Before I subscribed to Pencil Kings I thought it wasn’t much more than a tutorial site. I first found out about it during the Nomad Art Satchel Kickstarter campaign where one of the reward tiers included a 1 month subscription to Pencil Kings.
I hadn’t heard of at the time so I browsed the site and didn’t see much that interested me. It just seemed like another tutorial site with a couple of courses on cartooning, caricature, and drawing cars. You know, stuff you could find on Youtube for free.
That was back in 2014.
Since then, Pencil Kings has grown well beyond what it used to be.
Pencil Kings has been around for a few years now and they’ve built a respectable course library. Subject matter runs the gamut but there is a strong bias towards illustration, comics, and entertainment art. Not surprisingly, many of the courses focus on digital media, though most of the time the skills that are being taught aren’t dependent on any particular medium.
For example, you have the general subjects like anatomy, color theory, how to draw [insert noun], as well as more specialized courses like caricature, concept art, and painting with Photoshop.
Since the courses are taught by a wide range of instructors there’s not a lot of continuity from one course to the other, unless it’s a multi-part series. What content you find useful will largely depend on what your current skill level is and what your aesthetic tastes are (if you have no interest in drawing anime characters why would take a course for it?).
The library is updated regularly, with new courses added every two weeks.
The online workshop structure works pretty well if there’s a specific skill you want to develop. But if you want to focus on fundamental drawing skills . . .
I don’t know when Pencil Kings started the premium drawing challenges, but I like the idea.
What I like about the challenges is that they are structured in such a way that promotes steady, consistent learning. The entire course is meant to be taken over the course of a month, with each week tackling a limited number of subjects. If you follow the schedule then you should be making continual improvement without feeling overwhelmed.
After purchasing a challenge, you will receive an invite to a Facebook group where you can submit your own work and view the work of others. Challenges are held “Live” during certain parts of the year, so the amount of activity in these groups will vary.
I’ve taken the figure drawing challenge and found it to be excellent, especially as an introduction to the subject. If you’re looking for a place to start learning how to draw the figure (especially if you’re overwhelmed by the number of books and videos on the subject), I highly recommend it. Once you’re ready to move on to more advance figure drawing courses, there are several to choose from in the Pencil Kings course library.
People who seek out art education online generally fall into two groups: a) those that are geographically isolated from art schools (most major art schools are located in large cities. In the U.S., most art schools are clustered in New York and Pennsylvania on the east coast, and California on the west coast) and b) those who can’t afford the tuition of most art schools.
With online schools the problems of cost and geography are eliminated. What’s lost is community, the group of people you’re forced to interact with due to coincidences in timing, location and shared interests.
To compensate for this loss, I think it’s important to have some sort of online environment where students can interact and engage with each other and their teachers. In my review of the Watts Atelier Online program I mentioned the guild system and how it rewards student engagement with short and long-term incentives. They also have skill building contests that set deadlines and allow students to showcase their newly acquired skills.
Pencil Kings doesn’t have guilds but it does have ‘houses.’ Currently there are three houses: Animation, Comics, and Illustration.
Houses serve the purpose of creating smaller, interest based communities within the greater Pencil Kings community. This narrows the scope of the discussion you’re having, making it easier to focus on your specific area of interest.
Each house has a leader who assigns challenges every month. These challenges aim to cultivate skills that relate to one’s chosen house. So if you’re a member of house animation then you’ll likely have assignments dealing with storyboarding, character design, timing, etc.
The houses are still in beta so there’s not much I can say on how they’re working out so far, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.
The PK Podcast
One last thing I’d like to mention is the Pencil Kings Podcast. Art related podcasts have been cropping up all over the place in the past few years and it’s nice to have a diverse selection to listen to.
The PK podcast typically takes the form of a Q&A sessions with a professional artist. Topics range from how to use social media to dealing with and getting over depressive slumps. Mitch has interviewed Stan Prokopenko of Proko and Mike Mattesi of Drawing Force both of which have been covered on this site so I recommend checking those out. It’s a great platform to introduce listeners to creatives they may not be familiar with
I’m pleasantly surprised by what Pencil Kings has to offer. When I first started writing this review I was expecting to find little more than a tutorial site with some decent content.
What I found was a art instruction platform that is still in its infancy but shows a lot of promise.
It’s obvious that Mitch and his team have a lot of passion for what they’re doing. I’m looking forward to see what they come up with next.
Memberships are priced at $29.95 per month or $299.95 per year. Each option has a 3-day trial period that costs $1.
Check out Pencil Kings at www.pencilkings.com
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