Watts Atelier Review

A fellow artists and blogger Jana Bouc asked me about Watts Atelier via email. After spending about 30 minutes writing a reply to her I decided to make it a post to share my opinions and hopefully help other artists make a decision about signing up for the Watts Atelier online program.

Interestingly enough I found Jeff Watts’ YouTube video on how to become a successful working artist probable the most useful. In this video he states a lot of truths that I needed to hear which intern motivated me to work longer hours each day. Prior to this video I was only doing about 30 minutes a day and my average hours worked per month was really low.

After watching this video I was extremely motivated and I almost immediately signed up for my first month of his online program. I highly encourage any artists to watch his video, he doesn’t pull any punches and really tells it like it is.

Watts Atelier Online Drawing Course

As far as the course in concerned there is a ton of great information to learn from him and the course is laid out in a very logical manor. The biggest issue I have with the course is Jeff Watts’ teaching. I watched all of the drawing course videos, some of them several times, and most have about 40% information and the rest is a lot of rambling on the part of mr Watts. The beginning videos are better than the later videos with this ratio of information to random talking. I would still be with the course if he just talked about his process while drawing, what he was thinking, why he makes such marks, etc… Some of the later videos are nothing but him drawing and talking about random things, maybe one or two phrases are about what he’s doing.

Jana had a similar comment about the videos when she says “I wish in this class more was said describing what is being done and how and why and in what order and less philosophy and “bantering” (which makes it hard to watch multiple times hearing the same stories and the word “again” again and again)”. I can’t agree more, if you watch all the drawing videos you will hear the same things said over again too many times.

You can still learn a ton from just watching him draw though, Mr Watts’ artistic skills are amazing, especially in drawing. In some videos it wouldn’t do well for him to point out a ton of info also, like the quick head drawings. Just watching the decisions he makes with a pencil and the routes he takes to arrive at a quickly finished drawing is sometimes more than enough.

I only did the drawing course for 1 month. I used the course for motivation and putting some drawing habits in place for myself but I didn’t see any benefit from continuing the course beyond that for now. In the event that I want to learn Gouache better or get some better working advice on oil painting I will definitely try a month of the full course that included the painting curriculum.

Drawing Course Handouts

I found these pdf handouts severely lacking and of low quality. All of the handouts basically repeated the same information that Jeff Watt’s talks about in the video and provides low quality photos to draw from. The low quality photos are not a huge deal with drawing from basic shapes or even the skulls but when you have to draw from a full still life with a bunch of items it would be nice to get a photo of usable quality. Also some where out of order and not organized well.

Though the point to these exercise and Jeff states this many… many many times. Is to not expect to do them once and be a great draftsman. So, I completed the course objectives to his specifications then, I would set up my own reference, from life if I could, and repeated the ideas on my own. For the basic shapes I setup my own still life of basic shapes several times and drew from them. When drawing the skulls I found many online resources and 3D apps that had higher quality photos of skulls. While drawing the still life drawing, I setup my own complex still life and drew from it.

Watts Atelier Website

I was disappointed in the quality of the website. I could tell right away that the school has a very small unfocused staff managing the site. I’m a web developer though so my criticism here is a bit specialized. Don’t get me wrong the website works correctly. I was able to watch all the videos, move from place to place in the site easily but when it came to getting feedback in the forum from an official person at the atelier I found it severely lacking.

There were a few other minor interface annoyances that I have throughout the site, but I’m sure that most people that do not have a web developer background would hardly notice.

What I Learned Most

Here is what I learned from the course, some of which I already knew I just needed a kick in the butt to get moving.

  • 99.9% of all artists issue are drawing related, I can’t over state this enough, look at daily paint works site every day their home page is full of paintings by artists that don’t know how to draw well. Harsh I know, but true…
  • I need to learn to draw better. My drawings suck, they still suck. Many people will argue with me on this, but take any of my drawings and put them next to one by Anthony Ryder, Sargent, Schmid, Jeff Watts, or most of the famous living or dead artists out there and the comparison is clear.
  • Don’t hide from my lack ability face it head on stop making excuses and do the work. So what I’m not as good at drawing as the famous artists out there, I’m doing the work, I’m working hard on it and if a few years, or 5… maybe 10, I will be up there with the greats, consistency and longevity is what counts.
  • WORK is what makes a great artists, not ideas. The reason why all the great artists are great is because they spent countless hours at their craft. Look at even the most abstract or minimalists famous artists and you will find that they have spent tons of hours working at their craft.
  • Direction, it’s great to work every day, but without direction it can go nowhere.


I added this section after posting today because I forgot to mention the best suggestion in materials that I have ever received. Like most artists I love buying up supplies and trying new things, but most just end up wasting money, not this time. Jeff Watts’ suggested materials for drawing are by far the best I have used in my career. They are as follows;

That’s it, short and sweet. Of course you do have to know how to sharpen your pencil correctly, this is a huge step and one not to take lightly in the course. But I’m so glad that I found the Conte 1710 B pencils. They sharpen nicely, work well on the smooth newsprint, don’t smudge too easily and yet can be erased back to bare paper easily. Everywhere you look their out of stock most of the time, so if you get any buy them by the box of 12, or if you just want to try them out a couple will do nicely. I even keep a couple HB, 2B, and 3B around if I want lighter or darker marks, but the plain B is the workhorse and can do just about anything.

