Firstlight Art Academy

Become The Artist You Dream About

Personalized Art Instruction for Kids, Teens, & Adults

Join A Class At Any Time

A program just for you

Classes for all ages and all skill levels.

Beginners – Intermediate – Advanced

Find more information about the classes and our curriculum further down this page.


In one word, our program is all about


What folks say about us

Ann, adult student

The art class is the high point of my week. The teachers are great at helping us each at our level of experience. We have lots of fun, and try all different types of projects. It is a very encouraging atmosphere

Parent of 6 year old

“Art class is the highlight of his week!”

Hannah, Parent

“They both said they loved all the activities and couldn’t point out a favorite.  We most definitely will take part next summer and can recommend it to others wholeheartedly. Thanks for everything.”

Parent of 12 year old

“When I pick her up from class, she asks me if she can have art class every day after school!

Shea, Parent and student

I realized not only that she was being taught the same things I learned in art school, but that she was getting it – at only age 9. Your ability to translate it into fun for kids is wonderful.”

Allyson, Parent of 9 year old

We feel so blessed to have discovered first light.  She enjoys class so much”

School Year Programs

The 2019-20 School year classes begin the

 Week Of August 19

You may join a class at any time.

Our Small Program

Classes meet once a week for an hour and a half. Supplies are included.
These lessons preview concepts and techniques in the older classes.


4 and 5

Year Olds


6 and 7

Year Olds

COST: $1110/yr ($116 monthly installments)

SUPPLIES: included

Our Big Program

Classes meet once a week for an hour and 45 minutes. Supplies are needed.


8, 9 & 10

Year Olds


10, 11, & 12

Year Olds


13 – 18

Year Olds




(Includes Intermediate: Creations and Advanced: Expressions)

COST: $1227/yr ($129 monthly installments)

SUPPLIES: Around $215 including a case

Our Cartooning Program

Classes meet once a week for an hour and a half. Supplies are needed.

Toons 1

10 – 12

Year Olds

Toons 2

11 – 14

Year Olds


13 – 18

Year Olds

COST: $1227/yr ($129 monthly installments)

SUPPLIES: Around $115 including a case

Learn More About Cartooning Lower on the Page

All Courses* include

10 FREE passes to our Saturday open studios

Open Studio $5 - Now EVERY Saturday During The School Year

  • KidsART for ages 4 - 8
    11:00 am to 12:30
  • Everyone else ages 8 and up
    1:00 to 3:30 pm
    Kids, teens, and adults all have separate rooms

No supplies? No Problem, it's only $5 more to use ours.

Open Studio is available to Everyone!*

Please sign up for a session using one of the buttons below, based on your current registration status.

Everyone must sign up now for Open Studio sessions. Thank you!

*We do not currently offer an Open Studio time for Special Needs Students. We hope to in the future.

how to sign up

for our programs

Schedule of School Year Classes

Pinch/zoom the graphic to enlarge

The 2019-20 School year courses run

August 19 – May 22

You may join a class at any time.

Designed by Artists, for Artists

Classes for all ages and all skill levels.


We are a safe place for first-time artists, or anyone who has never had training before. More than that, at Firstlight, beginning artists discover and practice the critical things that make art work – the Foundations. The lessons are clear and simple. Our Foundations course, for your first 2 years, includes 72 individual lessons covering everything an artist needs to feel competent. Techniques are presented with detailed demonstrations and well-designed projects. Artists will use these foundational insights every day as their skills grow.

But these lessons are not scaled down or simplified. Our Foundations curriculum is based on college-level art school curriculum. We have made things easier to understand, and more concrete, but still robust. So Foundations is also important for intermediate level artists who have not been at Firstlight before.


Foundations is also essential for artists who have worked and even taken lessons elsewhere. We have insights and techniques that are simply not found in other programs, and allow artists more freedom to express themselves as they grow.

After our Foundations course, artists move into creating a greater number of finished works in our Creations level. Because it’s important for Foundations to be reviewed, the Creations students stay in the same classroom so they hear the lessons again, and can even help other students. It’s been discovered recently that teaching helps you learn even better than repetition. The 72 Creations lessons are more challenging versions of the Foundations course, with more room for self-expression too. It’s like an athlete lifting more weight.


