So You Want to be a (Lewd) Artist

How I learned to stop worrying and love the fundamentals.

6/8/202436 min read

There are two types of people who want to be lewd artists, those who are already good at drawing, and those who aren’t.

I fall into the 2nd category but it took me a few years to realize that I wasn’t in the first.

This story is about my transition from a “talented amateur” artist seeking tips and tricks to a student of art fundamentals.

I’m writing this for other amateurs out there looking for tips and tricks, because this is what I wish that I had known when I started that search

for improvement.

I make “lewd” or “erotic” art, but at my inexperienced level, I found that the subject matter was mostly irrelevant to what I needed to learn.

Several years ago I did an internet search for “how to make lewd art”, and the answer that I found changed my life.

I’m going to expand upon that answer in the text below, but I have to warn you that although my goal is to make erotic art, there is actually very little sexual or erotic information in what you are about to read.

The most improvements that I have seen in my own work so far, has come not from “tips and tricks” but rather in committing myself to the study of art fundamentals.

The goal of making high quality, low-brow art has made me a student of the fundamentals, and it has been both challenging and rewarding. However, the road to improvement is longer and more frustrating if you start it by taking a bunch of short cuts (they all lead you back to the start anyway).

Resist the temptation to find shortcuts. Focus your efforts on what really matters, art fundamentals.

If you too are a "talented amateur artist" then this story might just save you years of frustration, time and effort.

Shortcuts to improving your art

4 years ago I decided to create a NSFW computer game. As a self-described talented amateur artist, I thought I would be able to create my own art assets. I have ended up being able to achieve that, and some people even seem to like my art, but it was not an easy path to get even to that point.

Free, high-quality erotic art is plentiful. So the standard to compete even at the free level is absurdly high.

I’m an art-nobody. That’s not false humility speaking, its just an ounce of self-awareness. I’m maybe the equivalent of a second year art student, but being a crappy artist with self-awareness is actually not a bad place to be.

When you know you are a crap artist, that’s a good thing, because it means that you are not completely blind. Many beginners and amateurs are completely blind to the quality of their work.

My Art is Bad, but at least I know that its bad

Blind amateurs don’t know if art is good or bad, and they don’t know why. They might have some visceral feeling of what is good and bad, but they can’t articulate it. They have no knowledge, only feeling.

That is how I felt a lot over the last few years, and learning the fundamentals of art is as much about learning the concepts and language of what makes good and bad art, as well the techniques to achieve them.

I’m not a famous artist, I’m not even a kindergarten art teacher, I’m an average student of art.

But if you are a beginner, or an amateur, then an art student’s perspective is valuable to you.

Student-Led Tours

There is a reason why schools have students give tours to prospective students rather than professors.

My experience as a student is useful to prospective art students because we are very similar in level. Maybe you are already a better draftsman or more talented than I am, maybe not. But it doesn’t really matter because we are going to be studying the same thing: art fundamentals.

Background - Before Taking Art Seriously

I was almost 40 years old at the time I decided to study art seriously and by that time I had already dabbled in art for decades.

I had taken accelerated art in middle school. I was chosen as the designated artist for my team during color war in high school. I took drawing classes at my local botanical garden. I had read Betty Edwards book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.”

When I had served in the Marines I could draw pictures that looked like real people with shading and details when my peers were making childish scrawls. Years later, at wine and paint night with the wife, my drunken painting always looked the best. Of my siblings, I was dubbed the “artistic” one.

Below are some of my drawings from my time in the Marines in the early 2000s.These were some of my best drawings and I was very proud of them at the time.But they took me hours to make and involved a lot of erasing and re-drawing.

Author's Art ~2002

I used the Betty Edwards method, which basically involved meticulously copying what you see. If I had a reference and enough time, I could copy most any image and it would look kind of like the reference.

[Betty Edwards work is a bit controversial with supporters and detractors, you can hear an interesting discussion on the subject here Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain – Draftsmen – Podcast – Podtail]

Although I considered these successes at the time, I really lacked a lot of understanding. I had no understanding of structure, no light and shadow, I didn’t know how to modify nor invent, the pictures often looked flat and lifeless, and it was a crap-shoot about whether they would actually look like I had intended.

Despite these gaps in my understanding, I didn’t really know my limitations at this point. I figured that with all of my “experience”, it would be relatively quick and easy to make high quality art. If I could already make a drawing that was an 8 or 9 out of 10 already (ha, I really thought this), it was just a short walk to turn these into 10/10.

So at the age of 39, I took out pencil and paper, I fired up MS paint, and I tried to draw something.

First Attempts

It did not go well.

I tried drawing just like I used to, with pencil and paper, from references. I would work meticulously for hours, copying every nuance and detail, but the results were bad. It was painful to produce, it didn’t look right, and I was hamstrung by my inability to invent.

Would I have to hire actors to pose every scene in my game for me? Or spend hours searching for the perfect reference photo online? How did people draw “from imagination”?

