Composition, the meaning of art (and scooby-doo(tm) for some reason)

Sorry for not being here last week I was not well (no – not covid, thanks guys lol)
I’m going to make it up to you by talking of what I think is the most important (I almost wrote “magic” class that Glenn Vilppu teaches: composition one and two.

Ok I spoke to some of my fellow students, and all of them did all the other classes (several times often – 50% rebate if you take the same class a second time) and then they did composition one. I did that and this was my experience:

During all the other courses Glenn keeps repeating it’s all about composition. Yeah ok, arranging thing on the page or canvas, let’s do it!

And this is where reality melts and you suddenly realise you are about to become an adult in term of art.

The first time I did compo one my first reaction (and that of all my friends) was: “WTF is he talking about???” it’s not a drawing class it’s not about concepts we ever talk about at length….. ok let’s watch the lesson again and again. After several times I began to accept the feeling this was about directing the eye of the viewer (I’m slow, it’s far far more complex than that and Glenn holds your hand discovering all the complexities or rather the possibilities compo offers) but also – and disturbingly it was not about making a pretty drawing, or even an ugly one, as a matter of fact I submitted for critic a composition with all the characters right out of a crappy saturday morning cartoon (translate by: political cartooning style), and Glenn Vilppu did not even rise an eyebrow about my drawing itself but did his very very helpful critic about my composition. I was beginning to see what the course was about, and after a few weeks (and watching the lessons several times each week) I got to the conclusion that this – composition – was what made a work of art great or not. And I realised (wait for my next realisation before jumping out of the window) that ok I had learned to draw, but drawing was in fact the least of my problem when it came to doing a finished work. I actually did a submission with stick figures and again Glenn commented on my composition only.

Now that was disturbing: you learn to draw and only then your real problems begin! Well I was wrong and right (you did not jump out of the window since you are reading this – good cause a super big reveal is about to come)

Yes a poorly composed super well draw piece is nothing worth watching, compo is the secret ingredient (well, your mum who knows nothing about art might put it on the fridge with magnets but that the only use of that piece of art).

No learning to draw is not useless and we should not learn compo first because (drum roll, fanfare) because….. wait for it this is the big secret that only Glenn Vilppu teach because he’s a time traveller from the renaissance….. composition is the key of drawing a figure, a sphere, an architectural piece, your cat….. the lines or tones you put inside your drawing of anything are composition! the composition course shows you how to build a complete image but also makes you understand why Glenn kept saying the word “composition” in all his other courses even head drawing (and nobody listened or understood until they took “composition”.

This is the magic of Glen Vilppu at its best. This is where you tell the boys from the men, the girls from the women and Scoody-doo ™ from an avalanche dog who saves people everyday. It’s quite a dizzying moment when you realise that yes drawing a shin (which is made of some lines, or crosshatching or tones) your lines for example have a dialogue between themselves, that’s compo! also that shin and it’s lines or tones has a dialogue with the rest of the body you are drawing, that is compo, it’s true wether you draw “classical” or toon-like or stick figures, every element of what you draw is compo!

Yes it’s a big reveal, especially when for a minute you thought learning to draw was secondary to learning compo at the whole picture level (or all page if you do comics) it means rethinking a lot of your drawing, it opens you eyes to all the art you see (good or bad – you finally know why you love this and get bored by that) it also free you from the tyranny of nature (one of Glen’s favourite quotes, I think it’s by Manet) because nature does not care about composition, about being interesting to the eye and telling a story you follow, it’s just a mess – meaning: you suddenly feel free to change what you want in the landscape you are looking at – all the masters did it! same for all subject btw.

Once you have passed this point there is no going back, you are an artist, you look at things with new eyes. (you’ll improve your art only if you draw a lot of course, but your eyes are changed!)

I am not a spring chicken (8 years with Glenn, before that 4 years of asian calligraphy) and before all that since I started drawing (that was at an age when most people still eat chalk and suck their toes) years and years of looking for a teacher who knew what he did, who was an artist, had sold painting and worked in comics and animation etc – not a teacher who teaches but knows nothing of having a deadline and doesnt draw example for his her students, a teacher who had face the reality of living as an artist and learned the hard way by living it. Well I did not find a single teacher like that outside of Glenn Vilppu who on top of everything was a professional artist feeding his family several years before Scooby-doo ™ was invented. You imagine the amount of experience that represent?

Now if you are thinking “ok I’ll do composition first” I say “don’t” because you’ll be missing the foundations to understand what it’s about. Composition works best (in my opinion) when you have done all the head and figure classes and perhaps more (and assimilated them by drawing a lot).

I’ll never be able to express how lucky i was to find Glenn Vilppu. The story is silly: a friend of mine a designer was moving from Paris to hong Kong (small flats there) and giving his friends all his possessions. he gave me his complete dvd collection of Glenn Vilppu course. I felt like I had finally found the holy grail (no I’m not being paid to say that, it’s what i think and feel. And a few years later, the internet having gotten faster Glenn started his and I joined and each week ever since he dissects my submission of the week, tell me what to work on, why and how and all that I have to do is work on that until the next week.

That is the winning formula!

Work your way towards composition, draw a lot start by the “essential” class (Im going to take it again next year just to see what more I can get from it being who I am and knowing what I know now.)

Draw a lot, stay safe, and get onboard, I can’t give a better advice to anyone (outside of “looked both ways before crossing the street”).

See you in January, the new session starts on the third so if you want to you me now is the time, and you know what christmas or hannukah gift you want!


