What it is (and who used it)
Creating a Masterpiece is an online art curriculum taught by artist and art teacher Sharon Hofer. Through video instruction, she guides students, step-by-step, through art projects from Beginner Level to Level 5. She demands excellence from each project, in that each is meant to be a ‘masterpiece’ and not just some arts and crafts project. There are more than 140 projects that you can choose from throughout the different levels. There are several options to access the art lessons. You can subscribe monthly and have access to all the art projects ($39.99 a month); subscribe annually ($349); or get access to one level for a year ($119-$199).
We received a six-month subscription (oh, joy!), and Breeze (soon-to-be-seven), Raine (will be 10 in seven days), and I (will also have a birthday this year) worked through the beginner level and Level 1 projects, and Raine has done five projects so far.
The lesson setup
You will need to check out the list of materials needed before you start any lesson. This is available as a downloadable PDF file. There’s also a link to a prepared shopping list on the Dick Blick website—all you have to do is click ‘Add to Cart’ and proceed to check out and pay online. One thing to note is that Sharon insists that you get good quality materials, so that your work will truly start looking like a masterpiece.
Once you have all your materials gathered, and your space set up, all you need to do is play the video. You will need decent Internet connection for this, to ensure that the lesson goes smoothly. There can be enough frustrations not getting the strokes or the techniques right, without compounding it with the frustration of spotty Internet signals.
Some projects can be finished in a sitting. Others will need a few sessions to complete a project. You just follow along with Sharon, pausing as needed. When you’re done, step back and admire your work.
Our experience: a quick rundown
We did the soft pastel and watercolor projects because those were the art materials we had on hand. Sharon’s instructions are easy to follow. She speaks clearly and her instructions are concise and easy to understand (and make for repeatable sound bites; days after we did a project, the girls would randomly quote Sharon’s admonishment, “What I don’t want to see are circles!”).
I was amazed at the results of our efforts. As in, my thoughts were, “Wow. We did that?!” (Although the more objective Hubby said, “Well, they’re not frameable masterpieces, but they look nice.”). The kids were also thrilled with what they produced.
Sharon teaches the techniques and expects that they will be followed, with good reason. There is wisdom in copy work. Whether in writing, music, or art, copy work lets you learn the rhythm, the method, the feel of doing something the right way. As one luxury watch brand says, “To break the rules, you first must master them.”
What we loved
Again, we were amazed by the work we did. The Beginner and Level 1 projects were easy enough to follow along with, that soon Raine was doing art on her own. She even taught Breeze how to do the Baby Bluebird in soft pastel.
I appreciate how the lessons are broken down into manageable chunks, and that aside from acquiring materials, there is no prep work needed on my end. We like the way Sharon conducts her classes. She reminds me of a kindly grandmother—gentle but very strict.
I like how the projects get more complex as you move up levels, but success with previous projects give you the confidence that you can actually make something that wouldn’t be embarrassing to show others (and I’m talking more about me here—the kids usually have no problems showing off their work).
Finally, I am excited by the number of possible projects we can do, and by the variety of mediums available. It’s a nice way to dabble and try out which medium you’re more comfortable with. Our only issue with this would be acquiring the materials. Sharon strongly pushes for getting the good quality materials, something she emphasizes a lot. I do see her point—you can see the difference in the work. As she says, you can’t make a masterpiece without quality materials. But when a single stick of the recommended Sennelier soft pastels costs pretty much the same as a whole chicken that can go for two full meals, it makes it hard to justify the purchase. But it’s something to dream about. The girls and I go into the nice art stores and drool over the supplies. We even tried out the Sennelier soft pastels. So getting quality art materials is on our bucket list.
What was so-so
Initially, we had issues with playing the video. The videos would buffer endlessly, every few seconds or so. It was the only site that we had problems with, since we can livestream and watch other HD videos with no issues. I did try emailing them to ask if it was possible to watch the videos on another channel, or if we could temporarily download a lesson, but I didn’t get any reply. The issue resolved itself after a few days, so all is good now.
Of course, as with any at-your-own-pace online course, the problem will be getting actual feedback on your work. Sometimes, there are portions that you can’t quite get. You may understand the instructions and know what you have to do, but getting your hand to translate that into a work of art can be a problem. A live instructor may be able to diagnose what you aren’t doing correctly, or give you tips to execute the technique. And of course, feedback from an expert rather than a proud, excited mom is always good.
We highly recommend Creating a Masterpiece. I would love to continue the subscription until we finish all of the projects!
To read about other homeschooling families' experience with Creating a Masterpiece, click below!