My digital efforts were even worse. Drawing with a mouse was a complete failure. I switched to GIMP (a photoshop knock-off) and a tablet and pen (not a screen tablet like a cintiq, but rather the kind where you draw on the tablet and look at your monitor, like the picture below). I soon realized that GIMP is not an intuitive piece of software and drawing digitally was an entirely new skill-set.

A Veikk tablet, Served me well for several years now

Alright I thought, if at first you don't succeed, cheat.

My whole goal of being an erotic artist was to be able to create assets for my NSFW computer game that I was developing, and the priority was not to make great art, but useable assets or at least some placeholders until I could draw what I wanted.

I tried tracing, copying and photo-bashing images together to achieve what I wanted, but these results were not good either. There is a reason why professional artists don’t just trace photos.

Tracing, Mouse Drawing and Photo-Bashing 2020

Ok, I thought. I guess I’m a little out of practice. I just needed to polish up a bit.

I figured anime or cartoons might be easier than realism so I tried copying some of those.

This didn’t go very well either. My drawings looked kind of like the pictures that I was copying, but I had no idea how to construct these drawings without copying someone else. I also realized that my method of meticulously copying details and angles didn’t work when trying to draw a cartoon.

I tried to frankenstein an image of references together to copy that, but this just created flat, disjointed and frankensteined artwork. I realized that this wouldn’t quite work either.

I didn’t know how to do the linework, I didn’t know how to simplify forms, I didn’t know what to de-emphasize and what to exaggerate.

Copying Anime Girls

What I Was Missing

The truth is that the path to being a lewd artist is almost exactly the same path as being a children’s book illustrator, a fine artist, or a botanical illustrator.

It requires mastery of the fundamentals.

So what does that mean? I’ve been talking a lot about the “fundamentals”. What is Mastery and what are the fundamentals?

My paraphrased definition of art fundamentals is this: understanding how an object exists in 3D space and what are the best practices for representing that 3D object on a 2d plane (traditionally paper) and often using lines, mass and value.

This may sound simple enough, but it encompasses a variety of different sub-categories like form, perspective, light/shadow, gesture and the manual skill of controlling the drawing instrument. These work in tandem in an art work and if you haven’t mastered them, then you won’t be able to express yourself on paper. (Subjects like composition and anatomy are also relevant to making quality work, but are arguably separate from the “fundamentals”.)

How then do you “master” the fundamentals? Well, I’m no master of the fundamentals, but I understand the path to Mastery in general.

Its a subject written about in books by authors like Robert Green, George Leonard and Malcolm Gladwell.

Books on Mastery

Mastery is an unending path in a single direction. Its something that I’ve pursued in other areas of my life and have some familiarity with. If you want to be a master, ironically you have to forget about being a master, and just focus on the daily work.

That is why I say that I am a “student of the fundamentals”. I just mean that I’ve committed to studying this subject indefinitely, you have to drop the “are we there yet?” mentality and just commit to moving forward in your studies.

I have abandoned any kind of goal related to the fundamentals and have instead just made it part of my daily habits.

I study, practice and seek mentorship on art fundamentals while doing my own work on the side.

Pop-Sci author Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule in his book on success, “Outliers,” but this number is fairly arbitrary. If anything, 10k hours is just an easy shorthand way to see if someone is serious when they say they are devoted to a craft.

It's very easy to say you are devoted to something when you have studied a subject for 6 weeks, 6 months, or even a few years. However, when you have studied earnestly for 10 years or 10,000 hours, its a pretty safe bet that you know whats up.

Early Research

Back when I thought that I was a talented amateur, I did an internet search for something like, “how to draw erotic art”.

Fortunately, I actually found a good answer to this despite the flawed question. Someone who knew what they were talking about wrote a response that has served me well to this day.

I have been unable to find the original post, but it looked something like this:

Best Response:

Art Fundamentals - Learn art fundamentals, this is more important than any of the “details” of NSFW art

If you want a free guide on art fundamentals, use draw-a-box

Figure Drawing and Anatomy - Study Figure Drawing, Brent Eviston has a decent course you can buy for $20, you can watch free Proko videos for anatomy

Art Pros - Find Successful Artists whose work that you admire and study them

Critiques - Get feedback, critiques are essential to improving

Pay - Ultimately, there is a lot of free information on the web, but you get what you pay for. If you can, study somewhere reputable and pay someone to teach you!

First Attempt at Fundamentals

I took a look at Draw-a-Box, and while it continues to get rave reviews, the lessons were not inspiring and I believed that I was beyond this. I’m a “talented artist”, remember?

In retrospect, DAB is an incredible free resource that has a 7 lesson program with multiple homework assignments that teaches the fundamentals of draftsmanship. I recommend it.

Draw-a-Box website

The name underscores the philosophy, learning how to draw a cube (box), in 3d space, is the foundation to be able to draw anything realistically. This is a strong start to studying art fundamentals but it can be hard to get super excited about the work.