Studying with Glenn Vilppu : animals, head painting and spidersense

My spidersense tells me something about you – stare at this text, closer, closer – there I see it: among your drawing problems is: you draw too dark, also you always make on part of the body, always the same, too long or too short (Glenn says he tends to make legs too long, I tend to make heads too small… and mess up the rest ahum), also I read in many of you: you often draw a rather perfect eye but drawing the head around it is…. problematic and ruins is all, I also sense in some of you that you forget the head is not a flat surface made of the face but a box with depth…. isn’t my spidersense great? Joking apart these problems are in everybody, particularly but not only in beginners (we get rid of them – the problems and make beginners advanced artists thanks to Glenn’s indications) so stop moaning and groaning and do something about it: you are normal, you are flawed like every one else but with a bit of work you can become far more, all you need is a guide. I’m currently in head painting class, like Glenn said to me during his last critic after pointing out what I should work on he said “stop moaning and groaning: you are doing fine!”. Yes I’m a moaner and groaner and so are you (that goes with being human)

One class that helped me immensely with human figure drawing (and all the problems I mentioned above) is animal drawing (there are two classes for it, there is so much to learn).

How can drawing a chicken or a dog or a horse help you draw humans? Well Glenn Vilppu makes it quite clear from lesson one: we (living creatures) are all built the same, it’s proportions that change. Birds have fingers (so do whales by the way, inside their… er what is it called… well their equivalent of hands). Quadrupeds are build like us except their feet and hands are super long (what most people think is the elbow or knee in their dog is in fact their wrist and ankle! Why do cats sometimes seems made of liquid because they can pass everywhere? Well, they have no collarbone to speak of!

The art of comparing animals to humans is called comparative anatomy (scientifically we are classified as great apes btw, along with gorillas bonobos chimpanzee and orang outan – scientists did not make a lot of PR around that classification considering it might annoy some people, but it’s the clue to so much!) I love comparative anatomy, but Glenn Vilppu’s animal classes is truly about drawing the beasties, the human is a reference but he shows you how to draw any beastie starting from the skeleton (fascinating class, my favourite I think) to the outside (feathers, fur – simplify it! – etc).

I’m ready to bet that someone having never drawn and taking the animal class by Glenn Vilppu (and doing the homework of course) would have no big problem drawing a human – “ah yes the proportions are different and the ribcage in in the other direction ok I get it”. I think what improved my human drawing the most (outside of drawing lots of them and taking the figure lessons) is the animal class. Suddenly you see things with a new eye, and it also allows you to invent new creatures which can be a lot of fun.

The difference between a bear and a big dog is not much when it comes to structure, the difference between a bear and you is not much either structure wise – if I see you I’ll probably say hello, if I see a bear I’ll probably beat Hussain Bolt record, that is another difference but again due to proportions (bear= very tall with very with very big claws and teeth, I bet even if you have perfect teeth and long polished nails they are not that scary.)

In short I can’t recommend enough the animal classes. And if your artistic calling is all about drawing horses I’d advise you to take the figure drawing (human) classes because knowing the human body will help you so much in drawing a horse! it works both ways.

See you next week, and if you just drew something too dark (and therefore can’t refine or correct it) just take a kneaded eraser and erase your drawing – there will remain quite enough to guide you (truly, try it).

Draw as much as you can (yes it might be a problem when dining with in-laws who cant understand how you can eat, have a truly meaningful conversation and draw at the same time but we all faced that or at least we should!)

stay safe
Anton (great human ape and so proud of it, though I confess I’d rather be a gorilla, they are far nicer than humans)

Draperies, talking ladders and portraits

What did you do for Halloween? (personally I drew 6 hours thanks to zoom model pose sessions, google them)

I’m pretty sure some of you decided to go traditional and simply took a bed sheet and put it over you, going around shouting “booooo!”.

Without knowing it you were experiencing what it actually means to draw drapery (and yes I’m talking about Glenn Vilppu’s online drapery course which goes just fine after the anatomy course.

Why? well…. people you met while covered by a sheet probably did not think: “oh look a sheet over a chair” or why is that ladder covered by a sheet shouting “booOO!” I did not know ladders could talk, could be a work by Bansky”.

More seriously they recognised you were a human under the sheet because of the shape of the sheet. And that is the keep of drapery drawing: you are not drawing drapery or folds but the shape that is underneath. The points of tension (your head serves as a point of tension for the drapery over you) and the types of folds (more about them later) show the “thing” under the drapery so you must first draw what is under the drapery, calculate the tension points, the folds (bend you are if you are not wearing a T-shirt: here is a fold showing where your elbow is!)

I confess the first time I took Glenn Vilppu’s drapery class I panicked a bit, I had in mind all those complex classical draperies rendered to perfection and….. well no need to panic, those complex hyper rendered drapery by great masters were either a plan for a painting (had to be detailed, apprentices who would work on the painting were not….. masters) or they were simple showing off – read Michaelangelo’s life, showing off was his main hobby.

I had no reason to panic because you simplify as needed! you want to show off, ok go for the 10 hours rendering and thousands of folds that are indeed on the model, but if you “just” want to learn to draw you simplify and I might say I did the drapery class several times and what I got out of it was: learning to simplify and drawing what is under the drapery are all it’s about! Dont draw every fold and shadow (even in a portfolio, potential bosses will want to see how you simplify).

I loved that class once I got what it was about (I panic easily: I tend to compare myself to Leonardo….. no wonder I’m often depressed lol).

