Who/What is Proko?
Stan Prokopenko is a San Diego based artist and former student/teacher at the Watts Atelier. In 2012 he started posting short drawing tutorials on his Youtube channel that showed how to draw the head using a similar method to Andrew Loomis. The channel quickly began getting attention, and has since grown into an extensive online learning resource for artists who want to study figure drawing.
There are a few things that set Proko apart from similar online art instruction videos. From the beginning, there has been an impressive level of polish to each tutorial. If you compare the most recent videos with the early ones not much has changed in the production value, presentation or general tone of the lessons. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been improvements, but it’s unusual to see such consistency on Youtube or anywhere else. Each video is set against a blank white backdrop which minimizes distractions. Graphics, animations, and over-the-shoulder drawing demos are frequently used to demonstrate key concepts, and the videos are scripted, which keeps them concise with little filler or rambling passages. One of the stated goals of Proko is to make the learning process fun which is reflected in the use of humor in the videos. Stan has a goofy sense of humor and peppers the videos with jokes and visual gags that help lighten the mood. These parts can get annoying on repeat viewing, but it’s a nice touch and sets Proko apart from some of the more dour, overly serious art instruction videos I’ve seen.
Freemium vs. Premium
Video content is divided into two types: free and premium. The free videos are samples that offer just enough to make you interested, and the premium courses are what you buy when you’re ready to dive deeper into the subject. At the moment, there are four different premium courses offered on Proko. They are:
- Figure Drawing Fundamentals
- Portrait Drawing Fundamentals
- Anatomy Drawing Course
- Caricature Drawing Course.
Each is taught by Stan with the exception of the caricature course, which is taught by Court Jones. After purchasing one of the premium courses you will be given access to the course dashboard on the Proko website. There you will be able to stream or download the course materials at any time. Each video is offered in 720p, which offers enough resolution to see all the necessary details, and the file sizes aren’t so large that they’ll instantly fill up your computer’s hard drive. The premium course material expands upon the free content, typically in the form of extended lessons and demos. A video on the Proko Youtube channel may introduce a key concept, but the premium course will contain an entire section devoted to further elucidating that concept.
Figure Drawing Fundamentals
The figure drawing course approaches the subject in a very structural manner, ignoring anatomical details in favor of gesture and simplified forms to describe the human body. The course is structured to guide you through increasingly complex levels of abstraction, with supplementary concepts explained along the way.
- Gesture – focuses on finding lines of action, training the student to quickly identify the essential character of the pose.
- Bean – The bean is a simple representation of the torso, similar to the flour sack every animation student know all too well. In every pose, the torso has a side that stretches and a side that pinches, and the bean is a simple way to represent this visually.
- Structure – Structure deals with breaking the parts of the body down into simple geometric forms i.e. spheres, cubes, and cylinders.
- Landmarks – Landmarks covers the bony protrusions that can be used to establish proper relationships between different parts of the body.
- Robo Bean – Robo Bean adds structure to the bean abstraction from earlier, giving it boxier edges to the bean shape.
- Mannequinization -this is where the your drawings will start to look more like human beings, ableit highly abstracted human beings. A volumetric schematic, that sort of resembles a wireframe, is drawn over the geometric structures from the previous lessons.
- Critiques – Stan and guest Marshall Vandruff critique student submitted work.
- Balance – This section covers the bodies center of gravity and how to represent it in your drawings
- Exaggeration – Exaggeration is a skill I often see among illustrators and animators, but lacking in fine artists. As a result their figures often look stiff and lifeless. One of the nice things about having taken a class with a former Disney animator is you learn to always push the pose further than what seems necessary.
- Proportions – Stan breaks down the proportions the human body and explains the differences between Dr. Paul Richer, Robert Beverly Hale, and Andrew Loomis’s proportional ideals.
- Measuring – Learn to triangulate different points on the figure to achieve accurate proportions
- Prerequisites – Materials, how to sharpen your pencil, and overview of basic terminology.
- Shading – This lesson is about adding value to the forms to complete a finished drawing.