The first lesson includes such greatest hits as “buy some pens”, “make a straight line correctly” and “draw a 100 cubes”.

The instructions were adamant about starting from the beginning and if you actually want to get feedback on the discord group, you have to start at the beginning.

I was not happy about this.

You might find yourself in a similar place.

My first assignments on Draw-a-Box ~2020

Bargaining and Lies

Only with the greatest effort and false humility was I able to do the first assignments on DAB, and I had to bargain with and lie to myself to get through it.

The bargain was that while I studied the basics on the one hand, I would also study the more advanced stuff too, simultaneously. The lie that I told myself was that because I was so talented and experienced, I would be able to get through the basics quicker than “normal” students. I’ll come back to this lie later.

Self Directed Learning

When doing self-directed learning, you need something to gauge your progress with. For me, that was artwork for my game, the whole reason that I was learning to draw NSFW art.

I would try to draw some character for my game, see how crappy it was, and go back to practicing and studying. Occasionally I would show off my work on my lonely twitter account, or on discord servers for SFW and NSFW artists.

Usually people told me it was crap. The thing about making NSFW art is that your audience has high standards and doesn’t lie. If you make crappy “erotic” characters, people will not be shy about telling you that you suck.

Honest review of my game's artwork

If you make children’s book art, your audience will probably be a bit more kind.

The basics I did with Draw-a-Box, but I only made it through the first lesson or two. It was very boring and I couldn’t really bring myself to do much. I did hold up the other end of my bargain though, and continued with the other “advanced” studies.

I began studying figure drawing, first with free videos online, such as “Love Life Drawing” and eventually with paid courses like Brent Eviston’s figure drawing series. I diligently did 4 of his courses, even repeating the first course twice, and did all of the assignments and exercises. Unfortunately, since these were videos, I wasn’t really able to get any feedback on them.

Figure drawings made during Brent Eviston's course 2022-2023

I also started Angel Ganev’s portrait drawing course through his patreon. Angel Ganev is hilarious, and I actually think he knows what he is talking about. However, he is focused pretty exclusively on drawing portraits, and again, it was hard to get good feedback on my work while doing the exercises. He also recommends doing 30 min of drawing circles every day, which is pretty hard to stomach.

I did however, get some good knowledge on the planes of the face from him, and learned some digital pen control.

Portrait studies made during Angel Ganev course Aug 2022

To get feedback, I tried two sources: one was reddit’s learn art sub. This was a disaster, I had to beg for feedback and it was of varying quality. The other place was discord. Draw-a-box only offers feedback on discord, and although I had been resisting discord for a while, (I’m too old for this shit) I signed up so I could get critiques.

Additionally, I started taking figure drawing classes in person. I was splitting my time between two states on the east coast of the US at that point in my life and I studied at local art centers with instructors of varying quality (although mostly quite good).

The feedback that I got from the art centers was ok, but I was drawing a lot more than I was going to classes, and the classes lacked structure. Students just drew the models and the instructors would walk around and comment a little bit on the students’ work.

While I was neglecting my core lessons in Draw-a-box, I noticed that they had a “figure drawing” discord channel. This I used fairly regularly. I would post my figures in there to try and get critiques, but it was again of middling quality and I noticed that it was mostly full of artists like myself who sucked at drawing figures.

Meanwhile I was watching Proko videos on anatomy and trying to draw simplified skeletal forms. Lacking any specific direction, I just watched the videos in order and tried to sketch the skeletons. Stan Prokopenko is funny and he teaches the concepts well, but the free anatomy series is basically just a list of body part lectures and demonstrations.

Proko Anatomy Videos

Art Gods

Art Gods is kind of a cliche in the social media art world. It usually refers to modern artists that you look up to. Its the youtube stars like Ross Draws or Sam Does Arts, its the instagram famous artists like Loish or WLOP or legit maestros like Kim Jung Gi (RIP). However, this idea of “Art gods” has its roots in something important, having artistic role models.

Stan Prokopenko and Marshal Vandruff call these artistic role models “Art Parents” and it includes more traditional artists from generations past as well as modern artists. When I first started taking art seriously, I realized with some shame that I was ignorant of famous artists. I had no idea who I wanted to be like…I knew neither the instagram stars nor the old masters.

To rectify this, I focused on what I knew that I liked.


Like many (especially male) amateurs, I was drawn to Frank Frazetta. His work has an unapologetic masculinity, mystery, power, drama and sensuality that is magnetic to even the untrained eye. From a more critical perspective, we can say that his paintings are beautifully composed, they tell stories, and his figures are always lively and dynamic.

Frazetta Paintings, Full of Energy, Power and Drama

Compare the energy in these figures to the works of another famous fantasy artist Boris Vallejo. Boris’s works are beautifully rendered and expertly composed but they lack the coiled energy and dynamism in Frazetta’s work.

