The Report by Class Central

Disclosure: Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Course Report

Get a Visual Arts Education Online: Learn From Professionals Who’ve Worked at Disney, Pixar, Blizzard and More

The path to becoming a professional visual artist is more accessible today than ever before. We’ve compiled a list of 30+ providers.

Visual Arts Courses

TL;DR Jump to the Visual Arts Education Online Courses List

Over the past two decades, I’ve intermittently pursued a visual arts education. This pursuit tended to follow a common pattern. It went something like this:

  1. Take on debt to go to art school
  2. Drop out of school because there was too much debt
  3. Attempt to learn on my own
  4. Circle back to 1

Portfolio SamplingA sampling of some projects from my art school days

This pattern began in 2001, when I went to a pre-college summer program for computer animation at the Ringling School of Design, after my junior year of high school. This program is still around for high school students, and it now offers an online option. After high school, I was accepted and attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. It was a great experience, but I didn’t stay long. I dropped out after one semester, mostly because I wasn’t clear on what I wanted to do and it came with a hefty price tag.

Some years later, after re-realizing that I wanted to pursue animation again, I began studying via books and DVDs. Soon enough, I felt my progress was stunted. I wanted more guidance and thus applied to a relatively new program at the time called Animation Mentor. It was a well-regarded 3D animation mentorship program started by Pixar and ILM veterans. I was rejected, but not deterred.

I moved to New York City and was accepted to the BFA Animation program at the School of Visuals Arts. It was great. The caveat — I had to take out a lot of debt. I planned and attempted to get scholarships to finance myself.

After one year in the program and no scholarships, I transferred to a slightly more affordable online BFA program at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I loved it. But after a semester there, I found myself going to the grocery store buying only flour to save money. My diet was “bread balls” (flour and water mixed and then cooked in a toaster oven). As tasty as those bread balls might be, I knew this wasn’t going to work.

Luckily, I’d picked up some web design and development skills along the way and was able to get a career moving with those. It turns out web design and development was a better fit for my interests and skill set — so things worked out in the end. I even have been able to apply some of what I learned when designing Class Central’s logo.

Class Central Symbol

Nevertheless, after I dropped out of college again (technically for the 4th time), I had a strong interest in finding a more affordable route to pursue an art education for others who might be in a similar predicament. Since I was a web developer, at one point I even considered building an online art school myself. I first did a free YouTube drawing course via Reddit in 2010, and later launched a more refined version of the course in 2014. I didn’t have the resources to fulfill my vision at the time, but in the years that followed, many others did.

If I was just coming out of high school in today’s market, I’d be delighted to find so many wonderful options for pursuing a visual arts education online. The list below is a taste of some of what’s out there for learning online today. To make it simple, I’ve organized the links by general categories. Note that these are not hard category lines and it is by no means an exhaustive list covering all visual art subjects. But it can give those interested in these fields a starting point.

Anchor

Jump to Section

Note that here at Class Central, you can find some great courses from schools like CalArts, SVA, SAIC and others in our catalog. For more, see our Visual Arts or Art & Design catalog pages.

Many of the providers below aren’t yet part of our catalog, but we are working towards adding more courses from sources beyond the MOOC space in the future. We also have a lists feature, which gives learners a tool to self-catalog courses or create self-learning paths. You can read more about that in my article Create Learning Paths with Class Central Lists. You can also check out some of the lists I’ve created that cover my ongoing interest in pursuing a visual arts education online.

Anchor

Traditional Art Studies

(Drawing, Painting, Art Theory & Sculpture)

New Masters Academy

New Masters Academy

New Masters Academy has a library of 1,200+ hours of online video content from high-quality instructors. The site’s focus is on the fine arts and foundational studies. With a premium subscription, you get access to a reference library of more than 35,000 images of life models as well as 3D models to practice with. The site was founded in 2012 by Joshua Jacobo along with well-known modern masters Glenn Vilppu, Steve Huston, Ed Fraughton, and Bill Perkins.

Vilppu Academy Screenshot

Vilppu Academy

The Vilppu Academy has both scheduled courses and a subscription for ongoing access to drawing demonstrations. Scheduled courses are 10 weeks with video lessons, assignments, critiques, and live chats. The academy is entirely dedicated to the craft of drawing. All content is taught by Glenn Vilppu, a well-known and respected teacher in the entertainment industry. Glenn Vilppu has more than 50 years of experience teaching artists at Animation, Game, and Film studios as well as various schools and universities.

New Masters Academy

Schoolism

Schoolism offers a select number of courses and workshops from top industry professionals primarily in the entertainment and illustration fields. Schoolism was founded by Bobby Chiu and Kei Acedera (of Imaginism Studios). Schoolism was one of the earliest online art schools ever launched in 2007. The platform offers a subscription for self-paced access or scheduled courses with critiqued sessions from the instructor.

