Being A Successful Student


By now, you should have selected your first art course after considering the work space and funds you’ll need.

We want you to successfully learn your chosen art—wherever you live and whatever your age. Some students may take this course in a school environment, where they will be guided by a teacher and where they can also learn with other students in the class. We expect, however, that the majority of students will be taking this online course on their own, a method often referred to as ‘self-directed learning’ (SDL). In this case, you as the student will be in charge of your own learning experience. Our discussion with colleagues and keyword search of ‘self-directed learning’ has provided a lot of articles and thoughtful information on this subject. We have condensed this information into a few key points to help guide you–the “SDL” student–to a successful completion of your Beginner’s School course. We expect that over time your fellow students will leave comments in the blog area below that will also help you be successful, so check there too.


This lesson’s topics are:

Develop A Plan That Involves Others

Your Key Reasons For Learning Art

Commitment Of Time To Learn

Using Google Docs

Creating Your Personal Contract

Video Watching

A Visual To Get You Going

Exercise 1: Listing Your Goals

Exercise 2: Draft A Student Contract

Exercise 3: Video Watching


Develop A Plan That Involves Others

Some of you know how best you study and learn (best time of day, music or quiet, etc.) –if so, you need to consider this style in your plan to be successful. There are several key points for the new student’s plan: first, you must be ready to commit to the 25+ hours needed to complete your chosen art course AND establish a deadline (date) for your completion. You might have a 6 month deadline to do this…but to be successful you need to commit NOW to spend this amount of time and indicate your expected deadline in months! For those who do best when someone else is tracking you, consider websites like that use accountability and loss aversion to help you meet your goal.

Some of you may need to get others involved. It’s great if you have a friend to take the course with you. You can also create a support ‘network’ by sharing at least weekly the exercise work you’ve done with a chosen friend and/or family member (social media is a good way to do this). Expect some constructive criticism of your work from your network and know that it’s OK.  Receive their comments with calmness, recognizing you will learn from some of them. Finally, as part of your plan keep track of your growth, start saving your exercises in a notebook, folder, or online picture album so you can always look back at your progress as you go through the lessons.


Your Key Reasons For Learning Art

We want you to write down your key reasons (or goals) for wanting to learn art. This is important to motivate you to keep you moving through your course lessons weekly. Your goals will serve as an important reminder for those inevitable moments that occur, when you first skip a week and then one week becomes two, until you stop doing the coursework “for awhile.”

We want to help you determine your goals, so check out this post in which we suggest several possible goals for children, students, adults, workers, and seniors. Find your group by looking at  each ‘Who it helps’ section and consider using those goals. In addition to key goals, other possible goals are also listed. By the way, use our contact us form if you think another goal should be added to those shown. 


Exercise 1: Listing Your Goals

Create your list of key reasons for learning art. Learning a new skill in your off time? Maintaining your mental cognition? Check out our full list of goals here. Be sure to include all the key reasons that apply to you. Just a few lines and *presto*, you are done with your goal list!

Remember to refer to your list as a reminder when needed to maintain your enthusiasm!



Commitment Of Time To Learn

In addition to a deadline for completing the course, establish a weekly time goal. This should be at least one hour a week–more if possible! To help with habit formation, choose the day(s) and time of day too. Choose the day(s) and time(s) that work best for your schedule and style. Choose a time when you can complete that day’s exercise without being interrupted. Put it in your personal calendar. Consider that you can read our text in a place away from your studio or home. Completing a lesson’s text and exercise each week will be a positive reinforcement as you continue to learn.

We’ve tried to set up each lesson so you can read the text in no more than 15 minutes and in some cases, much less. Committing to at least one hour a week will allow you to maintain a suitable mental connection to your artwork. Of course, committing to more than an hour a week is even better! Move your lesson to another day of the week if a vacation or business trip happens to occur on your selected artwork day(s).

Plan on up to an hour for each exercise. You’ll want to plan on at least an hour and a half when completing the drawing, painting or sculpting video exercises towards the end of each course—we ask you to watch the video completely first before doing an exercise that contains a video. Fortunately, you can spread out each video exercise over the course of several days if you need more time. 

One hour sounds like a lot of time, but by the time you’ve set up your workspace, laid out your supplies, put everything in proper order, and gotten your lighting right, 10+ minutes will have gone by. And don’t forget–you’ll also need to allow yourself time for cleanup.  

Using Google Docs

As you’re going through each of our lessons, you’ll notice that we have a few documents available for you to download and save, such as our Recommendation Lists, Student Contract, and Budget Worksheets. We use Google Drive to store these documents and you can too! If you have a Google account, editable documents will open in your browser window. In order to edit them yourself, you’ll need to save it to your Drive first. Click on the top where it says, “Open with Google…” (circled in red in the photo below) and it will save it to your Drive and allow you to edit the document on your own.

Don’t worry–no one else will be able to see your edits–only you!

To access your personal Drive folder, click on the square of nine boxes up in the right-hand corner to open your options box, then click on the triangle that’s labeled, “Drive”. See both circled in the photo below:

If you don’t have a Google account, you can sign up for one–it’s fast and free. The nice thing about having a Google account is that you can save all of your Beginner’s School documents in one pace and edit them as you need (your Budget Worksheets, for example). There’s even an app for your smartphone so you can access these files while you’re out and about. Say you’ve made the trip to the art store but forgot your Recommendation List on the kitchen counter (don’t worry, it happens to me all the time). You can access the Recommendation List that you’ve saved to your Google Drive account right there at the store.