Boris Vallejo

A Brief Detour on Disney

Another source of inspiration for me was Disney artists. I was inspired by 90s Disney renaissance films (Little Mermaid 1989, Beauty and the Beast 1991 and Aladdin 1992) and I wanted to know who the “Art Gods” were who created these. A few years ago, I had no idea who actually made these films and why this one era of film seemed to particularly stand out.

When I began to research it more seriously, what I found was that there was a particular set of reasons that these films were so beloved by both audiences and critics. (and we’ll see how this relates to the fundamentals in a minute).

It started with Walt’s vision and dedication to the craft of art.

Walt hired fine artists and cartoonists on the West Coast to man his studios in the 20s, 30s and 40s and together they developed animation. Originally the artists came from LA based Chouinard Art Institute (which later became CalArts) and there was a continuing relationship with Disney which continues to this day, where teachers from the academy would train the Disney animators and graduates from the academy would come work at his studios. With few exceptions most of these early animators were classically trained artists following principles developed during the Italian renaissance, which were in turn re-learned from the ancient Greeks.

While Disney was developing his feature films on the West Coast, over on the East Coast of the US, the founders and mentors to the famous American Illustrators movement were developing on a parallel track. The Art Student League in NYC taught fundamentals through George Bridgman (and later Rober Beverly Hale) who in turn taught Frank Reilly (creator of the Reilly Method) and Andrew Loomis (creator of the Loomis head and Loomis mannequin) and produced famous American illustrators like Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell.

Art Students’ League, Bridgman figures and Loomis heads

Back on the West Coast, Disney was using the same principles to create moving pictures that were first and foremost works of art.

Although Snow White (1937) was a commercial success, many of Disney’s other films were money losing ventures but beautiful works of art. This was known as the Golden Age of animation produced such daring works as the beautiful Pinnochio, Cinderella, Fantasia, Dumbo and Sleeping Beauty . Over the decades between Snow White and the Black Cauldron 1985 Disney invented and refined its technique in animation.

This culminated in the 12 Principles of Animation, but it also created 9 senior animators, the infamous “9 Old Men” of Disney.

Disney’s Nine Old Men

These were Walt’s core artists. He had jokingly called them the “nine old men” in reference to a comment on the US Supreme Court by FDR. However, by the 1970s and 80s, they had grown into the title and were legitimately “old”. The studio hired young artists out of the art schools and the nine old men trained them to be the next generation.

Art Fundamentals and Animation

Now if you have stuck with me this far and you are wondering what all of this has to do with the art fundamentals, here’s the thing. No one is better trained on the art fundamentals than traditional animators.

We may not think about cartoons as fine art, but cartoons are simplified 3d forms that prioritize appeal. That is the fundamentals in a nutshell (Appeal is beyond the scope of this and something I’m still grappling with in my own work.). Animators churn out drawings one after the other at an astronomical rate and painstakingly manipulate these imaginary objects in 3d space.

Famed (former) Disney Artist Aaron Blaise demonstrating the finger “roll” or “flipping” in Animation

So animators are essentially practicing the fundamentals day in and day out at an obscene pace, and the Disney artists were some of the best.

In the famed ballroom scene of the Academy Award nominated “Beauty and the Beast”, James Baxter animated the Beast and Belle dancing and rotating while the camera rotated in the opposite direction by hand in perfect synchronization with a computer animated background.

(Former) Disney Artist James Baxter Ballroom Scene

Legendary animator Mark Henn was widely considered one of the fastest animators at the company and he would churn out more “feet” of film than practically any one in the company while also creating some of the most appealing female characters.

Jasmine by Disney Legend Mark Henn

Notice how on Mark Henn’s under drawings he uses core shapes like spheres and cylinders stacked together with the details drawn on top. This is not unique to Mark, all of the animators at Disney draw like this. It is how they manipulate characters in space over time.

I could talk for ages about other Disney artists like the incomparable Glenn Keane, or the talented Eric Goldberg, Bill Peet who created the Sword and the Stone and went on to become a famed children book illustrator, there’s fine artist turned art director Bill Perkins, Don Bluth and John Pomeroy whose insurrection away from Disney may have triggered the Disney Renaissance, the quirky and creative Tim Burton, the old originals like Frank and Ollie and Milt Kahl or the tragic and renowned Freddie Moore. The list goes on.

What I loved about the animations that these men produced was the raw appeal of the drawings and the emotional expression of the characters. It was the fact that these drawings felt alive. I thought that if I could draw like a disney artist, then my drawings could come alive as well.

In studying these great animators I came across an exciting fact. Disney invested heavily in training their artists to keep their skills sharp. This thrilled me because it meant that if I could do the same training that they did, then perhaps I could draw like them!

One of the most famous teachers to come to Disney was a man named Glenn Vilppu.

Glen Vilppu - Master of the Fundamentals

Glenn Vilppu teaching the “box forms” at the New Masters Academy

Glenn was an animator himself in the 1970s and 80s during the animation boom in the days of Saturday morning cartoons. But he also made a name for himself as a fine artist and an art instructor. He was one of the most widely recognized figure drawing instructors in the world with his VHS tapes and instruction.