Hey let me tell you a little about the state of the class I’m currently taking: head painting. It’s going surprisingly well, and working with only three primary colors which drove me nuts at first is beginning to change the way I see color. I look qt a color I mixed and sort of “know” what to add, a bit like a chef will taste his sauce and know that it just needs a little bit of such or such an ingredient. At first I thought I was just having delusions of grandeur until a fellow student on the private facebook vilppuacademy (fellow student and friend, you make real friends there, people you have no problem telling “I’m a failure a fake! I’ll never make it and what is lesson five about anyway I dont understand a word” we are all in the same boat and there are no bullies only people climbing the same mountain. As I was saying a friend on the group told everybody he was beginning to see colors differently too – same class same result! Those are Aha! moments that I’m sure Glenn Vilppu has a map for without our knowledge “and so in week four they finally understand that part of colour so I can move on to something different and more difficult because they are elated by their aha moment” I’m kidding. Or not, I confess I suspect (and I’m not the only one) Glenn of being a time lord (a time traveller visiting us from the renaissance) or a wizard that reads minds.

Oh and as an extra here is my submission for this week, the left portrait has been glazed three times already, the right one only once.

Draw! and take your time eating your halloween sweets (your liver will thank you)

see you next week

Anna and Tomy your new best friends (ok this is a crappy pun, sorry, I’ve been glazing too long – read on)

Head painting going rather well, we started a new portrait and glazed for the second time the first portrait we did. It was less scary than the first time (it was also a lighter glaze) and I am beginning to see the point of glazing and repainting: glazing brings out the brush strokes and unifies the colors, so if you did put a bit of re on the nose and a skin color next to it it makes it unified and look less like it's the portrait of a drunk!

I dont know why but I have the premonition that we are going to go on glazing again and again all of our portraits (meaning in week 10 we'll be glazing 9 portraits?) of course it should be lighter and lighter, I quite look forward to see the effect.

Last week I spoke about figure drawing 2 and 3. You know what: the following class to take could be drapery or anatomy, personally I took anatomy and I think it makes sense: you draw a human being - knowing how it's made is a must. As Glenn Vilppu always says "you can draw something you don't know" if I may dare I'd go further that that and I'd say you can't draw something you only think you know. Proof: try and draw a bicycle without looking at one - you have used a bicycle since you were a kid.... can you draw one? er....ok two wheels a seat and a handle bar but the rest....... not obvious.

Anyway anatomy is a must because it allows you to see in a person things you did not see before: their wrist and front part of the forearm are rectangular in section contrary to the top of the forearm which is made of round muscles... now that is helpful when you are sketching fast. Same for the landmarks, those bones that I already mentioned in an entry and that show in super muscular people, average people and super heavy people. How convenient. But more than that: the back of a human is full of lumps... what are those? why do they change with the pose? When French sculptor Rodin went to Italy and saw Bernini's work and others' he was shocked and came back to Paris cursing and furious: he had wasted his time so far, sculpting. For a real sculpture (or drawing) is built from the inside out, not the reverse!

Knowing anatomy is useful only if you don't know anatomy once said Glenn. True: These days thanks to zoom I do a lot of nude model and I don't even have to think about "where is the rib cage, where is the scapula in that pose? the iliac crest is where?" I see them as naturally as my next door neighbour sees her flower beds (she knows all about them, I can recognise a rose from a tulip and that's it). 

Seeing naturally the anatomy is a huge help in making the gesture come out more. The one danger is falling in love with anatomy and drawing it instead of the pose and it's action.

I hear voice saying: "but must I learn the names of all those muscles and bones?" first of all you are not studying to become a doctor. Glenn has had many doctor studying drawing with them, they knew all the name and they could not draw to save their life. Artistic anatomy is about bones (all of them yes) and the muscles that have an influence on the surface of the body. In any case the names  may be in latin but they are descriptive: sterno-cleido-mastoidian simply mean the gizmo that goes from the sternum (sterno) to the clavicle (cleido) to the back of the chin (mastoidian) once you've learn a few names the others come naturally.

You  DON'T need to know the names to draw but how do you communicage with fellow students and your teacher: "Glenn that thingamajig that goes from here to here, and I mean the one under the one that goes from - you know, the pelvis on the side and to the what's it's name" not very convenient. I'd advice having a basic knowledge of he name of the main muscles and looking in a book for the others (my advice not Glenn's!)

I love the anatomy class because Glenn really takes you by the hand and shows you anatomy being used for drawing, not medical books type of anatomy, it's easy also because you can ask him any question not only on the facebook group but during the 2 hours weekly chat and by email of course.

Dont be scared of anatomy: use it to draw, that is the trick! and Glenn is the best at helping you with that.

Talking of anatomy and considering halloween is coming here is a last thought for you: there is a skeleton inside your body! believe it or not this thought terrifies a lot of people, but if we did not have a skeleton we'd be a mass of flesh  flat on the ground so hooray for skeletons.

Talk to you next week and of course: draw like mad! (sanity is overrated anyway).

Stay safe

Figure 2 and 3 and stick and no I dont want to rub brown on my ugly painting because i spent hour making it!

Before I talk as promised of the figure drawing 2 and 3 let me tell you about my week:
This is for me week 4 of head painting. Glazing is the topic, well on form of glazing, and Glenn Vilppu warns us at the very start of the lesson: "this is where people have a heart attack".
He's almost not kidding: we spent the first week doing and oil portrait retouching it, it is not marvelous (mine anyway) but it's there. And to celebrate this in week 4 (if the painting is dry) we take a piece of kitchen roll, put some oil on it and rub the painting (ok, so far my heart is ok) and then, we take another kitchen roll bit and put some raw umber on it and... rub it on the painting! your painting dissapears! raaaaaah my heart indeed this is crazy but apparently this is the way things are done (since oil painting exist I guess) and then you take another bit of kitchen roll and rub off (you have to be rather aggressive) over the raw umber you just put over your painting. The painting sort of reapears like a brownish ghost, and you are there thinking: "my god what have I done? what to do next?" not to worry Glenn is there to give you the solution: you repaint over your painting, correcting what was wrong.
I read somewhere a meme saying: dont hold on to a mistake just because you spent hours making it. It's I think a bit the idea here: now that we have something to correct let's do it. It takes guts, it take forgetting the natural reaction of "but I spend hours on the original ugly painting!" and.... well it works. My "repainting" is much better than the original, at least to my eye, I'm waiting for Glenn to critic it, and I'm eager to know what i can do better (answer:lots!). and do it and get better.