If you don’t want to create a Google account, that’s fine too. We have also added downloadable PDFs of each of the documents you’ll need. You won’t be able to fill these out on your computer; you’ll need to print them out and fill them out by hand when necessary!

When you’re done looking at these files, you can click the “back” button on the top left corner of your browser window to go back to where you were!


Creating Your Personal Contract

After developing a plan that involves others, selecting your goals and establishing your time commitment, you now need to include these in a contract to yourself. I know this sounds a bit strange— agreeing to a written contract with yourself to engage in an activity! But trust me, it works. Educational research suggests that signing a student contract–even if it’s with yourself–does, in fact, increase the student’s dedication to completing the course. The contract can be very short. Take a look at this short sample contract for a student who has chosen to learn to paint with oils that includes the above items.

We’ll help you write your contract in the exercise below! 


Exercise 2: Draft A Student Contract

We’ve already created a contract for you to start with–My Beginner’s School Contract (PDF) or My Beginner’s School Contract (DOCX). Fill it out and sign it as is or use it as a starting point to create your own personal contract. You’ll notice the contract includes spaces for your goals and time commitment, along with specific details incorporating your plan to help you maintain your connection to the course. Once completed, checked, and electronically signed, save it! If you have a printer handy, print your contract and sign (the old fashioned way) and date it. Then put it in a notebook or folder or hang it on your wall as a reminder of your commitment to yourself. 

Remember this contract if your commitment to complete your course begins to decrease.

Video Watching

To be a successful student, you’ll need to know how to effectively watch the artist-led tutorial videos included in the Painting and Sculpting Courses. We have taken a lot of time to transcribe and video-edit the closed captions for each tutorial video. This accuracy will help you clearly understand what the artist is saying as well as allow the closed captions to be more effectively translated to many of the world’s languages so international students can use the Beginner’s School too.

We strongly suggest that beginning students watch each lessons’ tutorial videos through once without attempting to follow along, and turn on the closed captions if that will aid your understanding. Once you have seen each video and have an understanding of the process, then you can watch again and follow along with your painting or sculpting exercise.

We also recommend you watch the video in full screen. To do this, click on the box in the lower right-hand corner (circled in the photo below). To escape full-screen mode, click the same button again.

full screen annotation

To turn on the closed captions, click on the CC button labeled in the photo below:


For more information on closed captions, see this post. For non-English speakers, this post contains information on how to change the captions to your language of choice.

You can pause the video at any time by clicking on the two vertical lines on the left and restart by clicking on the right arrow button that replaced the vertical lines.

By viewing the video completely, it provides you with a full picture of the lesson you will be working on before you get started. Finally, remember to write down the time (eg 5:16)  where you left off if you stop watching a video in the middle. Then you can drag the red ball found on the red line underneath the video to get you quickly back to that exact time (eg 5:16) you left off.

Our artists were both creating their artwork and talking at the same time as the videos were created. Inevitably, there were some longer pauses as they both worked and thought about what they’d say next. The artists sometimes changed what they were saying in the middle of a sentence, or left out a word or two. To help you along, we indicated   ‘…’   when there is a short pause, and (pause to x:xx) when there is a pause of 6 or more seconds. We added an explanatory word or two where we felt it was needed. This is shown like this (explanatory words), so you’ll know it wasn’t spoken by the artist.

Tip: We know it’s often difficult to remember where you left off in the middle of a lesson. Click on the orange ‘+’ button to bookmark then save the location where you left off.

To return to where you were, simply go to your bookmarks folder, and click on your Beginner’s School bookmark. We recommend deleting your older Beginner’s School bookmarks to avoid confusion.


If you’re having fun, try using the social media buttons (below the bookmark button) to share your favorite Beginner School pages!

Exercise 3: Video Watching

So go ahead and start watching the Watercolor Landscape Part One video just below, then practice using the arrow, vertical lines and red ball using this video. Find the ‘pause’ examples at  1:17, 5:00, and 9:37, and the (added words) at  1:31 and 13:12.

If you prefer viewing the closed captions in a language other than English, change the closed captions to your language of choice following the instructions found here and read the translated captions for a few minutes to get a sense for their effectiveness.

A final word: we purposely chose the ‘Spring’ Concerto from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ as our video introduction music. To us, it is both symbolic of your budding start as an art student and the flowering of the Renaissance.

A Visual To Get You Going

Getting started and overcoming our fears is always a challenge when we’re trying something new. Our founder Phil used a  two-minute video excerpt from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ to inspire him in creating the Beginner’s School. He feels it will help us all take that often nerve-wracking first step towards a goal outside our comfort zones. To see the video, keyword search Indiana Jones: Leap of Faith and begin from where Indy looks in his small book. Phil recommends watching in “full-screen”. The successful student will take the risk of trying a new activity and know they will make mistakes along the way too—and that’s OK!


Photo credit: Mary Harrsch

In closing, we encourage you, the student, to note the other benefits you see as you learn your chosen art. Getting ideas on the job more quickly? Seeing shadows in a new way? Write these down, as a reminder of these other “positives” when you need them!

Now let’s get going with your selected course!
  1. September 22, 2018
  2. February 4, 2019
  3. November 12, 2019

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