In the figure drawing discord on Draw a Box I would often hear people discuss him and his methods among the greatest instructors, but his connection to teaching Disney artists inspired me.

Glenn Vilppu's Online Art School

I thought, “if only I could be taught by Glenn Vilppu like those Disney artists, I could be like them.” Ah well.

But as it turns out, Glenn is actually still alive and teaching over at the Vilppu Academy and if you enroll in his classes you can see his lectures and even get personalized critiques!

Unfortunately, a lot of amateurs had the same idea I did and there is a supply and demand issue. There is only one Glenn Vilppu and a lot of bozos like me. One semester with him is $900. Womp womp.

I asked some of the members of the discord if there were any more affordable options to learn from Glenn and someone suggested the New Masters Academy. As it turned out, this suggestion would be life-changing.

New Masters Academy

This was actually not the first time that I had heard of this school. One of my in-person figure drawing instructors had suggested taking courses there and I sometimes used their videos of models to do my life drawing.

Plus, the founder of NMA, Josh Jacobo, occasionally drops into the draw a box figure drawing discord and flexes by showing some of his figures and offering critiques. However, I delayed pulling the trigger because I was still uneasy about committing to an online art school.

There are a ton of internet gurus out there trying to get you to join their art school. In fact, the modern way that artists seem to “make it”, is to 1) get likes on Instagram, 2) make funny YouTube videos, 3) open a patreon, 4) make an art course.

I’m not judging, it ain’t easy to make a living as an artist, and more power to you if you can feed yourself by making and teaching art.

Many of these art schools teach the fundamentals, and when they do, you can probably learn to draw from them just fine. I’ve heard good things about Proko and Marc Brunet’s art schools, although I don’t have any experience with them beyond consuming all of their free videos.

Marc Brunet's Online Art School and funny youtube videos

I was hesitant on how to choose the right school, but when I looked at the New Masters Academy, I was intrigued to see many renowned instructors besides Glenn. Bill Perkins the famed Disney art director, Steve Huston, one of the biggest names in art instruction, Mike Mattessi of Drawing Force and John Asaro, creator of the Asaro head to name just a few.

These names impressed me, and I figured that it would be a fairly safe bet if all of these big names were teaching there. Looking for big names is not a bad way to find a quality art school, but in retrospect, I think that we can be more specific about what makes a good school.

A good art school has:

1) focus on fundamentals

2) quality instructors

3) quality feedback

I didn’t know it at the time, but fortunately, New Masters Academy had all 3.

I’m a student but NOT officially affiliated with the school, no commissions for me!

Starting from the Beginning

When I first started at NMA, I wanted to jump right into the subjects that interest me. But I would encourage you not to be too focused on goals when you start. Don’t fall for the trap of, “I just need to learn this one thing”.

Unless you are already making a good living as an artist, or have 100k+ followers on your art-focused Instagram, you probably don’t need to fix one thing, you need to fix all of the things.

That said, one of the cool things about NMA is that they have these multiple tracks. So if you are interested in a particular subject. You can make that your “track.” If you want Illustration as your “one thing” you can take the Illustration track, if you want Animation you can take that track, etc. This motivated me and I gazed longingly at the lessons in the Animation track.

The "Tracks" at New Masters Academy

However, they all start with something called “Drawing Foundations”. This is a series of 15 classes made up of 8-12 lectures each and with multiple corresponding assignments for each lecture.

Now since I was still in the mindset of the talented self-taught amateur, I thought, “Oh I’ve been doing all of this studying and I have all of this talent, I don’t need to start at the beginning!”

So on my first day, like a total douche, I asked the instructors if I needed to start at the beginning. I explained that I had done Draw-a-Box and all of these Brent Eviston courses etc, and said I really didn’t want to start with this whole “how to sharpen your pencil” nonsense (thats a real lesson, and it's actually something that I was ignorant of).

Patiently, the kind instructors and students at NMA explained that everyone has to start at the first lesson in order to get feedback. I was told that I could watch any of the lessons that I wanted to, but in order to receive critiques, I had to do the classes in order. Starting with Lesson 1, in Course 1 - Drawing Foundations.

The first course had 16 hours (HOURS!) of lectures. I’m not going to lie, this bummed me out and was a whole different can of worms from the 5-15 min videos on youtube. I was just here for the Glenn Vilppu lectures!

The Drawing Foundations Module at New Masters Academy

This is the point where I would say that my journey as a serious student began. All of the short cuts that I had taken had all circled back to this same point. Lesson 1, Lecture 1.

At this point, I remembered what starting a “hump” was like in the Marines (that’s long-marching with a pack and weapons in full battle gear for you land-lubbers!). You can’t focus on how long the march will be when you start. You just put one foot in front of the other and focus on getting up the hill in front of you.

