Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Schoolism Gesture Drawing Course

As some of you might have read in previous posts I did a 12 week Schoolism gesture drawing course in 2012. This was my first experience with online courses, before I enrolled I looked up as much information as I could but to my surprise I only found a few articles. So I figured I’d write a review of the course, it might be useful to people who are thinking about doing a course like this.
You might know Schoolism from their great artist interviews. It was while watching one of those interviews, with Pixar story artist Louis Gonzales, that I heard of the gesture drawing course Louis thaught at Schoolism, together with fellow Pixarian Alex Woo. At the time I’d just made some money with an illustration job and I figured this course would be a smart investment. I was not dissappointed: although I believe that no online experience can win from going to an actual art-school I think I might have learned more about drawing the human figure during the 12 weeks of this course, than during my entire four years at the academy of arts!
Getting Started
Signing-up I had to choose if I wanted to receive feedback from Alex Woo or from Louis Gonzales. I was more familiar with Alex Woo -I have been following his blog for a long time- but because I was turned to the course by Louis’ interview, I was unsure who to choose. Probably because he is sligtly better known, Alex’ classes sell faster: Alex’ class was already sold out and the choice was made easy for me, Louis Gonzales would be my tutor.
At the get-go I didn’t really know what to expect. From the Schoolism site I knew I’d be getting access to filmed instructions, there would be homework assignments you’d have to upload and you’d receive personal feedback by your tutor. I also read there would be lessons on The Line of Action, Shape, Silhouette, Space, Exaggeration, Extrapolation and Story. But I was still unsure about the way the classes were organized and I had no idea if the feedback would be any good.
If you are anything like me, at least part of you will be thinking of this course as some sort of ‘Pixar audition’ after all this is the chance to show your work to a real life Pixarian. If he likes it he might show it around and before you know it you’ll be high-fiving Brad Bird and John Lasseter in Emmeryville, right? I’d tell you to forget it, but if you’re like me, some guy on a blog won’t be able to talk you out of your dreams. That’s okay, just don’t get too much stuck on that whole audition aspect. This course is about improving your work so you really shouldn’t be too concerned with showing work that’s crude and faulty. 

To be honest the structure of the lessons really helps you to send in rough work. For example, the first lesson is about the Line of Action and as your homework all you have to do is find that LOA in photos and online poses. Just the one line, no fancy drawing. The lessons graduadly build up and by the time you finally get to send in some real drawings you are completely used to sending-in rough sketches.
Each lesson lasts about an hour. There is some theory at the beginning followed by two online sessions with a (amazing) model. The lessons were all made by Alex and during the first model session he’ll be drawing the poses. (You’re supposed to draw along but seeing Alex draw is quite thrilling: I’d usually take the time to enjoy seeing him sketch, and then just restart the video to draw my versions.) During the second session you’re on your own.
At the end of each video Alex gives you your assignment, usually existing out of the sketches you did during the second online session and a seperate assignment. With the lessons you also get access to the reviews of former participants. During the first lessons I liked to watch a couple of reviews before doing my work, but later on I’d wait till I had finished my assignment, because I didn’t want my gestures to be influenced by their interpetations. (You’ll be working from the same recorded model sessions) 
To me the feedback is defenitely the most valuable aspect of this course. As I mentioned earlier I had no idea if the feedback would be any good. Trust me when I say that the feedback is fan-tas-tic. Louis and Alex make sure to give feedback that suits your skill level. You’ll receive a (downloadable) video review for each assignment. In it you will see your tutor going over the work you submitted: drawing on top of it with tips and suggestions, indicating where you did good and showing you how it could be improved.
Louis has a booming voice and it is pretty cool to hear him say your name at the beginning of every review. His reviews are usually 15-20 minutes long, I noticed that at 8-10 minutes, Alex’ reviews are often a bit shorter. This might be caused by the fact that the instrucion videos are all made by Alex, Louis will often have some additional information he will share in every feedback video. Obviously, the length of your review is also influenced by the amount of work you submit for each assignment.
Of course Louis and Alex are not the same person and every now and then you’ll find moments where they seem to have different opinions. During the first lessons it’d sometimes frustrate me a little that Louis would critique stuff I’d actually seen Alex do himself in the instructions. (It might have been some time ago that Louis saw Alex’ instrucion videos.) Later on I actually started to really like it that Louis sometimes thinks different than Alex. It’s like getting double the advice for the same price! And as I mentioned before you really shouldn’t be too concerned with pleasing your tutor anyway: sure some praise is nice, but it really is about learning, not about making finished artwork.
That said, both Louis and Alex will see it when you improve and they will tell you you’re doing good. It’s pretty awesome to hear someone you admire tell you you did a great job! And seeing your drawings grow feels just as good, I was surprised how quickly I saw my work improve. Gesture Drawing is all about the way you look and think: it is about the way you approach a pose. I was amazed how quickly this new way of thinking got hold of my brain. Of course other things will need some more time to sink in, so you’ll also have to accept that some of the lessons won’t really kick-in till after you’ve finshed the course.
I really feel I have learned a lot from the Schoolism course: it was definitely worth my money. If you are thinking of doing this course I’d say go for it! I’d advice you to go with Louis, not because I think he is in any way a better tutor than Alex but because it is interesting to get your information from two different teachers, also remember that Louis’ reviews tend to be slightly longer. If you do want to go with Alex you’ll probably have to accept a longer wait since his classes are often sold out in advance.
If you are just starting out as an artist I’m not sure if this is the best course to spend your money on, though. I did see some feedback videos of people who seemed to be rather new to drawing and although I’m absolutely positive they learned a lot, I’d imagine that their struggle with some of the basics might have made it hard to fully understand the complexities of capturing a gesture.
At $900 this course isn’t cheap but the professional approach and dedicated feedback is defenitely worth it, in my opinion. Just like a lot of other things in life, what you take out of this course depends on what you give. The time for every assignment is reasonable, but you’ll find that doing your homework will take some time. Don’t be too concerned with praise, and enjoy the ride. The course is a lot of fun, and I’m sure your work will grow in ways that, right now, you can’t imagine!