Artists who want to move towards a higher level are encouraged to continue moving up to Expressions. Students work with their instructor to create a vision and work on their portfolio. The instructor coaches you through your projects. Young artists who are working towards art schools get help with admissions letters and portfolio requirements. Many of our advanced artists have been in the program for 8 years or more, but the ultimate goal is to move away from needing lessons and into your own studio.

Learn more about our curriculum and approach further below on this page.


Supplies at Firstlight

Supplies are always available at our studio at

15% off the MSRP.

All students in our Big Program must have specific supplies during each class. Visit our supplies page to get all the information, including our online store and a downloadable checklist to see if you already have some items.

We’re in Cool Springs

And pretty easy to get to.

Address in Cool Springs:
1710 General George Patton Dr
Brentwood, TN  37027

Tap the maps to enlarge.

student work

Oh yeah, they’re fantastic
(tap an image to open viewer)


We Use





Oil Pastels








Brush & Pen Ink

Pastel Blending

Canvas Painting

Watercolor / Paper




We have many sources of reference materials, including a small library, an image bank, and a still life object library. Subject matter may be carefully chosen to facilitate a specific project or up to the student to choose.

Students are encouraged to bring other media and try new techniques, especially after they’ve moved up to Creations and beyond, including Oil Paints, Digital Media, and Colored Pencils.

how to sign up

for our programs

“I started Firstlight in 2006, because we needed a community art school that focused on each student’s goals.”

Dennas Davis

Firstlight's original curriculum Is groundbreaking, yet grounded in the classic methods.

Fun And Encouraging

"How-To" lessons are easy to understand

Variety of lessons holds your interest

Artists' Choice gives freedom for self-expression

Knowing what to do leads to confidence

Strong Curriculum

Essential techniques are always demonstrated

Lessons are designed for every age group

We've tested and refined the curriculum for over 12 years

Insights take the mystery out of creating art

A Training Approach

We take the long-term path, to really learn art

Small classes with 10-12 students

One-on-one mentoring during class

36 weeks per school-year, meeting once a week

Designed For You

Join a class at any time on our cycle

30 classes to choose from

Free Open Studio once a month

Supplies are available any time, and always at 15% off the MSRP

Original Lessons Created by Our Founder
Like a three-legged stool, our art curriculum has been built as a complete foundation for students, using three deeply connected principles.


For the Heart

Everyone wants joy. If a student doesn’t enjoy creating art, then art will eventually be abandoned. Since we’re artists, we asked ouselves,

“What gives us joy?”


For the Hand

Being proficient is a constant desire for our students.

“My work doesn’t look right!” is heard in the classroom often, but we tell them, that realization is itself a vital skill.


For the Head

Understanding how to do things faster and easier is pretty awesome, but even more important, is to retain that information.

Timing is very important for making ideas really stick.



Having Fun

The other day, a whole group of some of our most rambunctious 3rd and 4th grade students said, “We’re having fun painting these gift boxes!” And amazingly, they were all diligently working on the project. What they didn’t realize, is that they were learning how to draw a cube in 3-point perspective, and the color mixing “game” lead them to use complimentary color mixing to soften and dull their shadow colors. Yay!

Self Expression

The number one complaint we hear from kids is, “at my other school art class they never let us do what we want to do.”

Artists have a deep desire to choose their subject, and invent new things – because that is the essence of creativity! All too often, traditional classes forget to add choices along the way. We have coined a term, “Artists’ Choice”, that we use so they acknowledge that they’re getting choices. Sometimes the whole lesson is a full-on Artists’ Choice day, and everyone always cheers!


Being encouraged is helpful, but only if you trust your encourager to tell you the truth, and in a kindly way. Being critiqued, however, is only encouraging if you want help and have specifically asked for it.

Our teachers are trained to ask for permission and to gently offer suggestions. We don’t use the terms “right” or “wrong”, but refer to art as “accurate” or “inaccurate”. We also do not use the word, “mistake” since that implies that you shouldn’t have tried. We call art we don’t like, a “LEARNER” and art that we do like, a “KEEPER”.


Playing music while learning and practicing creates stronger pathways in the brain – and it’s fun! We have lots of playlists we’ve created that are kid friendly.

