Firstlight Art AcademyBecome The Artist You Dream About
A thoughtful program just for artists…
Classes for all ages, from 4 years up through adults.
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.
After our Foundations course, artists move from practicing and learning, into creating a greater number of finished works. 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.
In one word, our program is all about
Our Summer Program
May 30 through August 2
Camps in the mornings
Drop-in classes in the afternoons
Workshops on the weekends
School Year Programs
The 2019-20 School year courses run
August 19 – May 22
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
6 and 7
COST: $1110/yr ($116 monthly installments)
Our Big Program
Classes meet once a week for an hour and 45 minutes. Supplies are needed.
8, 9 & 10
10, 11, & 12
13 – 18
(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.
10 – 12
11 – 14
13 – 18
COST: $1227/yr ($129 monthly installments)
SUPPLIES: Around $115 including a case
Learn More About Cartooning Lower on the Page
Courses include our open studio once each month
Open Studio – First Saturday of Each Month During School Year
- ADULTS: 9:00 am to 11:00 am for adults (you can stay to 1:00 if you want)
- KidsART: 11:00 am to 12:30 for ages 4 – 7
- Foundations & Higher: 1:00 to 3:30 pm for ages 8 and up, teens and adults
Open Studio is free to current students, and only $4 for non-students. No supplies? No Problem, they’re only $4 more. If you’re not a student and want to come to Open Studio, you must sign up using the button below. Current students do not need to sign up ahead of time. Please check our CALENDAR page for schedule.
how to sign up
for our programs
Schedule of School Year ClassesPinch/zoom the graphic to enlarge
What folks say about us
Ann, adult student
Parent of 6 year old
Parent of 12 year old
Shea, Parent and student
Allyson, Parent of 9 year old
Brush & Pen Ink
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.”
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
Meet The Firstlight Staff
A talented and accomplished artist for many years, with a background in both art and teaching, Betsy has been a huge part of Firstlight for most of our 14 years. She loves painting and drawing in all media, and sells her work and prints in several venues. Betsy has helped develop our curriculum, and oversees the SMALL program.
Carrie is starting her fourth year as a classroom teacher at Firstlight and her 6th year instructing with us. She was a student at Firstlight for several years before graduating high school and quickly moved into an assistant role. Now she has a degree in fine art from Lipscomb University (2019). Carrie also works on our curriculum.
Maggie began as a student at Firstlight in our early years when she was 11. She became an accomplished advanced student, and moved into an assistant teaching position with us in high school. She became a lead teacher for us in 2017 and is working on her art teaching degree as well.
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.