All this to say art is not just about doing things but also about not falling in love with your drawing or painting, because if you are a real artist you make so many artworks that one being repainted over is really nothing to write home about. Don't fall in love with your work, that is very important.

Now figure drawing two (I'll talk about three at the end of this entry). In figure drawing one you learns the nuts and bolts to create forms, shapes (no it's not the same) observe the whole and not copy what you see, analyse with the tools that Glenn gives you and that generations of students can tell you about: "it works!". ("generations"... no I'm not calling Glenn old but just saying he started teaching when he was 21 and he is now 85 and in better physical and mental shape that me!

But what to do with those tools? How to be more expressive? what about foreshortening (it's easy, I promise) how to show depth in a drawing - give that feeling you could walk into the art work, direct the eye, put the darkest dark in the right place, use drapery... well these are all answered in figure drawing 2 which is one of my favourite course (some of it has a feeling of magic: diagraming space making the drawing a window to another world you can walk into is amazing) there are many other things too (oh and there is a full course about drapery if you want to go further that route).

It's a very important class: you learned how to "draw" in figure one, now you are learning how to make art (my view of it but I think most students would agree) It's also an important class because it prepares you for the two composition classes (more about this later)

Figure drawing 3 is about getting away from your comfort zone, we all love our comfort zone: our same old pencil or charcoal, we never try anything else because it works - bad idea - different medias will help you show different sides of your personality and therefore draw in a different style (not sure style is the right word). It is also the most fun class of all even if it is deeply disturbing. Want an example: you start by drawing with.... a stick, yes go to the park pick a stick (if you are a fanatic use coffee as ink) and you'll find out you can draw with a stick! more than that: like an actor putting a mask on his her face makes him move differently this change of media makes you draw differently. I wont list the number of medias used during the ten weeks of figure drawing 3 but frankly even though it was not in the curriculum I tried drawing with my fingers and with a toothbrush to see what the tools of my childhood's miserable attempts at art allowed me to do now that I had learned with Glenn.... the results are amazing and suddenly you see possibilities: sure you spend figure one trying to draw like Glenn, we all do, but suddenly you see modern abstract art differently (Glenn considers abstract to be one of his main points even in figurative art - more about this when I talk about the two composition classes)

In short the three figure classes are one in fact, one doesnt have meaning without the others.

See you next week, and yes take a chopstick, give it a point and see what you can do with it and a bottle of ink, you'll understand better what I tried to convey.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that Glenn Vilppu's classes teach us how to draw not only through making lines or sharing, but by an attitude change, cause we all start with the attitude we had when we were kids "mum look I did a master piece, put it on the fridge" there is a lot of things to change in our relationship with the art we do.

Draw as usual and dont forget to be a little crazy. Doing pretty pictures is not the goal, making a drawing that tells a story is.

Figure One…..

10 oct

The head painting class is going on and we are starting color, it takes time mixing the colors from the three primaries but I have a feeling it’s like riding a bike: it becomes part of you and is not a problem after a while.

Let’s talk drawing (that’s why you are here, right?). Studying with Glenn Vilppu is very much satisfactory because you are given a clear step by step way of seeing and doing things (along with the motto “no rules just tools” which Glenn truly believes in) and the critics of your work make thinks easy: he tells you what could be better applied, you do it in your next work and bingo move on to the next thing to improve.

Last week I said I would talk about figure drawing one (there are also a two and three figure drawing classes more on these later)

If learning to draw was a body, then figure drawing one would be the spine. It’s very much the content of the “drawing manual”, Glenn Vilppu’s book which is one the list of “must read” at Disney, Pixar and many schools of art around the word. By the way there is a new edition in full color with tons of added text and drawing, even if you have the original one it’s very very much worth it getting the new version, to get it just write to the contact on the main page of

When you are a beginner and you are facing a model you have to draw there is always a part of panic in your mind: where do I start? what is the most important? should I make the head and face perfect before working on the rest of the body? what about anatomy? what about perspective? What about contour? After all people in real life are not surrounded by a black line, we see where their mass start and end because they are surrounded by other things clearly not part of their body, how do I manage with that?

Without spoiling figure one for you (it would take more than a blog entry and a little grasshopper like me to do that) the first thing you have to learn is: the only thing that really matter is the gesture (yes “only thing” look at some political cartoons, their characters dont look humans in their anatomy but what they are doing – pointing, stamping their feet etc – is clear, at least in a good cartoon).

When Glenn Vilppu talks about gesture he doesnt mean the gesture of the person drawing (though feel free to draw while doing tai chi or the latest RnB moves the results could be interesting, I’m serious: dancing would stop you a little from thinking too much, a problem we all have). Gesture is that of the model what does they do? how do they feel about it? If your model is doing character work, meaning is dressed like cowboy and doing typical cowboy things (this type of model is common in animation school but you tend to find them in other situation too) it’s generally easy: the cowboy is suddenly realising there is someone behind him, is surprised, and is not happy about it but has an defensive reaction going for his gun (Im sure you see that pose in your head as you read this) the gesture in that case is the tense shoulders, the head turning but going away a bit from the bad guy, and all this can be summed up in one or several lines that will give you the gesture, the action, the whole, the story (it’s always about the story even in fine art).

