Teaching art courses online is a fantastic way to grow your student base, increase your passive income, or add a revenue stream that will be extremely valuable in challenging times like these.
Recently we sat down with artists from around the world to discuss how artists can teach art courses online while self-isolating or quarantined. We’ve embedded the original CrowdCast video at the bottom of this page as well as a link to download the transcript.
Even if you’ve never taught any kind of class before, you can succeed at teaching your art techniques to others online! Read this beginner’s guide to teaching online art courses, and give it a try.
How to get started teaching art online
Decide what to teach
If this is your first time teaching an art class, the first order of business is to decide what you’ll teach. This can feel overwhelming, especially if you do multiple things like Doreen, who creates both digital illustration and hand-drawn art. The rule of thumb for Doreen will be the same for you: identify the easiest thing that you do, and start there. Of course, easy is relative, and the curse of expertise may cause you to feel like creating lush digital landscapes or creating quick caricatures isn’t a big deal, but keep in mind that anything you have been doing for long enough will feel much easier for you than for a beginner. Some examples of “easy” techniques to start with:
- Drawing fundamentals (perspective, shading, etc)
- Painting clouds
- Sculpting a small pot
- Still life drawing or painting
It may be helpful to get a pen and paper, write down every technique you use in your art, and break it down into the smallest steps possible to get a good idea of what to teach. If at this point you feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of material you could start teaching, great!
What if I already teach art courses in person?
If you already have prepared courses and just need to transfer them to an online format, you’ll still need to make some decisions about how you make the transition to online teaching. If you’re already teaching, the first course you bring online should not be your longest, most expensive option. Perhaps you teach a month-long intensive course as well as half-day workshops. Start with the shorter workshops, and as recommended above, break them down into the smallest manageable chunks. This is a great time to experiment with video lengths: try some short 5 or 10 minute videos explaining a single technique, and try an hour-long video teaching a small piece from start to finish. Pay attention to how they’re received by your audience and be sure to ask for feedback!
Decide on a format
Are you excited by the idea of teaching a live class and interacting with students, or would you prefer to record yourself creating a piece, then go back and narrate over the top? There are a couple of format options for teaching art online:
- Teaching a live course to a small audience, interacting and providing feedback to your students in real-time.
- Pre-recording a short lesson and packaging it with images and PDFs to sell passively at a low rate.
Some teachers choose to combine these two formats for longer courses, like Flora Bowley’s Bloom True, incorporating pre-recorded downloads and other materials as well as the opportunity to join live calls to ask questions and interact with other students (The Abundant Artist does this too!) But if you’re just starting out, don’t worry about more complicated lesson formats. Just choose whether you’ll teach live or pre-recorded and get started!
Live chat platforms
There are a lot of live chat platforms to choose from that will allow you to interact in real time with your students, see each other’s faces, and type to each other with a chat feature to share links, etc. Here are a couple of the most popular live chat platforms:
- Zoom. Zoom is a great choice for getting started: it’s free to sign up and takes only a few minutes to schedule your first call. There are some restrictions for free accounts: You can live chat for up to 40 minutes with 3 or more people. If you need more time than that, you can subscribe for $15 a month.
- CrowdCast. CrowdCast does not have a free option, but costs just $20/month (if you pay yearly) for 50 attendees and up to 5 hours per month.
- Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts is free for up to 10 people and an unlimited amount of time, but the quality and ease of use is lower than Zoom and Crowdcast.
Assemble your equipment
While you can go down an equipment rabbit hole, you don’t need much to get started, especially if you plan to teach live courses.
There are two main recording equipment options:
- HD Webcam- This option will provide the highest quality picture. The webcam that comes factory-installed on many laptops is not usually of high enough quality to produce a good video. However, if you absolutely cannot acquire an HD webcam, you can compensate for a lower quality camera with very good lighting. Do your best to eliminate shadows, especially around the area where you’ll be creating art. For more lighting options, check out our guide to livestreaming art.
- Smartphone with tripod- If you need to use your smartphone to record or livestream, make sure that you are using a tripod to keep the picture stable. An iPhone 10 or 11 or the newest iPad Pro all have very high quality cameras that will work fine for recording video. Earlier generations may not be as high quality. Again, you can compensate with good lighting and a tripod. Check out the livestreaming link above for a list of inexpensive smartphone tripods.
If you choose to teach a live class from your desktop or laptop, connect directly to your internet via an ethernet cable if you can. This will cut down on video lag and produce a much smoother experience.
