The internet is a beautiful place for sharing artistic flair, those much-needed life hacks and career advice. It’s also seething with other artists wanting to share their tips and tricks.
Gone are the days of actually attending an illustration class in person to hone your skills. With the ever-rising choice of bloggers, YouTube creatives and anyone willing to share their tips online, it’s as easy as having a laptop and some working space. Whilst the internet has democratised artistic learning – any learning, of that matter – and given us an overwhelming amount of expert advice at our fingertips, finding the right video tutorial doesn’t come without the effort of sifting through some pretty terrible ones. But luckily for you, that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Below is a list of free online videos to help you become a better illustrator from well-known artists like Johanna Basford, popular 'Illustuber' personalities such as Fran Meneses and Holly Exley, and experienced cartoonists, character design and comic illustrators Aaron Blaise and Stanislav Prokopenko.
These tutorials cover painting, drawing, watercolour, caricature, sketching and portrait drawing among other techniques. The artists also cover common life questions for illustrators (especially freelance illustrators), such as: How to make money, how to choose a colour palette and how to run an online shop.
We also mention a few video tutorial website hubs, such as Skillshare and Udemy, which we’ve featured on Digital Arts for many other software tutorials. Although these are not always free in the long term, they offer a decent free trial time where you can let your creative juices flow without spending a pound.
However, if you are looking to invest in boosting your illustration skills and have a tenner or more to spare, check out these best online art tutorials for painting, drawing, photography, graphic design and more.
We’re looking to expand this list, so please let us know what artists you’re watching online and why. In the meantime, take a look at these entertaining illustration experts to get your next creative fix.
Colouring: Johanna Basford
You’ll know Johanna Basford OBE from her uber successful adult colouring books (which even Kate Middleton enjoys) – Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest, Lost Ocean and Magical Jungle, which gained her an Officer of the most Excellent Order of the British Empire. She’s got a new one you can pre-order too – Ivy and the Inky Butterfly.
Anyway, aside from creating absolutely wonderful colouring books, Johanna has a super helpful YouTube channel you can check out for illustration tips. She covers how to create a pastel background, colouring canvases, how to use blending solutions using coloured pencil and understanding colouring jargon. She even has tips on how to colour in her own adult colouring books.
Watercolour: Holly Exley
Holly Exley creates beautiful watercolour illustrations from her workspace in Essex, England. She illustrates anything from animals, to plants, food and people, so her tutorials have got you covered. As well as offering some great life advice – such as how to find work and learning to say no, Holly runs through how to watercolour house plants and edit illustrations in Photoshop. There are loads of time-speed videos so you can observe how she creates a watercolour illustration from start to finish.
Ira Sluyterman is another exquisite illustrator, this time from Munich, Germany, who has many time lapse videos showing her work in progress. Ira uses watercolours for lovely character designs. She helpfully explains what tools and materials she uses for each illustration. Although she’s not a personality on screen, she lets her illustration do the talking. If anything, Ira is a great source of inspiration.
Cartoons and Animals: The Art of Aaron Blaise
Aaron Blaise has been illustrating for 30 years, and for the latter working as an animator, director and fine artist for Walt Disney, working on animations such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. His YouTube channel is heavily based on illustration tutorials of animals – real-life or in cartoon style. His videos are quite niche, covering things like Tiger’s Eyes in Photoshop and drawing a Polar Bear, and some are comically wacky, like his tutorial on drawing turkeys, dubbed ‘Sometimes ya just gotta draw ya some turkeys’. Either way, if you want to draw animals, you’ll be learning from one of the best animators out there with Aaron.
Cartoons and Caricatures: Proko
Stanislav Prokopenko’s (Proko) tutorials are worthwhile if you’re interested in sketching, cartooning and drawing caricatures. His video tutorials explain everything from how to draw cartoon hands (in three different styles), how to hold and control your pencil to ‘solving the exaggeration’ of a caricature drawing. Growing up in Ukraine, Stan moved to the US where he explored animation, fine art painting, portrait, figure and quick sketch.
His tutorials are great if you’re wanting to better your skills at drawing people as well – he has individual video tutorials on how to draw eyes, noses and heads.
Character illustration: Fran Meneses
Illustrator Fran has some serious YouTube followers (over 115,500), so she must be doing something right. Fran shows you how she paints and draws Instagram illustrations, character drawings and a current book she’s working on called Friendship.
As well as illustration tutorials, Fran has some advice on the practicalities of being a freelance illustrator, like when there are no job prospects, how to file receipts and how to run an online store – a great wealth of knowledge.
Pattern design: Emma Kisstina
Kristina Hultkrantz loves creating surface patterns and she’s willing to show you how. Based in Stockholm, Sweden under the online name EmmaKisstina Illustration, Kristina creates beautiful line drawings and sketches of objects and plants to create detailed pattern design.
Free videos on paid sites
HowNow is a recently established online learning platform that offers users one-on-one live video chats with a tutor as well as the choice to participate in a live group video class. Although many of these classes cost anything between £15 and £35, there are a few free classes as well – like Digital Painting for Beginners taught by designer and illustrator S Sid Ahmed.
His tutorial is 25 minutes long and is aimed at beginners. Using Adobe Photoshop, learn how to create characters and creatures, a simple face. All you need is a pencil, paper, a webcam and microphone if you want to engage in the class.
How Now is a little less regulated than other online video tutorial sites. Basically, it lets experts set up a profile with the topics they teach and their availability, and learners can automatically see this, book a lesson and join a live class.
The experts set their own price, availability, class duration and capacity and can sign up easily as a HowNow service provider via the website. There is no set-up cost.
Users can decide who they’d prefer to book with based on other user feedback. Information such as the expert’s experience, qualifications and what you will need to take part in the class can all be found before booking.
Udemy provides video tutorials in painting, line drawing and digital art, ranging from creating sci-fi illustrations using pen and ink to learning editorial illustration in Photoshop.
Although most of its illustrative tutorials will cost around £10, there are a few free ones, such as How to Paint with Acrylics for the Absolute Beginner and Figure Drawing from Life Using the Reilly Technique.
Each video has a star rating, helping you to decide what’s your worth your time. Some videos have 10 hours of content, split into sections covering a range of topics, and some are a lot shorter.
Skillshare offers bite-sized online courses on subjects such as design, typography, inking, animation – and of course, there’s a whole section on ‘crafts’. This includes modern watercolour techniques, drawing letters, creating a magazine and more – taught by creative practitioners.
Although Skillshare normally costs between £4 (US$6) and £7 (US$10) per month depending on the subscription you choose, if you sign up now for the first time you get a whole free month of unlimited classes – so go crazy and put aside time to get creative in that month.
The videos are a lot shorter than other sites in this list, so if you only have time for a quick and basic overview, Skillshare is the way to go.
Similar to Skillshare, Lynda.com offers hundreds of online courses for a small price, but has a 30 day free trial. Lynda.com offers mostly tutorials on digital painting – using software like Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Art Rage – but there are a few ‘fundamentals’ tutorials using acrylic paints and drawing, such as Will Kemp’s Painting Foundations: Light and Landscape and Drawing Foundations: Urban Sketching.
The video tutorials on Lynda.com are lengthy – some at over four hours long – so make sure you block out some time to complete once you start. Each video outlines what tools you’ll need, skill level (beginner, intermediate or expert) and topics that will be covered so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in for.
After your free trial, the average monthly costs is £12.95 (US$16), or £18.95 (US$24) for Premium.