In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity ~Albert Einstein
We are at a moment when the core skill sets of artists are most in-demand:
- Our ability to be flexible
- Our ability to come up with unique solutions
- Our resourcefulness (seeing the beauty and possibility where others do not and creating incredibly inspiring work from what seems like nothing)
- Our ability to inspire and work collectively
- AND the joy and hope we bring through our work
As in-person events are being canceled daily, artists are turning to virtual solutions–virtual exhibitions, selling their work online (adding or expanding existing online shops), virtual conferences and summits, using video to create collaborative and interactive community-based projects, and teaching art online.
As you pivot your art business to adapt to these changes, you may be overwhelmed by where to start and unsure what the essential items are that you need to get started. Having taught for years in-person and online, I know that getting started can be daunting.
The good news is that it has never been easier to get started teaching online. And many of the resources you need to get started are free or inexpensive. You can achieve great results on a small budget if you are willing to leverage your creativity and put some time into it. You also can look at bartering with others. Trade skills or your art with designers, photographers, and others (think of that accountant friend who is a fan of your work for example).
You already have a captive audience of millions of people who are hungry for what you have to share. Parents are working from home and looking for ways to supplement their homeschooling curriculum (and if you have seen any of the social media threads on this, parents’ standards for what they are teaching their kids is lowering by the second as well as their school lunches–mac & cheese on Monday becomes “do we have any Cheetos you can eat” by Friday). While you may have not thought of kids as a target for your art classes, tweens and teens (and college students) are eager to tap into their creative side. It is an escape from reality and an opportunity for them to express and process the chaos around them.
The truth is young people aren’t the only ones looking for a diversion from their lives right now.
before you get started
It is easier to launch online classes if you have taught before. While you can’t just turn on a video camera and teach the same way you would if it was an in-person class, having an existing class or classes as the foundation for launching your online art classes is very helpful.
This doesn’t mean that if you have never taught before that you can’t start teaching online but rather that you have a few more steps before you can hit record on the camera. If you don’t already have the Artist’s Course Planner Checklist, you can download it here. The checklist walks you through the conceptual and logistical components of creating your class.
Once you know what you are going to teach, you need to figure out how to deliver the content virtually.
WHAT TOOLS & TECH DO YOU NEED
If you are coaching/ mentoring artists, you can get away with just a phone and email. It has been done. You also can start offering video coaching with a free Zoom account. But if you want to offer classes, you really need to have stable internet access, a computer and a few other basic tools.
I created a pdf guide with my specific recommendations and links for the essential tools, software, and apps that you will need to get started. The blog post below is a detailed overview of what you need to get started teaching online but for the direct links for the resources below and all my other recommendations, get the Teaching Online Resource Guide now.
Depending on what you are teaching (medium–painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, etc.) you will have different video and computer needs. A photographer whose class includes understanding the features of a camera may want to the ability to offer screencasting so the students can see the specific screen details or how to use editing software. A painter, on the other hand, may just need to have students be able to see their easel or tabletop. Let your medium and the focus of your class determine what tools you will need to video. I will try to cover the basics for all media. The key is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started. Where appropriate, I will note items that are optional and which are critical to successfully teaching online.
Depending on the type/ age of your smartphone, you may find that you can do most of your filming with it. iPhon6 or newer should offer you enough features to get you going. The only challenge maybe the size of your phone’s storage, but there is a fix for that too. For Android phones, they should be 3 years old or newer. Try to see if the phone you have works before upgrading. Also, you don’t have to purchase the latest phone. You can get an older model like an iPhone 8 or X and save money. Another tip is to buy a refurbished or used phone from the company directly or your phone carrier. We got my daughter a used replacement iPhone 8 recently and saved a lot of money. It works great.
If you need more storage for your phone, you can get flash drives that can connect to your phones. While Android phones have been better about standard plugs (micro USB, etc.), iPhones have lightning connectors. You can purchase a flash drive with a lightning connector for your phone and store your videos on that. I like this SanDisk one. It is a reliable flash drive manufacturer and you can choose the size you want up to 256GB.
You can also use your computer/ laptop/ tablet camera, a DSLR on the video setting or a video camera. When using a DSLR or video camera, you will have to upload the video to your computer to edit it. You can edit directly on your phone or tablet before uploading it to your computer or directly to your video hosting platform. More on video editing below.
You may want an external webcam when using your tablet, computer or laptop. Some advantages are that you can get different angles (such as bird’s eye views) if you mount it to a tripod and you can move it around more easily than your computer screen.
tripods & adapters
You will need a tripod and a smartphone adapter if you use your phone. A small tabletop, flexible leg tripod for smartphones is also handy. The bendable legs allow you to adjust for uneven surfaces and to wrap it around poles. You can get a basic tripod and adapter for $22 that will work well for getting started.