Prepare for tech issues
When you first begin teaching online, especially via a live course, be prepared to spend some time ironing out technical issues with microphones, cameras, etc. This is normal, and an inevitable part of including multiple people in a video chat. Factor some extra time into the beginning of your course to allow for these issues. An easy way to get out in front of potential tech problems is to send out your platform’s “quick start guide” to all your students in advance. A quick search on most video chat platforms should bring something up.
As mentioned above, another way to avoid issues with video/audio lag and low quality is to make sure that your computer is plugged directly into the internet if at all possible.
How to sell your online art course
If at all possible, the number one place you should be selling your online course is also the number one place you should be selling your art: on your own website. This allows you to retain customer information as well as 100% of the profits. There are also dozens of online teaching platforms that will help you quickly create a course and sell it through their website, but be advised that they will take a cut of your profit and you may not be able to retain access to customer information for future marketing.
How to sell courses on your own website.
To sell courses on your own website, you need a few capabilities:
- Record and upload your videos to a file sharing platform like Dropbox or to a password-protected “members only” portion of your website.
- Send automated emails with the download link to customers who purchase a course.
- Accept payments through your website.
If you already have a WordPress website set up that can accept payments, there are many good online teaching plugins that you can integrate:
However, if you are not already using a WordPress site, now is not the time to attempt to learn. Instead, use the recommendation above to send a video download link via email once customers have paid, or use an online teaching platform.
How to sell courses through online teaching platforms.
The great thing about online teaching platforms is that they can easily and quickly get you up and running with a beautifully structured course that is easy for students to navigate. A few of the most popular platforms include:
You may also be able to obtain new students who are searching for courses through these platforms, but due to the very high saturation of low-cost courses available you shouldn’t depend on the search feature to provide you with students.
How to get students for your online art courses
If you already teach in-person courses, send an email (or even make phone calls!) to all your existing and past students inviting them to take your courses online. You can offer a discount for early sign-ups or for students who take your first beta course.
If this is your first course ever, send individual invitations to handpicked students (friends and family and any collectors you may already have) and invite them to join you for your first online class. An announcement across your social media platforms is another way to garner interest.
You can also try piquing interest by recording a short promotional video to share on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram (or any other social platforms you already use frequently) with a teaser of your course.
Email marketing platforms
The best way to begin inviting students is via an email campaign. There is an abundance of platforms to choose from. The Abundant Artist recommends ConvertKit*. Other popular options include:
Don’t be overwhelmed by the options. Just like online teaching platforms and social media platforms, the best email marketing program is the one you will use consistently, so just pick one and get started.
As you begin to set up your first course and send emails to potential students, we recommend being honest about any trepidation you have. Use the journey as part of your story, and invite students and collectors along for the ride. Here’s an example:
If you’re like me, you’re taking this strange new uncertainty one day at a time. I’ve been looking for new ways to bring my art to you even during quarantine, and I’m excited to announce that I’ve just launched my first online art course! I’m still learning as I go, but I’d like to invite you to join me on this journey. The first course will be on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. Will you join me? I’d love to see your face, chat a little and teach you some of what I know.”
If you will be selling directly from your own site, make sure that your email campaign is set up to automatically send the download link once a customer pays for your course so they aren’t left waiting.
How to price your online course
Your pricing will vary depending on the length and style of your course. For live online courses that closely resemble an in-person class, you should charge as much as you would for an in-person class. It’s okay to include a small discount to compensate for the change in venue if you’re actually transferring from in-person to online.
Courses that include multiple recordings, extra downloads and/or a live chat session most commonly sell for between $300-$500.
Shorter pre-recorded entry-level courses and single workshops that run about an hour in length generally sell for about $20. The idea is to sell these courses passively at a higher volume, just like you might sell art prints at a lower cost and a higher volume than original works.
Do your own research: check out the common prices for courses comparable to yours on the most popular platforms. Most importantly, check in with your students. You should never shortchange yourself, but during uncertain times it will be helpful for you to work with your students to reach a price that they can pay and that you feel good about charging.
Online art course inspiration
If you’ve never taken an online art course before, spend a small amount of time clicking around to see what other artists are doing. You don’t need to copy anyone, but pay attention to what you see a lot of artists doing- chances are they’re doing it because it works. Here are a few posts for inspiration:
Teaching Online Art Courses Q&A
This is a section of the transcript from our online working session where Cory answered specific questions from working artists.
