Taken on the whole, Pencil Kings’s credentials are just as solid as David Jamieson’s too(owner of Vitruvian Studios).
All courses are taught by working professionals and some are taught by some of the top artists in their industries. For example, the color theory class is taught by Marvel cover artist Kirbi Fagan. And the Photoshop course is taught by YouTuber Sycra Yasin who we’ve shouted out here before.
These are big names that definitely grab your attention at first glance.
But let’s go even further into the Pencil Kings setup to see what it offers artists from all backgrounds.
Content & Layout
Their content is divided into courses, tracks, and challenges. And there are incredible amounts of all of them.
Courses are the smallest unit of content. They’re tutorials on one subject composed of about ten videos divided into three or four modules.
There are currently 119 courses as of this writing.
They range from the most basic to the fairly specialized stuff and everything inbetween.
But within that range are lessons on many of the obscure and interesting sides of art you won’t learn from other tutorials.
With Pencil Kings you’ll probably be able to find a video on that one subject you keep seeing other people draw beautifully, but never can find tutorials to help you. PK has it.
To make it easier to know which courses to take based on your goals, they’ve also laid out several tracks you can follow.
Tracks are essentially like degree programs at a physical art school. They’re lists of classes that you take to complete a certain path to being specialized in a certain field. Just as in a college degree program you’ll often be taking the same courses for multiple different tracks.
But it’s also fun to know how far you’ve moved towards a specific goal instead of just “hoping to improve your art somehow.” Tracks sort of game-ify the process in a way.
This structure sets Pencil Kings apart from most tutorial sites where all of the content is organized linearly and you have to take all of them in order.
I much prefer this format which seems designed to help you learn to draw exactly what you want in a very efficient way.
This is where the course library has a bit of a snag.
I’ll assume that like Udemy, Pencil Kings course videos are homemade and submitted remotely by the teachers. That’s because the quality is so hit or miss. It really depends on the instructor to determine how good the total video quality is
All videos are hosted on Vimeo which is great. But lighting and clarity are a crapshoot from video to video.
Sometimes it’s fine. Other times it’s grainy and kinda poorly lit. Sometimes the audio is very professional. Other times it was recorded on a toaster.
However, it’s never bad enough to keep you from learning. You might compare it to the idea of YouTube videos from 2010 vs YouTube videos from 2020.
What You Can Learn
The sheer amount and quality of instruction makes up for any lack of production values.
In my more recent reviews I took every course from front to back. With Pencil Kings there were way too many to complete everything, just no way I could do it.
So I sampled several tracks to get a general idea.
The Perspective and Architecture track is a good example: Drawing buildings is my strong point so I thought it would be interesting to judge it against what I already know.
The information inside was mind-blowing.
I saw techniques I’d never heard of even in years of searching for info on the subject and reading technical drawing textbooks.
What I love about their approach is that they give you detailed steps for drawing every shape, instead of just general approaches to perspective.
It’s a teaching style usually used only for faces and bodies, but it’s standard practice for everything here.
Granted, it’s not always the most fun to listen to.
For example—great teacher though he is—Sycra’s delivery can put you to sleep.
(They try to cover it with public domain music, but that doesn’t exactly help.)
But you’re not here for a hyped EDM concert. You’re here to learn. So if you’re dedicated to paying attention, learn you definitely will.
I also listened to some of the free Pencil Kings podcast episodes where working artists share their stories about how they got into the industry and tips for other artists looking to do the same.
And if that wasn’t enough content to keep you occupied, they also have a blog that’s mostly links to the podcast but does have some pretty good standalone articles here and there.
The Pencil Kings Courses
The subjects they cover are a stark contrast to more specific online lessons like those from Proko or Vitruvian Studio.
Vitruvian teaches you classical realism, very similar to the Proko lessons too. You spend hours rendering every light fluctuation on a model’s body in graphite.
Pencil Kings has some of that, but most of their courses focus more on stylized illustration, character design, and digital art. (Ironic, given the name.)
I tried a few traditional drawing courses however, and was happy (but not surprised) to find that their instruction for traditional art is just as solid.
They also offer courses in things I didn’t think you could offer courses on. Like ones on artist mindset and brainstorming ideas.
And they offer professional-taught courses in a lot of subjects that other tutorial sites don’t take seriously. Example: they have a course on drawing pinups. They had an entire course for Inktober. They have a course on—GASP!—drawing anime.
But that will make it more practical and accessible to the majority of artists who want to specialize in these topics.
Remember there are over 100 different courses and seriously they’re all pretty detailed.
