How to Teach Art Classes Online (Hint: Don’t Use Skillshare)

Our three-camera filming setup for a painting class. © Art Summits LLC

Deciding to teach art classes online is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even though there are a lot of people out there talking about how easy it is to create online courses these days.

I’ll be completely honest with you: over the past few years, I’ve produced and sold over 100 unique online courses that have reached more than 15,000 paying customers… and let me tell you: it is NOT easy.

If you have the time and energy to teach yourself how to use highly challenging video equipment and editing software, or if you have the money to invest in a professional videographer…

… if you are tech-savvy enough to manage a digital course platform or membership platform…

… if you’ve proven to others that you are an effective teacher…

… and if you have the time, budget, and diligence to master marketing, social media, and advertising to continually bring in new customers…

… then keep reading. I’ll share what to do (and what NOT to do) if you’re thinking of teaching art online.

(And if you’ve proven that you’re an effective teacher but the rest of that sounds overwhelming to you, reach out to us — we partner with talented artist/teachers and do all the hard work for you.)

DO understand that anyone can try to teach online – but only a handful can do it well and actually earn a profit.

Teaching art online is way different than teaching almost any other topic. You can’t just film yourself using your computer’s built-in camera and throw in some PowerPoint slides.

The proper video and audio equipment required to create high-quality art tutorials that actually show what you’re doing is a significant investment and will cost you multiple thousands of dollars, whether you do it yourself or whether you hire a professional videographer.

DO understand that not everyone is meant to teach.

Creating beautiful art is a special skill. And likewise, teaching is a special skill. Those two skills do NOT automatically go hand-in-hand. There are plenty of super-talented artists out there who aren’t good at teaching – and perhaps you’ve even attended a class, either in-person or online, where the instructor wasn’t good at conveying what they do.

Here’s a simple way to see whether you’re a good teacher or not: organize an in-person workshop first. Even if it’s just for a small handful of students, see if you can help them, and ask for their honest feedback.

There’s an added benefit to teaching in-person first: you’ll know what questions students ask! If you don’t know where people are getting stuck, how can you possibly hope to create a good online class that addresses those sticking points?

DON’T sell your soul to Skillshare.

Many artists have tried and failed with Skillshare, the venture-capital-funded website that lumps art classes together with classes on fiction writing, computer-aided drafting, and all sorts of topics your potential students aren’t interested in.

“But my fans and followers are begging me to put a class on Skillshare!” you may be thinking.

Well, of course they are. Here’s why: Skillshare is great for two groups of people:

  1. Students
  2. Skillshare’s investors

Notice who I didn’t mention there? The creators and artists themselves. YOU.

Skillshare is CHEAP for students – it’s impossible to actually find pricing on their website because they change it often, but it’s generally around $9 – $15 per month. But that’s only if a student actually pays to be a member. You can always find a two-month free trial from Skillshare itself or from the creators who’ve put their classes on Skillshare.

Because many people will opt for the free two-month membership, watch your class, and then cancel before they have to pay, of course Skillshare is an awesome deal for students.

However, if you’ve ever been on the platform, you may have noticed the plethora of teachers with just one class. And that begs the question: if it’s such a great platform for creators, why have so many of them only published one class?

Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve worked closely with hundreds of successful artists, and only one or two have made any type of sustainable profit from hosting their classes on Skillshare.

And even then, it’s taken them countless hours of hard work and thousands of dollars filming, editing, producing, and marketing their courses… only to have “their students” get lost in the black hole of Skillshare.

I have to wonder… if they had instead built their classes on a platform THEY control, how much more income could they have earned?

You see, with Skillshare, your students are not actually YOUR students. They’re not YOUR customers. And the bottom line is that Skillshare doesn’t even value their own creators. But don’t take my word for it…

The founder of Skillshare himself wrote an insightful and contradictory article on Medium outlining his goal of making “education accessible for all”… artists and creators be damned.

In the article (click here for the PDF), founder Michael Karnjanaprakorn said “The expertise and unique creativity that teachers bring to the world are incredibly valuable — and irreplaceable — for students… teaching time and expertise are both extremely valuable.”