Small Classes

All of our studios are small, and our classes never go over 10 students for KidsART (with two instructors), 12 students for Foundations (10 for adults), and 16 students for Cartooning. We can provide a lot of individual attention this way.




Handling graphite, paints, brushes, specific papers, canvas, ink, pastels and more, is a lot more fun if you know what they do and can control them. Ink, for instance, is difficult to control and can be very messy. We tell our students that ink is like electricity; if you have safeguards in place and can make it do what you want, it’s fantastic. That’s why we stick the bottles down on a plate so they don’t turn over, and why we give everyone a ziplock bag to place the bottles in. No more spills.


Most technique is about movement and holding tools in a certain way. We start early with “color dancing” for the youngest students, and we encourage the use of music throughout the full range of ages.

One of our most revolutionary methods, is in our watercolor lessons. We have developed a simple phrase that changes everything for the student, eliminating the need for lengthy explanations about the nature of the paints and paradigm shifts for how you manage it. Everyone enjoys watercolor because they understand how it works right away.


Practice is almost a bad word to some artists. They believe they were born with their talent and only had to walk up to the canvas and begin. Of course, they won’t show you their work from a few years back!

We ask our students, “where are the DaVinci and Rembrandt paintings from when they were your age?” It’s obvious that they threw away all of their training work from before they were masters (we call practice work, Learners). Likewise, artists must understand the importance of doing some things over and over, just like musicians do. Our lessons bring repetition of certain techniques and methods but in a creative way, so that students don’t feel like they’re just reviewing something they’ve already done. 




It’s pretty well known that discovery teaching helps students retain their lessons. Often we’ll have them start a task they’re not ready for. This creates an urgent need, which we can then fill right away. This is how we create the perfect timing for teaching specific methods and techniques.


Working out simple ways to convey a complex subject is near and dear to our hearts. You can imagine us in a laboratory, working day and night to improve communication and understanding with simple analogies and schemas. After decades of this, we’re getting pretty good at it.

Mnemonic Devices

One of our best examples of this is the “Three Steps to Accuracy”. We also have, 7 steps to painting; color journals, graphic posters, and more.

Concrete Concepts

Don’t get us started on all the abstract terminology that the adult art world uses that kids can’t easily understand. “Negative Space”, for instance, is awful. We changed that to, “Air Shapes”.

Careful References

Often a subject in a photo seems like it should work, but is too hard for a student to do. This damages their confidence. Our reference photos are chosen with the specific project in mind, and are known to lead to more success stories, based on our own experimentation with these lessons.

Printed Guides

Printouts are provided for almost every lesson. Students sometimes share a reference or guide with others, and often get a special handout they can keep. We have worksheets, learning games, and Color Journals which are very popular! All have been designed by our founder, Dennas.

Learning Styles

Sometimes we have game sheets, and sometimes we have demonstrations. Every now and then students get to write a few things down. The key is to approach insights in different ways.

2 Core Beliefs:

An artist can never waste time creating. Even the worst outcome means you’ve had a learning experience.

Artists may have varying gifts in different areas, but talent comes from joy. If you love art, you make art – If you practice making art, you get better at it.


About The Toons Classes

Toons is for beginners, and also for students who have been working on their cartoons, stories and even their style, for some time. The class of first-year cartoonists covers the basics. Students learn how to develop characters, create strong images, backgrounds, draw from reference material, and create good speak-bubbles. Modeling clay is used for character development with 3D visualization. Several fun projects, like a movie poster or TV show title-screen, help students apply their skills. At the end of the year, they will create a short comic book. Please call for availability, since this class fills to capacity earlier than most.

Toons 2 is for older first-year students and advancing 2nd year students. The projects and instructions are similar to Toons 1.

Advanced Toons continues the same theme of developing characters and working towards a personal style. The projects are more challenging, and we do some projects as a team, just like professional cartoonists do. We’ll work on heads, hands, arms & legs, as well as body stance and action poses. The regular Toons class must be taken previously, or a portfolio can be submitted to bypass that course if the artist has already develped their work and is in high school. It is also good to have taken Foundations for two years, but is not required.

how to sign up

for our programs

Create your account and sign up for a class today!