If you have a nude (or semi nude) model taking random poses like legs in an elegant position and hands lifting their hair you will have to do a bit more of detective work (that’s my experience, not what Glenn says but I think that’s what he means). What is the gesture of this model? could be elegance and satisfaction with a bit of pleasant stretching, there could be a line that starts from the left leg and goes to the spine (not talking contour here!!!) in any case there is a gesture that you can sum up with one or just a few lines that often wont describe a human figure but just the gesture. That is the key, that is the hardest thing to do but if you dont get the gesture, however good your anatomy or shading is your drawing will look “meh” at best.

Dont worry Glenn Vilppu wont let you stuck at the gesture level until you get it (could take time) but he will give you tools ( not rules) to make a drawing from that gesture (while insisting about gesture gestures gesture….like he says himself: he sounds like a broken record about gesture! lol!

The tools taught in figure one are many, complementary, contradictory, but they work: spheres, boxes (dont fall in love with boxes – my advice they are so convenient but you get stuck) squash and stretch (an animation term that strangely Michaelangelo applied with passion and great taste – could it be all drawing art form are in fact about the same thing?).

I only quote a few tools. One I particularly loved was landmarks. Landmarks are where bones touch the surface of the skin (and are visible) no matter how fat or muscular or both the model is. Look at pictures of Arnold in his glory days: you could see his knee bones, and his colarbones! Look at the world’s fattest person (I’m sure there is one in the Guiness of records) you be able to the the same landmarks!

This is so helpful and of course will nudge you toward anatomy, but dont worry about anatomy for the moment, same this for perspective and proportions, Glenn will tell you when these are needed and how many spoons of them you should take (as he says: “are anatomy and perspective important? yes if you dont know them, no if you know them” they’ll become part of you, I suppose part of you subconscious mind and you wont have to think about them. But here in figure one – draw and stop worrying, you are going to be amazed at how your work changes and how you see the world differently. Like I said the critics of your work with draw over by Glenn Vilppu himself will work like magic if you put the work applying what he tell you.

The funny thing is I did figure one several times (50% off if you redo a class btw) and I would watch the lessons every single day (I’m dyslexic AND obsessive) and one day I was having breakfast with my computer playing the same lesson as the day before and the day before that and I stopped eating: gosh I got the wrong lesson playing because yesterday he did not say THAT….. well turns out he did, it’s just my comprehension that changed. This happened to me several times since, and when I told fellow students, thinking I was a weird person I found all of them had the same experience.

See you next week.

In the mean time draw a lot, dont judge your drawing, if one is bad who cares the next one will be better, and remember: you dont have to show your work to anyone so no shame, be daring! (if I were you I’d put the date on each page and if you can dont throw them away just hide them, next year you may find interesting watching them and comparing them with what you do then!

Stay safe


First course with Glenn Vilppu?……..

3oct 21
I'm currently in the  "head painting" class for which having done "head drawing" is a requirement, it' s the only painting class currently at and therefore less likely t o interest directly readers here as Glenn Vilppu is "the drawing guy" as they call him at CTN and he's THE drawing teacher everybody referers to.
So let me go on talking this week to those interested in and considering signing up. There are so many classes! anatomy 1 and 2 and 3, drapery head, sketching, animal drawing 1 and 2, anatomy, composition 1 and 2 - and yes they are all classes by Glenn, all online with critic and draw over and question time etc.
But which one to take first? Good question. It doesn't just depend on your level but on how you learned. If you come from an academic background - meaning drawing with shades of grey probably with a charcoal during long poses even if you are advanced it's possible, depending on your school that there are things you have not see under all possibles angles (the goal being drawing from imagination and being able to change or add a light to a model, real or imagined) in that case I think you should take the class I'm about to talk, or if you think you know all that contact Glenn and see with him which class he recommends for you.
The class I'm alluding to is: "essentials", in fact everybody should start by this class, it's the post powerful class of all: I took it only once (I shall take it again) and in a few weeks I went from drawing twisted faces and unreadable landscapes to this: 

I remember having the feeling of having gained X-ray vision, what I saw suddenly made sense, was organisable, x had relationships with y, I saw it I could feel it, it was clear I had a lot to learn in all those fields but I had discovered that if I opened my eyes I could see! (i'm not being cute and exaggerating, I remember seeing shadows in summers - and distant mountains from a plane and to my family's embarrassment going into a description lecture about what I saw.... which they did not saw but "oh yeah" there is something odd there happening I wonder what it is").

All those years ago essentials was the only class lasting 6 weeks and not 10 like the others. And  the essential students, each semester asked during the 2 hour weekly chat "why do I do these next four week before my figure one class begins?" and Glenn gave them assignments and critiqued them (free of charge - he's like that: his joy is seeing people have a "aha!" moment about drawing). Well to cut a long story short now essentials last ten weeks too and include extra lessons, one of which I must take: how to use a photograph and not let the photograph use you.

Go to and scroll down and click on "essential" to have the menu. In the 8 years I've been with Glenn (only one student has been there longer than me and she now has a career as an illustrator and children books and won prizes) I've sort of become the go to student for questions people dare not ask the teacher directly. I must have pushed about 20 people to take essentials, some though it was below them, some thought it would be too hard for them.... all of them progressed and had a lot of fun doing it (remember the joy you felt the first time you were able to ride your bike without the tiny wheel or daddy running alongside you? yes that kind of "I'm not the same person I was before, I've worked hard and improved and no one will ever take what I've learned from me")

Figure drawing one is the natural next class to take after essential, and it's a "grown up" class (even if I've seen prodigy kids take it successfully lol). 