So I stopped thinking about getting to Glenn Vilppu’s class and just focused on doing the first assignment.

Marines “humping”

Now, being a self centered American narcissist, that’s not exactly true.

The lie I needed to tell myself was that I would do all these lessons twice as fast as intended and be done in only a few months. (Because I’m already so advanced) 🙄

However it soon became clear that I’m nothing but an incompetent amateur.

I was failing and being asked to redo some of the assignments in my first “basics” course. And that failure was surprisingly encouraging.

It meant that those first few lessons were not a waste of time, after all. They were exposing cracks in my foundation.

For years I had been trying to build a castle on sand and the New Masters Academy knocked down my crooked, rickety shack and started me over on solid ground.

Me failing basic assignments – God I hate value scales April, 2023

And so I slowly transitioned from false humility to actual humility. I mean, lets be honest, I’m still a narcissist, look at me writing this giant blog about myself. But at least now I could tell that I sucked at art.

Feedback and Critiques

The Feedback is where you see the true value of the NMA education. It’s not from the big-name instructors recording the lectures, it's from the TAs giving you feedback.

It is not enough to do the assignment, you have to do it correctly. And if you are not occasionally failing assignments, then your instructors are not holding you to a high standard.

As amateurs, when we look at our art we don’t know why it is bad or incorrect. The only way to know if its correct, is to have someone experienced and knowledgeable tell you the problem.

After getting these critiques for a while, you internalize the errors that you are making, and you can anticipate or correct them on your own.

That’s learning, and it's how you improve.

The feedback in the program pointed to areas in my work that were incorrect, and afforded me the opportunity to fix it. Often it was because I had not understood a concept correctly, or was too timid in trying to implement it.

Sometimes I would fail an assignment multiple times before I was able to move on.


Free Programs like DAB have discord servers where people post their crappy art and beg for feedback. You can also post on the LearnArt subreddit. I tried both of these for a while, however, I soon learned that this was not sustainable.

Feedback works best with repeated feedback from the same, knowledgeable individuals and it is hard enough to get feedback from someone once, let alone twice, for free.

It is like being a beggar outside the cathedral, with dozens of other beggars on either side, arms outstretched as the few rich folk walk by and occasionally grace you with a brass farthing.

This tactic will never make you rich, and you won’t learn art like this either.

Bruegel's Beggars

To make matters worse, a lot of amateur artists whine and argue about the feedback that they do receive. I see cringey people do it all the time in the free forums, and it is super lame, unproductive and ungrateful.

In case you're wondering, yeah, I’m guilty of doing this. Whining and arguing with feedback is a constant temptation.

When you work hours on something and you dare to feel a little proud of it, it can really sting when someone tells you that it’s trash and you need to redo it.

I try really hard not to complain, but when I give in to temptation and do actually complain… I inevitably feel stupid and regret it afterwards. Most of the time I catch myself and delete my whiney comment, but sometimes one slips through.

To be fair, whining and arguing is more prevalent in the free forums than in the paid forums at NMA, but it happens there too.

So don’t bother with free critiques, and don’t bitch about the feedback you get. Feedback is what is going to turn all of your countless hours of drawing into actual improvements.

Assignments and Art Grind

Those countless hours of study are what we call “the grind.”

Art grind goes by many names in the art world, “mileage”, “practice”, “experience”, “paying your dues”, etc. The whole point of the assignments at NMA is to direct your hours towards the things that matter, the fundamentals.

The fundamentals also provide an objective benchmark for improving your work. Without the objective criteria to evaluate, critique becomes a subject matter of “I like” or “I don’t like.”

It's frustrating as a student to ask how to do something and hear “more practice” as the answer. What this means though, is that you lack the manual skill of implementation, rather than the intellectual knowledge.

When you go through the Drawing Foundations curriculum at NMA, you are grinding out practice across a wide breadth of the fundamentals. You are learning how to “grok” the fundamentals.

[Grok is a term from a Heinlein sci-fi novel that has made its way into the mainstream. It means to understand something in an unconscious and intuitive way.]


Aside from whining and arguing, the second biggest temptation to avoid in completing the assignments is to ask questions.

Don’t ask questions.

I don’t mean never under any circumstances ask questions. There are a select few times that it is appropriate to ask questions. But with assignments, and especially the early assignments, asking questions is a way of procrastinating and over-thinking.

Let your work be the question and let the critique be the answer.

The only legitimate questions are really if you don’t understand instructions or need clarification on the assignment.

I see a lot of amateurs ask really thoughtful and articulate questions on the nature of the assignment, or asking very specific questions about the nuance of interpretation of an assignment vs another.

These kinds of questions are bullshit. You are overthinking it, or trying to look smart, and you are wasting everyone’s time.

That may sound a little harsh, and the good folks at NMA would never say it that way, but as students of art fundamentals we need to be ruthless in how we spend our time. Don’t waste yours on dumb questions.

