I had such a great time teaching Illustration this spring with all my enthusiastic students! In celebration of finishing up my continuing education class at Watkin's College of Art and Design, I decided it would be nice to write down my thoughts about what you should look for when selecting a creative class for yourself. Whether it's for fun or building towards a professional goal, you can find community classes at your local college or look online for e-courses.
I like to divide classes into three categories: Skills & Techniques, Discipline & Application, and Professional Practice. A class can stay firmly in one category, while sometimes it may overlap two or even all three categories to some degree.
Skills & Techniques
These types of classes focus on getting you familiar with a certain medium or tool (for instance, Photoshop for Beginners or Acrylic Landscape Painting). You should take these kind of classes before tackling higher goals, such as starting a new career as an illustrator or graphic designer. Skills & Techniques classes are also a great way for art and design professionals to broaden their horizons and have fun being creative without any of the normal pressure that comes with their job.
Great for: beginners, hobbyists, creative professionals
Discipline & Application
Once you feel like you have some basic skills under your belt, you may want to take classes that introduce you to markets where artists work professionally. However, it's important to read class descriptions and understand what a course offers. Don't assume a class titled Introduction to Graphic Design will have you designing brochures and posters on the computer right away. The teacher may include assignments like that, or it could solely focus on design principles, history and philosophies pertaining to graphic designers. Introduction to Graphic Design could be based 100% on elements such as typography, composition, and text layout without ever touching any sort of "mock" project.
On the other hand, you could take a class that is more of a 50/50 split of Discipline & Application and Professional Practice. Most of the classes I teach follow this formula, where students experience "real-life" assignments while also learning business matters such as how to market your work or write up an invoice. Again, if you are unsure, contact the program coordinators (or teacher if possible) and find out what the class will cover specifically if you need more insight. This will help you figure out if it's right for you.
Great for: individuals interested in an artistic career, professionals looking to broaden their skills and services.
Professional Practice classes will get into the nitty gritty of business savvy and how to work professionally as an artist and designer. These classes could include projects that serve as portfolio pieces. Sometimes they are purely about the business matters, like writing a professional artist statement or understanding social media. Professional Practice classes can be several weeks long or just a one time workshop. Either way, I recommend these classes for both emerging artists as well as more seasoned ones. With technology and resources constantly evolving at a fast rate, it's always nice to get a refresher and pick up some new tricks along the way, too.
Great for: artists who are ready to debut their work and approach clients, working professionals who want to stay sharp.
It's worth mentioning that if a class grabs your interest, go for it! It's good to know what your goals are when picking a course, but sometimes you can stumble upon a subject that really clicks with you in surprising ways. Don't feel like there are classes you can't take just because they seem unrelated to your goals or current interests. Teachers will share more than just the subject matter at hand- they will share how they collect ideas, work through "creative ruts", and inspire you in ways that influence the rest of your creative life. Balance is important in every matter of your life, and it's good to think of yourself as a well-rounded artist rather than just a label ("Children's Book Illustrator"; "Web Designer"). Maybe after all those Photoshop classes you reward yourself with a watercolor class! You'd be surprised how seemingly different things compliment one another.
Check your local colleges for community classes that are usually held at night or on the weekends. Online e-courses I recommend include Make Art That Sells, Daring Adventures in Paint, and The Art & Business of Surface Design.