I borrowed this phrase from the recently deceased Canadian painter Robert Genn who believed that there is only so much we can learn about how to paint from the many fine instructors and resources available today. The true learning comes from going off on our own and just doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I continue to work on my own development ( Going to MY room!) . I share, through this blog and workshops, what I have learned and what others have shared with me.

I created this blog primarily for those attending my workshops to keep in touch and to further share as we grow together. If others are interested in following that would be great.

Enjoy the journey.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

My month with the Watts Atelier On-line Courses

If you follow my Facebook page you will know I have been out of commission for the past month. Knee replacement - resulting from an old rugby injury almost 50 years ago.  

So to fill the time I loaded up on new books and prepared to not be painting for the month.  Didn't take long until that got stale.

Recently I had been considering the Watts Atelier on-line courses but felt I did not want the expense or commitment. But then this seemed like a good time and a good way to kill the time. And for a reason I cannot understand I seem to keep needing to play with portraiture and figurative painting every once in a while. So I took a look. 

There are a growing number of on-line learning opportunities. For most you pay by the course or by a monthly fee giving access  to a selection of videos.  The Watts approach is different: $200 per month but with full access to a growing selection of programs each with many courses. Pay extra and you get personal mentoring from one of their excellent instructors - or Jeff himself. Initially that seemed expensive and I hesitated. I wanted to be able to buy a course, download and view at my leisure. But once I took a look and knowing I had an open month ahead of me I decided to register for one month to give it a try. And I was glad I did.  The program is excellent and growing in scope. It is designed as a complete learning experience. If I wanted to it would take me from basic drawing skills through to many different approaches to portraiture and figure painting - all done very well. It is comprehensive. In addition to the excellent videos there are very good pdf notes to download with each section.

I spent 6 months at the Atelier , near San Diego, a number of years ago. It was great but very expensive. This would have been a reasonable alternative.

While my initial interest was in playing with portraiture again, the landscape program also impressed me. Jeff Watts dad, Robert has two courses on design, one in particular on Composition and Staging, that are excellent. He is a great teacher - as is Jeff. So I watched and re-watched some of the videos then at week two was able to drag my butt down to the studio. Set up a small oil work space and painted seated (which normally I hate doing) for a few hours each day. And I did as many of the exercises as I could. I re-kindled my love- hate relationship with portraiture. Love to be able to be good at it but hate the commitment it takes. But just the exercises working on tight control, no matter the subject, are good for me - as my landscapes seem be becoming more serendipitous the more I paint.

Excellent quality videos

Portraiture has three phases each with about a dozen courses - and more to come

A few of the courses in Phase II portraiture
Videos show the palette and reference 
Excellent reference material to work with 

pdf notes 

Robert Watts  Composition and Staging course - excellent 

Its been four weeks since my surgery, I am doing well. Most days painting at least 4-5 hours and all of it has been playing with the Watts programs. My interest is in trying to capture a bit of a likeness but more importantly  to make it interesting using colour, brush strokes and texture. I made dozens of exercise 6x8s and a few 8x10. 

My set up. Videos on left and using printed pdf for reference. 

A few 8x10 examples. Notice the heavy texture on a few done with acrylic molding paste - just playing 

So am I now any closer to being a portrait painter? No, never going to happen. Its something you need to do every day if you are ever going to be good. But I have enjoyed it and it has helped move me forward. 

My plan is to finish this first month, get back to my acrylics, then at some point re join for a month as new courses are added. 

Summary: excellent programs, well planned and taught, quality format, good value. 


  1. I certainly agree to some points that you have discussed on this post. I appreciate that you have shared some reliable tips on this review.

  2. I have been a student at Watts for over a year now. I am leaving due to the fact I cannot get the videos to play. At first I thought it was only my problem then I learned other students were having issues. I spent a month trying to fix the issue, going to my isp and computer techs, and after two weeks of updating, checking add ons on my browsers trying 3 different browsers to try to view these videos I get nothing. I emailed and asked for help and waited. Two weeks later no answer. My subscription was coming to and end and at $199 I really can't afford to waste another $199 waiting for them to resolve this. I asked if I could have a refund (I would have been happy with a free month comped me to help while waiting for them to fix this issues some day). They said they had a third party trying to fix the issue of not being able to see their videos. What really confused me is that they worked perfectly fine for over a year and now nothing works. I am going to leave the school because they don't seem interested in offering some kind of help. I don't want to spend another $199 trying to fix this problem or waiting for them to come up with some solution. Basically I feel abandoned after being there for so long. Guess they are great as long as you don't have any problems. They do have nice content if you can access it. Beware if you start there, people starting there now are having issues seeing these videos and asking for refunds with no answer. I am sure one day they may fix this problem but I haven't the money to spend waiting, I am going to buy DVDs of some excellent portrait painting courses and other subjects. Good luck if you sign up with Watts Atelier

  3. Its been almost two years since I subscribed to the Watts on-line program. While I thought the content was excellent I too can remember having difficulty getting the videos to play - I used android and Windows. I finally got it to work but not smoothly. Its a shame if it is still causing difficulty. They are great folks working hard to produce a quality product - hate that the tech stuff will hold them back.

  4. I'm a current student of the online program. Unlike the others, I have never had a problem with their videos (Mac OSX El Capitan with Chrome). The content is great, no argument about it, and the instructors are masters of their craft. Unfortunately, the Watts' team is also very good at over-promising and under delivering. They can definitely improve their communication skills with the online students. My advice to them, "If you say you're going to do something, either do it when you say are, or let everyone know what's going on if you can't deliver." Communication is key. Many students feel the online program is secondary to brick and mortar school due to the lack of communication and the false commitments. Please don't think this is a from an angry student. I have learned a lot from the program, but do get frustrated with the situation at times (as do others). I want others to understand what they may be getting into if the join the program online. Best.

    1. Are you able to be more specific? I'm having a really hard time trying to sort through the plethora of online schools. The hundreds of options now is a bit ridiculous from seemingly young artists who've been in the entertainment industry less than 10 years and decide it's time to drop out and open an online digital painting school to the vast array of atelier style schools that are much pricier. I'm pulling my hair out! What were the communication issues? What weren't they delivering? Is it the anatomy class? I know they're still working on that one. Any details would be great. I have the same system set up as you so at least I can rest assured I won't have tech issues.

  5. Hi. I am not sure what the others comments might refer to. For me, its been quite a while since I followed them. I was quite impressed with what they developed. I doubt that any on line course can deliver all. Guess it depends on what level you are and what your goals are. I think its better than most single DVD approaches. I think its one of the best I am aware of. Another approach is the New Masters Academy- good but I found it more chopped up. Worth looking at for a different approach. Not sure what else to offer


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