Gorgeous Art Book Inspo for Holiday Gifts!

Did you ever catch your child looking. at one of those chunky coffee table books dedicated to art? If so, you probably saw them pause and fixate on image after image. As visual artists, we love, love, love to look at art! It’s especially fun to leaf through pictures of drawings from “the making of” film and animation. Anything full-color, can be such a joy!

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every film uses storyboards

Consider a big, glossy art book as a heavy, beautiful Christmas, Hanukah or birthday gift! What a wonderful way to support your young artist with inspiration, acknowledging their identity as a creative person while encouraging them to read.

An art book is a special kind screen-free way to enjoy the art of the world. As opposed to the stimulation of a phone or iPad, the nervous system settles when we curl up with a book. Even kids who are less inclined to read novels can find themselves immersed in the shapes and colors of art books. We’ve seen it hundreds of times in our fine art studios; before and after class kids open colorful books with wonder at the small bookshelf near our front door.

Besides providing relaxation and fun, art books also get kids and the whole family into the habit of viewing art in some form. Can you imagine someone learning a musical instrument who never listened to music made by someone else? Reading helps to create an educated young artist.

What happens with that book is pure inspiration! Don’t be surprised when your young artist reads for a while and then pulls out his or her sketchbook, charmed by someone’s creativity, and now inspired to create as well.

Please note: Your child does not have to be at the reading level of coffee table books to enjoy the illustrations. Judge the book by its cover (and its pictures), in this case!

What kinds of books should you choose for the holidays?

  • The Art Of your child’s favorite movie. You won’t believe how gorgeous and prolific behind-the-scenes art can be, even with a live-action film! A couple examples that show off art from concept through storyboard and more: The Art of Harry Potter and of Star Wars. Gorgeous!
  • Similarly, the Art Of your child’s favorite animated feature. Thousands of hours of visual art work by hundreds of people go into each film, and it’s amazing to see how the artists sketch. Here’s some inspiration with Frozen and Coco!
  • Science illustration! Here is a history of scientific illustration that is sure to educate as well as inspire
  • An amazing art-history book is beyond inspirational. This book by Sister Wendy , covering all of art history, is our absolute favorite of all time!
  • How about a particular historical era? Choose the Renaissance, Modernism, The Impressionist era and more. Here’s a find from the Art Nouveau movement.
  • What inspires you child or teen? Individual artists’ books can provide a window in to a fine artist like no website can. Monet, Van Gogh and Alphonse Mucha are some favorites.

This holiday season, let the inspiration flow! To have the most fun with this, head to your local brick-and-mortar bookstore and enjoy seeing all the illustrations for yourself before you buy. Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

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Portfolio Reviews Going on NOW

Calling all High Artistic Schoolers!

You’re wondering what it would be like to go to an art college to major in any art-related field, or even if you don’t plan to be an art major, National Portfolio Day can help provide lots of insight into how to make the best fine art portfolio to use for scholarships, or just to make your work the best that it can be.

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National Portfolio Day provides helpful free one-on-one consultations from art college representatives throughout the country.
Courtesy of the National Portfolio Day Association

Who Should Attend?

National Portfolio Day is an event specifically for visual artists and designers. It is an opportunity for those who wish to pursue an education in the visual and related arts to meet with representatives from colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. 

Representatives will be available to review your artwork, discuss their programs and answer questions about professional careers in art. High school students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors and college transfer students are encouraged to attend. Visit with counselors, admissions team members, and faculty from art and design schools for a review of your portfolio before applying to colleges or universities. 

What are the Benefits?

National Portfolio Day serves a variety of purposes. Most importantly, it is designed to help further the artistic development of young artists by bringing together experienced college representatives to review artwork and offer feedback. We understand that some people make certain kinds of art more successfully than others. Don’t be discouraged if you see work that is “better” than yours. A National Portfolio Day may be the first time you have seen so many people in one place who all share a powerful commitment to the arts. The experience is a small taste of what a professional art program can be like.

