Virtual Art Academy

Online Painting Classes — Curriculum

The Apprentice Program

The 9 Building BlocksTM

The concept behind the apprentice program is that you need to build up your skills in nine key areas in order to paint well. At the Virtual Art Academy these areas are called Building BlocksTM. They are, Drawing, Form, Color, Composition, Brushwork, Notan, Observation, Concept, and Process. 

If you are an advanced student, you can choose to study lessons available from one Building Block at a time. For example, you could study all the lessons in the Color or Brushwork Building Blocks. 

If you would like a more structured approach, you can follow a sequence of 16 workshops each of which contains lessons from several Building Blocks.


Gluhi Do Valley, Montenegro, by Barry John Raybould, 30cm x 40cm, Oil on Canvas, 2021
Gluhi Do Valley, Montenegro, by Barry John Raybould, 30cm x 40cm, Oil on Canvas, 2021

Composition is the key to successful painting. Without a strong composition, you can spend an enormous amount of time on crafting an accurate representation of your subject, but you will never end up with a work of art. It is the composition of a painting that makes it interesting to look at and keeps the viewer’s attention. 

The curriculum includes lessons on unequal space division — negative shapes — boundary relationships — rule of threes — viewfinder — cropping — symmetry — rhythm — overlapping forms — focal points — directing lines — transitions — counterpoint, and much more. 


Enniscorthy Life, Ireland, by Barry John Raybould, 25cm x 20cm, Oil on Linen, 2022

Color is what creates excitement in a painting. The curriculum starts with the basic knowledge you need to know about color, including its attributes, hue, value, and saturation, the key color wheels including the Munsell system, and several color harmony strategies. 

Building on this knowledge you will learn more advanced principles used by the master colorists, such as, color vibration, optical mixing, and value compression using constant saturation scales, as well as many more topics on color for advanced painters. 


Wexford Boats, Ireland, by Barry John Raybould, 20cm x 27.5cm, Oil on Linen, 2022

The character and feeling of your brushwork goes a long way to increasing the pleasure and delight of the person viewing your work. How you apply the paint also determines how much carrying power and luminosity your painting will have. Whatever your media, brushwork (or mark making in the case of pastel painting), is what makes a painting a painting and not a photograph. 

The curriculum includes many topics on brushwork, such as, thick & thin – impasto – large to small – glazes – feathering – palette knife – carving out – texture – movement – emotional mood – mop/rigger – lost and found edges – wet-in-wet adjacent brushstrokes – multicolored brushstrokes. 


Segovia Shadows, by Barry John Raybould, 16” x 20”, Oil on Canvas
Segovia Shadows, by Barry John Raybould, 16” x 20”, Oil on Canvas

There are many different techniques for learning drawing – gesture, contour, envelopes, scribble line, mass, and so on. In the Apprentice Program you will learn all of these individual techniques, including the single most important technique I only discovered after drawing for 20 years that made my drawings far more accurate. 

In addition to these techniques, you will learn about topics, such as, horizon lines – vanishing points – perspective center – drawing ellipses — level & plumb lines – comparative measurement.


Just Grandma and Me Shoton Festival Tibet, by Barry John Raybould, 40in x 30in, Oil on Canvas, 2013
Just Grandma and Me Shoton Festival Tibet, by Barry John Raybould, 40in x 30in, Oil on Canvas, 2013

Knowing how to make things look three-dimensional is fundamental to making your painting look real. The Form Building Block includes an important technique called the two-value statement which is used for capturing the basics of form in a few minutes. 

In this Building Block you will learn about topics, such as, light & shade – two-value statement – selecting a viewpoint – geometric forms – general to specific – simplifying complex forms — how to paint the form – shadow & cast shadow – light – half tone – center light – reflected light – highlight – dark accents and edge planes. 


Rainy Day In Venice, by Barry John Raybould, 10in x 10in, Oil on Linen, 2007
Rainy Day In Venice, by Barry John Raybould, 10in x 10in, Oil on Linen, 2007

Why does a certain painting win first place in an art competition? The answer lies a lot in its notan structure, a well organized arrangement of dark and light shapes. Of all the parts of a painting that enhance its abstract design, the notan structure is the most important. Just about every successful master painting has a very strong notan structure. 

The curriculum includes topics, such as, dominant values – shape distinction – linking lights – linking darks — flattening values – alternating lights & darks – spotting – keys — interesting silhouette – gradation – edge notan. 

This Building Block includes material from my own research that you will not find anywhere else.


