With a houseful of artists, I find that sometimes I’m not quite up to the challenge of keeping everyone happy in the art department. While I do keep lots of supplies on hand for impromptu creation sessions, sometimes we need a bit of creative inspiration and technical know-how to get us started. We were all excited to try out and review the Monthly Plan from Creating a Masterpiece.
This video-based instructional program explores a wide variety of media, including: graphite drawing, colored pencils, soft pastels, watercolors, oil pastels, gouache, silk printing…the list goes on.
We are kind of art mad around here. It’s not uncommon…
…for my 16-year-old to pop up out of the blue to ask me what I think of his latest set of gesture drawings,
for my 13-year-old to guiltily appear an hour after “lights out” to show me the oil marker painting she’s not quite happy with,
for the 11-year-old to spend several days creating a detailed map for the adventure story he is writing,
or for the 7-year-old to doodle all over her math page to the point where I can barely read her answers...
We’ve dabbled in watercolor, oil pastels, soft pastels, charcoal, and more. While there’s a lot of value in experimenting with a new medium to see what it can do or in looking up tutorials online for detailed tips and tricks, sometimes you want someone to take you by the hand and show you, “this is how to do it.”
And this is what Sharon Hofer does with Creating a Masterpiece!
The goal of the program is to give kids (and adults---I’m going to share with you the art I’ve been creating with this program, also) confidence in their artistic abilities and to help them achieve creative success. Anyone, with the right support, can create a masterpiece.
An online subscription-based video art instruction course
- Monthly (includes all levels) $39.99
- Annually (includes all levels) $349
- Individual Levels (get full access to one level for a year) starts at $119
- Group plans also available.
There are currently 6 levels (Beginner through Level 5), plus Art in History lessons available.
The number of projects per level varies. Beginner projects consist of one lesson that can typically be completed in one session (about an hour or so), though you can break them up over multiple sessions if you wish. A couple of the Beginner projects we did required drying time in between steps, so we did do multiple sessions for those. Projects in other levels have multiple lessons and may take a couple to several hours to complete, though you could do some of them in an afternoon or day.
This will vary from project to project. In addition to a master online list of supplies, each project has a downloadable supply list and links for purchasing supplies from an online art supply company.
The artist, Sharon Hofer, often goes over the supplies being used and what is important to know about them in the first video for each project, so if you are unsure about what to buy, I do recommend checking that out. She recommends using good quality supplies, as cheap supplies often lead to less than stellar results.
I also recommend checking out the online supply list as there are often tips there on how the supplies can be shared by students and possible substitutions. One example: for the ink peacock feathers we could have used either all ink (which required buying a handful of colors of bottled ink in addition to the black Tombow pens) or replaced the colored inks with watercolors. I chose to use watercolors, figuring that if we liked working with ink, we could try the colored inks at a later date.
We have a well-stocked art shelf and were able to use many supplies that we already had on hand, but we also added a number of items, including the Tombow pens, various papers, various watercolor brushes, and Cotman watercolors.
Creating a Masterpiece Interface
The online interface is easy to use and worked on both my PC and my Kindle Fire. From your dashboard, you can see thumbnails of the available projects, which you can click on to access the lessons.
You can click on the “Supplies” tab in the left sidebar to go to the main online supply list, where you can click the drop-down menu to go to a particular project’s list or you can scroll through the list.
I liked using this main list so that I could see which projects required similar supplies---this simplified the process of deciding what I needed to buy.
Each lesson page has the video up at the top. Videos are typically divided into multiple segments, which vary in length. If you get to the end of a segment, it will automatically play the next segment unless you stop/pause the video. Videos can be played full-screen. Not playing them full-screen allows you to still scroll the page (you’ll see why you may want to do that in a minute).
Below the videos, there will be a supply list for the lesson, helpful tips, and highlights from the lesson.
Also on the lesson page: a downloadable supply list for the whole project (if the project requires multiple lessons, this will be different from the lesson supply list), a high resolution jpg of the completed project, a link for ordering supplies, and photos from Sharon’s students of their follow up projects.
I read through the tips before we begin the lesson and open the high resolution photo in another tab on my browser so we can refer to it. I love this feature. I do wish, however, that there was a photo reference from life provided.