Glenn has design a system of learning that does not teach you a style, it gives you the nuts and bolts and shows you how to build something, whatever you want, whatever way you want. You can be a fine artist, a comic book artist, an animator, a tagger, a sculptor, a punk abstract psychedelic artist, the classes will help you become who you are, do what you want to do - no two students draw the same way. Of course at first some students tends to try and daw like Vilppu (I did - hero worship lol) he pushed me so that I would draw like.... me (I'm a crazy drawing person). He pushed me so that I would steal all his skills as taught in the courses, his experience that he put in these courses (he was a fine art painter, worked in comics, abstract, animation, you name it he did it... but then the man is 85 and started teaching at 21.... he had the time to take all the drawing jobs that came his way on top of teaching, and he used all that to create his courses... 64 years of drawing day and night passionately, living in that industry that leaves a trace! and we, his student s benefit from it all. He sees one drawing of yours however bad or clumsy it is, he already knows who you are artistically.... and you are YOU, and he'll help you become that person).

Next week I'll talk about drawing the figure one.
By the way the paint the head class is a lot of work but fun and I'm learning a lot. I'm doing it digitally - Glenn loves digital so if you are in love with your ipad dont worry!

Draw draw draw guys! and dont judge what you do, you learn drawing by drawing!
See you next week!

Studying with Glenn Vilppu review


Welcome to “studying with Glenn Vilppu, an adventure in art”, apologies for the long silence (I was very busy drawing).

I’m starting this blog again for the following reasons: I’ve been studying with Glenn for 8 years now, and I regularly meet both on social medias and real life people who are obviously considering signing up for the classes at the but but who need a review of Glenn Vilppu’s classes and informations about them.

I can answer this through this blog as I have before (and show examples of my path that will give you an idea of how artists progress studying with him.

You can read the “old” articles, and starting next week I’m going to talk about my experience of the different classes (with images!!!), but for those of you wanting a fast response to “what is it like? am I good enough” here is a little sum-up of what happens at

All the classes are online, each week you get: 

Monday; the lesson of your class plus references (images etc) and he gives an assignment. The lesson is recorded and online so you can watch when you want and as many times as you want. The lesson if often one or two hours long.

Tuesday is a big day. You get your critic from your work from the previous week. Glenn critics and draw over each and every student’s  work and this is where the magic happen: he shows you what you can improve and how to do it! He can spend up to 20 minutes on a student (Glenn is very generous with his time in all occasions)

Later during the day there is a 2 hours demo (live or recorded if you live in a time zone that makes things difficult) of Glenn drawing and explaining everything he think, why he does this choice and not that one, it’s a treat. Sometimes he’ll talk instead about a great master, but he’ll draw too (he uses top technology so you see what he sees while drawing wether on paper or on ipad)

Thursday: the two hours chat on zoom (recorded for those who cant be there) it’s a ”ask any question, there is no stupid question” meeting but also a friendly one, Glenn will draw whatever you ask, answer any question, do any demo and you can also make friends with other students (whom you’ll meet in the active and private facebook group where we all share our work, doubts, discoveries and other art related things) You can ask questions before or during the chat “help I cant get to draw a box in perspective” or “how to think of the from legs of a dog in order to draw them simply when in movement?”

About Glenn: he is the coolest and friendliest person I know, so is his wife Eleanor (who also an artist) who takes care of all things that have to do with organisation.

Glenn of course has pro students, but he loves loves loves beginners, because beginners have less bad habits to get rid of! So if you wonder if you are good enough to be his student the answer is yes! I suspect his dream type of student would be someone who cant even double a house with a white fence while being on the phone!

One thing that sometimes surprises new students in particular Americans who are used to teachers saying “lovely, cool, very nice” about everything you do” is that Glenn doesnt do that. He tells you what is wrong with your work and gives you the solution to get rid of the problem, and it works if you do what he says! Glenn is there to help you, you are not there to be complimented, it’s a waste of time (in fact I’m sure is Glenn did a critic of a piece by the great Glen Keane he would not say “lovely, wonderful nice amazing” he’d go straight to what he sees that can be made better (and if Keane did critic Vilppu it would be the same!).

Some students have an ego problem with this lack of compliments. It’s – forgive me – stupid. I remember a long time ago going on vacation in a farm, I offered to help cut small logs with an ax. After ten minutes the grand pa of the farm came and told me to put my hand more like this to have more strength and not to balance my arms like that to avoid hurting myself. “Thanks a lot!” I had no problem with this, I did not rush to a friend crying “he did not say any positive thing about my ax wielding, I’m a failure i knew it!”. So why did I (at the first lesson with Glenn) moan about his not complimenting me and offering to put my drawing on his fridge….. ego! Of course drawing is the meaning of life to me, ax using is…. meh. But that means I want to get better at drawing faster so let’s get to it: how do I get better? Leave your ego in you other jacket, and draw!. And one day you’ll hear Glenn tell you at the end of a “normal” critic “maintain course and speed” (he’s a sailor) and you’ll know you’ve reach a new level and you’ll feel so good…. but your next critic will be without compliment again – only this time you wont care.

One personal advice: regularly (whether you study with Vilppu or not) you’ll have the feeling you cant draw anymore – many people stop drawing at that moment which is tragic as this is the sign you are making progress, the drawing part of you and the judgmental part of you have not yet caught up with each other. Glenn say: “you cant draw anymore? good! it’s when you feel great about you drawing you should worry” and it’s only half a joke. changed my life and who I am. I live in France, Glenn is in California – wherever you are you have the possibility to study with the greatest teacher there is (ask other teachers who they admire!)

it’s not surprising the vilppuacademy has been voted best art school on the net for the last four years.

see you next week and feel free to share the url to this blog;

and meanwhile draw!!!!!