I use a Bluetooth smartphone shutter remote to start and stop my video and also to take stills. Once I have my space/ scene set up, I don’t want to accidentally move from my mark so I use the shutter remote control to start and stop the video. I use the Gorilla tripod and wrap it around my shelf post to get an aerial view of my potter’s wheel when I am throwing or trimming. Again, the remote control shutter makes starting and stopping video easy.
Depending on your space, you may have adequate lighting from windows but don’t count on it. The light shifts during the day and if you want to have consistent lighting, you will need to add lights. You can use soft lightboxes on tripods to create broad soft lighting of you and your teaching workspace. This will give you the most consistent lighting with minimal glare. If you are shooting aerial footage of your desktop, you may be able to use cone type desk lamps on either side of your surface. I recommend using 5000K compact fluorescent bulbs in them however to get the best color (there are LED options as well but getting LED lights can be more expensive). Some people use light rings but that seems to be better suited for a video that is focused just on you talking (imagine vloggers). Softlightboxes offer the most versatility and can be moved around to where you need them. You can also go very low budget and McGyver a set up with utility clamp work lights and 5000K compact fluorescent bulbs.
Your built-in mics on your phone and computer can work well. Do check to make sure that the audio sounds ok if you are using your phone for video. Test it before publishing video and consider adding an external phone mic if necessary. If the phone isn’t too far away from you and the ambient noise is minimal, you should be fine. External mics do have the advantage that you can position them closer to you while still keeping the camera at distance. I have a Yeti mic on a boom for shooting my videos and I find that even on conference calls, people find the sound on it better than my iMac. I think it is because the Yeti mic is closer to me. You can start out using your built-in mic and add an external mic as your budget allows.
You will need a way to edit your videos. I use a combination of apps. While Adobe Creative Suite has many robust apps for editing film and graphic design, I find that some simpler apps are just as good and sometimes better for quickly executing my final videos. I use the VideoShop app on my phone (and iPad) and Canva. Canva is an online app that also offers a phone app. It is a versatile graphic design app that has preformatted templates for most standard applications–IG story, IG post, presentation (this would be landscape orientation video title page), flyers, and more. You can upload your own images or use theirs. There is a free plan or you can upgrade to pro plan (which includes all their premium images, graphics, and elements for free). You can easily resize a design and make copies to use as templates. I do this with my blog post cover images.
VideoShop allows you to edit video on your phone quickly and easily. It takes a bit to get used to but once you do, it is such a time saver. You can add music, titles, text, voice-over, fade in and out, transitions, still images (which can include graphics you make in Canva), turn it into a time-lapse video, and more. Once you are done, upload it to YouTube/ Vimeo with a click of a button. Share to social media, email it or, download it to your phone. You can also make copies of videos and use them as templates for quickly making new videos. Reuse title pages and text and swap out video clips and stills. It is free but you may decide that upgrading is worth it. I upgraded to remove watermarks.
Yes, Adobe Premiere is much better but it is more costly and has a bigger learning curve. There are lots of tutorial videos for VideoShop to help you get going quickly and learn inside tricks. If you already are an Adobe Creative Suite user and like those apps, go for it! As I said, I go back and forth between them and simpler apps. The goal is completion, not perfection. Keep it simple. You can always refine your class videos the second time around.
Video hosting platforms
Once you have your finished videos, you will need to host them somewhere online and then either link or embed the videos in your teaching platform. The top two options are YouTube and Vimeo. I use Vimeo. There are various plans based on how much data you upload weekly and maximum storage capacity. The cheapest plan works fine for getting started but if you find yourself needing more storage or more weekly upload capacity, you can upgrade. They are running an upgrade discount through the end of the year. You can get that upgrade code in my free Teaching Online Resource Guide.
There are a number of effective and easy teaching platforms in a variety of price ranges. It matters less which one you choose but that you find one that you can get started with easily. Also, there is nothing wrong if you decide later to change platforms. Don’t stay with a platform if it no longer suits your needs but also don’t keep jumping around.
When I got started over 3 years ago, there were different options. Some platforms are still around and other newbies are now big players in the online teaching arena. I will share a few and note which require less technical skill. Disclosure…I use the LearnDash plugin for WordPress. I wanted to have it on my site and not pay monthly fees. If I was getting started now, I would seriously consider going with Teachable instead.
Teachable is a favorite for many online teachers because of the ease of setup (drag and drop building), the various pricing plans, and the variety of elegant templates. It has numerous integrations with email services and also has robust data tracking on how your students find you, etc. You can get started for free but are limited to 10 students with the free plan. You can easily upgrade to other plans and take advantage of additional features those plans offer. The basic plan is $39/mo or $29/mo if paid annually. You can start with the free plan while you build your class/es, upgrade to basic on a monthly plan when you launch and switch to the annual plan after you start enrolling students.
Teachable is a platform that can grow with you as your online teaching business grows. You can use it as a stand-alone website or integrate it seamlessly with your existing website. On your website menu, create a header that says “Classes” and when people click on that send them directly to your Teachable home page. It is that simple. Use a template that is similar to the look of your current site and customize it to your brand.