Just as professional artists have models sit for them or go to the actual landscape to paint it, young artists can greatly benefit from having real photo references to use when doing art. A photo reference also allows the artist to show the student what it is that they see and how this led them to make the choices they did for the project. We made use of the internet to find example of baby blue birds, dragon flies, clown fish, etc., but I feel that photo references from life would be a great addition to Creating a Masterpiece, and they are a feature I would expect in a professional art program.
We frequently pause the video and scroll down to the highlights for reference. Unfortunately the videos lack periodic pause points and pictures of the overall work in progress close-up. Sharon does encourage you to pause and replay often so that you can work at your own pace, but sometimes that’s hard to do when you are up to your elbows in soft pastels---by the time you’ve hit pause and covered your mouse in pigment, you’ve missed the point and need to back up and find where you got lost. Pause points would help with this.
At times, I felt that the videos would also benefit from additional camera angles and editing. We found that sometimes it was hard to follow the technique that Sharon was using, particularly with media that were hard to see on the screen. The soft pastels, for instance, are such small pieces that they are often covered completely by Sharon’s hand when she is demonstrating the technique she is using. A 2nd camera would give students a better view of what she is doing on the easel.
Overall, the videos are of good quality, with clear sound and pictures.
How did we use Creating a Masterpiece?
I already told you that we’re a bit art mad, so when we started using Creating a Masterpiece, I decided to make art the centerpiece of our studies for a bit. At least one day a week we devoted most of the day to making something beautiful---call it an art intensive.
My kids are 7, 11, 13, and 16. Their abilities vary widely and so their results also varied widely. Sometimes they worked on the same project and sometimes they did different projects. Often I worked alongside them, but I also worked on a few projects by myself. I’m a creative person who hasn’t made much time for creating in a while.
Creating a Masterpiece changed that.
Let’s look at some our artwork.
Lessons in Oil Pastel: Winter Cabin
Lessons in Charcoal: Sailing Adventure
Those first two projects are from the Beginner level, and we were able to complete them in a single session. From there, we branched out. We found that trying to do the projects altogether was frustrating as each person worked at his or her own pace (I have some quick artists and some perfectionists), so we started working in smaller groups or even singly.
Lessons in Soft Pastel: Peaceful Lake (Level 1)
The two girls and I did a few projects in the evenings that the boys were at scouts.
Lessons in Soft Pastel: Baby Bluebird (Level 1)
Lessons in Ink: Peacock Feathers (Beginner)
Lessons in Ink: The Cardinal (Beginner)
One of the early projects we tried was a watercolor. We were all unhappy with the results---our paints, while they were not cheap paints, weren’t quite right to achieve the results we were expecting. I later tried the project again with different paints and was quite pleased with the results.
Lesson in Watercolor: African Sunset (Beginner)
Now, here are some of the projects I worked on myself. Some evenings, my husband will watch a movie with one of our teens. I would just pop my headphones on in the other room and work on my art, which is much better for me than zoning out in front of a computer screen.
Lessons in Colored Pencil: Tropical Clown Fish (Level 1)
Lessons in Ink: Dragonfly (Level 2)
This is an outcome based art program. What I mean by that is that the focus is on producing a particular finished product. While Sharon Hofer does encourage you to change up the composition, the colors, etc., if you are following the videos step by step, it can be a little hard to do that. So, I found that it was often helpful for me to watch through some of the lessons prior to starting the project, consider my composition, look up photographs of the subject online and study them, etc., prior to beginning the actual project. When I did this, my art was more “mine” and less a copy of the sample project.
There is teaching of technique in the course, but we occasionally found that we were wanting more explicit explanations of the why and how, which would make it easier to transfer what we had learned to our own projects.
What did we think of Creating a Masterpiece?
Overall, we really like this program. We liked the varied media and the interesting projects. Sharon is obviously an experienced artist and teacher---we have learned a ton. And there is beautiful artwork adorning our walls (I’m running out of wall space!). I think that the pictures of our finished pieces speak for themselves.
If you are looking for an art program for your homeschool that teaches itself, this might be just the ticket.