What Do You Think About Filmed Art Instruction?

Increasingly, the artists I write about for our magazines are providing me with instructional DVDs or links to websites so I can see them painting and listen to them describing their approaches to drawing and painting. Some are short news clips filmed by local television stations; some are home movies posted on YouTube; and a few are professionally made programs that have been scripted, filmed in a studio, and carefully edited. The production value and content vary widely from those that make me nauseous from the jerking motion of the hand-held camera to the ones that put me to sleep with their slow pace, up to the cinematic documentaries of major American artists.

My own experience is that seasoned teachers, larger-than-life personalities, and organized instructors are the best at video art instruction; and, conversely, people who are soft-spoken, painfully shy, and hopelessly disorganized just don’t come across well on the small screen. Artists might be exceptional at providing one-on-one instruction and thoughtful critiques, but if they don’t have stage presence and a well-organized educational program they shouldn’t attempt to record their approach on DVDs. Similarly if they lack technical skill and significant painting experience, they will embarrass themselves by filming a permanent record of their deficiencies.

I can usually get enough out of watching any DVD programs to complete my profile articles, but I wonder to what extent the people who pay for them find the educational content to be commensurate with the cost. Moreover, I’m curious to know whether they buy the DVDs because of the fame of the artist being filmed or because of the quality of the educational content. That is, I wonder whether artists buy DVDs because they feature Richard Schmid or Charles Reid or because the featured artist demonstrates how to handle a medium and/or subject that interests the buyer.

I decided to use this blog to ask for your comments on the types of filmed programs you find helpful, which ones are so good you’ve watched them more than once, and which ones proved to be disappointing. I would appreciate it if you would write about your experience, omitting the names of the specific artists or production companies that didn’t deliver what you expected. I’m looking for general descriptions, not criticisms that might get both of us in trouble.

M. Stephen Doherty

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About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

21 thoughts on “What Do You Think About Filmed Art Instruction?

  1. Steve,

    My favorite Schmid DVD is “June”…

    The others I’ve watched numerous times and gotten more from them with each viewing:

    Morgan Weistling – can’t remember the name but it’s of a girl doing homework. It’s 10 hours long, but I learned a ton about color, quick sketches, and doing larger work. I enjoy Morgan’s sense of humor as well. He’s an excellent teacher.

    Jay Moore – another excellent and organized teacher. The main thing I learned from his videos that I had not heard before is about transitions with temperature, texture and value in each mass of the landscape.

    Johnnie Lilidahl is a fantastic and capable teacher on screen. I have never met her, but I assume she does an excellent job in real life as well.

    Videos are useful because I often am not ready to learn all the concepts they present at the first viewing. As my skill base expands, I am able to pick up on concepts that my mind previously missed with later viewings.

  2. I did purchase a video. I figured, if I could not get into one of the artists workshops, then why not a video?
    Well, it was a very big disapointment. I am very reluctant to buy videos now….

  3. I am a high school art educator and always on the look out for a good “teaching” DVD for my students…to give them another artists’ approach to making art and re-inforce the techniques and concepts that I’ve been presenting to them. Unfortunately, the ones that I have purchased cannot be used without editing. Boring personalities, spending an inordinate amount of time on triviality, and not presenting anything new or exciting. In this “instant access” media blitz that we are experiencing, the students lose interest very quickly so bursts of information and application appear to work best, something you don’t encounter in an educational DVD. Any suggestions out there on “usable” DVDs for the classroom? Thanks

  4. Hi, Steve,

    Great question! As I have been trying to increase my knowledge lately with videos and dvd’s, I was surprised to find that an artist whose work I greatly admire and is known all over the world, was VERY disappointing in a dvd.

    They spoke so slowly and seemed like they had trouble evn forming words that I was appaled that they filmed it. I tried over and over to watch itbut finally had to just shut it off. I founf it very valuable because of the money it saved me that I would have spent on a workshop with this artist.

    However, I must say that the majority of the dvd’s and videos have been well worthwhile.

    To comment on the mention of Johnnie Liliedahl, I can tell you she is one of the modern day masters, in skill to to paint and teach. Her knowledge is extremely vast in content of art history, techniques of the Old Masters, and she is even better in person.

    Ruth Ann

  5. Addressing R. French:An excellent intructional dvd is Sue Archer’s A great watercolor painter and a strong teacher. For a classroom I would recommend showing approx. 10 -15 mins at one time, stop the DVD and have the students practice what has been shown. Too many times one intends to watch any video all the way thru, this does’nt work.

  6. Speaking as a drawing and painting teacher since 1974, there is no substitute for actually being in the presence of an artist/teacher. No student can interact with a video like she or he can interact with a person, and the feedback is immediate and direct.

  7. What a timely topic. I was just thinking yesterday that there needed to be a place where videos could be critiqued and recommended.

    I find videos to be of great value especially if you can’t study with a live teacher because they are in another part of the state.Or their classes would be too cost prohibitive.


  8. I just bought alll three of Don Sahl videos. The Still Life Video was very informative. The Painters Journey wasn’t a technique video let alone much to inspire one. He just talked about who he learned from etc. The Plein Air video I think the editor should be should be shot. Just about everytime Don would was about to put a stroke on the canvas they would fade to the scene. Then fade back again. I quite literally had a headache when I was done watching it.
    Craig Nelson has some good videos I have three of his I watch them over and over again. I also have Richard Schmid’s video June. Very good.

