Interview with Artist and Instructor Matt Fussell
Artist and The Virtual Instructor founder, Matt Fussell talks about his online art classes and offers advice for aspiring artists.
Matt Fussell Bio
Matt is an artist and teacher that owns and operates TheVirtualInstructor.com, an online platform for learning how to draw and paint. The platform is used by countless artists, teachers and students worldwide. Over 19,000 students and teachers have participated in the membership program and his courses have been viewed by over 45,000 students. Matt lives in North Carolina with his wife, four kids, and two dogs.
Please tell us what you do?
TheVirtualInstructor.com is an online platform for learning various
forms of art. Drawing, painting, and a bit of digital art is covered as well as the mediums of graphite, charcoal, oil pastels, soft pastels, colored pencils, pen and ink, acrylics, watercolor, oils, gouache, and much more.
The website features nearly 1000 video lessons and tutorials. It also includes lesson plans for teachers and critiques of student submitted artwork. New lessons are published every week. There are currently 9 complete courses offered. Each course consists of logically sequenced modules that build upon information learned in the previous module. Each module includes an instructional video and downloadable ebook. The 9 courses currently offered are…
• The Secrets to Drawing
• Pastel Landscape Mastery
• The Colored Pencil Course
• Oil Painting Master Series
• The Pen and Ink Experience
• Portrait Drawing The Smart Way
• The Acrylic Painting Academy
• The Watercolor Workshop
• Creative Mixed Media
New courses in development include “Basic Photoshop for Artists” and “The Graphite Drawing Course” (working title).
Students may purchase individual courses or get them all by becoming a member of the membership program.
The membership program is a subscription that includes all of the courses. Beyond the courses, members also can participate in the weekly Live Lessons which are streamed live each week. Live Lessons are recorded and stored for replay for members. There are currently nearly 200 hours of recorded live content for members. Live Lessons are presented as series and are unedited – so each step of the process is recorded. Students can ask questions and make comments live during each lesson.
Also included with the membership program is “The Ultimate Lesson Plan”. The Ultimate Lesson Plan is an entire year’s curriculum for art teachers on the secondary level. Each lesson includes videos, handouts, student examples, presentation materials, and more. It includes everything a teacher would need to teach the lesson in their
Members also have access to “The Member’s Minute” which is a weekly video that includes a critique of member-submitted art and the answer to a question that a member has submitted as well as a bit of motivation.
Memberships are currently priced at $19 a month or $97 a year and each plan begins with $1 trial for 7 days.
Currently, there are over 15,000 members or folks that have purchased a course through the site. Clearly, the website keeps me very busy. These folks are my students and I care very deeply about their success.
I no longer accept commission work. The art that I create is developed to instruct my students. Every piece that I create is turned into a lesson or a tutorial.
How did you get started with TheVirtualInstructor?
I spent many years in public education at the secondary level before the website took off. As the head of the department, I was fortunate to help design the curriculum at the visual and performing arts magnet high school in which I taught. I also spent a couple of years in administration at the district level in which I was in charge of the Visual Arts program.
When I taught in the classroom, I created videos for my students. Originally they were on DVD. I would make copies for my students. I had the idea to store them on a website for easier access and that’s when the website was born.
Soon after this, I realized that others were using the site when the site crashed because of traffic.
I began the membership program when users asked for a course. The first course that I developed was “The Secrets to Drawing” which became wildly popular. This course has now been viewed by well-over 20,000 students from 153 different countries.
More courses followed along with the Live Lessons, lesson plans, and eventually The Member’s Minute.
Today, I spend around 60 hours per week developing new lessons for the site.
You have several other art training sites, can you
please tell us what they are?
Beyond TheVirtualInstructor.com, a few of my courses are available on udemy.com. I do not publish every course that I create on Udemy, however.
I also run a smaller site at SketchbookNation.com specifically designed for learning how to draw or sketch with basic shapes. This website features step by step tutorials on drawing specific subjects. Each lesson breaks the subject down into simplified shapes that are easy to draw. It makes drawing much easier and helps to train your brain to see simplified shapes in any subject that you encounter.
One of the more popular features of SketchbookNation.com is the “30 Day Sketchbook Challenge”. This challenge is completely free. When a student signs up, they are sent a new drawing challenge via email every day for 30 days. Each challenge includes a step by step tutorial. “The 50 Day Sketchbook Challenge” is available as an ebook from the site for just $3.
How essential was your Illustration degree to your
I learned quite a bit in art school. For me, it was very beneficial. The degree itself was required to teach of course. But if illustration was all that I did, I don’t think the degree itself would be that important. That being said, the art school experience was very important. I learned that there is quite a bit of competition out there and that there was plenty more that I needed to learn as an artist. I created a portfolio and developed over time. I was also free to experiment and find myself as an artist. Although a degree is not a prerequisite for becoming an artist, if college is an option, I definitely wouldn’t skip it.
Do you think teaching art courses is a good
business direction for artists to take?
This is a very good question. There are lots of highly skilled artists out there, but most cannot teach. Effective teaching is a skill that is learned and developed – just like drawing. It is about communication and empathy. You cannot expect to be a great teacher just because you are great at a particular skill.
Teaching is often thought of as something to fall back on. Usually people who “fall back” to teaching are simply poor teachers. You must be passionate about teaching to find any success. And just like drawing and painting, you must constantly work to perfect the craft.
Teaching is a passion for me. I am a teacher – who also happens to be skilled at drawing and painting. My true skills lie in communicating and deconstructing subjects so that anyone can understand. And if the truth be told, most people cannot just decide to do this. They must be willing to work hard at developing this skill.
I am fortunate to be able to share my teaching with many around the world. It has been lucrative for me. But this was not the goal in the beginning. It started with a desire to make learning easier for my students. The students, whether they are in a classroom or half-way around the world behind a computer, have always been the reason I do what I do.
If you could start over, what would you do
I’m not sure I would do anything differently. We often look back on our lives and say “I wish I would have done this or that”. But we are where we are. Looking backwards doesn’t change anything. My experiences have formed who I am and I am pretty happy with my life and who I have become.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Being a creator is one of the most rewarding things to do with your life. Along the way you will face frustrations, but these frustrations are often the signs of growth. Art is a journey. It is a series of setting and meeting goals. Every time a summit is reached, another one is placed before us. We may never reach our ultimate goals, but a lifelong pursuit as an artist is not about the final destination. Instead, it is about the journey. Enjoy every step and love the life that you live.