Milan Art Mastery Program Section One Review

In April of this year, I decided to expand my creative potential by signing up for the Milan Art Institute Mastery Program. If you’re reading this blog post, it’s likely because you have come across artist Elli Milan, or another member of her family, talking about the Mastery Program in either your Instagram or Facebook feed. You may have also signed up for one of their webinars and are looking for an unbiased review on if the Mastery Program is really as good as it sounds.

If so, welcome – you’ve come to the right place.

As of the writing of this blog post, I am a current student in the program. I wanted to share my experience going through the sections of the program with people like me who were intrigued but skeptical. I also wanted to offer the point of view of someone who is a very experienced artist and has already gone through art school. 

Please Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am not being paid or compensated in any way by the Milan Art Institute for the information and opinions shared in the blog post.

If you’d like to read my first impressions of the program you can read them in my original post: MILAN ART MASTERY PROGRAM REVIEW PART 1

Section 1: Drawing and Oil Painting

For the sake of not making this a totally epically long read, I’m not going to go through each part of the first section in detail, but rather give you an overview of the things that I think are important takeaways and considerations for anyone thinking of signing up for the program.

I want to first start by saying that the methods and techniques being taught in the first section of this program are comparable to the college-level instruction I received at the school I went to – but better. One of the criticisms that I had about my art college experience was that they didn’t teach enough technique. I even took an oil painting class in my first year that unfortunately felt like a waste of time by the end of it.

The video lessons in section one are taught primarily by Elli Milan and her eldest daughter Dimitra Milan. Elli knows her stuff and then some. I found the drawing assignments a great review of the education I had but with additional techniques like using a proportional scale divider tool which I did not learn in the school that I went to. If you want to learn techniques on how to freehand draw accurately this first section of the Mastery Program will definitely teach you how to do that effectively.

A selection of my drawing from life assignments using a proportional scale divider tool.
A selection of my drawing from life assignments using a proportional scale divider tool.

As a very experienced artist, I was very surprised by how challenged I felt on some of the assignments. I had assumed that I would skip a lot of this section because it would just be a lot of what I already knew, but I found it really valuable to go through the assignments anyway.

A selection of my drawing assignments from Section One of the Mastery Program
A selection of my drawing assignments from Section One of the Mastery Program.

My primary reason for wanting to go through the first section was to learn how to oil paint properly. What I got was the instruction I wished I had gotten when I took ‘Introduction to Oil Painting’ in college. In fairness to my alma mater, I want to mention that the instructor has A LOT to do with the level of education you receive in any given class. I just don’t think I had an ideal teacher in my case.

The assignments go through a variety of methods for oil painting including the old master’s techniques used by Michelangelo and his contemporaries. They also explore more modernist and contemporary styles. Learning these different ways of painting is valuable for a variety of reasons. If nothing else you will discover the method that you feel most comfortable creating with.

I found that despite trying to paint in the style that Elli or Dimitra did, my work would always end up looking like how I would tend to paint anyway. This was perhaps a disadvantage of going in with experience painting in general because it was a bit harder to just be open and loose to the different styles. 

A selection of my painting assignments from Section One of the Mastery Program.
A selection of my painting assignments from Section One of the Mastery Program.

Elli and Dimitra are extremely talented and accomplished painters. Their work is nothing short of aspirational throughout the first section. I will honestly say this first section is definitely a BEAST in terms of what you learn and the assignments.

They have structured the lessons efficiently, however, because you can execute the drawing assignments on the days when your paintings are drying. They have also built-in weeks that are meant for catching up. You may think this is weird, but life WILL get in the way and you will be happy for those breaks to catch up.

Each week’s lessons and videos have additional downloads or links to helpful resources. They have a PDF textbook that reviews all of the assignments in writing but to be honest, I only looked back at it a few times. I mostly referred to the videos for techniques or lessons I wanted to revisit. The textbook does contain a lot of helpful information though and is worth reviewing.

Supplies. Supplies. Supplies.

I would highly recommend if you live in the USA that you buy the drawing and painting supply kits that they offer on their website. The reason is that they provide all of the mediums that you need for the assignments. If you’re new to art and don’t have a lot of these items this is a good investment. The first section can get very pricey on supplies alone. Don’t even get me started on the rabbit hole that is paintbrush selection.

Art supplies needed for the Mastery Program
A sample of products that are available through the Milan Art Supply Store. Images ©Milan Art Institute

The kits take the guesswork out of what you need to buy. They do provide a comprehensive list of what you need for the course but honestly, if you’re not experienced with some of the required supplies it will be easy to overwhelm yourself. Quality DOES matter when it comes to art supplies. You may end up investing in student-grade oil paint because it’s inexpensive only to find it doesn’t perform the same as it does in the lessons which will be frustrating as you do the assignments.

Don’t cheap out on brushes either. I can’t stress this enough. You don’t have to buy the top-of-the-line but cheap brushes perform poorly and often leave hairs behind. Being an artist or taking an art course of this magnitude has a financial cost associated with it. Keep in mind that it’s still less expensive than enrolling in an art school – trust me.

If you’re very savvy and want to shop for sales you totally can, but honestly just make it easy for yourself. Canadian students can purchase this supply kit too, but with our awful exchange rate, it doesn’t end up saving you much money which is why I opted not to go this route.  I also already had all of the drawing supplies apart from the proportional scale divider.

Using Water-Mixable Oils

I decided that I wanted to use water-mixable oils instead of traditional oils. It is totally possible to take this course using water-mixable oils, however, I don’t recommend it for people who are complete beginners. The reason is that you have to improvise a lot when using them for the assignments.

