Sunday, January 09, 2011

Painting in Painter - course review...

This is going to be a long one so get comfortable...

Back in September I took a course on  Several months on I thought I’d revisit my experience and review the course for the benefit of anybody thinking about enrolling.  

Course: Painting in Painter (instructor lead)


9 weekly assignments

Aim of course: 
This is detailed on the course description on website so I won’t go into it here, but the course title is pretty self-explanatory!

Course student level:  
I would say the instruction (and course in general) caters for intermediate users and above.  Ryan Wood doesn’t try to impress with too much artistic jargon or technical terms, so it’s easy to understand without needing a formal education in art.  Personally I can’t fault the instruction, but I am a professional artist so was already familiar with Painter and the instructional language used.  

If you’ve never touched a digital painting program before you might want to start out with something more simple, as the lessons do move at quite a pace with the assumption that you already know the basics of digital painting.

Course subjects:
Don’t let the specific course title discourage you from enrolling.  Even if you’re not that interested in Painter this course is a wealth of artistic information and techniques.  It covers everything from colour theory, lighting, composition and character design, all of which can be applied to any image, not just those created in Painter.  Of course these techniques are all demonstrated within the context of Painter but their potential application is universal.

I myself am still primarily a Photoshop user, but nearly every technique I learned on the course has been transferable to Adobe’s popular program.  I’m sure with CS5’s new wet brushes even Painter’s more painterly brushes can be emulated.

Ryan wood is clearly an experienced and talented digital painter.  I’m not sure if he has any teaching experience prior to joining, but from the quality and easy to follow structure the course takes, I assume he has.  Everything is demonstrated, clearly explained and presented with examples from well known painters for reference and inspiration.

Any queries I had were quickly answered by Ryan via a personal message using Schoolism’s robust message system.

Assignment difficulty: 
There’s no pass or fail with each assignment so it’s ultimately down to you to decide how much time and effort you put in, but, as I mention later on, there’s no point doing the course if you’re not going to push yourself.

Although there’s no pass or fail, each assignment is graded out of five stars.  I assume this grade is personal to you and does not take the ability of the other students on the course into account.

The critique videos, usually between 10 and 15 minutes long, always resulted in vast improvements to my assignments.  

As with the instructional videos, every suggestion was demonstrated and then explained.  Most of the changes to my assignments focused on enhancing composition through the use of colour, lighting and structural tweaks and served to build on what I had already done.  

Changes were always constructive and meant to build on my own style rather than Ryan’s.  This always made me feel that I was in control of the image rather than just reworking it for the sake of someone else’s personal opinion.  

The critique videos seem to be recorded in the same quality as the lessons themselves (see below).

Quality of videos: 
Regarding image clarity and resolution, I was very impressed with the quality of the videos.  I watched them on a 19” 4:3 LCD monitor at 1280 x 1024 and they were crystal clear.  I guess they were recorded at this resolution as it looked like a screen grab from my own PC, it was that good!
I assume the voiceover was recorded with a standard PC headset/mic so don’t expect studio quality audio.  Nevertheless it was at a good volume level and very clear.
I had no problems streaming the videos and was able to watch without being interrupted by any ‘buffering’ stoppages.

The Schoolism interface: 
I worked in IT support for several years before becoming an artist, but it still took me a little while to get used to the schoolism interface as I didn’t find it very intuitive.  There were too many menus for my liking and the video playlist was a bit awkward to navigate.  I think displaying the user menus with the general website menus causes the confusion.  Once I got used to it it was functional but there’s definitely room for improvement.  

One major niggle for me, was that you can’t keep the video in fullscreen and work on your painting simultaneously, not even while working with a dual monitor setup.  The default video window is also quite small and can’t be resized, meaning you can’t see a lot of the video details without going full screen.  

This was very frustrating as I had to keep clicking back and forwards, often interrupting my working momentum.  Short of using two separate computers, I found the best way to work was to watch a section of the video, pause, work on my painting, then repeat.  

I believe this is a limitation of Flash rather than the Schoolism website, but for me it was less than ideal.

If the videos were downloadable I could have at least had them open in a large media player window while working.  

Value for money: 
There’s no getting away from it, $1000 is a lot of money in the current economy.  But in my opinion it’s more than worth it.  

I strongly believe that you get out what you put in, so unless you’re willing to push yourself artistically then I suggest you go elsewhere.  After all, unless the instructor is judging your best attempt at an assignment, what’s the point of a critique?  

If you’re not willing to push yourself and are only looking for some new techniques then maybe go for the self taught version instead.  It’s half the price but there are no critiques.