ASV Screenshot

ASV

Artschoolvideos.com (ASV) is owned by the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA), a private accredited college. The platform offers over 40 courses from instructors working in the entertainment and fine arts fields. Course subjects cover foundational and advanced level skills in drawing, painting, and digital art. ASV was launched in 2014. The platform offers video courses that can be purchased individually.

Watts Atelier Screenshot

Watts Atelier

Watts Atelier has over 300+ hours of online video content from a select and dedicated team of instructors. The school is modeled after 19th century European Ateliers, with a focus on building an artist’s foundational skills of drawing and painting with classical realism. Watts Atelier was founded by Jeff and Krista Watts 25 years ago and more recently has begun offering classes online. The platform offers 3 subscription access levels as well as mentorship options.

Sadie Valeri Atelier Screenshot

Sadie Valeri Atelier

Sadie Valeri’s Online Atelier offers a “complete classical realism atelier program​ with personal instruction.” The platform’s focus is on foundational drawing and painting skills based on 19th-century French academic training models. The Atelier was founded in 2009 by Sadie Valeri and has been offering online classes since 2016. Courses can be purchased individually or accessed via various subscription levels along with the option to receive personal feedback.

CGMA (2D Foundation & Design) Screenshot

CGMA (2D)

The Computer Graphics Master Academy (CGMA) provides “comprehensive instruction for concept art, illustration, and entertainment design.” Courses run anywhere from 4-10 weeks and typically include pre-recorded lectures, personalized feedback on assignments, and live Q&A sessions. In addition to their standard courses, they offer mentorship programs. Their 2D category has 50+ courses.

Drawing America Screenshot

Drawing America

Drawing America provides both live and self-paced online courses in drawing and painting from a select group of instructors. Live courses include weekly homework and critiques. A bulk of the courses are taught by Will Weston who has both extensive professional (Disney, Warner Brothers, Sony) and teaching (a retired professor of ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena) experience.

Smart School Screenshot

SmArt School

SmArt School is a professional online mentorship program. All courses are given live (on a schedule) by active industry professionals. Class sizes are intentionally small to allow for a highly personal experience. For a lower price, courses can be audited. SmArt school was founded by artist Rebecca Leveille Guay in 2011. For more, read SmArt’s school FAQ.

Relevant category links from generalist providers:


See also Class Central’s Drawing and Painting catalog pages for more.

Anchor

Computer Graphics & Visual Effects

Gnomon Screenshot

Gnomon Online Courses

Gnonom is an accredited college based in Hollywood, CA. In addition to their on-campus programs, they offer a variety of individual courses online. The school specializes in computer graphics and teaches a well-rounded curriculum training artists for careers in the film, game, and visual effects industries.

ThinkTank Training Centre Screenshot

ThinkTank Online

ThinkTank is a specialized computer graphics school based in Vancouver, Canada. They offer a 16-month online training program with a focus on creating 3D props, environments, and characters for film and video games. The intensive program includes weekly training videos, live Q&A sessions, and mentorship.

CG Spectrum (Visual Effects) Screenshot

CG Spectrum

CG Spectrum offers online courses in the animation, visual effects, and game design fields. They give students “direct access to industry experts with years of real-world experience and a comprehensive curriculum developed with the input of major studios.” Both small group classes and private 1-on-1 mentorship courses are offered. Their 3D modeling category has 3 courses. Their Visual Effects category has 5 courses.

CGMA (3D) Screenshot

CGMA

The Computer Graphics Master Academy (CGMA) provides “comprehensive instruction for concept art, illustration, and entertainment design.” Courses run anywhere from 4-10 weeks and typically include pre-recorded lectures, personalized feedback on assignments, and live Q&A sessions. In addition to their standard courses, they offer mentorship programs. Their 3D category has 30+ courses. Their VFX category has 25+ courses.

Learn Squared (3D Art) Screenshot

Learn Squared (3D Art)

Learn Squared has 300+ hours of online video content from instructors who have worked at top creative studios around the world. Courses can be purchased individually or in bundles for lifetime online access. Their 3D art category has 20+ courses.

Relevant category links from generalist providers:


See also Class Central’s Digital Media and Adobe After Effects catalog pages for more.

Anchor

Animation & Character Design

Animation Mentor Screenshot

Animation Mentor

“Animation Mentor teaches character and creature animation in a real-world production environment. Programs are designed and taught by top industry animators. Learn face-to-face from the same industry pros who are animating your favorite film, TV and video game characters!”

CGMA Animation Master Academy Screenshot

CGMA Animation Master Academy

“CGMA’s Animation Master Academy is the next evolution in online animation education, offering a comprehensive slate of exciting and cutting-edge courses.”