It took me a little while to figure out how to work around some of the techniques. For example, the first assignment requires you to make a custom medium mix with solvent and linseed oil.  With water-mixable oils, you can generally just replace solvent directly for water. In this case, I didn’t feel like the water and linseed oil mixture that I made worked as intended. 

a three panel series showing my process for one of my painting assignments in the Mastery Program
The first layer (brown) took almost a week to dry. The mixture we made was supposed to speed drying and in my case, it extended it. I didn’t use the custom mixture again after that.

Water-mixable oils also don’t typically have the range of radiant colours like Gamblin does or the range of transparent and opaque colors that are needed for the assignments. I had to improvise a lot so honestly if you’re brand new to painting you may find that you will struggle with that.

If you want more information on water-mixable oils, I put together a free resource to help you out: 

The Water-Mixable Oil Painter’s Starter Guide – Advice, Supply Recommendations, and Best Practice Tips for Artists New to Water-Mixable Oil Paints.

The Milan’s give you a great information seminar on how to use traditional oils with solvents that are less toxic if this is a concern for you. As someone who suffers from migraines, I’m very sensitive to certain smells. I also work from home and in the winter I would not be able to have great ventilation. Although there are options for odorless mineral spirits and low-odor solvents, I just didn’t want to risk spending the money on traditional oils only to find I still have too much sensitivity. 

Sources and Reference Photos

This section of the course provides you links to sources (or reference photos) on the Milan Art Institute Pinterest board. If you’re on their free social media app Artsocial it can be valuable to use these provided sources because you will be able to compare your work to others also using the same photos.

I want to caution you however that many if not lol of these photos are not royalty-free. Make sure you understand the copyright rules in your respective country. My understanding of copyright is that you can’t legally and shouldn’t ethically use a photo for artwork unless it is royalty-free or you have permission from the photographer. 

READ MORE: 5 Things to Know About Reference Photos

If you feel confident that you can find a royalty-free image with similar qualities as what is required in the assignment, I would recommend doing that. I used a couple of their supplied references at first, but because I wanted to be able to sell my work, I diverted to sourcing my own images for the rest of the painting assignments. 

A selection of my painting assignments from Section One of the Mastery Program using royalty-free photos that I sourced.
A selection of my painting assignments from Section One of the Mastery Program using royalty-free photos that I sourced.


Community & Mentorship

The last thing I want to touch on is the community and mentorship. I did not sign up for the additional mentorship package, but I do think this is valuable for both beginners and intermediate to advanced artists. If you’ve never taken a program like this before having someone to connect with on the areas you’re struggling with is super valuable. To be honest that is the big advantage of the in-person art school experience 

I really enjoyed seeing others post their assignments on the free version of Artsocial in the Mastery Program forum.  I found that the people there are very friendly and supportive. I even made some new artists friends in Canada and abroad from it which has been really lovely. 

screen grab of ArtSocial
©Milan Art Institute

Be aware that the NFT scammers have made their way there too. Not to the same extent as Instagram but I have come across my fair share of potential scammer-weirdos on there. You may feel caught off guard if you encounter them thinking they wouldn’t be there. Remember the app is free and not just for Mastery Program students so basically anyone can sign up.

Final Thoughts on Section One of the Mastery Program

Overall, the first section of the program is 1000% worth your time and money. The courses and assignments are well thought out and the instruction is thorough and addresses all of the major techniques and fundamentals you need to know to learn how to draw and paint.
If you’re an absolute beginner you need to remember that you will need to practice some of these methods and techniques over and over to be at a very proficient level. There’s no substitute for hard work and practice. However, this program will put you on the right track to create artwork with less guesswork than if you were trying to teach yourself.

This section of the course has already awakened something within me that I didn’t know was there but was hoping to find. To be honest, I didn’t think it would happen until the second section which explores finding your voice as an artist.

A selection of paintings from my Daylight Dreamers Collection.

The assignments in the first section inspired me to create my Daylight Dreamers Collection of paintings. Diverting to create that collection is part of why it’s taken me this long to write this review. I’ve created more artwork in these last few months than I have in years. The feedback I’ve gotten from family friends and my social media following has been so exciting and rewarding. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how my artwork evolves as I move through the second section of the program. If it’s anything like the first section it will continue to be a very transformative experience. 

I’m starting the second section soon so stay tuned for my review on that in a couple of months or so. If you’re reading this and want to chat more about the program you can connect with me by leaving a comment below or following me on Instagram or Artsocial @barbsotiart

Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Barb, I’m so happy to be reading your review and I wish that you were further along so I could find out the rest! I too have been sucked in by the very well oiled machine that is Milan. I’m almost ready to pull out my pocketbook but wanted to check for reviews before I did. I’m on the waitlist for the second time. I signed up the first time and then talked myself out of it. Reading your post where you mentioned apprehension because of what others might think hit home. I’m kinda in the same boat. I’m a professional artist selling my work. But then I watched the latest video of how to create an abstract landscape and getting to watch the interaction between Elli and Dimitra really warmed me up to them. I’m closer than ever to pay up. Enrollment opens again October 1st, less than a month from now. Maybe I’ll shoot you a message and find out how it’s going for you at this point before you write your next post. Thanks for writing this, it’s really helping me with my decision. Hopefully, I’ll hear continued good things about the program. From what you’ve mentioned so far, it’s what I’ve been looking for but haven’t found yet.

    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Jamie!
      Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to reach out and share your thoughts. I know what you mean about their videos. They definitely have a way of teaching and sharing that I feel is very generous and unique. Definitely reach out to me on Instagram or through email. I’m happy to chat anytime! 🙂

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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