Here’s a quick list of a few courses that grab my attention. No way I can list all of them but this is enough of a sample to help you understand their course structure:
Color Theory and Speedpainting
Interior Design for Concept Art Pt1-3
Portrait Illustration for Beginners
Tips on Painting Fur For Wildlife and Fantasy Artists
Digital Painting for Beginner Artists
Introduction to Classical Animation Techniques
Landscape Matte Painting in Photoshop
Introduction to the Illustration Process
Advanced Illustration Process
Advanced Gesture Drawing for Artists
Drawing Fabrics With Colored Pencils
Celebrity Caricature Sketching
Ultimate Guide To Photoshop
Drawing Hair and Clothing
And many, many more…
Regular courses are generally an hour to an hour and a half long and spread out over several videos in a few modules.
Then there are the curious…
Pencil Kings Boot Camp Challenges
Challenges are drawing boot camps designed to be taken over a month.
They’re divided into four modules, one for each week.
These boot camps are more intensive than the regular courses since they have goals and a set amount of work you’re expected to do within the month.
Even the instructors say they don’t realistically expect you to be able to keep up with all of the exercises. (So it’s fine if you skip some.)
I’d never seen an online program like this before so I took a look.
There are three of them to be found under the premium tab: Figure, shading, and perspective.
And they weren’t kidding about the number of exercises.
Each week’s module comes with up to two hours of instructional video and assignments for every day.
The courses are livestreamed at certain times during the year so you can follow along as the course unfolds.
During the livestreams the hosts give advice on techniques that the challenge is based around. And having to keep up with the challenges in real time might also provide you an incentive to actually do them.
But you can replay them anytime if you want to do the challenge on your own. And you can post your progress on the forums so other users can hold you accountable.
Side note: I’d like to share a wrist stretch that one of the hosts mentioned in the figure drawing challenge:
“Stretch your arm all the way out … Make a fist … And first, bend your wrist up, then bend your wrist down. And do that every 10-15 minutes.”
And shortly after that came one of my favorite quotes out of all the videos I watched:
“Let the digital tablet be what it’s going to be. Don’t try to make it a pencil. Let it be skatey and loose and all that good stuff … You can make it perfect later.”
During months when Pencil Kings isn’t doing the three full challenges they also post additional ones on the forum. Ones without videos, though.
Challenges are $100 each if you buy them on their own but they’re free if you pay for the monthly or annual subscription.
Personally I’d way rather do the monthly model since I wouldn’t want to pay a flat $100 one limited solo boot camp. Best option for the boot camps would be the annual subscription since you get access to them whenever they go live.
The Pencil Kings Community
It didn’t occur to me to check this at first.
Forums and online message boards aren’t really as popular in the other dedicated tutorial sites I’ve used: Ctrl+Paint, Udemy, Vitruvian… those communities were limited to comments or Facebook pages connecting with the teacher.
So when I came to Pencil Kings, I had to be clued in to look at it.
And their community is much more extensive than I suspected.
The forums aren’t too active since they’re only for subscribers, but are active enough to offer value with at least several posts every day.
It’s mostly where users, nicknamed “Pencil Eaters,” go to share their art for each others’ critique. And having this kind of critique is just so damn important to your growth. It’s one of the biggest selling points for Pencil Kings in my opinion.
Their website also boasts a private chat room, private Facebook group, and live drawing sessions from the instructors.
I didn’t get to use those so I can’t exactly judge their quality, but they seem like worthwhile perks on top of everything else I’ve already listed.
Worth The Money?
Pencil Kings courses can be bought individually for about $15. This is only slightly more than a Udemy course on sale.
But no need to pay for individual courses when you can get access to the entire library(with new courses being added frequently).
A full subscription costs $30/month or $300/year.
If that sounds like a lot, a cheap art school like a small atelier will run you at least $350 a month. An expensive art school will be… a lot more than that. You know.
If you want to learn more than what a single class offers but you don’t have $300 at your disposal, I recommend you do this:
Commit to learning as much as possible for three months. Set aside $90 for a 3-month subscription.
Cram in as many of the courses as possible and if by the 3rd month you can’t keep going then you can always cancel with no extra fees. This way you’ll get to experience a lot from these courses and you can always re-subscribe in the future if you want to.
In short: Pencil Kings is absolutely worth it, but especially for digital artists focusing on concept art, animation, character design, environment work, illustrations… that kinda stuff.
Granted PK has its flaws like any tutorial series, mostly in some lower-quality video/audio on some courses in the library. But it makes up for that in the sheer overwhelming amount of content that you get with just one monthly subscription.
It’s a lot like the process of learning to draw itself: It’s not neat. It’s often patience-testing. But in a way that helps builds your character as an artist.
I’d say Pencil Kings is a great place to learn a lot of those pesky little techniques that you know you’re not good at, but are also hard to find tutorials on… and Pencil Kings has 100+ of these tutorials all in one place.
I plan on returning to it when I have more time and am really excited to go through more of what they have to offer.
C.S. Jones is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, illustrator, and occasional photographer. He spends his spare time listening to Spotify and waiting for trains. Someday, he’ll finish that graphic novel. In the meantime, his work is best seen at thecsjones.com or @thecsjones on Instagram.