Online Learning Tools for Making You a Better Artist and Better Person

I have a confession. I keep being pulled back to our recent interview with Teresa Sharpe because of the meme that Jake posted with a quote from their interview. Not only is it a great interview, but I’m a sucker for memes.

Teresa’s Interview

“If you want to create something new, you have to find something outside of tattooing that’s gonna spark some kind of interest in a different direction.” Of course, she says this on the tail of a comment about her latest influences, which included some Japanese anime references. Most of you know that I’m a big fan of the traditional Japanese style, but you have to be blind not to know that the rabbit hole of Japanese visual influence is never ending as it dives through animation, video games and even more eclectic fusion artwork that lies somewhere between animation and traditional block prints.

However, I will make myself stay on topic here. You see, I think she has an awesome point. Let’s look at the more recent trend of mandalas. Mandala tattoos were not a thing 15 years ago. They are a traditional meditation exercise that is done in sand, the most nonpermanent medium you can have. They are steeped in Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist roots and meant to be swept away after the exercise is done. However, someone with a tattoo machine thought beyond the traditional elements of our craft and… boom. Now you have a pretty big niche where some of the people in our industry are doing some seriously amazing stuff.

I could give examples for days. However, it is not hard to find artists who aren’t interested and influenced by comic books and video games. If you are really seriously edgy and artsy then you are probably reading Juxtapose and touching into the realm of graffiti and fine art postmodern painting and beyond. This is the biggest difference I see from a newer generation of tattooers with art backgrounds and older school folks who stick with only the traditional styles and approaches that they are good at.

I’m not here to give you any kind of sage insight on what artists and inspirations you should be looking at. Only you can find that for yourself. And it is different for each of us as individuals. What I am here to talk about is that idea of “stepping outside of tattooing,” particularly from a learning perspective.

For most tattooers, if you went through a traditional apprenticeship, then you learned about one thing only, tattooing. You were prepared to perform a task and work within the boundaries of a defined trade industry paradigm. It is the strict adherence to the paradigm for decades that left very little change. Since this has traditionally been a closed industry, that change had to come from within. Over the last two decades, there has been a significant amount of change in the level of quality and style that has seeped into and changed the paradigm.

This change is the result of artists with a need to grow beyond what was there before. It is as old as art itself. You especially see this in the progression of the modern art era of the last century. The art of that era develops through movements. Each movement is a direct response to the previous movement. Expressionism responds to impressionism. Abstraction is a response to realism. In short, painting and art, in general, is fluid. It is ever changing. As tattooing has slowly found its place as a respected art form, it has become no different. But that growth is dependent upon the drive and will of those who work beyond the confines of the tattoo machine.

I totally agree with Jake’s passion to help the already working artist grow in their skills with drawing and painting enrichment. I agree with Teresa that you have to constantly look outside of tattooing for more influences and inspirations. That is the nature of art. That is its lifeblood. I would also add that you have to constantly look at growing in knowledge and learning. Your life is also like art, it is fluid and ever-changing. The healthiest life is one fueled by growth and learning.

Now here is where I risk losing some of you. I know art school or even college, in general, is not for everyone. As someone who has taught college freshmen English, I can honestly tell you that at least a quarter of the students sitting in my classroom on the first day of school are not ready nor will they ever be suited for college.

I say this with no ego or elitism intended. It is just that the way our academic system or even our public school system is structured rewards those who can play the game and follow the format. This has always been difficult for those with a creative mind. If you are one of the many people who have been made to feel that you are less intelligent than the kid next to you in your classes growing up, you aren’t. You are just as capable of learning and growing as the guy in the front row who would go on to get a Ph.D. or the girl behind you who surely must have become some financial CEO because you wouldn’t have passed math without her.

You can grow and learn. However, let’s face it. Not everyone can go to art school or college. It has once again fallen into the rut of a standardized format that rewards those who can adhere to it. Besides, who has the money for that anymore?

Well, good news kids. I have done the legwork so you don’t have to. That’s what we do here at Fireside, we provide you with useful tools to apply to your everyday work and life. Since we are all lucky enough to be living in these times of excitement and accessibility, I wanted to point out that there is almost no excuse to not be constantly learning and bettering yourself. In fact, I have spent the last two weeks reviewing some of the most easily accessible online learning tools so that you can be able to find the learning format that is right for you, most of which is for free. You’re welcome.

The following is a rundown of the top online learning tools that offer free or low cost material that is presented in a variety of formats, so that you can find the one that best fits your learning style and interests.

  1. Itunes U

The first online learning tool I have to put out there is Itunes U. Before there was social media, Steve Jobs envisioned a world of learning connected by technology. He wanted the people who used his devices to be able to access their music, their magazines, books and most important, educational resources.

While we are all familiar with downloading music from Itunes, many have all to easily brushed aside that small little icon for the Itunes U. Don’t. It is full of all kinds of gems that are useful to every learning level from homeschool kindergarten to college and beyond. The best part, it’s all free. This includes art classes put together by the Art Institute of California.

Top classes I recommend for artists and tattooers:

Modern Art

Relationship between Art and Science

Modern Art History

Social Media for Designers

Great Painters

Brain, Arts & Everyday Life

Japan Art History Project

Graffiti Art


  1. Khan Academy

This is an online website that has apps for both iPhone, Ipad and Android formats. It is all free short video formatted lessons. I would tell you the top ones I’d recommend, but just type in “painting” in the search bar and thank me later.


  1. Udemy

Udemy is like Khan with availability on all platforms. However, it pushes a combination of free and low-cost classes with a lot of good arts and creative oriented classes. Two that looked really cool to me were Oil Acrylic Techniques and Color Theory. Jake would be happy to know that they have a class on Manga Studio software.


  1. MIT OCW

This is the Open CourseWare for MIT. You may have heard of that school. Now I know I am not normal, but I also know that I’m not the only person who loves art and can talk about the anime of Setsuna Mudo, but also likes to talk about String theory and read Neil Degrasse Tyson. If you like a little more thought oriented approach, then this place is for you, for free.

With applications available for both Mac and Android platforms, these are full semester course lectures that change each semester. Currently, the Studio Seminar and Public Art courses look interesting to me.


  1. Creative Live

This is a technique driven site that offers whole courses, not just short video instruction. I found it quite worth the look. Hope you will as well.

Check out:

Whole course on Drawing Basics

Color Techniques for Drawing

Draw the Everyday


So there are just a few of what is out there. Remember, that this is just showing you the watering hole. I can’t make you drink. If you want healthy teeth, you have to make it a habit to brush your teeth every day. If you want to grow as artists, work in a sketchbook for a set amount of time every day and set aside time to for learning. Many of these don’t require a lot of time from you, so there is no excuse. Just remember, you get back what you put into it.

Now Go forth and conquer.

As always, thanks for supporting the Fireside Tattoo Network.




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