Being Self-Taught, is that True?

Worried among strangers by Luisa

I’m currently taking an online class about… hmm.. I’m not really sure… How to build your career as an artist/illustrator/designer? And I wonder if I really needed that class at all. It’s a good resource to have but I’ve been thinking a lot about how a career is actually built.

I also think about the concept of being self-taught. A lot of successful artists emphasize the fact that they are “self-taught”, but when I come to thing about it, nobody is self-taught. Even if you’re by yourself in your room watching YouTube tutorials or online classes, you’re being taught by someone. The only thing you do by yourself is EXPERIMENT.

And, in my opinion you only begin to experiment after you’ve taken classes or followed many tutorials.

The guy who said he didn’t have any passions showed us some of his pastel works which were awesome. He said he didn’t take classes from anyone, that he’d gone to the art supplies store, bought a bunch of materials and started producing.

He even asked me why I bothered taking classes at all and I was mute. I looked at his paintings and though, why can’t I do that? Why can’t I just “express” myself? Why, in fact do I need classes?

A few minutes later he mentioned a friend had gone with him to the art supplies store and sort of explained to him the basics of drawing with pastels. So, maybe he didn’t pay for classes, but someone taught him anyway.

I take classes because if some people get a dopamine rush when jumping off a cliff tied to a rope, every time I learn something new I feel the same exhilaration, but mostly, I see classes as taking shortcuts. I could probably find my way into a decent body of work by trial-and-error but if someone can teach me a few tricks to understand value, hue and saturation, why not?

In the last couple of days I listened to a very long episode of Creative Pep talk

It’s about how to produce more original work. It’s undeniable that the more you look at the work of your peers, the more you will create similar work. This episode begins with the idea of a fox illustration. How many fox illustrations will you find on Pinterest?

To remedy this problem, I am working on the Skillshare Class Expressive Illustration, which basically is a different approach to the same concepts I learned in the Trends class by Design Garden and in the Lecture Lab: Through a lot of brain-work you need to arrive to original ideas by combining things that might not have anything to do with one another. I did four clip art sets during the Trends workshop and it was more work than I ever imagined.

This is the only part you can teach yourself. THINKING, CONNECTING, INTERPRETING.

But do you need classes for that?

My new collaborator in my web services business has a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and illustration. She shared her sketchbook with me and she walked me through all the different tricks that her professors taught her during her four years in college: Mind maps, concept lists, layout techniques.

So yes, I believe that you can be an accidental artist, but I also believe that learning from other people is so important. I’m becoming more and more convinced saying that one is self-taught is definitely inaccurate.


Here’s a glimpse of my own art-education: those are piles of books by other people and piles of sketchbooks, and a bunch of brushes I’ve tested and three brushes that I found that I loooove, plus some watercolor meditational doodles.

Do you think it’s fair to say someone is self-taught? Share your thoughts in the comments!