. Know how you learn best
Most of us are visual learners. We like to see something demonstrated, then we can attempt to duplicate it. That’s what makes videos so popular and helpful. But others learn best by reading, and still others benefit from a combination of those two methods.
Knowing how you learn best is key to selecting good tutorials. If you’re a visual learner, a written tutorial may not be as helpful as a video or a live demonstration.
Take a little time to determine whether you learn best from watching or reading, then search out those types of tutorials specifically.
Tip #2. Honestly evaluate your skill level
It’s important to know where you are as an artist. If you’re just getting started, that’s easy. You’re a beginner.
But if you’ve been making art for a while, you may not know exactly where your skill level is at. You need to be able to honestly look at your work and see not only what you want to improve, but where you’re already doing a good job.
If you need help, ask other artists. Just make sure to ask artists who are willing to give you an honest evaluation. I would not recommend posting your work on Facebook or somewhere else and asking for public evaluation. The chances of getting helpful information that way is doubtful, at best.
Tip #3. Know exactly what you want to learn
This may seem self-evident. You want to learn how to make better art, right?
But do you need help with color or value? Or are your rendering skills good, but your basic drawings never turn out right?
Use feedback from a few trusted artists (in Tip#2) to determine exactly what you should be focused on improving.
Tip #4. Look for tutorials that specialize in that
One of the worst ways to select a tutorial is to base your choice on the popularity of the teacher. If a nationally known teacher isn’t teaching something you really want to learn, you won’t gain very much from the tutorial. That includes the medium, but also includes style, subject, and working (and teaching) methods.
In other words, if you want to learn how to paint abstract landscapes, don’t take a tutorial from an artist who teaches how to paint realistic animals. Find a tutorial specializing in landscapes, by an artist known for their great landscapes.
Tip #5. Don’t be limited by your current skill level
If you’re a beginner, for example, beginner tutorials are a great place to start—but don’t stay there. Two or maybe three beginner tutorials are sufficient to get you started, then you should look for something more advanced.
The more you challenge yourself, the more your skills will improve and the more quickly. That means you can’t be afraid of turning out bad art. You’ll learn more from those failures and mistakes than you learn from drawings or paintings that turn out well.
On the other side of the coin, if you’re a more advanced artist, it’s important to realize that you can learn something from almost everyone. It may very well be that the best teacher to teach you some new skill is the one who is an expert at that skill, but isn’t overall as experienced an artist as you are. If you’re not humble enough to admit that and to do that tutorial, you’ll miss out on some great teaching.
How to get the most from every art tutorial
Choosing the right art tutorial is only the first step. These next few tips will help you make every tutorial count:
Tip #1. Read or watch the entire tutorial first
I know it takes time to go through a tutorial; time that often seems wasted. After all, you want to draw or paint, not read or watch.
But you may actually save time in the process and pick up more instruction by going through the entire tutorial first, then going back to the beginning and doing each step. The reason is simple. Viewed on their own, some of the steps may not make much sense. Why did the artist choose to work the way they did? Why use this color, if they want to end up with that color?
I’ll be brutally honest—it’s very easy to skip steps or rush through them if you don’t have a clear idea of why each step is important. I know this because I’ve done it myself more times than I care to count.
So read all the content first to get a good overview of the process, then go back and do the steps. And if you don’t understand something, either keep studying the information until it clicks or ask the teacher (if you have access to them.)
Tip #2. Follow the instructions
Again speaking from personal experience: do what the instructor tells you to do. That means doing each thing in the order in which it’s presented, the same way it’s presented.
It’s easy to substitute your own working habits for instructions that don’t make sense or are difficult to grasp. It’s also so very easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “my way works better, so I’ll just do that.” If that’s your attitude, skip the tutorial and keep working the way you’ve been working. It will be a lot less frustrating.
But if your goal in finding an art tutorial is to learn something new, then trust me, the best way to learn something new is to do something new. So don’t just read or watch the instructions; follow them!
Tip #3. Be ready to experiment (and fail)
Think of it as blazing a new trail in your personal art journey. And be prepared to fail, because that’s the best way to learn. (I know, I already said that, but it bears repeating.)
Alongside the possibility of failure is the possibility of unexpected rewards.
Tip #4. Do the tutorial a second time!
If you aren’t happy with the results the first time or if you don’t think you learned everything there was to learn, take out a fresh sheet of paper (or canvas, or whatever) and do the tutorial again.
Tip #5. Try it again with a different subject
If the idea of doing the exact same project again is unappealing, find a similar project of your own, but follow the steps of the tutorial for a better understanding of how that particular method works.
I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. Good luck, and happy learning!