Jennifer C Vigil

Teaching art online Art students painting

Deciding what to teach: Who is your ideal student?

When teaching art online deciding what to teaching can be a bit overwhelming. Often people struggle with too many ideas or not knowing what to teach.

If you have taught in person, the struggle may be how do you translate an in-person class to an online platform.

If you are new to teaching, you may worry that it has all been done before (and maybe secretly fear done better) or that you don’t know enough.

Yes, you do need a certain level of mastery to teach. However, part of being an effective teacher is recognizing that you don’t know it all. You are just further along on the learning journey than your students. Keep learning and growing as an artist AND as a teacher. You will make missteps in both arenas and that is ok. That is part of the process that you share with your students.

The truth is you do need to consider who you want to teach before or at the same time you decide what
you want to teach them.

What skill level of students do you want to teach?  Which level are you best suited to teach?

  • Beginner
  • Advanced beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

If you get more excited about how to elevate your overall composition and talking color theory is your jam, then working with beginning students probably isn’t a good fit. You may inadvertently overwhelm newbies with concepts and terms that freak them out and shut them down.

Here’s the thing. Learning something new involves risk-taking and let’s face it, tapping into our creative side is already scary enough without feeling like you are Bridget Jones standing at the top of a black diamond ski run dotted with moguls when you thought you got off the lift at the bunny hill.

Conversely, do you love getting someone excited about a new medium and exposing them to the possibilities of what they can do with your medium of choice? Then maybe beginners are your peeps.

Working with beginners can be energizing and refreshing because they are a clean slate. They often come at the medium in new ways unencumbered by how one “should” do something.

They have shoshin, what in Zen Buddism means the “beginner’s mind” which refers to an attitude of openness, eagerness, and no preconceptions about the subject.

Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as an artist and a teacher helps in deciding which skill level you would like to teach. Maybe you offer courses that are a progression taking students from beginning to advanced. Or maybe you would rather focus on intermediate and advanced students. 

There is no wrong answer here. Follow your heart and don’t worry. You can always change your mind later.

What age group do you want to teach?

  • Kids
  • Teens
  • Young adults
  • Adults
  • Older adults

I know. You say, “but my classes are for anyone.” Are they really? Teaching retirees versus grade-schoolers or teens are vastly different beasts. And it is different with online classes vs in-person classes. Younger people tend to be more technologically savvy. People 55 and older may need more help with the tech you use teaching your class.

If you have had a loyal following of students for your in-person classes and they skew older, keep that in mind when transitioning to online classes. Make sure that you are able to offer quick support to any technical issues they may encounter. You may want to have a virtual assistant or a web developer at the ready that is good with tech ready to help you with support requests from students. This is especially helpful when you are doing a course launch and opening-up registration. Tip: VAs tend to be up to half the cost of a web developer so if you can find a reliable VA who can handle tech issues like lost passwords and site access issues you can save some money.

Keep in mind that with online classes, you may be overcoming your own tech challenges. So give yourself a break as you tackle creating your online course creation and consider enlisting help. Hire a part-time virtual assistant and/ or a web developer to help you when you launch a class or to have them handle your support email questions (i.e. is a wise investment. The reality is that with our art businesses we often have to invest in hiring support staff before we feel financially ready to. There are lots of freelance web developers and VAs who work hourly or based on the scope of a project.

Having the support in place for your classes to launch and run smoothly can make the difference between having satisfied students and refund requests. It is part of offering good customer service. Yes, you will have glitches and mishaps but how you handle them makes the difference between raving fans and negative reviews.


If you work in a medium that has lots of specialized equipment, don’t automatically assume that you can’t create online classes. Instead, recognize that your audience will be intermediate and advanced students. People taking your online classes are already committed to this medium and have the necessary basic equipment. Even some advanced beginners who have access to equipment at a community studio could be potential students.

There are ways to test to see if there is a market for a class that requires more equipment. I will share how in a future post. But as a teaser, I’m talking about doing some market research with quizzes, short videos, and polling.

Regardless of what media you work in for your art practice, there are design concepts and other foundational skills that you have that can be the focus of “must-take” courses you can create. So if you decide that teaching bronze casting online isn’t what you want to do despite it being the main part of your art practice, you could teach drawing, 3D composition, sculpting in clay or wax, etc.

Think out of the box and also consider at what level you want to teach. If you want to work with intermediate to advanced students, then studio equipment access shouldn’t be an issue as they own the necessary items or have access to a fully equipped studio.

Not sure what level of student you might be most successful with? This isn’t always obvious. Sometimes the group that we think we would want to teach isn’t actually the level for which our teaching style and skill set are best suited.  What is your teaching style? The Happy Cheerleader (someone who is super encouraging and students learn through experimentation–an intuitive approach) or Bob the Builder (someone who teaches through step-by-step processes and specific methods that build upon each other–a concrete, structured approach). These are two ends of the spectrum and people fall somewhere in the middle. Sometimes a more structured teaching style is better suited for beginning classes.

Not sure what your teaching style is or what level is best suited for you? Download this guide and follow the journaling prompts and exercises to get a greater insight into what style of teacher you are and what level of student you are best suited to teach.

Once you determine your ideal student, you can figure out the focus of your class.

Ready to start teaching online but not sure what teaching platform to use or what apps and tech you need? Check out this post, Virtual Teacher Essential Took Kit, for reviews of platforms, tools, the bare minimum you need to get started, and items you can upgrade to as your budget permits.

Want a behind the scenes look at some of the most popular online teaching platforms? Check out the Teaching Art Online Summit that art business coach Alyson Stanfield hosted. It is 6-hours long and only $37*. Get a free sneak peek at the first session here.



*As an affiliate presenter, I receive a small percentage of each summit sale. Purchasing items I review or recommend through the links I provide is one way to support me and my work. I receive a small affiliate bonus for Amazon items purchased through my blog post links.


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