Art of Aaron Blaise Screenshot

Art of Aaron Blaise

Former Disney animator Aaron Blaise shares his knowledge and experience of animation via videos and digital downloads. He teaches “the fundamentals of animation, illustration techniques and more.” He offers a streaming membership that includes 300+ hours of video content.

Learn Squared (Characters) Screenshot

Learn Squared (Characters)

Learn Squared has 300+ hours of online video content from instructors who have worked at top creative studios around the world. Courses can be purchased individually or in bundles for lifetime online access. Their Characters category has 6 courses.

CG Spectrum (Animation) Screenshot

CG Spectrum (Animation)

CG Spectrum offers online courses in the animation, visual effects, and game design fields. They give students “direct access to industry experts with years of real-world experience and a comprehensive curriculum developed with the input of major studios.” Both small group classes and private 1-on-1 mentorship courses are offered. Their Animation category has 7 courses.

Relevant category links from generalist providers:


See also Class Central’s Animation catalog page for more.

Anchor

Design

Graphic Design, UI Design, UX Design, Typography

Screenshot

The Graphic Design School

“The Graphic Design School specialises in delivering graphic design courses. We eat, breathe, sleep and LOVE design. Our team of tutors are all hand selected and only the best will do! All are currently working within the industry and have a passion for teaching.”

Designlab Screenshot

Designlab

“Learn UI/UX design through hands-on projects and 1-on-1 mentorship from expert designers. Add design to your resume and level up your career.”

The Futur Screenshot

The Futur

“Learn graphic design fundamentals from The Futur. We’ve put together our best resources, video content, and course material for you to excel in graphic design.”

Learn UX Screenshot

Learn UX

Learn UX offers free online videos from designer Greg Rog. Learn UX is “a library of video courses about UI and UX design tools such as Sketch, Framer, Adobe XD, and others.”

TypeEd Screenshot

TypeEd

“TypeEd transforms graphic designers into directors by teaching the design skills needed to deliver visually-persuasive messages, growing careers and companies.”

Better Web Type Screenshot

Better Web Type

“Better Web Typography for a Better Web. A free web typography course for web designers & web developers.”

Relevant category links from generalist providers:


See also Class Central’s UX and Design & Creativity catalog pages for more.

Anchor

Illustration & Visual Development

Society of Visual Storytelling Screenshot

Society of Visual Storytelling

The Society of Visual Storytelling offers a range of online video content from short demos to multi-week classes with a focus on illustration for the book publishing industry. Courses can be accessed via a subscription or purchased individually. SVS was founded by Will Terry and Jake Parker in 2014.

Syn Studio Screenshot

Syn Studio

Syn Studio is a concept art school based in Montreal, Canada. Courses are primarily focused on drawing, painting, and illustration. Instructors are professionals in their respective fields in the film, gaming, and comics industries. They offer 10-week and full-time programs both on-campus and online. Online classes include live instruction, recorded videos, and personalized feedback from instructors.

Idea Academy Screenshot

Idea Academy

IDEA Academy is both a digital and traditional arts school with on-campus (Rome, Italy) and online offerings. Course instructors all have extensive experience and collectively come from almost any major studio, entertainment company, or publishing house you can think of. Their courses are primarily focused on visual development (for film and gaming), comic art, and animation (2D & 3D).

Relevant category links from generalist providers:


See also Class Central’s Drawing and Digital Media catalog pages for more.

Anchor

Photography & Video

NY Institute of Photography Screenshot

New York Institute of Photography

“New York Institute of Photography (NYIP) is an online photography school offering high-quality photography classes that are convenient and affordable.”

Hurlbut Academy

Hurlbut Academy

“Hurlbut Academy is the ultimate online film education that helps you realize your dreams. We provide personalized, immersive film training and global mentoring.”

MZed Screenshot

MZed

“Founded over 50 years ago by pioneering photographer and educator Monte Zucker, MZed’s mission is to advance the craft of filmmakers, photographers and creative professionals through excellence in education.”

The School of Photography Screenshot

The School of Photography

“Photography courses online, in person and for schools. We provide training in Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom and Studio Lighting from beginner to advanced levels and pride ourselves in being the best in delivering photography education.”

Relevant category links from generalist providers:


See also Class Central’s Photography and Film & Theatre catalog pages for more.

Scott Robertson Profile Image

Scott Robertson

Scott has traversed the world of traditional education with attendance at various colleges (namely the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of Visual Arts, and Goddard College) but much of his learning that led to a career in web design and development has been largely self-taught via online resources and courses.

Comments 1

  1. Nicolas

    Awesome Article. I red Rebecca Guay and couldn’t believe it. She gives me very good memories. Best Magic The Gathering card drawer ever.

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. All comments go through moderation, so your comment won't display immediately.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Browse our catalog

Discover thousands of free online courses from top universities around the world like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard.

Browse all subjects