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Image courtesy Photolucida

Is This a Competition?

National Portfolio Days are also about the exchange of information about your work, yourself, your college plans, and your concerns. This is not an examination or competition. The college representatives are pleased to talk about their programs with you and can be most helpful when discussing your artwork. Your portfolio should include your best and most recent work, but it can also include works in progress, sketchbooks and tear sheets. You’ll hear many different opinions of your work. Don’t hesitate to explain how you develop your ideas and where you want to go with them. No admissions decisions or scholarship awards will be offered to you at National Portfolio Day. Some colleges represented may accept your portfolio as the visual portion of your application. Other colleges have restrictions that prohibit them from making a definite portfolio decision at the time of your review. We urge you to discuss your work with as many representatives as possible.

Learn about possibilities…

Never considered majoring in art before? Even if art school for college not for you, it’s cool to have the chance to ask questions about what majors are offered at various art schools, as well as what kind of careers its graduates can look forward to.

Looking forward to hearing how it went for Art Steps teens!

Here is a link to the San Diego portfolio day: https://nationalportfolioday.org/schedule/nov-19-sandiego

Here is a link to the Los Angeles portfolio day: https://nationalportfolioday.org/schedule/nov-20-losangeles

National Portfolio Day is free for students to attend from anywhere around the world! Register now at: 


The virtual days are October 14, 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM PST, December 4, 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM PST. 

This can be a life-changing experience. Looking forward to hearing how our Art Steps teens enjoy the day!

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Hilary Key is the owner and Director of Art Steps, fine art studios serving over 1000 students per week. Her team of dedicated artists and art teachers has also developed a world-class online program for ages 7 through teens. She lives in Orange County, CA with her husband, two sons, dog Bella and cat, Hazel.


How to Make a Home Art Show

Want to encourage your little artist? You can stage an art exhibit, gallery-style, at your home! We did this once with my son, Elliot, when he was six years old, it was so much fun, and it meant the world to him.

We took the everyday art off of our living room walls, and replaced it with a collection of his artwork, which had been piling up around the house. He chose his favorite pieces, and we proudly displayed it on every wall. We even had an easel that we used to feature one of his paintings.

Friends and family were invited for a “gallery opening”, where we served “wine” (grape juice) and cheese, played music, and generally made it an awesome party. Elliot was so encouraged! He had the chance to speak about his art with everyone he cared about, and a few people even bought a piece! Through this experience, his pride in his creativity and abilities only grew. 

Today he’s 14 and still loves to draw and paint. In fact, he’s considering art as a career. What could be more encouraging than celebrating a young artist, center-stage, in front of all their family and friends? 

Putting the living room back together again afterward was quick, as we only needed to clean up some tape and easily removable adhesive hooks. The whole experience was so much easier than I’d thought, and it created the most amazing memories. If you have a prolific young artist at your house, I hope you’ll be inspired to give it a try! 

Hilary Key is the owner and Director of Art Steps, fine art studios serving over 1000 students per week. Her team of dedicated artists and art teachers has also developed a world-class online program for ages 7 through teens. She lives in Orange County, CA with her husband, two sons, dog Bella and cat, Hazel.


When My Parents Made Art with Me

I happened to walk through one of our Figure Drawing and Portraiture Workhsops at Art Steps in Yorba Linda, CA last month when I happened across Manuella Cooper, who had joined her daughters, long-time students Sophia and Amanda, to try her hand at drawing people for the week. I’ve known her for years, and she is the sort of person who usually has a smile on her face, but she seemed to be glowing and content, even more than usual. “Now I know what they mean when they don’t want to leave art class,” she explained. 

We talked about the meditative joy we experience as artists, when we sit down, slow down, and concentrate on rendering the subject matter before us.  She commented that she’s planning to join each week.

