Twice a year, I teach an online class about painting and illustration for Rebecca Guay’s SmArt School. For fourteen weeks, students get a no-holds-barred approach to designing compelling images that make your portfolio stand out.

No, it’s not like any art class. I ask students to come with their own mission: what do they plan to concentrate on, what direction do they want to take. Assignments are based on that approach, so everyone is working on something pertinent to their vision and all the other students get to learn from each other’s approach.

Composition, long neglected by so many centers of art education, is critical in my class. Learning to compose for curiosity and impact is the key element for compelling viewers to spend time with your work. Visual concepts begin with composition, are sustained by composition, and are changed and advanced by composition.

During the semester I do step-by-step paintings and demonstrate drawing thumbnails and idea generation. No questions are taboo. For example, we’ve had long discussions based on the simple question,  ‘how do you create an edge in a painting?’

You cannot know the level to which you can raise your skills until you are deeply involved in the process. No amount of talent will solve problems until you are fully engaged and focused. ‘Thinking outside the box’ is meaningless if you can’t identify the box.

The process of becoming a good designer, a good picture-maker, a good painter, is simple, direct, and exciting. It takes time, effort, focused training, and a growth mindset. In that respect we are all similar. We start at the same level with the same effort.

My guest this semester is Mike Mrak, art director for Scientific American Magazine. Mike has a long career that I’ve watched blossom over the years. He knows how to paint and draw which is an advantage for any AD. He can speak to you on your level with the experience of having been through it all. Priceless.

The students who’ve come through my class speak highly of the amount of information we absorb through the weeks, which help to carry them further once they’re on their own. I have spaces left and I’d love the chance to help turn that corner on your work.

Check out the SmArt School website and remember to examine classes from the other instructors as well. You’ll also be able to monitor their classes to see how they fit for you.

There are a number of training opportunities online, but there’s only one SmArt School.