Some years back when I was teaching engineering at Iowa State University, I sent for that little test that can get you into the Art Instruction Schools. I passed the test but never heard from the School again which was just up I-35 north of me.
A couple of years ago, I took the test again. I passed again. Nothing happened. I looked on the Internet and called the school. The school sent me some information but gave me no way to sign up for the course. Then one day I got a call from a gentleman who lives in Tooele, Utah. He said that he was coming up to see me and to start drawing so that he could see what I could do. A week later he showed up in his beat-up old car, told me that he covered most of the western states, and asked if I could afford the course.
Getting those formalities out of the way, he looked at my drawings. I asked, “Do you think I can learn to draw.”
He looked at my landscape paintings on the walls of my home. Finally he said, “Yes, you can learn to draw.”
I wrote him a check for the three-year course even though he advised me to pay by the month, gave me a few hints on drawing, and took off to interview a teenager up the rode who he suspected would not be able to purchase the course.
I have now completed the course except for the final exam which I have not yet received. Here are my impressions:
1. The cost is very reasonable for what you receive, but it cost almost $3,000.00. However, you can pay by the month if that is a factor.
2. Each lesson comes in a separate book. You get one book at a time except the first time when you get the first two lessons. I found that I occasionally had to wait for a lesson to be returned a bit longer than I wanted to wait. However, almost all lessons have been returned within 30 days. There were some longer delays because of the artist being on maternity leave, including one of my mail instructors. The staff had quite a baby boom this spring. I asked to have lessons sent in advance so that I could finish the course within 18 months rather than three years. I got my final lessons in one big bunch. This is not a good idea-it is better to see your grade and criticism from the previous lesson before you start a new lesson- but I’m an old man with a pig’s aortic valve and time is precious to me.
3. Each lesson is very comprehensive. You will see examples from great artist, from other students, and from the Art Instruction Schools instructors. Each technique is clearly and expertly explained. There are exercises in each lesson that need to be completed. Finally you do your assignment and send it in for grading.
4. What amazed me was that every lesson you completed by submitting the final drawing or drawings was not only evaluated but also drawn by the grading instructor. This is very important because you are not criticized but shown how things should be done. The instructor draws your drawing and puts an overlay on top of your drawing with helpful comments on the overlay to help you master the subject at hand. In all cases, my work looked like crap along side that of the instructors.
5. I didn’t call into talk to an instructor until I was well into the course even though I was advised to do so in every lesson. That was a missed opportunity. When I did call in, I realized what a wealth of knowledge the Art Instruction Schools instructors have. I was never brushed off by an busy instructor. I was always given as much time as I needed and then some. The instructors are talented artist and great teachers.
6. I met only one student while I took the course. He is an American Indian that lives not too far from me on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. He is a very talented artist and I couldn’t see why he was taking the course. He told me the one thing that he had learned from the course (he is behind me) was patience. I have to agree on that. Art takes time and you have to give your brain a break to do it right. The school always says not to rush your work. For me, that is tough. I bought an ink drawing from the young man. He wanted $20.00 and I offered him $10.00. He took it because he had a date that night. I guess I had just come from a yard sale and was still in the bartering mode. I have decided that I owe him that $10.00 because I enjoy the drawing very much. I’ll get it to him the next time I pass by that way.
7. My drawing does not compare with the instructors but I have been able to maintain a “B” average over the course. For that, I received a special certificate for each lesson segment noting that I had done above average work. I received only a couple of “C” grades and “A” grades.
8. The most interesting lessons to me were using color. I now just blend the three primary colors for my landscapes, seldom looking for a particular color in a tube. Learning to use ink washes and color was interesting to me. However, the emphasis on the course was drawing. If you can master drawing, you will be a much better painter, not only from the accuracy of the drawings but by seeing tones, light and shadow, and textures.
9. I learned as I went along that I had not mastered the earlier lessons as well as I should have. I was continually going back to see what I had done versus what the instructor had done versus what the lessons said to do. Like always, I was too much in a hurry. I’m goal driven. I pick up a lesson book and say, “I’ve got to get this baby in there.” That is the wrong approach. Take the three years.
10. Some of the many skills taught in the course are composition, design, lettering, etc. The company was started in 1914 to train artists for the United States Mint. When I was required to design a stamp and received the instructors version of my stamp, I could see that the school’s history is still evident. I was proud of my stamp and my wife liked it too, so did my artist daughter-in-law (who is very polite). But the instructors stamp using my design was stupendous.
The school has about 5000 students, so I have been told. They are selective as to who they enroll as students with being able to pay for the course a prime factor, but if you don’t have the ability to learn to draw in the mind of the gentleman in the old car, you will not be accepted.
Did I get out of the course what I wanted? What I wanted was to improve my landscapes. However, I have only done a few landscapes since I enrolled in the course. But I know that my landscapes will be much better after the course. There are no other courses available. If they did offer a specific course on landscape painting, I would take it.
There are famous graduates of the School. Charles Schultz of Snoopy fame was a graduate and also an instructor at the School. Why yes, there was a lesson on cartooning and I just loved it. You could see one of my cartoons but I am not allowed to tell you how to find it on the Internet. That would be self-aggrandizement.
The basic art course at Art Instruction Schools is a humdinger!
Fly Old Glory!