Interview with Artist Richard Robinson
Artist and online art teacher, Richard Robinson, offers advice on teaching art online and what it takes to become a successful artist.
Richard Robinson Bio
Richard Robinson (b.1975) has been painting his whole life and back in 2001 he threw in his graphic design career for the humble life of a full time artist. He loves painting, and as it turns out, he loves teaching too. Nowadays he balances his life between parenting, painting, surfing, travelling and teaching. His work is regularly featured in international art magazines, in galleries in New Zealand and America, on TV and in his Mum’s house. He gives outdoor painting workshops in interesting spots around this beautiful planet of ours and loves encouraging people to paint. Two of his favourite artists are John Singer Sargent and Joaquín Sorolla.
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Please tell us what you do?
I’m a painter and an educator. I split my working time between painting and making videos teaching others how to paint and travelling the world teaching plein air painting workshops.
My paintings: www.nzpainter.com
My painting is usually a response to light and colour in the landscape. I enjoy painting the occasional still life or figure for fun, but it’s the landscape and painting in it that continues to draw me back. I usually work with oil on canvas, painting outdoors, and will sometimes work up a larger painting in the studio based on my outdoor work and photos.
My work sells online, through my studio at home and in galleries in New Zealand and the US. I also sell limited edition canvas prints of some of my favorites, as well as calendars and books. Those secondary products don’t make a huge amount of money but they do more than pay for themselves and for my time arranging them so I consider them a worthy marketing tool. Every little helps.
My painting lessons: www.livepaintinglessons.com
In 2001 I took the plunge and traded my graphic design career for the life of a full time artist. I worked hard and made it financially successful. A few years later I began teaching occasional workshops and discovered that I enjoyed the mental and social aspects of that. I found that to teach well you really need to study and be sure of your own painting processes and of others, so it’s a great way to improve your own work.
In 2008, I started making instructional videos for sale on the internet. Since then, that side of my business has gradually overtaken my painting as the major source of income. It seems to combine my talents well and it’s been very successful both financially and also in that my internet popularity has opened many doors around the world, from teaching and speaking engagements, to meeting inspiring people in the art world, to accommodation and family holidays.
I could spend more time teaching workshops around the world and make that another major income source, but currently I have young children who still think I’m moderately cool so we’re happy to stay in New Zealand most of the time. International workshops are a great way to meet other artists, see the world and have it all paid for though.
What is your art background?
I was always interesting in drawing and painting and was allowed and encouraged by my parents, for which I’m forever thankful. I took the art prize in high school and went on to get a degree in Graphic Design, majoring in illustration and then worked as a graphic and web designer for a few years until I married my goodly wife Helen and took the chance to become a full time artist.
We basically said ok if this this painting lark doesn’t earn us at least $30,000 in the first year then I’ll go back partially to graphic design until it builds up. I worked hard to make sure I didn’t have to go backwards into design, and discovered that I much prefer to work for myself than for someone else, something I should have picked up on after being fired from both McDonald’s and the local petrol station years earlier. You just can’t have your head in the clouds when you’re dealing with petrol.
Has your graphic design background helped your
Yes, visual design of any kind is going to help with painting. Colours, composition, drawing, that’s all easily transferable. What’s less obvious but more important is the ability or desire to spend hours and hours nutting out a visual problem, lost in that wordless and timeless space.
How did you get started with teaching painting
It all began with the purchase of our first family video camera in 2007 and the idea to record the creation process of all the commissioned paintings I was doing and giving the time lapsed DVD to the client – a great marketing idea to encourage word of mouth advertising – the most potent (and cheap) form of promotion. I thought to put one of these short videos online on Youtube. It was very low quality but to my surprise it got a lot of views and some encouraging comments. I’m a sucker for encouragement, so I thought hey I wonder if someone would pay for a proper video lesson, since I was already teaching a few workshops here and there.
Six months later (it was a big ol’ can of worms!) I had my first 30 minute video lesson completed and a web page that could sell it and deliver it online. I was over the moon ecstatic when I sold my first one for $15! I’d earned something like 6 cents an hour I think. There was one great thing I knew about internet business though – it’s scalable. That meant I only had to get more people to my site, so I invested months and years into learning how to do that, all the while making new lessons and gradually improving on all aspects of the business, including teaching technique, filming and audio gear and processes, video editing, DVD production, online video delivery, payment processing, customer care, promotion, affiliate sales, joint ventures, etc, etc, etc, all while continuing to paint and promote my art. Yes it’s a big ol’ can of worms, but it’s my can of worms, and I love that it’s a huge ongoing project that gets better and better the more I chip away at it.
Do you think creating courses for artists is a good
business direction for artists to take?
It depends on the artist. Whatever you do you’re going to succeed if you feel passionate about it and are driven to work and work and work on it. Most of the time what I do doesn’t feel like work – it feels like play, because I love doing it. When it does feel like work I know I’m doing too much of the same thing, so I make a change. I actively design my life the way I want it.
There are certainly more and more artists creating video courses now – some really good, some not so good. It’s become a relatively easy thing to do compared with what I had to figure out back in 2008. There are online courses showing you how to do it all and even learning platforms like Udemy and Craftsy that can do all the heavy lifting for you, but of course they take the lion’s share of the profit too.
I used to use a fancy camera but now I just shoot on an iPhone 6 with a lapel mic which is some indication of the improvement in technology in the past few years. My view is that good teaching videos don’t have to be a Hollywood production, but they need to contain solid instruction and be engaging if they’re to be successful. Promotion is the other side of the coin and equally important, just as it is for painters, and its value shouldn’t be underestimated. Your value as an instructor will first be measured by your painting skills, but ultimately if you aren’t a good teacher and don’t intend to improve your teaching with practice and learning then you will not succeed as a teacher.
Is it a good direction for you? Follow your heart.
Does teaching and running an online training
business interfere with your painting?
Yes, there is a time tradeoff, unless you clone yourself or utilise parallel universes. Wherever you spend your energy and thought is where you will see the most development both personally and financially. Just do what you want to do. It’s your life, and it is so short and easily spent.
If you could start over, what would you do
I would invest in quality video gear sooner, especially the computer I use (iMac with Final Cut Pro) for editing – that makes all the difference. But then, I didn’t know at the time whether of not it would all pay for itself
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Make goals, small and large and plan how you will achieve them.
Learn from paintings that you love.
Learn from paintings that you don’t love.
Make good paintings and pat yourself on the back, briefly.
Discover your weaknesses and work to make them your strengths.
Don’t put your coffee cup next to your thinners pot.
Ventilate your studio and avoid toxic thinners and mediums.
To avoid washing oil painting brushes forever, rest your brushes in a
horizontal tub of safflower oil between paintings.
Make your play your exercise.
Remember to snack and drink during a painting.
Befriend successful artists.
Take all advice with a pinch of salt.
Enjoy! Paint your life fantastic.