The whole point of the assignments is to get the practice in. To gain experience in doing work the right way and to learn what bad habits to avoid. Its to facilitate the grind and grok the fundamentals.

Vilppu Academy

After several months of work, grinding away at NMA, I finally got to Glenn’s course: Dynamic Gesture Drawing– and it was great. It remains one of my favorite classes at NMA.

But of course, my impatient, entitled ass actually paid the $900 to learn from the man himself the month prior at Vilppu Academy.

Glenn was also a founding contributor of the New Masters Academy and is one of the mentors of Josh Jacobo, the founder at NMA. However, he was an inspiration to many big names in the art world including the founder of another online art school, Stan Prokopenko of Proko. On Stan’s now defunct podcast, Glenn was the first person that he interviewed.

Glenn’s an all-around talented artist, but he is best known for teaching figure drawing, which is a particularly difficult subject that nonetheless relies heavily on the fundamentals.

His book, the Vilppu Drawing Manual is required reading for figure drawing and his Figure Drawing course largely follows the process outlined in the book.

The Vilppu Drawing Manual

As you can see from the contents above, the process for drawing a figure is basically about implementing art fundamentals as it relates to a human form.

Glenn also did his Masters degree years ago studying renaissance art and this plays a major role in his teaching (I think it was on Tintoretto, Pantormo or Parmigianino but I can’t recall exactly who, I’m no expert in renaissance artists).

One of the things that Glenn shows in his lectures is how renaissance artists developed realistic proportions and perspective as well as rediscovering the figure work of the ancient greeks. The cool thing that we can see from Renaissance artists is how they work from big to small in their forms.

Finding the Box Forms of in Michaelangelo’s Figures

Essentially, these great artists of the past taught us that we first need to get the big forms established correctly (head, ribcage, legs, etc) as a basic form (sphere, cylinder, box), and then once those are placed, then the smaller forms are carved out of or added on top of the bigger forms.

What Glenn teaches is basically how to use a free feeling, underlying gesture to get the pose and emotion, but then builds volume of the forms on top of those. This combined with a deep understanding of anatomy and proportion enables him to create figures from his imagination.

I found that a lot of the lecture content in the Vilppu Academy is very similar to what you might find at the New Masters Academy or what is in his book, the primary difference is the interaction with Glenn himself.

If I’m honest though, the truth is I’m such an art bozo that a master like Glenn is wasted on me.

Do I regret it? No I don’t. Learning from Glenn is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m grateful that I did it. But at the same time….I also felt kind of stupid.

Now don’t get me wrong, Glenn was a gentleman and actively markets the course to beginners and welcomes them in his class. But let’s be real. A beginner needs to learn the basics and you don’t need to learn the basics from a master. You can learn them from a TA.

Art Mentors

In addition to art parents and TAs, I have found that its also important to cultivate mentors.

The big lesson from my time with Glenn was that the best person to teach you is not really the best artist in the world, but rather someone who is one or two steps ahead of you.

A teacher who is slightly better than you can empathize with your current situation and remembers what it was like to be where you are.

These are the art mentors that you really want to cultivate.

For me, I have a few different artist friends whose work I admire and who I share my art work with when I complete something new.

My mentors are also both erotic/lewd artists so they don’t judge me for my subject matter and they also play good cop/bad cop.

They both give great advice, but one is always nice and supportive, the other is always super critical.

It’s always funny to send my work to Bad Cop because I’m so excited and proud of the piece and inevitably he points out how crappy it is.

He’s not mean, he’s just matter of fact about the flaws, and points them out first thing.

It stings but I love it, because whenever I address his criticism the work is noticeably and objectively better. On the rare occasions that he does compliment me, it is especially meaningful.

Aside from these two friends I am also in NMAs group coaching program, which is nice because I can get some detailed and constructive feedback from legit pros.

Artists like Patrick Jones and Bill Perkins and Diego Garcia. Just real power houses of talent and accomplishment.

Painting by Patrick Jones

It’s great to have some exposure to masters like this, but I still feel like I’m not good enough to warrant much of their time. I mean, I’m paying them so at least there’s that, but the honest answer that they need to give most of the time is, “practice more, learn the fundamentals.”


A lot of artists seem to struggle with motivation but my studies at New Masters Academy have really helped me to focus and maintain my motivation for improvement.

I see new students drop in and drop out at NMA so I guess motivation is not easy for everyone, nor does NMA have the secret one-size fits all approach that all students find motivating. However, after 15 months of daily work I have finally finished the Drawing Foundations at NMA, and I take some small pride in being the first student to have done so.

Fortunately that small pride is kept in check but the fact that I’m probably in the lower middle half of actual talent and skill in the school. I’m much better than I was a couple of years ago, but not better than the average art student.

[While NMA has been around for over 10 years, the interactive portion where you receive feedback on assignments is only a couple of years old.]

Despite the fact that I have stayed motivated so far, “How do I stay motivated?” seems to be one of the most common questions I see amateurs asking the mentors and TAs. I can understand why. It can be very difficult to repeatedly engage in an activity that is beneficial but painful.