Week 7 to 10 health and the big secret behind art making

Week 7 to 10 health and the big secret behind art making
You are drawing and painting day and night, reading books about the masters and “the art of pixar” while you have lunch, you are on a roll and progressing nicely and…. health problem. Argh! Whether we are talking about carpal syndrome, the flu or something more chronic, we are talking of a maddening and unacceptable interference with our art, a depressing waste of time and mountains of frustration.
I’ve never seen any blog dealing with the topic, so I’ve decided I’d be the one. if you are in great health read on too, for it’s a sad fact that we all have some kind of health problem on day or other.
A note: I don’t consider the sudden condition known as “Suddenly-I-can’t-draw-anymore-and-all-I-do-is-worse-than-ever-before” as a health problem. it’s a normal and desirable phase in any progress: you work hard, your brain has to file in all the new info, you reach a plateau and feel you are the worst artist ever – this is the sign that you are about to make a break-through. It’s depressing, maddening, but it will happen to you many times if you are a serious artist. After a while you won’t even pay attention to it anymore. Keep drawing and stop judging yourself.
Glenn Vilppu told me an interesting story: some years ago he hurt his right shoulder badly. Being right-handed and having to draw “from the shoulder” on large boards for his classes (this was before the ipad pro and giant screens he now uses) he was in a bit of a pickle. I know I would have gone mad with frustration and cancelled my classes. Anyone who knows Glenn knows nothing can stand in his way when he wants to reach a goal (he’s the man who found a way to use a selfie stick in order to film his own hand drawing on paper or on his ipad pro – his students, including myself, wanted to see his hand and the way he uses the pencil while drawing).
He did not cancel a single class and just started drawing with the left arm – because it was the only way. There is a lot to be said for not listening to the voices in your head saying “it wont work,it will be difficult and long and painfull”. He just did it. I have no doubt that the first few days must have been hell, but he did it.
The lesson we can learn from this is: don’t limit yourself, do things, it may work or not, but don’t try – just do it. Your mind can be your worse enemy.
As far as hand problems go, my own experience is that hurting your thumb and being unable to move it at all is an excellent thing for your art – it forces you, or at least it forced me to draw from the shoulder and not from the wrist (something I resisted doing for some reason). I taped my pencil to my forefinger and drew without the thumb, and found the experience quite valuable: drawing and writing are not the same activity, they dont require the same muscles or joints or movements. I had never realised before. It has changed my sensory relation to the pencil.
But let’s talk about general health problems. I recently had some long-lasting if not life-threatening trouble that included lack of sleep and exhaustion, fever and shaking, strong pains in the joints. A perfect nightmare for an artist.
I’m still working on reaching enlightenment, but I have noted a few facts that could come in useful to others and that shed a light on draughtmanship and the works of the mind.
Lack of sleep, pain and exhaustion obviously lead to bad eye-hand coordination, and, in some cases, to shaking. If you can’t draw a straight line anymore because you are tired, go digital and use sketchbook pro or manga studio, both have a line stabilisation option that will help you. (lazy nesumi for windows is a must have even for non shaking days: it improves stylus control immensely).
Lack of sleep pain and exhaustion also lead to difficulty to concentrate. As I am a one track mind person (I would not put trying to knock down a wall with my head beyond me) I have tried to “do art” while being a total zombie. I discovered a few interesting things: drawing from imagination is the most taxing thing of all, concentration-wise. Even doodling absent-mindendly is almost impossible in cases of extreme exhaustion. Drawing from the model (or from a photo – when you are sick going to a life drawing class on the other side of town is not necessarily a good idea) is extremely taxing but interesting: you become aware that the process is: 1/ I observe the model 2/ I decide how I’m going to put into “words” (by words I mean lines, shade etc) what I have observed 3/ I put pen/charcoal/brush to paper and do it.
This process becomes extremely clear while you are exhausted as step two, the translation from what you see to what you put on paper is the most intense and most exhausting. It actually comes a close second to working from imagination as it should. Observing the model and actually marking the paper are not that taxing.
Studying the masters – and by masters I dont just mean Leonardo but also Jim Lee or Charles Shultz or your mentor, in my case Glenn Vilppu, or any artist you admire – is quite different. Let’s say you decide (I did!) to study how Calvin and Hobbes are drawn. Step two (drawing from the model) is totally absent for a reason: Watterson did that step for us. He reduced reality to a simplified and exaggerated and expressive line drawing. That work is already done, and by studying and copying a calvin and hobbes strip you only (“only” being the understatement of the century here) have to analyse the lines, the reduction the artist did. The same is true when you study a michelangelo drawing.
So copying/studying a drawn work is less taxing for the exhausted artist. On the other hand if you study a painting and draw what you see in that painting, it’s more taxing, which is logical: you have to reduce a fleshy borderless painting to some lines and a bit of shading or hatching.
Just like having an idea and trying to put it into words is tough, drawing what you see is a simplification and a condensation of all the main characteristic of the model (true for carecatures too!). But listening to a conference (made of words expressing ideas) and being asked by friends “so what did the speaker say?” is different: you heard words, reconstructed the ideas they conveied, then you have to put it again into words for your curious friends, but a good part of the work was already done for you by the speaker and you can remember and reuse some of the words he used, some of his idea-condensing process.
Drawing is no different: reality is rich of details, most of them useless, you have to pick those that are really expressing the essence of the model (are you drawing a furious Hulk or a teasing babe?) and put them into a few lines.
Those of you who like me have health troubles are probably saying: “ok, very interesting but what can I do, tired as I am?”. In my experience I’d advise giving total priority to sleep which is the key to everything, and the study of artists that you truly love, no matter how light they are – new yorker cartoons or the Simpsons comic, or any animation, they all are worth studying for the simple reason that if you love them, there is a reason, and you should try and find out what that reason is, what makes South Park art click for you, or what it is in the Cow and Chicken design that has you in stitches.
Another advice I’d give not just to you but to myself is: dont feel guilty. You are sick, you did not ask to be sick, you do your best and if your best is not enough well, dont blame yourself, blame the disease!
And when you are really too tired to draw (dont push yourself to your limits, you’ll only make things worse) you can still improve your art by watching other artists at work.
I watch Glenn’s enormous repository of videos of him drawing and painting and explaning what he does (figure, landscape, animals, special subjects like kids, etc). The monthly price is ridiculous and you can spend months watching these, hearing his analysis and advice and seeing (so important!) his hand at work, how he prepares for a stroke, how slow or not slow he draws) Vilppu Academy Subscription | A subscription based video library
If you want to study with Glenn but are super short on money (not an illness but q frequently encountered condition among artists), this is the solution (you wont get feedback, but still, this is still invaluable teaching).
I love couch-tutorial-watching. It’s an activity that I find far more rewarding than brainlessly watching tv or reading social medias (though I do love cute cats).
Draw draw draw and take care of your health – and observe what happens in your brain while you work, you’ll amaze yourself.
(no drawing this week, due to said health problems I’m late in my assignments)