However, without a trace of irony, he goes on to say that he hopes to “accelerate the price drop in education by challenging students to think twice about how much they should pay (and challenging teachers on how much they should charge.)” He also praised companies like Napster, which seriously infringed on artists’ copyrights.

Let that sink in for a moment: the founder of Skillshare wants to de-value your content to the point where you can’t support yourself or make a living from teaching the valuable skills and techniques you’ve spent years learning and perfecting.

This, friends, is called a “race to the bottom.” And very few people can build or sustain a business competing in that kind of market.

The only one benefiting from this arrangement is Skillshare, who somehow managed to convince creators to put their content on its platform in exchange for very little compensation.

Creators certainly don’t benefit; not only are they poorly compensated (if at all), but Skillshare is hurting the art and creative industry by training students to expect valuable content for free or very little.

Contrast this to our Art Summits events, like the Modern Calligraphy Summit and the Watercolor Summit, as well as another company I co-founded, Knit Stars, where the instructors:

  • don’t have to film and edit their own classes (unlike Skillshare),
  • don’t have to do any traveling (unlike Craftsy/Bluprint), and
  • are fairly compensated for the talent and following they’ve worked so hard to develop (we’ve paid out over $1.3 million to our instructors since 2016 😲)

Just because a product is intangible and can’t be held in your hands (like music, an online presentation, or an art class) doesn’t mean that it isn’t extremely valuable. Skillshare’s founder seems to recognize this on the one hand, but dismisses it on the other so that Skillshare and its investors can benefit.

This fact hasn’t been lost on Skillshare creators. Even some scathing comments on the Medium article pointed out Karnjanaprakorn’s hypocrisy:

And here’s another comment:

I refer to Skillshare as basically a paid version of YouTube. Anyone can upload content, and sometimes you might make a few bucks as a creator.

(And don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of amazing teachers on Skillshare. However, I would much rather pay them more money, and pay them directly, for their valuable training and advice, instead of paying a venture-capital-backed corporation whose founder devalues artists and creators. For that reason, I don’t use Skillshare.)

The bottom line is that Skillshare is not a place to build and grow a business or side income stream from teaching your art.

So what about Patreon?

Patreon is a more recent option that many artists are beginning to use. It’s a membership platform, so your students pay month after month, instead of one-time for a course.

This means you need to be regularly creating valuable content to keep your “patrons” from cancelling their membership with you.

Patrons subscribe specifically to your membership program, instead of getting lost in black hole of 20,000 classes, like Skillshare. And Patreon takes 5%-12% of your profit depending on your plan, in addition to the standard 3% or more credit card fee.

It could be a good place to start if you regularly create content and you don’t expect a lot of volume or students right off the bat.

However, there’s another option…

DO use a platform you can control.

I’ve used a platform called Kajabi to start and scale two seven-figure online course businesses. I’ve introduced creatives like Jenna Rainey and Erin Benzakein of Floret Flowers to Kajabi. And I’ve seen many other artists use Kajabi (like Anne LaFollette, Amanda Anderson, and Alice Sheridan) to teach their art or skills and steadily grow their business in a way they can control.

Here’s the truth: Kajabi seems expensive (click here for their pricing), until you realize it replaces:

  • WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and other website platforms
  • LeadPages and other landing page software
  • MailChimp, Flodesk, ConstantContact, and other email marketing software
  • GumRoad and other shopping cart systems
  • Skillshare, Teachable, Patreon, and any other online learning platform

The only thing Kajabi can’t replace is an e-commerce store where you sell lots of physical products, like prints, original artwork, etc. You’ll still need a Shopify or Squarespace site for those types of sales.

When it comes down to it, Kajabi is a bargain.

And the great thing about Kajabi is that you can sell one-off courses OR ongoing memberships. So if you’re thinking of having a membership program similar to Patreon, it makes sense to use Kajabi instead of Patreon at a certain income level.

I’m giving you my affiliate link for Kajabi for three reasons:

  1. I’ve used Kajabi since 2015 for multiple businesses and, while no platform is perfect, I can’t recommend it more highly;
  2. You’ll get an extended 28-day free trial of Kajabi using my link; and
  3. If you end up purchasing Kajabi after your trial, you’ll get a free on-boarding and strategy session with me personally, so you can get started on the right foot and scale your courses quickly.

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