  9. I have purchased a couple of really good DVDs over time and was rather impressed. I learned a lot of good technique. I guess, according to you I have been extremely lucky. I did look at their websites first to see if I was impressed with their handling of the paint first, though. Being unable to get one on one iinstruction at the time I opted for the best I could get-which was better than books alone.

  10. Stephen,
    I watch instructional video on YouTube all the time–usually topics related to my interests other than painting. My point is this: Of all the people I watch, one of the best, most intuitive, most information-filled, most easy to understand is a totally self-trained guy using amateur video equipment. He is doing everything based on his own intuition, and yet, he manages to post very clear, understandable instruction. Sadly, it is the task of the video editor to sort all this out. Believe me, I know. In my advertising career (it paid for my painting habit) I sorted through and edited MILES of video and film! If you don’t want to do the sorting, then I recommend you simply post links, along with your comments. Your subscribers can then sort things out for themselves. As web lurkers, we are all very accustomed to sorting these things out. Cheers, and thank you for a constantly improving and more useful web page! Patrick.

  11. I have a number of instructional DVDs from several well-known artists, all of whom have graced the pages of American Artist magazine. Recently, I participated in a weeklong workshop conducted by one of the artists who has produced two DVDs, both of which I own. I signed up for the workshop for two reasons: first, because his DVDs helped me enormously, and secondly, because he seemed like such a nice man that I wanted to get to know him. I was not disappointed; he’s just like he appears, and his workshop was an extension of his DVDs, adding much to what I’d learned via his DVDs. The other artists’ DVDs–which I’d bought after reading about the artists and seeing their work– were also extremely helpful. For me, just watching these men paint is useful–even if they never spoke. Fortunately, what they have to say is just as useful.

  12. I have never seen an instructional video that held up against actually being present at a demo. You can’t talk to a video and most of the time the camera isn’t focused on what I am interested in watching and that is all the activity going on other than painting, like the color mixing and the little decisions that are being made before applying the paint. While some DVDs are better than others most are not worth the hundreds of dollars they cost. If it’s the only instruction you will ever get I guess it’s better than nothing. Personally I would try and save the money and spend it on attending an actual workshop or demo and then ask an many questions as possible and then really pay close attention to what is being done. Don’t get caught up with the picture making, pay close attention to all the decisions being made. All of those little decisions are what makes a great work of art. A master knows all of the possibilities, an amature only knows a couple.

  13. Thanks for all the helpful comments.
    Patrick — I can’t agree with you about the amateur DVD’s. I either get frustrated because the artist is disorganized, inarticulate, or unskilled; or because the camera is pointed one way while the action is taking place somewhere else. I remember one portrait demo in which the instructor recommended squinting to see the big shapes and the value relationships, and the model started squinting.

    When i can’t sleep at night, I watch the instructional programs on You Tube and other sites. They knock me out right away.

    Mark — no one would argue with the value of being in the studio with a great teacher, other dedicated students, and a live model. However most of us are either too busy with jobs, family, and community activities for regular daytime classes or too old to stay awake for an evening session!

    Lori — I’m glad you didn’t follow instructions. People should know what wonderful programs are available from Johnnie Liliedahl, Richard Schmid, etc.


  14. Thanks for commenting, Steve.

    I just purchased a New Morgan Weistling video from Lilipubs, and it is fantastic. The 2nd DVD shows Morgan in a workshop situation making corrections with paint on the students’ portraits. The model is posing and Morgan verbalizes why he makes changes as he goes.

    I got a lot out of this new format and plan to watch this DVD time and time again. I can honestly say that I just wouldn’t ‘know as much as I do if it weren’t for these videos.

    In fact, when I do actually go to a workshop, I arrive with knowledge that I got from watching DVDs… which gives me a head start.

    One more thing that’s great about DVDs – yeah, I know, this is long… it’s nearly impossible to get into workshops with some of these artists. Richard Schmid no longer teaches workshops, and as far as being lucky enough to get into Morgan’s… probably not.

  15. steve,

    I did see an artist on pbs channel on t.v., this is what made me start to paint. His name Is Jerry Yarnell. I think he Paints under the name Joseph Yarnell. I bought his dvd and started. I am still new at painting,but, have finished a few that I gave as gifts and donated to charities. I live in upstate New York near Canada in a country area. There are no workshops here it is to far from a city. Also I really can’t afford to travel so I use dvds to learn from. I would like to take class but do not have highspeed. Jerry also has workbooks he uses with the dvd and they are a big help. I also get as much as I can from the internet. i use acrylics due to the fact that I have COPD and can not take the smell of oil additives.
    I have improved by taking the next step in dvds and books. They are done to teach more in every lesson. Jerry is very good at speaking, making himself understood and will veiw your work and let you know h0w well you are doing.
    I think that this is a good way to get started and work at home and at your own pace.

  16. I have purchase 3 sets of DVDs by 3 different artist. All three sets are professionally filmed, all three of the artists are talented, however only two are good teachers. Surprisingly the most expensive ($169) set is from the worst teacher. He is BORING, slow and repetitive, so much so that I have not even watched the last DVD. Just collecting dust on a shelf.

    I recently purchased more DVDs (all different artists) and I am anxiously awaiting arrival. I am hopeful that I will get a bang for my buck.

    I have watch many UTUBE videos and especially do not like the ‘speed’ videos; entertaining as they may be, they are not instructional, which is what I seek.

    I also have purchased many books but I find the DVD to be more educational and wish I had started my watercolor library with DVDs instead of books.

  17. As a beginner I find dvds very informative, as I have yet to find a great instructor who TEACHES! Please give more suggestions on which dvds to purchase and which to avoid! Thanks so much!