Maybe another incentive to opt for the full $1000 course would be the ability to download and keep the videos.  As it is you can only stream them during the course and for several weeks after, then they’re gone.  Even to have a copy of my personal critiques would have been nice.

Room for improvement: 
In my opinion several things could do with some thought;
  • As I mentioned before, the Schoolism interface could do with some tweaking to make it more intuative.
  • The ability to download and keep the videos would be a great addition.  I assume this isn’t an option due to piracey, but if the files were DRM protected maybe some sort of scheme where you’re given a code to download them from iTunes could work.
  • If you put a lot of time and effort into each assignment then the pace of the course can be a bit relentless.  If you already work full time then expect your assignments to take up most of your spare time, and be prepared for some late nights if you have a family!  Because of this I feel there should be a break in the middle of the course.
  • iPhone/iPad/iPod compatibility would have been awesome!

I feel that my skills have definitely jumped up a level, and not just within digital painting.  My approach and execution to creating any image, both digital and traditional, is now much more advanced based on what I have learned.

Along with the assignments and videos it was also great networking with the other students and seeing their work and critiques (you can’t see their assignment grades though!).  There were some very talented artists learning alongside me which, rather than discourage me, actually spurred me on to put even more effort into each painting.

I’ve also got at least four new portfolio pieces, and created this blog as a means to show my progress - all thanks to the motivation instilled by Schoolism.

In summary, I highly recommend this course and hope to take another schoolism class in the future, specifically Sam Neilson’s advanced lighting.  

If you’d like to view my assignments just check the previous posts on this blog or go to the class blog where I’ve posted each assignment along with a short description of the lesson.

Oh yeah, this review wasn’t endorsed or funded by in any way, the banner at the top is there simply to provide a link for anyone interested in checking out

Shane S


  1. Wish I had the money for Schoolism, as I wish to enhance my skills, I still feel terrible despite doing my best to hone my skills. Learning from the best..that must have been an epic experience.

  2. Thanks for the great review.

    Some things seem to have changed... I am doing Painter with Ryan Wood right now, starting Feb 2011, and they changed over the Schoolism site to a new interface part way in. That caused some hassles, as has their upgrading Flash (and the newest Flash isn't compatible with my OS 10.4.11 nor my computer Powerpc G5 desktop). But the schoolism help people were always very helpful via email and found me a flash version that would work etc.

    We can now download our student critiques so we can keep them, although we cannot download the lessons. And I agree that finding time to watch the lesson, do the work, watch your critique from the previous lesson, watch the critiques of the previous lesson of all the other students: it is a full time job. Lots and lots of late nights. But apparently they do allow for individual students having time issues: I have handed in a few assignments late due to travel or housing disasters (don't ask!) and was graded on my actual work vs being on time. (shhhh, don't tell anyone!)

    I do agree that the video quality is great. I watch on my 21" Cintiq screen, and there is basically no difference between watching Ryan work in Painter in the tutorials or critiques, and looking at my own work in Painter on the same monitor: it comes out the exact same size. I also agree that it is an issue to refer to lessons in video while working in Painter.

    I simply don't do that. I watch the whole lesson through, taking copious (ie 4 full pages) of notes per tutorial, and then refer to my notebook as I work through the assignments. I copy down when he adds a layer, what type of layer, type of brush, size, opacity, and a lot of what he says for tips or what he is trying to achieve. So I can refer to it at any time in the future when I am working on my own work.

    I do feel that the forum interface isn't as good. I only saw it for a few days before they changed it, but now there is just a "message" center with the teacher in your own dashboard. I don't see questions and answers between the teacher and other students, cannot talk or contact them. In fact I just see their critiques, and for all I know the "fellow student critiques" I see could be from students two years ago. So I feel I lose a bit of the feeling of being in a class. And when we send of a message to our teacher, we don't have a "sent" mail file either. ahh well.

    But all in all it is as you describe with the few added changes of a simpler interface (it is quite straightforward now) and being able to download our individual critiques for future reference. Thanks for your review!

  3. Hi Leanne,

    Apologies for the late reply, blogger's notifications are a bit rubbish if you forget to click in the right places!

    Glad you're enjoying the course and getting as much out of it as I did. I started off taking notes too, but it didn't really work for me, I guess everyone works differently. Although, out of interest, did you continue using Painter once you finished the course? Personally I went back to Photoshop, but took all the new techniques I learned with me. With the exception of the pattern brush it's all interchangeable.

    Would have been great to save my critiques so it's a shame that feature wasn't available at the time.