The whole point of this course is to simplify the figure to it’s most basic elements, which you can then build upon until you can execute a fully rendered drawing. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on gesture in the early portion of the course, which I think is important because it’s one of those concepts that’s easy to comprehend but very hard to do well. A good gesture drawing captures the essence of the pose with the fewest amount of marks possible. I’ve noticed that students that are new to gesture drawing often create a rough silhouette of the figure in scribbly lines, which technically is a gesture, but it’s lazy execution. I once had a teacher tell me to, “just get in there and kamikaze it”, it being the drawing. Stan’s approach is much slower and more precise. You can tell while watching him draw that he considers the placement of each mark before he makes it. Sacrificing speed for precision is always advisable, especially to beginners. I recommend progressing through the lessons slowly, repeating the exercises until you master them, and then a few more times for good measure. It won’t do any good to rush through or skip lessons, because each one builds on the previous.
Portrait Drawing Fundamentals
This was the first premium course made available on Proko. Many figure drawing methods begin with the head as it can be used as the basic unit of measure for the entire body. Considering that Stan was a student and teacher at the Watts Atelier, it’s possible he started by learning to draw the head. However, it’s not necessary to get bogged down in the details of portrait drawing before starting on the figure. The head is a complex subject for artists to master, and creating a convincing portrait is made doubly hard because it is the part of the body everyone is most familiar with. When you talk to someone where do you look? Their face, especially the eyes. The face is the most information dense part of the body, so naturally our eyes will be drawn to it. Therefore, it makes sense that even those who have no knowledge of facial proportions or anatomy can quickly spot a poorly drawn portrait.
Stan’s approach to drawing the head closely resembles that of Andrew Loomis’s, whose books Drawing the Head and Hands and Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth have been mainstays since the 1940’s. Those who have looked into the Watts Atelier Online will be familiar with Stan’s way of drawing as well. He starts with a simple lay-in, using a sphere to represent the cranium, then adds the jawline and mask of the face. He then divides the face into thirds: chin to nose, nose to brow, brow to hairline. This provides the foundation on which the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and hair can be added. Each of these are covered individually in its own video. Most of the videos offered in the portrait course are available for free on the Proko Youtube page. When you buy the course you get 2 full length portrait drawing demos as well as 3d models. The long-form videos show how to bring all the concepts together into a full portrait drawing. The portrait course preceded the figure course, so the overall presentation isn’t quite as polished. I suggest starting this course after you’ve finished the figure. My guess is that after the anatomy videos are done, there will be a head anatomy course that will go into more detail about the bones and muscles of the head and face. Until then the Portraiture course offers a good place to start learning how to conceptualize and draw the head from multiple angles.
When it’s finished, this will be one of the most comprehensive anatomy course available online. The course is separated into three sections: the torso, arms, and legs. At the moment, the torso section is complete, the arm section is in progress, and the legs section hasn’t started. Videos for the anatomy course were first posted in 2014, and it’s been a slow burn since then. Anatomy is a complex subject, and I’m sure it takes a lot of time and preparation to create these videos. The torso section alone contains probably twice the amount of content that was in the figure course. It’s also nice for students following along as it gives them time to absorb the information and repeat exercises that need refinement. And there are exercises in the anatomy course. If you’ve read the other reviews on the site you might know that it bugs me whenever I see online courses that don’t explicitly tell the student how they should put into practice the principles they were just taught. Practice is important but if you don’t know what and how to practice you will begin developing bad habits that later have to be corrected. This is the course you should take once you feel comfortable with the more abstract, gestural method presented in the figure fundamentals course. Learning anatomy will allow you to identify and interpret those little surface details when working on a long-form drawing or painting. Like the other premium courses, many of the videos are on the Youtube page. Also like the other courses, the free lessons only hint at what’s available when you buy the premium version. Each section covers specific areas of the body, and each section contains extended video lessons, 3D models, an ebook with the course material, and assignments with accompanying critiques and answers. The Anatomy Course is by far the most expensive of all the courses currently offered on Proko, but it’s also the most detailed, informative, and well executed one they’ve produced. There’s a reason it’s as pricey as it is, and I believe it’s worth the cost. Besides, if you are interested in the course, you can purchase each section individually, or all together for a discounted price. I won’t say too much else about this course because it’s not finished, but it’s shaping up to be one of the best anatomy courses I’ve seen.