Weeks 5&6: And now for something completely different!

Weeks 5&6: And now for something completely different!

(I use the word “technique” in the text below to describe a way of thinking, of describing, or a mental tool, a mindset. In short: what I call here “techniques” could be considered to be anything but. If you don’t know what to get me for Christmas, get me a thesaurus! lol)

Funny how things don’t change for weeks, even though you try hard, and suddenly you relax and…. you see progress in your work.

All artists have faced this: the harder you try, it seems, the less you progress. Of course it’s only an impression. Only hard work makes you progress, but hard work demands lots of attention, and attention means tension (no pun intended). And when you are tense you are not flexible and can’t change, bend, go with the flow.

So it’s often that, after weeks of intense work you give up, saying “oh I’ll never get it” and you let go – “who cares anyway” – and suddenly all the efforts come to fruition: without your even knowing it, you brain goes into “newly acquired technique” mode and tada! sudden progress!

It’s what I felt when I did the drawing included in this post. For weeks (months, semesters….) I had been trying to get the “going around the form with the pencil” that is at the core of the great masters’ drawings, and that Glenn Vilppu teaches so well.

I felt like I banged my head against a wall for so long, but did not “get” this concept, and could certainly not use it while drawing. I had improved other aspects of my draughmanship, but this one seemed to elude me, which was quite vexing.

About two months ago I had an epiphany: I suddenly could understand and identify what Glenn meant by “going around the form”. I “got” it in my brain, but how did one apply it? No idea. Understanding something intellectually is of no help as long as you can’t use the technique while working. You have to understand something before you can apply it, of course, but with understanding does not automatically come application!

Following this intellectual epiphany, I worked even harder, concentrating on this important and elusive issue. I spent hours drawing, studying masters, biting my tongue and going “gnnnnnn…. gnnnn……” while drawing one stroke at a time. I’m sure I looked completly mental, seen from the outside, but I wanted to break through this concept and be able to apply it.

Nothing, not a little improvement. I finally threw my pencil away, exclaiming “oh I give up!” and decided to relax a bit before working on some other aspect of my drawing that I wanted to improve.

Relax, relax, draw while humming… and when I suddenly looked at my finished drawings (yes I did them in parallel) I said out loud “what the hell is happening? This is not my drawing? it doesn’t even look like my way of drawing! yuk!”

I then looked closer, showed the drawings to a friend. Indeed the drawings felt alien to me – and for a good reason: I had applied the “going round the form with each stroke” technique for the first time ever!


The problem when you do something right and you don’t know what or how you did it right, is that you don’t know how to do it again!

It took me a bit of introspection to realise what I had done differently.

I had drawn less lines, no “noodling” at all, I had drawn very slowly compared to my normal silly “if I draw fast, I’ll draw more things today!” way, and I had analysed and described with each line the form I saw. I did not draw, I explained, each little line as being a way of saying “and then here the shape goes like this… curvy in this direction, but it stops there, where the other little lines-set starts”.

I never thought I would need  explaining, even become verbose while drawing – but I sure felt verbose while drawing the right guy’s back of pelvis.

I was in more than a bit of shock. I also noticed that I was drawing much lighter than ever before (I had to darken the lines in photoshop in the image here included or you would have seen nothing).

I only really made sense out of the experience when Glenn did the critic of my work. What did he say? Well, read above…. I did not manage to understand what had happened technically or psychologically before he dissected my work. The weekly two-hour live chat made once more all the difference, since I was able to heap question upon question, and Glenn patiently – and obviously (now!) – demonstrated what I used to do, and what I had just done.

I finally got it.

Drawing while looking at the whole image, with a good gesture, and keeping a “we have got all the time in the world” attitude is the way. But the danger is to become precious, become to tense, afraid of mistakes, and fall in love with each line. Don’t become attached to your pencil strokes, erase them or better: draw others over them. If you consider that you’ll spend the rest of your life drawing, then each line is really not precious – you are going to draw so many things that parting with a set of lines is really not a big deal.

And if you get something right, move on! Don’t try to reproduce it. You did it once, fine, it’s part of you, walk on, don’t stop to study in wonder the miracle that has happened. Chances are that the first time you applied the new technique you were so surprised that you spotted it at once “wow look at THAT!”. But now that it is part of your set of tools, you wont spot it particularly – don’t try and reproduce the “wow” sensation you had the first time: you won’t have it again, not for this technique anyway!

Draw draw draw!

and be safe!

See you soon