I wanted to improve my people-drawing skills, learn about anatomy and be able to quickly sketch a head with some degree of accuracy and fluency. I was looking for information, instruction, and explanation of how the skull, features, and muscles all work together to make each of us look like individuals.
I began exploring resources for learning online and I found one that met all of my requirements: New Masters Academy. It is affordable ($19 to $29/month), has excellent teachers, an abundance of classes in portrait and figure drawing and painting and more, plus great resources for artists including thousands of high-resolution artist model reference photos and timed portrait and figure drawing sessions.
What initially convinced me to become a member on New Masters was the free, 3-hour YouTube video below by one of their many excellent teachers, Steve Huston. This is just a small part of his Structure of the Head course in which he explains in great detail about the planes of the face, the shapes and functions of the muscles, and each of the features (eyes, nose, etc.) in a very user-friendly way.
The YouTube video by Brandwynn Jones (below) introduced me to the Reilly Method Abstraction, an interesting way of conceptualizing and constructing the head. Mr. Jones is a student at the Watts Atelier, another online artist training program.
Before I found New Masters, I regrettably signed up for an expensive month ($99/month) at Watts Atelier Online, based on what I saw and heard in Mr. Jones’ videos and on fellow artist Chris Beaven’s blog, who was trying out the Watts program too. But after watching the head drawing course “taught” by Mr. Watts, I requested and received a refund for the remaining half month. The course consists of videos of him drawing, while he talks on and on–what he calls “bantering”–with very little actual instruction or explanation and it just didn’t meet my needs. Chris later wrote this review of Watts Atelier Online.
Another great source of figure drawing instruction videos (for free) can be found at Stan Prokopenko’s website, Proko.com and on his on YouTube channel. His sense of humor and high production values makes them fun to watch but I find they fly by too quickly for me to retain the information. He offers expanded versions at reasonable cost. In the video below he clarifies and summarizes the Andrew Loomis approach to drawing the head.
Over the past year I’ve watched several good instructional videos on Craftsy.com but I prefer the comprehensive courses on New Masters. One plus for Craftsy is that the videos you “buy” are always yours to stream on demand; on New Masters they’re available to stream as long as you’re a paying member.
Sadie Valerie offers both in person classes, video and online classes at Sadie Valerie Atelier in San Francisco. Sadie is an amazing teacher, very kind, positive, generous and detailed in her approach. I’ve studied with her and her associate Elizabeth Zanzinger in person and via Sadie’s videos and highly recommend them as teachers.
For quick and detailed anatomical information where you can switch from skin, muscles, skeletal or even organ views, I go to Innerbody.com, where I found the resource for the drawing below. I wanted to know more about the muscles that we see through the skin.
A free 2.5 hour figure drawing course based on the Reilly Method is available from Udemy.com.
Croquis Cafe on YouTube offers free figure drawing sessions with artist models (mostly nude) posing in real time, just like you are in a figure drawing session with timed poses and music. They also have reference photos to work from and some paid classes, which I haven’t explored.
Pixelovely.com is another source for figure drawing practice that provides timed photo references of nude and costumed models in interesting and unusual poses as well as instruction and tips on figure drawing.
PoseManiacs.com also offers thousands of digital images of figures in motion or still, without skin so all the muscles are visible.
High resolution photos of the Asaro Planes of the Head model in 22 different positions are available to download here.
Reilly Method class notes by one of his students are lovingly offered on The Reilly Papers blog.
Glen Orbik was another master figure and portrait drawing teacher. Free clips from videos of his lectures are available on YouTube here. The full course is available at Zarolla Academy but is expensive.
Fred Fixler was another of the great drawing and painting teachers who has passed on but on this site you can download his Reilly method handouts and some great drawing and gouache painting tips.
To find figure drawing classes, workshops and open studios in your area, visit ArtModelBook.com.
