New York City is the center of the world in many ways. It is definitely the center of the contemporary art world. Who needs the Louvre in Paris? The Mona Lisa is sooo sixteenth century. Yet New York City still manages to hold on to the great traditions of art equally.
Yes, New York City is where past and future meet in the present. Pretty poetic statement, even artistic, you might say. The best place to unlock your inner artist is in New York City. Every artist from burgeoning to revered dream of their works in a gallery somewhere on the Lower East Side or even Brooklyn or one day, that impossible dream, MoMA!
Thanks to the combination of contemporary and tradition in New York City, you can find the most respected institutions offering classes, often taught by renowned artists themselves. You can find classes for any budget and any skill level, for the amateur to the professional.
Here are the best nyc drawing classes in a number of carefully chosen categories, sure to include one that fits your style.
Five Best Classes in Manhattan
Here are the five overall best rated art classes taking place in Manhattan:
Not just one of the best in Manhattan, but also considered among the best in the world. This is where you go if you are serious about a career in drawing or any other visual art medium. The school has been known for its innovative programs since it was founded in 1947.
The indie alternative to a big institution like SVA. Dirty Hands is a studio for badass artists with attitude, Their tagline is “All levels are welcome and the only thing you’re not going to do is paint a f*&$in’ sunset.” That about says it all. Naturally, it’s located on the famously punky Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Want to learn where famous greats like Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock? They passed through the halls of the Art Students League and you can too! In operation since 1875, today The League offers classes in everything from figure sketching to portraits to comic books and animation and more.
This institution has The League beat when it comes to oldest tradition. The Academy has been around since 1825. So, of course it’s located on the upper crust Upper East Side of Manhattan. Another “if you are serious” place to go, the school offers MFA’s in a variety of disciplines as well as the more casual Studio Practice program.
And of course, the YMCA! Because it’s fun to draw at the Y-M-C-A! The YMCA at 92nd Street offers drawing for beginners as well as more advanced classes. One of the best parts is that YMCA programs are accessible to people of all ages and budgets. Another YMCA location on the West Side has an ArtWorks program which includes classes that meet in Central Park.
The Art of the Outer Boroughs
New York isn’t just Manhattan, it has four other boroughs. Here’s a choice pick for wherever you find your inspiration, be it Brooklyn, Queens, or somewhere in between.
Brooklyn is the close follow-up for most happening art scene outside of Manhattan. Art Station is Art Central in Brooklyn. Affordable classes for adults and children inside a supplies store that hosts events and functions as an exhibition gallery. A One Stop Art Shop!
For private classes in Brooklyn, try Bay Ridge Art Space.
In the Bronx, the go to spot is the Bronx River Art Center. They offer a basic learn to draw class and all kinds of options for children, teens and adults.
It’s not technically one of the boroughs, but Long Island must be included on this list. The Long Island Academy of Fine Art has a long history of teaching arts skills to budding artists of all ages. The perfect place for an artistic mother-daughter activity.
On the other island, Staten Island, which is a borough proper, check out SMB Studio Arts. SMB is a family oriented art house which offers summer camps and programs for beginners and advanced alike. They even offer animation classes for kids and teens!
Finally, Queens and Bridgeview School Of Fine Arts. Bridgeview serves amateurs and professionals. Bridgeview specializes in ancient European techniques preserved in Russia. Groups are limited to ten and participants go on to win prestigious awards.
One more place worth mentioning is in a neighborhood of Queens known as Astoria. It’s called the Paint Place and it’s a byob place where you can casually explore your artistic urges.
If you are interested in a full-time program, consider Cooper Union. The school was created in 1849. The undergraduate program is no longer free, but it includes a diverse palate of drawing courses including a course for absolute beginners and even courses in graphic novel creation.
The Parsons School Of Design offers a distinguished undergraduate program as well, but even a beginner can pursue their art dreams in it’s colorful continuing education program, which covers all aspects of basic and figure drawing.
What makes The New York Academy Of Art special is that most, if not all, of it’s instructors are actively working as artists at the same time. It offers very specific disciplines so you can focus on what most interests you, whether that be historical figure or animal drawing.
The Pratt Institute also has an interesting and diverse slate of continuing education courses. Everything from classical era drawing, renaissance style, to sketching courses that apply your skills in real time.
For The Amateur
Painting Lounge is a casual and cool, unique and funky place to start your artistic journey. Professionals guide you through recreating a famous featured painting by a famous artist, step by step. And it’s byob so you can loosen up a bit. They have four locations throughout the boroughs.
Chelsea Classic features small classes where you can receive a more personalized experience as you learn the basics of drawing in the introductory classes, before moving on to more complex skills like live model drawing.
Thousands of amateur artists congregate for Drawing NY meetings, which can be attended on weekdays or weeknights. Bring your own supplies for this live model drawing practice session.
The Plein Air Painting School teaches beginners in an outdoor setting – hence “plein air”. They have a comprehensive approach to learning the fundamentals of drawing like composition and color mixing. Private instruction is available as well as Saturday workshops.
Art comes alive at night!
The Frick Institute is a pleasant place to learn your craft by moonlight. In a setting famous for its collection of European masterpieces, you can snag a seat and a pencil in the garden and learn directly from an instructor. The sketching sessions are included in the museum admission price, as are supplies. The sessions take place on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
What’s more inspiring than learning the craft inside the place where so many of the modern greats work has hung? MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the most famous museums in the world. Materials and instructor provided! These “drop-in sessions” are held every other Friday night, each time in a different area of the museum.
The Society of Illustrators hosts sketch nights for social butterflies. Aspiring artists can get inspired with live music at the Tuesday night sketch nights, while starving artists can inspire the fire in their belly with themed buffets on Thursday evenings. There are often featured guests in attendance. Currently they are also holding Saturday sessions.
Perhaps there is a specific medium to which you would like to adapt and apply your drawing skills. Here are some niche disciplines that might fit your unique interests, found only in – where else? – New York City!
Silkscreening is an ancient technique that never goes out of fashion. At Gowanus Print Lab in Brooklyn you can learn the art of stenciling then move on to the actual printing of your first time masterpiece on a silk screen canvas.
Ever heard of Risograph printing? It’s from waaayyy back in the eighties. It’s a layering technique that makes screen prints pop in a whole new dimension. Classes are offered at Secret Riso Club, which allows no more than five students at a time and includes a one-on-one session with the founder and instructor Gonzalo Guerrero.
For The Kids
Every parent thinks their kid is a Little Picasso. But perhaps yours really is one! Find out at the aptly named “Little Picasso NYC”. They offer both summer classes and individual attention. But the best feature is the encouraging environment, where your little Picasso can discover their inner artist while their imagination still runs wild.
Long Term Courses
Many of the institutions mentioned in this article offer long term classes, like School of Visual Arts and Cooper Union. But maybe you don’t want to commit to a full MFA program but still are interested in a longer commitment.
A great place for that is the Pelham Art Center, a community art center. The center grew out of an art festival held in 1969. They offer long term classes or one-time workshops, inside the tiny village of Pelham just outside the city. Kids classes include traditional drawing techniques and “How To Draw Everything.” Now that’s comprehensive!
No shortage of artistic possibilities in New York City. So, no excuses! Start your masterpiece today.
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.