Xinchang Peach Blossoms, by Barry John Raybould, 40cm x 50cm, Oil on Canvas, 2018
Xinchang Peach Blossoms, by Barry John Raybould, 40cm x 50cm, Oil on Canvas, 2018

The realism in your painting comes from accurately depicting in paint what you see in front of you. You do not need to learn how to paint trees, skies, rocks, water, and so on. You need to learn to see trees, skies, rocks and water. 

When a student says “I can’t seem to mix the right color,” the problem is rarely in the mixing but nearly always in an inability to see the color. The color problems in our paintings are often our left brain taking over and telling us what the color should be as opposed to what we are actually seeing. 

The curriculum for observation focuses on acquiring the essential knowledge and skills in three areas, values, color, and atmospheric perspective. You will study about value scale – comparing values – value finder – black mirror – limited value study – reference values — matching colors – color maps – color studies – colored light sources – block studies – diminishing size – overlapping forms – changes in value, saturation , hue.


Sunset, by Barry John Raybould, Oil on Linen, 2017
Sunset, by Barry John Raybould, Oil on Linen, 2017

When you learn to become aware of the poetry in a painting you will begin to see paintings in a new light. You will also start to understand why certain master paintings in museums are considered a masterpiece. 

It is this element of poetry, in addition to the music of a painting, that distinguishes a master painter. When you master the ideas in the Concept course unit, your paintings will start to communicate much more emotion and feeling, and come to life. They will become much more meaningful.

Even if you are an absolute beginner, I think you need to understand these main ideas right away so that you know how to evaluate paintings when you see them in galleries or on the internet. In this Building Block you will learn concepts, such as, emotional – aesthetic – descriptive – relationship – emphasis – concept simplification – exaggeration.

Process And Materials

Cat. No. 1411 Montenegro Landscape, by Barry John Raybould, 80cm x 100cm
Montenegro Landscape, by Barry John Raybould, 80cm x 100cm, Oil on Linen, 2021

The Process Building Block covers the step-by-step mechanical procedures of creating a painting. I have put these course units into a separate Building Block because, whereas all the other Building Blocks are mostly independent of the medium you are using, this Building Block is specific to oils, acrylics, or watercolors.

The lessons on process include nine step alla prima process – notan painting – oil and acrylic quick color sketch – eight step watercolor process – watercolor quick color sketch – working from photographic reference.

This materials library covers everything about the materials and the equipment needed for painting in detail including the following topics and much more.

Properties and types of pigments – choosing acrylic paints – choosing watercolor paints – tube wringer – solvents – varnishes – reworking paintings – painting supports – stretching canvas – gluing supports to mounting boards – preparing supports – sizes – primers – grounds – cutting panels – old painting supports – drying racks — loose canvas – masking tape – drying paintings quickly – drying boxes – painting support carriers – stretched canvas carrier brackets — brushes — easels — Pochade boxes — packing list – umbrellas – stool – mirrors – clothing – mahl stick – medium cup – trash can – paper towels – carriers. 

The 16 Workshops

The Apprentice Program comprises of 16 Workshops, A to P, with 12 lessons per Workshop. In each Workshop you will methodically acquire a little more knowledge and skill in several Building Blocks. Each workshop builds on the knowledge in earlier workshops improving your skills one-by-one through learning and practice, thus steadily improving your paintings. 

At the end of each workshop you will submit a summary painting project that will showcase the skills you acquired in that workshop. At an average pace one can finish 4 workshops in one year, however, you can take as long as you like to complete each Workshop. For the first 15 months of your membership you will get access to one new workshop per month.

The 192 Lessons

With 12 lessons in 16 workshops, there are a total of 192 lessons. Each lesson focuses on one key principle or skill from one of the 9 Building Blocks. Lessons consist of beautifully formatted reading material created using information making technique as well as video segments. Following are samples of each. 

The 350 Assignments

Anyone who has tried to learn a new language or play a musical instrument knows that learning consists of acquiring knowledge and a lot of practice. To help you fully master and internalize each painting technique each lesson has one or multiple assignments, with a total of 350 assignments. Each assignment contains instructions for finishing it but most importantly several examples of the work that previous students have submitted for it. Here is a sample of such a collection submitted by students for an assignment in the Brushwork Building Block. 

The Foundation Workshop

The Foundation Program is for absolute beginners. These painting lessons are immediately available to all members. It will give you the very basic drawing and painting skills you need to get you started. You will learn:

  • The basics of drawing
  • Starter materials you need for oil, acrylic, and watercolors
  • The basics of color
  • Basic painting brushwork techniques
  • Introduction to notan
  • Atmospheric perspective: how to give your paintings depth.

Expect to take about one or two months to finish it. When you have finished the Foundation Workshop, you can then start working through the 16 Apprentice Program Workshops.