The Art of Caricature
The Art of Caricature course is the first course not taught by Stan, whose work fits into the category of fine art, and is instead taught by Court Jones. A look at his portfolio proves that Mr. Jones is a skilled artist who clearly loves caricature. He is, like Stan, a former student of the Watts Atelier, and has been teaching there since 2003. As a result, there isn’t a dramatic shift style between the two instructors; both are working from a similar foundation. Like the anatomy course, this one is still in progress. Part 1 started in December 2016 and part 2 will follow some time in 2017.
Aaron Westerberg Masterpiece Demo
Further expanding the video catalog, this demo of a painting by Aaron Westerberg is completely different than anything else on Proko. While the Art of Caricature introduced a new teacher, the subject matter and presentation remained consistent with the prior video courses.
Rather than offering another instructional series, the demo details the making of a painting from start to finish. Each step of the process is covered, starting with the photo shoot, followed by a color study, and then the final painting.
This isn’t a tutorial, so it’s important not to watch with the expectation of learning how to paint. But for those looking to gain insight into the working process of a talented contemporary painter it’s worth a look.
The drawing materials for all the Proko courses are as follows. (for a full description of these materials, see the Watts Atelier Online review)
- Charcoal pencils: Conte1710: B (‘Pierre Noir’), Wolff’s carbon pencil 4B
- Single-edged razor blades
- Sandpaper Pad
- Kneaded eraser
- Pad of 18″x24″ SMOOTH Newsprint: Pro-Art, Canson
- Clip board (standard board that will hold an 18″x24″ pad.)
- Pad of 18″x24″ tracing paper
- Graphite pencils: Faber-Castell set of 12
- Staedtler lead holder
- Col-Erase pencils
Aside from the premium courses there are a few other resources offered on by Proko. For those who need reference material for reference or practice, there are several model packs that include photos of various models in different poses. There are eight of these in all, which you can buy individually or in packages. There’s also the Models in Motion videos, which have the model cycle through different poses to showcase the forms of the body moving and flexing. Finally there’s the Skelly app, which allows the user to pose a virtual skeleton in any configuration. It’s very easy to use and offers customization options such as changing the lighting, choosing between Skelly and ‘Robo-Skelly’, and social sharing options to share your saved poses. Not all of the videos on the Proko are part of the main drawing lessons. I would also recommend joining the Proko Anatomy for Artists Facebook group if you
There are a few things worth criticizing about Proko, but to be honest they’re pretty minor and don’t detract that much from the overall experience. Stan is a competent artist and draftman, though he’s still far from being considered a master of his craft. I mention this because I’m wary of young artists who jump into teaching early on in their careers without having gained the experience to back up their instruction. However, I think it’s a little different with Stan. Since he was a student at the Watts Atelier from a young age, and eventually started teaching there, he has more experience doing this kind of thing than other artists of a similar age. He also has the advantage of being excellent at communicating what he knows in an easily understood way. Many experienced artists who teach have difficulty articulating what they know, and when they do it can be vague and hard to follow. I once had a figure drawing teacher who was an amazing artist but a terrible communicator. After asking him for critiques or advice and getting unsatisfactory answers I resorted to watching over his shoulder to see if I could figure it out on my own. Stan’s not one of those, so even though he’s not yet at the peak of his craft, he’s better suited to teaching than most who are.
I highly recommend checking out Proko as a supplement to your drawing curriculum, especially if your work includes the figure. It’s affordable, accessible, and very comprehensive. Personally I wouldn’t start here if you’re an absolute beginner. The figure is a difficult subject no matter what your level of experience, and attempting the figure when you’re first starting out is sort of like being asked to play Paganini after being handed a violin for the first. The result will not be pretty and might discourage you from persisting. Then again, I’ve heard many successful artists say they started out by copying Marvel superheroes and anatomy books, so if you feel comfortable with the material, go for it. There’s a multitude of online figure and anatomy courses out there to choose from. Proko is definitely a strong contender.