Beyond Manuela’s experience in and of itself, it struck me that her daughter Amanda beamed ear-to-ear, grinning as we grownups chatted away.  Have you ever had two things you loved dearly in life, come together?  How did you feel? Whole, content, energized… happy.   This reminded me of the times my parents tried their hands at art.

I vividly remember sitting with my dad, acrylic paints, pencils and brushes spread across his kitchen table, trying to emulate Bob Ross and his ilk through Walter Foster books and memories of what we had seen on TV.  Hunched over our canvas boards, our faces squinched with concentration, my tongue probably poking out the side of my mouth (as was my typical art-making pose until I finally got hell for it from a classmate in the 6thgrade), we puzzled out how to create the illusion of mountains in the distance, rivers that stayed flat as they emerged onto a field, and foreground grasses that seemed like believable in color and in form.  The Eagles and Carpenters played in the next room, and Dinty Moore beef stew bubbled on the stove.  Maybe he wasn’t all that interested in painting, but he clearly found a love for it once he got started.  Maybe part of him was originally just trying to think of a way that he could possibly fill an afternoon with his 9 year old daughter to make weekend visitation time really count. Well, it did. 

Another time, my mom decided to try drawing. She used to paint ceramic figurines in her spare time. Embellishing someone else’s creation held little interest for me, but when she broke out a pencil and put it to paper, I was right there next to her, sketching away.  I read “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards  (which I still highly recommend) around Jr. High, and the concepts I shared intrigued her. She decided to give a couple of the exercises in it a whirl, too, and together we discovered several very helpful drawing techniques that astonished us, such as turning an image upside down do draw it accurately, or focusing on an object’s negative shapes.  Watching the joy in her discovery from this quiet act made sitting down to draw on my own into a warm, fuzzy experience.  Over the years since, my mom has picked up watercolors from time to time, and I love seeing her paintings hang on the wall.

My parents were not creative types.   They were an escrow officer and a geologist who both dabbled in computer programming.   Neither drew nor painted but a handful of times, but I’ll always remember them as their own types of artists: certainly untrained, but curious, and not too afraid to give it a try. They created their little masterpieces not out of obligation or even necessarily to encourage me, but because the experience itself was added to their quality of life.  Their examples showed me that sitting down and putting pencil to paper was a worthwhile act. It opened the door for me to fully respect that part of myself, the part that feels the need to create.  I never hesitated to build a life centered around creativity, and around the joy of passing that passion on.

Today, besides directing three fine art studios and co-creating an online art program, I love to draw and paint together with my husband and our sons. All four of us have different vastly differing styles, and we appreciate our differences. I notice that when I paint, my kids want to, as well.  When I draw, they draw. Generally, they sit around and draw their favorite characters, so I draw my favorite characters, too: I sketch their portraits while they happily scribble away.

Some Art Steps parents join their kids in class, which can be an amazing experience, but it’s not the only way to make art together. Whether it’s grabbing printer paper and a pencil to doodle around the dinner table, setting up a pair of easels in the garage, or bringing some sketchbooks on a hike, the best way to bring art to your family is your way.  I hope you will.

Yes, We Have Been in This Together

To all of the parents of Art Steps students whose children did not like online classes, and who did not feel comfortable bringing them in, I am sorry that in 2020 and 2021, your creative young kiddo has not had the benefit of the classes they love. I am in the same boat as you; my sons Elliot and Sam, both, for their own reasons, wanted to discontinue lessons this year, and will likely return when we are back 100%. Thank you for keeping the faith; we will all be together again, hopefully sooner than later. Putting one foot in front of the other, I am glad to report that most of our teachers have now had at least one vaccination shot, and counting.

To those of you who were able to participate, either online or in-person, I have written and sent a letter of thanks, as your financial support has kept the lights on during this most difficult year. I would like to add my deepest thanks to some families who have continued to pay tuition regardless of their attendance status. What amazing generosity. Though it is a little cliché to say at this point, I really do feel, in my heart, that we are in this together, still. Here is the letter sent to those who continued through the year.

