Review: Creating a Masterpiece

"Start copying what you love.  Copy copy copy copy.  At the end of the copy you will find yourself."
--Yohji Yamamoto

This seems to be the guiding principle behind the online art lessons available at Creating a Masterpiece.  We had the privilege of receiving access to these interesting and challenging projects via the monthly plan

Our relationship with Creating a Masterpiece changed over time, so I've chronicled our experience in journal format.

Week 1 

Lessons in Ink:  The Cardinal

Nature Angel--age 9

A few days ahead of our scheduled art day, we chose to do the ink drawing of the cardinal from the Beginner menu.  It was awesome to click through the supply information and find a suggested supply amount for 1-6 students.  I compared what we already owned to what we needed and made a painless order from Blick right from the Creating a Masterpiece website.

That was really convenient!

Pixie--age 15--with her non-dominant hand!  (She'd been injured a couple of days prior.)

I gathered my 6 students ages 7-16, and we got to work.

Rose Red--age 16

Immediately it was a struggle.  No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't see the sketches the instructor was making.  We turned out lights, closed blinds, passed the computer around, and began to think we'd have to give up, but I watched the movements the instructor's hand made, made my own drawing (as best as I could), and showed the students.

If you get right up close, you can just see an oval sketch on the paper.  It is impossible to see in a group setting.

It was time consuming, frustrating, and laborious.

Belle--age 13

Eventually we completed our sketches and moved into the inking.  This was far easier to see and understand.  We appreciated the breather we got.  The kids stopped complaining and asking to give up; they began to enjoy the process.

Super Star--age 14

But then we moved into the brushwork.  No matter how many times we watched, paused, rewound, and rewatched what the instructor did, we couldn't make our ink behave the same way hers did.  She gave some instruction (i.e. "use lots of water"), and we watched carefully, but there was some intangible quality that we couldn't capture.

We talked about practicing and how skills develop over time, and that gave some comfort to my frustrated students.

Little Princess-age 7

The project took us hours to complete.  It wasn't supposed to take that long, and I did ask the kids if they wanted to put it away and finish later when we felt fresher, but they refused, stating their fears that their "mistakes" would dry and not be fixable another day.  We soldiered on, and in the end we were just glad to walk away from it when it was finally done.

What could we do?  How could we fix this?

We decided that we'd watch the video for our next project all the way through the day before.  We'd use no art supplies; we'd just watch. That might give us a better sense of what we would need to do and give us time to listen to the instructor's advice before we even set our hand to work.

Note:  A couple of weeks later, Nature Angel opened up a lesson in soft pastels called Country Rooster.  In this lesson, the sketches were just as hard to see in The Cardinal, but the video was edited with darker marks to guide the students.

Before . . .

 . . . after.  Such an improvement!!!!

This was a significant improvement and made the process of drawing quite pleasant.

I hope The Cardinal video will eventually be edited this way, too.

Week 2

Lessons in Oil Pastel:  Winter Cabin

Little Princess

Nature Angel and Little Princess wanted me to print some coloring pages, but I hate doing that, so I asked if they wanted to create another masterpiece.

They responded eagerly in the affirmative.

I set them up with the computer, some paper, and some oil pastels, and they got to work.

Slightly dismayed at the start (which reaffirmed my desire to preview the next family project before starting) because they were surprised by the step of drawing on scratch paper and copying onto a final sheet, they recovered and found their groove quickly.

In short order, happy little girls bounced into the kitchen to report, "You have to press lightly so that the pastels won't be too bright," or "We're using the sides of our pastels so the colors flow better."

They were very happy with their new knowledge and emerging skills.

This was a nice change from their initial frustrations.

And I really preferred them to be creating art rather than coloring in yet another printed sheet.

They had to pause part way through their lesson for the family to have lunch, but they resumed their work seamlessly, and it wasn't long before they came proudly bearing their finished projects which are now hanging in place of honor on their bedroom wall.

