Hey everyone! I wanted to write a review of my very first online digital painting class! I wanted to write this review for anyone who is thinking of taking his class but still isn't sure so hopefully, this can help you make a more informed decision.
Mike 'Daarken' Lim is a freelance illustrator and concept artist. He has worked for Magic ; The Gathering, Warhammer, Dungeon & Dragons, Blizzard and many others. Strangely enough, I came across his class through google by typing ''Digital Painting Mentorship'' and his class was the first to pop up! I didn't know that much about him before, all I knew was he did a tutorial for the book ''Digital Painting Techniques vol.1'' and I wasn't sure if I should take on his class.
I was thinking of taking Noah Bradley's Art Camp at first but when I found out that ''maybe'' the teacher might look over your assignment, I turned it down. (That was before Titus Launter took over mind you. I don't know how it really works now...) It is better when there really is a teacher that will look over ALL of your hard work to see if you are on the right track. I though to maybe take Digital Painting at CGMA but the teachers didn't really catch my eye. Then I found Daarken's class and after reading the curriculum and the artist bio, I decided it would be the right one.
What I was looking for in my first digital painting class that I would take is to work on my fundamentals. I felt that there were certain basic things that I still needed to work on even if I considered myself as somewhere between beginner and advanced. For instance, I had trouble painting characters and other organic things (I still do but I got a bit better a it!). Also, Mike comes from a traditional painting background which is something that I admired. The people at the top of the animation industry are just as capable of making realistic art as well as stylized art so I wanted to integrate that traditional thinking of into my own work. Also... Magic card art is awesome!
Daarken gives 3 tiers for his class, Economy, Standard and Premium. I took the Premium because I wanted to have personal assignments and have access to the PSD files of my paintovers. Plus, I got 2 more weeks of lessons. Take note that on the website, it says that you can have some Art Directors contact information BUT that is only if your work is at a professional level. I didn't get them and from what I've seen, I think there will be only one person in the advance class that will get that. I think that's going to be the first time ever that Mike gives those away to someone.
Now, for the class itself! In short, it's a great class! The teacher is a cool guy and I did learn from it. Mike is a calm laid back kind of teacher with good insight. It did happen a few time that it seemed that he had little trouble explaining certain things but that is counteracted with your observation of him painting in the videos he provides. Even if the class videos he gives doesn't contain all the information that you need, he gives you more videos that he has made for his class blog as additional material. It just that makes it more valuable.
Although, the majority of Mike's body work involves character and creature illustrations, that really shows in the examples he gives. He gives more material to learn from during the weeks that there are figures involved and textures but when it comes to background, he only gives just the class video. I guess that's because he's more of a character guy than an environment guy. But he still has good insight on that matter.
Each week, you will be able to talk to him on Skype. This is a very important time in the mentorship because that's the only time you get to ask your questions about the assignments, about art or whatever is on your mind but it seems that most students don't take advantage of that. The first week, every students was there but as time went on, less and less student showed up at the skype meeting. It happenned 2 or 3 times where it was just me who talked to Mike which is a shame because I feel that it can be a very important time to learn even more. Although, he does give two skype meetings during the same day to help accommodate international students so maybe they showed up at the other meeting? I was only able to talk to him in his morning meeting so I could be wrong.
Also, after the meeting, your receive that week's homework and your previous assignment overview so you might think that you can't prepare questions beforehand but because each paintover is distributed through a google overdrive sheet, you can receive your corrections earlier. Mike updates that xsheet as he goes along so I managed to get mine early. Each overview videos last between 15 to 25 minutes long and I do feel that it is a bit short, especially during the weeks where we had to make 4 or 5 studies. I think that during those weeks where we have a lot of studies, he should take a bit more time on the paintovers.
Each video of the class last between 1 hour to 3 hours long. Mike will first go over that week's material and then he paints the assignment as an example. As he goes along, he continues to give more information here and there. It can get kind of boring when you just sit there and watch him paint in silence for 2 hours so I suggest that you sketch or whatever during these moments. While he explained certain subjects, I felt that at certain moments he unconsciously left out certain information because his working method is very intuitive. I had to rely on what I've learned outside of his class to try to balance this out. Something that he could do to improve his class is to suggests books or tutorials about each week's subject for every class. Like he did during week 5 by suggesting to go check out that Gnomon Workshop DVD by Jeremy Vickery. (Mike, if you are reading this, also add Color and Light by James Gurney for week 5. I know you have that book on your shelf!) I think this could very much complement his class.
The demo he makes in the video will also be given to you so you can get a closer look at his paintings. His paintings are most of the time left unfinished but it is still looks really good. Althought, I think that maybe a certain times, students don't always make a finished looking study because of his demos. So, it's pretty much your job to go beyond his example.
His painting technique is a very traditional thinking so you won't be learning any photoshop trickery during his class. The only one I've learned was cutting out a piece, copy-merged, distort and continue to paint over that. Oh, and I finally understood how you paint a black & white painting into color. That's it! This isn't a problem, I think that's a one of his strength. This teaches you to learn the rules before you start breaking them when you have matured enough.
I feel that I have improve on painting more realistically. The thing that was the most challenging for me was to paint people. I had trouble to do so because I didn't treat them in a blocky form before starting to paint the final rendering. Also, I still have to work on my edge control. I have this tendency to over render certain elements, as Mike says it's too hard edged and everything is competing for focus. It is okay to be a bit more looser on unimportant elements. I still feel that I have to work on my textures so it would feel less digital and too smooth. I've had some problems with my perspective but that because I was eyeing it instead to really measuring it like I always do on paper. I'm still trying to figure that part out on a Cintiq.
So do I recommend his class? Yes I do! Although, to be honest, each of the exercises can be easily done without even purchasing his videos. I've seen people make the same assignments on many forums because these are really common exercises. BUT! Having a professional guide you through this can tremendously make a difference. It can cut down years of hurdle because of that. Plus, if you're like me, being forced to kick your butt each week to make these studies will be beneficial. Forums these days has the problem of having too many beginners with zero pros around so I recommend finding a teacher willing to show you the basics and more. So... thank you Mike!
If you have questions about his class, feel free to ask them in the comments below