Dear Art Steps Family:

To the I hope that your family is doing well. I wanted to personally reach out and thank your family for sticking with Art Steps this year.

It has been nearly one year exactly since the fateful day that we closed our doors along with the rest of the country. At that time, we thought we were closing for two weeks. 

What followed was the hardest time of many of our lives as for so many. Our whole staff scrambled, working tirelessly day and night, to try to figure out a way to teach our hands-on classical art program online, skipping meals and working through sleepless nights just to try to tide us all over, teaching real skills for a closure that we then thought would span just one month. However, as the pandemic persisted, we learned that while a good number of students loved online classes, this was not the case for many. As a small business, we tearfully had to let go of dear long-term staff members just to survive, while navigating the uncertain drama of applying for federal assistance, working with our staff’s diverse safety needs, and rethinking our entire in-person program to comply with new distancing and hygiene regulations.  After a delayed reopening attempt, we wondered if our business, my life’s work, would survive. 

Well, here we still are, one year later.  We have survived so far, just because of you!  Without your faith in Art Steps and your trust in our ability to keep our students safe, we would not be here. You are the sole reason we have been able to pay the rent, to keep our staff employed, and, most importantly, to serve our students. Thank you, as well, for respecting everyone’s safety. Your cooperation has been a kindness to every student and their families, as well as to our staff.

This whole time, our kids have been our greatest light in the dark. It is such a joy to see them settling and connecting to their creativity. Their wonderful spirits shine through behind their masks. We know how therapeutic drawing and painting can be, and we are particularly honored at this time to be able to provide a safe, steady, healing experience for kids who need art now, more than ever.  

Thank you so much for sticking it out with us this far.

Because you saw us through the darkest times, my family and I wanted to send you a special thank-you in the form of an extra discount for summer camps.  We have made a note in your account. Mention by phone or email when you sign up that you qualify, and we will give you an extra $40 off of the in-studio Summer Workshop of your choice this year or next, in addition to all other discounts.  

As a small business owner, a teacher, and a mom, I will never be able to fully express my profound gratitude for saving our beloved small business.  Ahead, we hope for a healing year for our students and for us all.  Wishing you health, peace and light. 

With gratitude, 
Hilary Key

Owner, Art Steps

To anyone wondering about discounts if you have not been able to attend, take heart! We have multiple discounts available for workshops through the end of April for you! Please contact us at 714-524-2248 to see how they stack up.

Thanks for being a part of the Art Steps family!

Gratitude in 2020

Isn’t it remarkable how during the worst of times, the good things in life shine brighter? We are all living through such a difficult moment in history. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that even through this long storm, there is still so much sunlight that shines through the clouds.


With online learning, mask-wearing, distancing, and experiencing anxiety about socializing, we are having unprecedented experiences, which most often range from difficult to downright traumatic. It is against the dim backdrop of this seemingly unending ache that I want to say thank you for all of those who have, miraculously, given me a renewed sense of the preciousness of life, and of the connections we share.

In our studios I have witnessed (from at least six feet away), students taking such pride in their work. I have watched them relax, focus, and have faith in themselves that if they keep trying, they will make something beautiful. Bit by bit, they become stronger, calmer, more patient, and more skilled.

Our teachers who turned on a dime and adapted to both online instruction and to socially distant teaching, have my gratitude. I can’t believe the cheer and encouragement I have witnessed, and continue to view each day as they light up around their students, though most of them have been experiencing personal challenges like never before.


To the people who create our curriculum and provided drawings for students to create online, I am amazed and grateful at our collaboration to create a truly amazing online experience. This online program is only just born, and is such a silver lining through all of this.

Our students are so strong, resilient and inspiring. Some did not want to return to the studio for safety reasons at first or were skeptical about learning online, but those who took the chance have our appreciation and respect. We are so happy that they gave themselves a chance.