Q: I see tons of artists at all levels, selling at tons of different price points. From master painters selling 6-hour tutorials for $20 to painters selling a 2-hour tutorial for $150. My art hero is someone selling 2-hour tutorials for $20, how do I compete with that?
A: Pricing is 90% psychological and 10% strategic. It’s just a mess, and it’s really hard to figure out. Generally speaking, a really well known artist, because of their name and their brand, can sell tons of classes. What they’re trying to do is sell a pre-recorded class at a low price point so that they call sell tons of them, and they make money by doing volume.
If you have the ability to pre-record a class and sell it, do a one-hour class for $20 or a two-hour class for $20, whatever it is. Then the challenge for you is marketing. I’m not convinced that that is necessarily better than getting 5-10 people in a 2-hour session one-on-one, where you can actually work with them directly. People who want to take a class from you won’t necessarily want to take a class from this other person. They may want to take a class because they like you. And that will be true for all the other teachers out there. People want to take classes from teachers that they know and love, especially those who have a big local following. They’re not going to just find some other teacher online if you’re offering classes, they’re going to take it from you.
Q: Most of my students in my groups are pensioners enjoying retirement time. Their pensions are taking a huge hit. Would you think it’s a good idea to offer a reduced rate?
A: If you put a price out and people are telling you that it’s too expensive, or that their pensions are taking a hit because they’re pensioners, yeah, you can offer a discount. There’s a lot of flux. There’s a lot of change, a lot of dynamics in the market. Listen to your people and respond to them. Let them know “Hey, I’m going to be doing this course. I’m thinking this price point, let me know if you’re interested.” And if people don’t respond or they tell you that’s too expensive, listen to them and get them on board. Respect yourself, respect what you’re worth, but also listen to your people and allow them to tell you what’s actually happening.
Q: I’ve taught a few evening classes in person. I’m looking to start teaching online, but there are so many host sites for classes I don’t know where to start. What things should I consider when choosing a site for my class?
A: The best thing you can do is look at 3 or 4 and pick one, otherwise you’ll just go forever. Personally, I think Teachable is a great platform. It’s built for stuff like this. But there’s lots of them out there, and none of them are necessarily bad, it’s just which one works for your particular style. All of them are going to allow you to do things like upload a video, upload some images, upload some PDFs. All of them are going to allow you to do things like take payments and restrict access. They all perform those basic functions. If you want to combine some real-time feedback like what we’re doing now, you can use Zoom. Zoom is the easiest thing.
Q: Besides an iPhone 11, what’s another recording device that you would suggest for prerecorded videos?
A: If you have an iPhone 11, just use an iPhone 11. Another thing you can use is a DSLR, but that’s going to be $500. So you might as well just get a new phone.
Q: How do you make sure that your students have the right supplies?
A: What I have seen other artists do in the past, is you can pre-buy all the supplies and then ship them out to people. That’s a huge pain and you’ve got to charge a big markup to do that because it takes you time. The other thing you can do is put together a pre-curated list of the supplies that you would use for that art piece. Then in the course sign up materials, let them know that you will need to purchase supplies. You need to give them enough time, you need to give them a week or two so that they have time to get the supplies and have them shipped to their home. And say “When you sign up for this course, be sure to order these supplies.” And have links to where they can buy the supplies online, whether it’s on Amazon or Blick or some other website. Make sure it’s a link to where you would buy the specific supplies you would use.
Q: I’m a studio artist. I’ve been teaching in person classes for 5 years. I thrive on the dynamic created in a class of 6-8. I can give them a lot of individual attention. Something about being able to see what they’re doing in the class as they’re doing it.
A: You can do that on Zoom, and with CrowdCast too, you can have lots of people on the screen at the same time. Then as long as they have their cameras turned towards their easel, you can see what they’re doing. If you give them some instruction and then give them 10-20 minutes to work on whatever the next thing is, you can just make sure that all of them have their camera pointed at their easel, and then you can just be watching all of them like you would when you’re walking around the room. Then you can come on audio and talk to whoever it is and say “Hey I noticed you’re doing this, make these adjustments.”
Recommendations from a teaching artist
Jennifer C. Vigil has nailed down a process that works well for her, and she has graciously shared her secrets with us here! You can check out her courses, retreats, and artwork at http://jennifercvigil.com.
I use LearnDash plugin for my online classes: https://www.learndash.com
I use Zoom and WebinarNinja.