20 replies on “Portrait and Figure Drawing: Online Classes and Resources Reviewed”
Great information, thanks x
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Thanks for sharing, and wow! Great looking studies here. I’ve been dying to draw a skull. Sounds like a great site.
You can get skull replicas for pretty cheap–around $35 or so. Amazon even has some I think. It’s helpful to be able to draw from one “live” rather than a photo so you can turn it around to different views.
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Wow, so many resources!
Thanks so much.
Thanks for the thanks. Glad to know it was useful.
Thank you so much for generously sharing the resources you’ve found, and the pros and cons of them!
You’re welcome. It’s a lot of work to do posts like that but it’s helpful for me too to have all the info in one place.
Thank you for these resources and your reviews – it helps to have this access available so we can improve our drawing. I’ll be starting up portraits again and these will definitely come in handy. Thanks so much!
Good luck with studying portraiture. It’s been extremely rewarding and fun (and frustrating) for me.
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Thanks Jan – I haven’t done portraits in over a year so I expect the experience will be the same for me.
Thanks for the comprehensive list Jana. I have an item on my TODO list to do a similar post, but I think you covered everything already.
I agree with you about the New Masters Academy I think their price and quality is clearly the best I have found for online courses on the net. I would usually place the highest importance on drawing from a live model but many of the concepts for approaching the figure are just as important. The more I draw the human form the more I find that understanding what I’m seeing leads to better execution. For example I just watched a Youtube video the other day where a teacher indicated that the sternum will always be at a right angle to the axis line of the shoulders. This small concept was a large breakthrough for my drawing as it gives me a clear understanding of how to determine the direction and position of the whole torso.
These online resources also play a huge roll in keeping me motivated. If I don’t feel like drawing or painting something I’ll sit down and pick out a video on YouTube or other sites, and after a few minutes I want to put some thing down on paper or canvas.
Keep up the figure study, once we’re proficient at it I think everything else in art will be much easier.
I agree. I’ve found a new favorite resource for inspiration–the iPhone app Sktchy. People post pictures of themselves and you select and put in your queue the ones you want to draw then upload the drawing or painting to the link for the image. It’s super easy (compared to a similar thing I was doing with the Portrait Party–that was way too complicated to find images and post images. Sktchy has the advantage of real people in their real life settings rather than models posed so it’s got more interest for me, imagining their lives while I’m drawing them. It’s only on iOS right now (they’re working on Android) so if you don’t have iphone/ipad you’ll have to wait but I’m really enjoying it–it inspires me way more than canned model poses for drawing faces.
Thanks for the information. I had seen the Steve Huston video and thought that the New Masters Program probably offered the best value. This is especially true if you plan to supplement the online training with workshops and live drawing sessions. I think the reason for the higher cost at Watts is that you will be getting critiqued analysis of your work to avoid making the same mistakes. I would say drawing go with New Masters, painting go with Watts.
Thanks Tracye. Have you used Watts for painting or received critiques from them? It would be great to get some information from you if you found it useful. From their site it looks like the painting program costs 6 times as much ($199/month) and getting critiques costs 10 times as much ($299/month for the full access (painting) program plus a weekly critique. I know you can submit your drawings for approval as you go through the basic $99 (drawing) program but I think they just tell you if you passed or failed that section–can’t tell from my own experience if they also provide analysis of what you’re doing wrong. I submitted only one thing and got a response saying I’d completed that section but it was just a photo of my sharpened pencils and I didn’t think they were really done properly. Also I asked a question on their forum for students to ask questions of the instructors as did my friend and neither of us got a response. His had been asked several months previous. Not impressed.
Hi Jana, I don’t have personal experience with Watts just word of mouth. Another good reference site is portraitsfordrawing.tumblr.
Wonderful resources and commentary. Thank you so much for sharing!
You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting!
Hi Jana — This is really great info! I will definitely check out your links. Thanks for all the work!
Thanks Ellen. And thanks for telling me about the Color Boot Camp class. I hadn’t noticed it and it’s FABULOUS!!!!