Bottom line

  • Would I take the course again? Yes
  • Was it worth it? Yes
  • Does the course have room for improvement? Yes

Honestly, if your an artists that is starting out that is having a hard time working daily use any online resource that motivates you to do the work. Putting in the work is paramount I can’t overstate this enough. The Watts Atelier Online course gave me a ton of motivation to put in a ton of work, but it’s not the only online resource I use to motivate myself.

I hope that this was helpful to anyone thinking about signing up for the online courses, please comment and let me know what you think.


  1. I have founded very good — specially when living in an isolated European island. I do have admiration for somebody who creates such program to help and promote arts and like you, I subscribed after watching this video. It ‘works’ for me but to follow an online program is not for everyone and I mean, discipline is more needed but like you say, that originates within the individual or student.

    However the problem I run into and which has taken me ages to deal with is asking repetitively for a book or reference to clarify the nomenclature used in art (1.5 months and finally got an answer, or sort of). I found my self stuck on ‘contour lines’, ‘edges’, etc. I really want to clarify these completely and I was referred to the videos (but that is not enough) and to a book by Andrew Loomis’ “Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth.” I am in the process of getting it and I’ll be returning to course today.

    Anyway, it is a good source and I would imagine more so for beginners, like me. I’m still on the fundamentals so I don’t know what is ahead but it is interesting to hear your point of view, Chris.

    Happy painting!

    • Thanks for the input Mildred. I also have the Loomis book and a lot of illustrators swear by it, but I’m not sure how much of the nomenclature it will teach you. I’m glad your doing the Watts Atelier online course and I would definitely recommend it to anyone that wants to improve their drawing ability.

    • Mildred, I found that rather than a problem with nomenclature there just wasn’t enough information there. Watching someone draw with so little explanation wasn’t helpful. Thanks to another post that Chris wrote I found NewMastersAcademy.org and signed up there. There is a wealth of detailed and comprehensive instruction on drawing, painting, anatomy and pretty much everything I wanted to learn but wasn’t finding on Watts. Perhaps it would be worth it for you to take a look at New Masters with a months subscription (WAY cheaper than Watts) and see if it is more helpful.

    • Chris, Thank you so much for this honest and fair review. I too am delighted with the Conte pencil/smooth newsprint recommendation and am using them in black and a few different shades of brown and white.

      I was trying to make it through the expensive month of the Watts program that I paid for, but I reached a point where I just couldn’t listen to another minute of pointless “bantering,” especially after watching the free Steve Huston video you mentioned in another post. I wrote an email to Watts requesting a pro-rated refund and telling them why, mostly lack of actual content and information and that the course seems directed to young, hopeful commercial artists in the animation/video game industry which is definitely not me and that I found another program that better suited me. They graciously refunded half of my payment.

      I think I got more helpful Watts-flavored information from one of their students, Brandwynn Jones on his blog, http://drawingjones.com. I know you mentioned considering paying for a New Masters Academy subscription and I think it’s very worth it. I’m really enjoying and learning a lot by watching both Steve Huston’s and Glenn Vilpu’s takes on head construction and features of the face. I haven’t even dipped my toes in the figure drawing classes yet since I’m focusing on portraiture right now and my figure drawing studio is closed until the end of January. There are a couple others I could go to but they’re inconvenient times and locations so I am taking this hiatus to learn everything I can from the video course. I paid for just one month but it is so affordable will likely continue my studies with it for a few months.

  2. I am going to offer my experience at Watts Atelier. You are correct Chris the web site has some problems that need addressing. That’s only one thing. I have been with them over a year now and the videos worked properly, until this last month. I have not been able to view the videos at all and it all happened kind of suddenly. I am not the only student that cannot view them either.
    After trying to fix the problem myself for 2 weeks I could not get anywhere so I emailed for help and waited for an answer. I didn’t hear from anyone so two weeks later my subscription is coming up to a new pay cycle. I told them I was leaving the school because I cannot get the videos to work. Their answer was they were having a 3rd party working on it but I was given no time estimate as to when things might work again. I am already out $199 and I cannot afford another $199 waiting around for them to fix this issue. I am sad that they could not come up with some type of resolution for me. I asked for a refund no answer. Other students are asking for refunds, no answer.
    IF you can access their work its ok but I am going to move on and find other ways to learn this information. There are good DVD’s out there and books I would recommend Julia Aristedes books for fine art painting and drawing. I do hope Watt’s Atelier can get their act together and start treating their students with some respect. I just feel completely abandoned.

  3. Wow… Chris and Jana, very many thanks for your replies — I only noticed them today when reading Monika’s post, my apologies. I have quickly looked at newmastersacademy.org and I am definitively going to enroll on it, it looks really, really good.

    I continue studying at Watts Atelier. I’m not progressing that ‘fast’ but that’s because of me; I’m still in the process of getting into a good discipline — but it might help to speed up getting through newmastersacademy lessons, I am well impressed with it, just from the little I watched.

    Also, many thanks for the tips and the list of books, Chris, really appreciated.

    Sorry for the problems you are running into at Watts, Monika — I have not had the problem with the videos but I am still on the $99 basic courses… It is good to hear your feedback guys, keep in touch. Ps. I’ll let you know of my progress at newmastersacademy in a month or two 🙂

    All the best to you all.

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