VideoShop is a great smart phone app for easily editing videos directly on your phone. You can add stills, give voice over, add text and music, and so much more. There are in app upgrades that may be of use to some. https://www.videoshop.net
I also use Vimeo for storing my videos online. I link to or embed videos from Vimeo.
Canva is a great way to create well designed handouts and marketing material. You can create slides for your presentations and easily add images and texts. There are lots of preset formats and easy access to free images and graphics. You can also purchase additional images or graphics for $1.
In terms of best practices for teaching online here are some links. While these aren’t directed specifically for art courses, the content is useful and relevant for keeping the content focused and having clear expectations about what the course covers, the way it is delivered, access to the instructor and what they will learn.
How to make your teaching more engaging:
- Infuse your writing and content with warmth. Convey your support. Find ways to encourage and support even with giving feedback. Being creative involves risk taking so make sure that people feel supported and safe when taking leaps. Set clear guidelines for your online community spaces that explain what is allowed. Discourage marketing, negativity and complaining. Encourage support, sharing resources, and positive feedback.
- Let your personality show. Write like you talk. Share your humor. Imagine that you are talking to someone when you are shooting video. You can even print out a letter size image of someone you like and post that in front of you. Imagine you are teaching/ talking to them if that helps.
- Don’t worry about being perfect. No one is. Certainly have a basic level of polish in what you do (videos) but don’t get hung up on making high end professional videos. You can spend too much time editing and not getting it done. Also people can relate to you more if they see you are human.
- Don’t overwhelm your students with too much content or bells and whistles. Make sure that what you add makes sense and supports your 3 main goals of the class (what 3 skills/ concepts will they come away with from your class). Be clear in organizing your content. Don’t get overly creative with headings for your class. You want to make it easy to find information. For example, resources would be where they could find supply lists, places to buy supplies, other books, and handouts.
- Under promise and over deliver. You will get raving fans by adding some bonus information. This doesn’t mean you cover everything you know. Think of it as offering good customer service. What could delight your students? Could you offer online office hours? Can you give critiques/ feedback on student work (this is a given for live online or high end courses but is also a nice addition as hot seat options for office hours for an evergreen course). Send personal emails with encouragement and try to get to know your students. Seek engagement.
- Once you have your course done, preview it from the student view and see if it makes sense. If possible, have someone else look at it and see if the organization makes sense, is easy to follow and if they find any bugs or glitches.
- Share a sample video in your sales and marketing. Give them a glimpse of what they will learn and your teaching style. Let them get to know you. Make sure that video sample shows you and that you sound energized and not monotone.
- Make sure you have a welcome video that walks them through your teaching portal, where to find things, what to do if they get stuck, can’t get in, lost their password, etc., and any additional information. Think of this as what you would tell people right away.
- When they finish the course, have a survey as part of the last module. Getting feedback helps you improve the class and also gives you a way to get testimonials to add to your sales page.
- Consider offering transcripts of the videos. It is helpful for people who learn in different ways and also those who have hearing difficulties.
- While your videos will mostly focus on seeing you create (your hands painting, etc.) try to also include you talking to them directly. It is hard to connect to a disembodied person. Having videos periodically where they see your face or you talking directly to the camera will help them feel a connection to you.
The other thing I recommend is that the course description and title be clear and to the point. Make sure students know what media they will be using, what level it is, and what they will be able to do afterwards. How long is the class (how many modules, total length of video content, any additional bonuses or resources).
Consider having payment options. If they pay in full it is less than if they pay in a couple of installments. Don’t make that difference too large though.
Here is a link to a free checklist that I had created for artists, Artist’s Course Planner Checklist: https://jennifercvigil.lpages.co/artists-course-planner-checklist. While this is for teaching in person, most of it is relevant for online classes as well.
Bluetooth shutter remote for smartphones: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00PJSIIES/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Smartphone tripod adapter: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01L3B5PBI/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
GorillaPod stand. It wraps around things and is adjustable on lots of surfaces: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01NGTBA3E/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Gaffer tape. Great for taping your phone to a surface like a wall in front of you. It doesn’t leave a residue: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GZE3UJ8/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
This is a strange and challenging time for everyone, but necessity is often the catalyst for explosive new growth. Don’t be afraid to try something new, be honest with your collectors and students, and see where your new journey takes you!
Have you taught an online course before? What advice would you share with your fellow artists?