A lot of talented amateurs get discouraged with studying the fundamentals because studying art is an incredibly humbling experience. When we are a “talented amateur” we feel special, we are the best art student in the class, we are the “artistic” member of the family, we are the best artist in our high school. However, when we begin studying seriously with many other talented amateurs we see that we are not so special after all.

In fact, we may be the worst student in the class, or even more tragically for our ego, a completely forgettable student in the middle.

Creating art is hard, I regularly spend 4-5 hours on an assignment, and when the work is completed, I’m regularly told why it sucks. That can be hard to hear and after a while, all of the praise that we heard about our art as amateurs is drowned out by the criticism we hear about our art as students.

To make matters worse, we may feel like we are not making any improvements at all.

It’s natural to feel discouraged in that environment, but here are some things that I have found that have helped me to stay motivated:

1 Follow a Program - Almost as often as I hear “how do I stay motivated?” I hear “what should I draw?”. When you have a clear program to follow, there is never a question about what to draw next. There is always a next step.

If you have to decide what is the perfect thing to draw, you can get stuck waiting for “inspiration.” With the NMA program, there is always a “next thing” to draw.

Iliya Mirochnik teaching a foundational course

2 Utilize Your Energy Levels - There are certain activities that require a lot of energy, like drawing, and certain activities that are low energy, like watching videos. When I have low energy levels I watch the lectures for my next class or read art books. Sometimes this is in bed before I go to sleep, sometimes its in the evening after a work day.

Low energy activities have the benefit that they can actually generate energy for you to do higher energy work. So if you need to draw but can’t muster the energy to do so, watching an art video might just excite you enough to get you to pick up your pencil.

If I have a high energy activity, schedule it during a time of the day when you have the most energy, for me that’s usually first thing in the morning or during my lunch break.

3 Stay Busy - Ironically, it's easier for busy people to get things done, then for people with lots of free time. My mother is a talented amateur artist (she’s also genuinely skilled) but she rarely draws because she never finds the time. This is despite the fact that she is retired with a completely open schedule.

When you have all the time in the world, it is easy to push off your priorities until tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes.

4 Use Every Free Moment - Prioritize your free time towards art. When you have 10 minutes, watch a lecture or break out the sketch book. I carry a sketchbook with me whenever I go out, but especially for things that involve waiting like Doctor’s offices and taking kids to lessons.

5 Forget the Outcome - Stop worrying about improving and trust the process. If you look at every drawing you make and expect improvement you will be disappointed. This is like looking in the mirror every day after going to the gym or dieting.

There is an old saying that applies here which is “you will be disappointed in how little you accomplish in a week and shocked in how much you accomplish in a year.”

It can be hard to actually divorce yourself from the outcome in practice and so you may have to employ self talk to get yourself started. Artists have sayings like, “everyone has 10,000 bad drawings in them, you just have to get them out to get to the good ones”.

So in this way you reframe the bad art you create as a form of progress. Use the self-talk until you internalize the unimportance of the present assignment.

Forget Your Past Work and Move Forward

6 No 0% Days - Endeavor to always do something on your assignments. It can be daunting to try and achieve a week’s worth of lessons in one day, so instead commit to doing at least 5 minutes a day. This way the material will always be fresh in your mind, even if you can’t do very much of it, and you will often find 5 minutes turn into 5 hours.

But be honest with yourself that you really only need to do 5 minutes. If 5 minutes is all you can muster, thats ok. The important thing is to make it a daily habit and always do a little something even if its only 1%.

7 Move Forward - Once you finish an assignment, move on to the next one. At NMA there is a 48 hour turn around to receive feedback on your assignments. Use that time to start on the next lesson so that by the time you receive your feedback, you are ready to address it or start the next assignment.

8 Celebrate the Wins - For me, I receive great satisfaction in seeing little check boxes. Whenever you finish a class or get an assignment approved, enjoy it! Remember that feeling of accomplishment. Just don’t celebrate by giving yourself time off. Move forward!

Expressing Yourself

Being an artist is about expressing yourself. Another great Disney animator Andreas Deja recalled the advice of one of the Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas told him. “Don’t draw what you see, draw what you feel.” The goal of art is to express something, to communicate something in a way that only a visual can do.

This is why AI art is not art, it’s soulless. It’s a weird amalgamation of images where a program tries to guess what you want to express until you give up and say “close enough!” before forgetting what you wanted to express in the first place.

However, most of us amateurs are worse than the AI, because we can’t express what we want either. We’re like little babies frantically crying and pointing while the adults patiently try to guess what we want.

Eventually though, babies grow up. After years of trying we can string together a few words that can mostly get the job done . After a couple of decades, babies can express themselves pretty competently and after a lifetime, babies might actually say something insightful about the world.

Art is like this.

I'm still fumbling to say what I want to say as an artist, but it gets a little bit easier every year.