During the ancient era of B.I. (Before Internet), if you wanted to learn how to draw or paint artistically, and you did not have the innate skills and financial backing to attend a prestigious art school, then there were a limited number of options available to you: attending courses at a local community college, following the lessons in a drawing book, or studying under a talented artist. (If you were really gullible, you could respond to one of those magazine ads, circa 1970s, from the Art Instruction Schools, asking you to draw a turtle, a fawn, or a pirate, to qualify for one of their art correspondence courses.)
Each one of these approaches has its advantages and disadvantages. In-person instruction at a local school can provide immediate feedback and tremendous motivation, but does require time for commuting to the campus, and patiently waiting while the instructor assists other students. Books on drawing can distill much of the knowledge of a master/author, but provide no interactive feedback or individualized guidance. The odds of fortuitously finding a skilled artist to teach you personally, are likely rather slim.
But hold off on tracing Tippy the Turtle! All is not lost. As one would suspect in this new era, the Internet offers a wealth of resources for the budding artist, regardless of which medium would be preferred — pencil, pen and ink, charcoal, acrylics, watercolor, etc. Admittedly, some of the websites of the distance-learning schools simply try to sell you instruction provided via snail mail, but there are much more modern alternatives.
Popular, But Populated with Pop-Ups
As with so many other fields of human interest, drawing and painting have attracted people willing to devote the time and effort to create instructional websites, provided to the public at no financial cost. There are other art instruction sites that use online advertising.
If you do a search for online art schools, one of the first you will encounter is The Original ArtSchool OnLine, run by Roger Elliott, a professional artist with more than three decades of experience. He offers five series of lessons, on digital art, portraits, ships, perspective, and color theory. Within each series, there are multiple lessons, with most of them consisting of an introduction, explanations of theory, illustrative diagrams, and exercises for the reader.
Elliott freely shares with visitors his knowledge of art theory and technique, as well as his enthusiasm for artistic expression, regardless of one's level of proficiency. Unfortunately, his website is embarrassingly ugly, which is ironic given that he is teaching color theory and other elements of aesthetic beauty. Also, the site is hosted by Angelfire, and thus displays ads and pop-ups, which will be distracting for any site visitors who still use Internet Explorer, and not Firefox, which can block those distractions.
Apparently as a result of the popularity of his lessons, and his lack of funds for getting a proper Web host, he has split the lessons across two free hosting services, with his ArtSchool #2 located at a link which does not even work, as of this writing. This well illustrates how "free" Web hosting services should be avoided. Nowadays there is no excuse for anyone to not be using professional Web hosting, given how the costs have declined tremendously, e.g., 500 gigabytes for less than 20 cents per day.
Not Drawing on Your Dollars
There are many other free art and drawing websites that you can explore and whose lessons you can follow. In fact, by utilizing as many such sites as time and energy permit, you would not only receive a considerable amount of instruction delivered conveniently to your home "studio" (i.e., the dining room table), but you would gain the perspective of multiple artistic instructors, and probably learn something unique from each one of them.
Anyone just getting started with drawing should begin with websites that teach the basics. An excellent site is Learn-to-draw.com, which is divided into three sections: drawing basics, people, and caricatures. The first section covers materials, lines, tracing, shape, space, measurement, perspective, and much more. The other two sections are equally replete with multiple lessons, with plenty of explanation for each topic discussed. As a bonus, the site is a snap to navigate.
But even children may find that site's elementary material to be too advanced. In that case, they could start with "How to draw free lessons", which is geared towards children. Even more rudimentary is Draw and Color with Uncle Fred, which demonstrates, step by step, how to create simple cartoon-style sketches.
Once you have mastered the basics, you still won't be at a loss for free online instruction. Just a sampling of some of the most promising sites that include intermediate and advanced lessons: Drawspace.com, Free Drawing and Sketching Lessons, and, for the painter, Interactive Art School.
If you find that you have a real talent for drawing or painting, and you would like to pursue it further with more formal training — perhaps even leading to a degree in art — consider the following online schools: Academy of Art University, The Art Institute Online, American InterContinental University Online, and Westwood College.
Once you have developed your superlative sketching skills, and you would like to share your work with anyone with access to the Internet, there are countless venues for doing so. To name just one category, there are blogs devoted to illustrators, artists, and cartoonists. For instance, Drawn! is a collaborative blog designed for people who enjoy drawing, and is a place where artists of all levels can share their work with others, as well as resources that they have discovered.
Provided that you have enough material to form an online collection worthy of people's attention, you can always create your own dedicated art site, or have a Web developer create one for you. The drawings that you create, and how you share them with others, is limited only by your imagination.
Any of these resources should serve you well — at least better than what probably innumerable American children have done through the decades: drawing a pirate, mailing it in, and never hearing back. I speak from experience.