If you’re working towards making art your full-time career, teaching is a great way to have a more stable income. We all know that it’s hard to predict how many paintings we will sell each month. That can make paying bills a challenge, to say the least. While it’s important as artists to build a decent savings for those dry periods, you can also help yourself out by teaching others to paint or draw.
If you feel like you’re not ready to teach others, start with teaching kids! Many art supply stores like Hobby Lobby have a classroom that they allow artists to teach out of. You just need to go talk to their store manager and tell them you’re interested in teaching. You can even contact girl/boy scout troops and offer to teach their kids a lesson for your own experience. I personally started teaching at Michaels in 1999 (back when they offered fine art classes). Most of my students were pre-teens. It was a not only a great start for learning to teach and how to explain things in a way that others would understand, but it also helped me to improve my own work. Solving problems is a huge skill for artists, so solving other artist’s problems was a huge bonus for my own skills.
There are many ways to structure a class. Some prefer to have everyone work on the same project. This is great if it is a project that can be completed in a single session. The problem with this set up for projects that take weeks to finish is that if someone misses a class, they fall behind. In addition to that, I ran into problems where some students would work very quickly and others were always far behind the rest of the class. For me, I found it to work best if I had everyone working on a different project. They chose what medium and subject they wanted to work on and I just walked around the class helping everyone individually. This was nice because if someone missed a class, it was no problem. For these classes I limited the number of students to 10, and I could only handle that many students in the same class if most were return students. First-time students take more work to get set up so I preferred to have them come when my classes were going to be smaller.
Here is how I used to set up my class just to give you some ideas:
- Students had to purchase their own supplies. The store you teach out of will likely want you to have the students buy their supplies at that store whenever possible in exchange for you using their classroom. Make a supply list and have that list available in store (when possible, each location has different rules) and on your website.
- I provided a lightbox, hair dryer, and reference photos. I usually had a set of pencils, erasers and scratch paper that I could do smaller demos on. The store provided the tables and chairs.
- Students chose a project and I walked them through each step to help them complete that project.
- I charged $20 per student per two-hour session. Even if only one person was signed up for class, I showed up. If you set a minimum amount of students it makes it really hard to build a student base. Students need to know you will be there when they sign up even if no one else is. There will be times when you have ten students and times when you have one or two, it all balances out in the end. If I knew I would only have one or two students I sometimes brought my own project to work on during class for the times they didn’t need my help.
- Don’t set up too many different times to try and accommodate everyone. When one class gets filled up you can add a second time slot during the week, but if you try and have too many classes available all you do is spread out the same number of students between all of your time slots. This means you’re working many many more hours for the same income. I would start with one day time class and one evening class and add more as the demand builds.
- Post about your local classes on Craigslist to help people to find you. Also, have a full description of your classes along with photos on your website.
- At some point, if your goal is to teach adults, you will want to put a minimum age requirement on your classes. If you’re allowing a bunch of 8 year olds in the class, adults will not want to keep attending. For me that age minimum was 12.
The possibilities for how you set up your class structure are pretty endless. I don’t mean to say my way is the “right” way, just that it worked well for me. The thing is to just get started. Don’t feel like you need to spend the next year planning your course. It isn’t necessary! You don’t even need to do this full time. I used to teach once or twice week. One two hour class can make you $100-$200 once you get a following of students. That added income can be really helpful during times your art isn’t selling fast enough!