Payments, discounts, and payment plans are also available through Teachable as well.
Kajabi is an all-in-one teaching platform, which means that you don’t need a separate website for your classes. You can use your custom domain or one from Kajabi. Their claim to fame is that they are one-stop-shopping offering a teaching platform, website, email, community options (instead of setting up separate FaceBook groups or MightyNetworks, it is all within Kajabi), etc. so that you no longer need to pay for these other subscription services because they are all features within Kajabi. It also comes at a steeper price but they would argue is cheaper or equal to one’s combined costs for the services they replace. It is also touted as a simpler way to do all you need to as an online course creator. It is the ease of having one platform replace numerous other apps. Their Basic plan is $149/ mo ($119/mo if paid annually).
If you are also selling your artwork, this may not be a good solution for you. I am not sure if you can add a page or link that would take you to say a Shopify shop or if you want to have a portfolio page. But many big-name course creator coaches and mentors, like Amy Porterfield, swear by Kajabi.
Kajabi also offers webinars.
You want to consider your overall online presence needs when choosing Kajabi. How does teaching fit into your total business plan (for artists, what percentage of your business is teaching, do you sell your artwork online or through galleries, how do you want people to find your artwork online…)? Do you need a website that showcases other aspects of your business as well? If you only want to teach, this may be just what you need with all the built-in services.
MightyNetworks is most well known as a membership site but one can also create online classes through this platform. I haven’t seen any classes created on it nor do I know anyone who uses MightyNetworks who uses the course feature for courses (I have seen it used as a way to provide information to community members). But I also haven’t done a huge sampling. I am familiar with it as a membership site. You need their Business Plan (which is $98/mo or $81/ mo if paid annually) if you want to offer online courses through MightyNetworks. You also need it if you want to use Zapier integrations.
You can get most of the basic features you will need with the free account but they charge a bigger percentage (5%) for member subscriptions (the amount people who pay for your membership are charged) that is in addition to any credit card processing fees. The two other plans are Community ($28/ mo and 3% membership subscription fee) and Business ($98/ mo and 2% membership subscription fee).
- It is a great way to create an interactive community for your followers and students.
- Membership can be free or paid. You can offer free membership to students and limit it to just students or offer tiered access to content. You can allow students to be members for life for free or offer a free period after a class ends and then the opportunity to continue with a paid membership. You can get started for free.
- You can control the environment and own all the content unlike when using FaceBook. Your members are more focused on your content and interactions related to your community’s focus as opposed to a FaceBook group where they will be bombarded with ads, their news feed, and other distractions.
- You can create events within the site for your community or segments of the community.
- You can share videos, pdfs and documents.
- Members can connect through shared common interests and categories that you identify in member profiles (for example, painters, teaching artists, sculptors, etc.)
- Members can message each other and create groups.
- You can add moderators.
- Easily migrate groups from LinkedIn or FaceBook with special invite links.
- Members can access your membership community online or through their smartphone app for iOS and Android.
- It isn’t FaceBook. Some people are averse to using FaceBook so this is a great alternative for students who don’t want to join a FaceBook member group but do want to connect with others in your class or community.
- It is not a platform that they currently use, like FaceBook so they need to get used to checking it and participating in it. You will need to train people to use it.
- It is another platform to moderate and add to your routine.
- The search feature isn’t as robust as I’d like. It doesn’t utilize hashtags which could help in easily finding members’ content they share under a theme or topic via a hashtag. When searching, it looks for ALL uses of a word or phrase. While that results in you finding everything related to your search parameters, it does make it hard to quickly find what you are looking for.
LearnDash is an LMS (learning management system) plugin for WordPress. This option requires more tech know-how and more setup time. It is less expensive in that you just pay for a license and then renew the license annually ($159/ yr). Many universities use this plugin to create customized teaching solutions. If you are used to using the backend of WordPress, you will find the LearnDash plugin format fairly straight forward. You will still need to host videos on YouTube or Vimeo and then embedding them is super easy by inserting the link in your module. It is very customizable but that tweaking takes time. You can add course forums for students enrolled in a specific course through the bbPress plugin. It allows you to re-use content making it easier to create courses that utilize similar content or structures. While I like LearnDash (I used to use it myself but switched to Teachable), I definitely see some real benefits to using Teachable. The advantage to LearnDash is that there are no additional fees beyond the credit card transaction fee, unlike Teachable that takes an additional percentage on each class sold on their free and basic plan. There is no transaction fee for Kajabi. There isn’t a free trial like there is on Teachable or Kajabi.
which teaching platform is right for you?
Teachable is a great place to start if you want a simple easy to set up platform. In many ways, LearnDash can be the most cost-effective since there isn’t a monthly fee but you may spend more time managing the plugin updates and integrations than you would with other platforms.
Do you want to see what these platforms look like and get a behind the scenes tour from artists teaching on each of these platforms and more?
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