What I Learned in Art School: The First 2 Years

[ This post is on the long side, but I highly recommend the read. Afterwards, I’d love to hear your experiences in art school, or if you haven’t gone to art school yet, I’d like to hear what you expect! ]

What I learned in art school wasn’t what I expected to learn.

The first day of college arrived and I was incredibly excited. I wasn’t really “into” school, but college gave me this unique opportunity to study what I was actually interested in — art. In high school, I was known as the comic artist. I drew Anime, Manga, and Disney..and I was able to draw well and fast. Being able to go to school and learn how to improve my budding skills thrilled me.

I was juggling all of my supplies from the supply list and somehow managed to plop it all down onto a desk in the front of class. I wasn’t going to miss a thing in my first college art class.

The professor introduced herself then after reviewing a class syllabus, we got to our first lesson. We each had to draw at least 5 little square next to each other and make a gradient from dark to light. Ok, this was a little boring, but I kept telling myself it’s good to know (and only later have I realized HOW important this is!). 2 hours somehow went by and I had a sketch pad filled with squares going from dark to light. Not exactly what I had expected to do, but I knew deep down it was good to practice.

The rest of my semester was filled with talks about positive and negative space in art, more fundamentals, and too many boring still life drawings with foam balls and fake statues.

I wasn’t getting to draw characters (which I loved doing) and I wasn’t learning how to make them more animated or “alive.” I was, in every sense of the word, learning about art and how to create it. I wasn’t learning how to draw the comic and cartoon characters I loved drawing so much because everything my professors were teaching me were the fundamentals of how to create my own unique feel and style of art. At the time, this bothered me more than anything. I just wanted to learn how to draw better characters and be done with it.

Maybe I chose the wrong school. Maybe I choose the wrong program.

My feelings towards the art program I chose and the school I chose was wavering until my second semester. I had my first painting class and I became hooked. It wasn’t sudden. It happened overtime through the course of the semester.

The painting class started with painting some of the similar still life subjects I saw in my drawing class: foam ball, statues, pillars.. but after we got the first painting out of the way, we were allowed to bring in our own subject matter and paint it. I decided to bring in some fake flowers to paint.

I thought my painting was looking rather nice and was expecting some compliments from the professor. When the professor walked around to my area, I wasn’t given any compliments and instead was pointed out how I should have brought in REAL flowers if I wanted to capture life in my painting. I was crushed, but she WAS right. [ Typically, you’d think the professors in college would encourage or compliment their students. Oh god no. I still believe to this day that it must be part of a professor’s job to break all egos and then when you’re a ball of crazy on the floor they’ll tell you to “suck it up, buttercup.” — I honestly had a professor who said that often. It’s how they weed out the students. I call this character building. (haha) ]

Despite the helpful– but at the time crushing, criticism– I kept pushing forward.

My next painting was different. Very different. For the first time I was inspired by something that WASN’T anime, manga, or disney characters.. I was inspired by another class in college (of all things). That same semester I was in a Biology class. I loved lab and looking into the microscope. My 3rd painting in the class reflected my time in Biology lab and what I saw under the microscope. Now I was getting somewhere.

I was creating something from my own experiences.

Lines were diagonally spread across the large scale canvas. Different shapes and colors were interacting with one another within the lines. I remember my professor coming over and giving me some great advice that I still carry with me, change out my brush size while painting!

That painting ended up being the first painting I ever sold.

I remember running into a woman attempting to carry a large painting to her car. I was in between classes and in a rush. I quickly passed her then stopped in my tracks. Wait, that’s my painting! I thought. I IMMEDIATELY turned around and yelled toward the woman, “Hey wait! Do you LIKE that?” The woman stopped and smiled. “YES! I just bought it!” I was in complete shock. I was confused. Who the hell would like my paintings? At this time, I only thought I was good at drawing my cartoon characters. “I painted that.” I said back her, still in disbelief. Her eyes WIDENED. “Do you have more? Are you making more?” I didn’t have an answer for her but, “Ahh..uhhh…. I think so?” She said if I make more to let her know. This was the moment I decided to continue to create artwork I wasn’t accustomed to… to explore different forms of art.


Ok, this post is becoming ridiculously long. 😀

I still have plenty to say on this subject and will make another blog post on my last two years in art school.

I will go ahead and sum up what I learned in my first two years in college.

  • Fundamentals are the key
  • Practice, Practice, Practice
  • Leave your egos in High School where they belong
  • Your professors have your best interest. Listen to their direction.

And the 2 most important things I learned in my first 2 years of art school:

  • Learn to create other forms of art that you’re not used to.
  • Learn to create from your own experiences.

I would LOVE to hear any of your experiences in art school or share you learned your first two years. You can leave a comment below, leave a comment on my Facebook Page (Artist Rage), or tweet me @ArtistRage with a tip you’d give other art students!

Don’t forget! This week I’ll be sharing all kinds of interesting art on my social channels to inspire you: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Make sure to give them a follow and leave a comment on your favorite thing I share!

See you next week,



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