Nature Angel

They spent perhaps just over an hour on their art.

That was the kind of lesson that I can support.


Lessons in Watercolor--African Sunset

Nature Angel did this one on her own.  She's loving these art videos more and more.  She fills her free time with them joyfully following directions and producing art projects that make her smile.

I appreciated that in this project the instructor encouraged the students to experiment with different ways of putting the paint on the paper and that the trees were made by blowing the paint into tree-ish patterns.  It was interesting and satisfied a creative/experimental urge in my creative girl.

I also appreciated how the instructor pointed out that sometimes accidents happen when we create art, but we should not be quick to give up or erase those accidents--that they add depth and fun and character to our art, so we should study the accidents to see if we actually want to keep and enjoy them.

That's an attitude I want to cultivate in my family.

Lessons in Charcoal--Sailing Adventure
I previewed this one, and found that there were no surprises for us in this lesson.  We had our charcoal, paper, and erasers, and we were ready to go.

I found that the instructor showed angles and explained when to use the point or the side of the charcoal, and she explained things like, "We're making it darker to make a stormy sky," or "We're making the waves like this to show the wind coming from this direction."  I appreciated that.

I struggled with the lack of explanation of principles of drawing: 
Why was the first line supposed to be thicker and darker than the second?
Why was the sail shaded in the center?
Why did the lines need to be curved the same way?
Why did the second sail's bottom line need to be angled?
Why do we always move our hands the same direction?

I did learn over the course of our review period that by copying, the children seemed to intuitively learn the technical principles that I (at first) wished were specifically taught. 

(**We never ended up doing this project as the older girls felt too overwhelmed to try another project, and the little girls had so much fun working independently.)

Weeks 3-6
Hardly a day went by that Nature Angel and Little Princess didn't ask, "Can I do Creating a Masterpiece?"

The Peaceful Lake by Little Princess
The Peaceful Lake by Nature Angel

I limited them to the soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, and charcoal that I'd purchased, but there seemed to be no end to what they could create.  They joyfully sat for hours and hours working their way through whole projects in a single sitting.

Nature Angel works on Baby Bluebird
When Nature Angel began using sidewalk chalk to recreate some projects she'd been taught on Creating a Masterpiece, and when Little Princess began sketching on random bits of paper she found around the house, I felt really grateful for the inspiration and skills my girls gained from the lessons they completed.

And Baby Bluebird on the sidewalk!

We've had a positive experience with Creating a Masterpiece overall.  Though, other than our first (and only) group lesson, we did not use the lessons as intended (i.e. one lesson at a time, taking several days or weeks to finish a single project) I feel that my little girls have had joyfully creative art experiences, and I feel that they were inspired to be more artistic in other parts of their lives.

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  1. Beautiful artwork! I love the baby bluebird on the sidewalk!
    We had similar difficulties with the cardinal and also the candle. One of my suggestions was to show those lines darker so it would be easier for the students to see and not so frustrating! I am glad they did that with the rooster maybe they will edit the others as well.

  2. I love your reviews and how your family adapts the programmesame to fit your needs. Your girls made such beautiful art.

  3. Thank you so much for the review. All of your artwork turned out so beautifully. I am so sorry you couldn't see the lines very well. I will start to make them a little darker as I do more videos. I just want to make sure that the students make them so light that their neighbor next to them can't see them. The biggest mistake I see children making in my art classes is drawing too dark and they can never erase their lines. This is what I am trying to stress by making them so light. However, they should be dark enough so that you don't have to struggle to see them. I do give you helpful tips where you can click on the picture for that video segment and even print it out. I just checked and there is a pencil drawing for the cardinal that you can see very clearly. This is what these pictures are intended for.

    Hopefully you will continue to enjoy the videos and not have problems seeing them. By the way, if you come across a problem like this let me know and I will add more pictures to the helpful tip section.

    Thank you so much!

    Sharon Hofer, Creating a Masterpiece


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