And you, the parents of our students, are on my gratitude list this year. I am deeply grateful to you for trusting us to provide what they need. We know that so many families are going through so much right now, and we are honored to be your partners in supporting your children’s development and wellbeing through art.

I am grateful for parents who chose full goodwill pricing for our online program. I am grateful for the many people who have given us a five-star Yelp review in recent months. I am grateful for your video testimonials. I am grateful for every parent who has been kind to our staff on the phone. The list goes on and on. Your faith in Art Steps this year is carrying us through. Together, we can be better and stronger when more normal days return.


More than anything, I am grateful for the ways that I watch children experience joy:

  • In the studio, a little boy exclaims through his mask, “Art class is my favorite place!”
  • A parent reports that her child is always happier after every online art class.
  • A recent online student returns to in-studio and blows her teachers away with her independence at drawing (it really is so shockingly effective!).
  • An entire class focuses in hushed silence, each artist fully embracing a screen-free present moment.
  • A teen in-studio holds her head high, proud to behold her oil masterpiece, knowing and palpably feeling her worth today.

Through this program, I see healthy children. Strong children. I watch children heal.

The bright colors, balance, and light of each finished artwork reminds me that hope springs eternal. All of this is what I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. Who and what are on your gratitude list this year?


The Art Steps Holiday Shop is OPEN

Create beautiful gifts using your artwork! 
–  Encourage the artist in your family
–  Support children in need
–  Check off your holiday shopping list! 

Here’s how:

1. See the price list above
2. Go to silvergraphics.com/shop
3. Enter class code: ArtSteps2020
All proceeds go to Bright Artists, our nonprofit bringing high quality fine art classes to kids who could normally never make it to a studio.  Thanks for caring and sharing!!

Your Free 4-Step Printout of the Week!

Enjoy this step-by-step breakdown, free to print at home, then follow along, compliments of Art Steps!

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Having fun with these?

Consider working with an expert teacher every step of the way with a free introductory online art class. Kids love personal, one-on-one feedback and coaching in small groups via Zoom. Call 714-524-2248 for more info, or click here.

Learn more about our online program below, and at www.artstepsclasses.com

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These students ages 9-13 drew each image freehand, then added color.
Using Zoom to pass along our decades of experience, these classical, realistic drawing classes really teach a variety of ways to measure, and other substantial skills!
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Relaxing, engaging, expert video is combined with personal, rigorous constructive feedback in real-time.
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How proud is this kiddo!? Classes range from ages 4 & up.
Art Steps Online provides real, substantial instruction in how to focus, relax, and really “see”.

Art Steps are experts with 20+ years obsessing over teaching classical, realistic drawing and painting techiques to children. Our online program builds on that promise.

Anyone to can learn to draw!

Come see for yourself for free. Take an online class today!

From Parents this Week

Just to a send you a quick note:
The Zoom sessions are going really well.
Emails and reminder texts are well organized and timely.

Big kudos to you and your team for quickly organizing these virtual sessions and all your support.

The kids are so focused in these virtual classes and enjoying it just like the real classes which shows how well Ms. Rishica and Ms. Elizabeth are conducting the classes. We really appreciate their patience and teaching style.

You guys are the best 🙏🙏🙏

Thank you!
Best Regards,
Mrs. M.

Rilynn’s art class is something she looks forward to every single week, and although we are very much looking forward to her being back in the studio, she is equally excited about her zoom classes. I just asked Rilynn to describe her teacher Taylor and she said she is “a very nice teacher, is very helpful and kind.” 😊 Also, we would like to acknowledge the efforts of the staff/management of Art steps to completely change the methods of teaching in a very short amount of time. These are crazy times and we know it! Thank you for continuing to bring that joy into our daughter’s life!

– Mr. & Mrs. S.

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One Student’s Artwork: A Celebration

The other day, as I was training some teachers in our children’s art program’s curriculum at our Yorba Linda, CA studio location, one of our teachers pointed out to me that a “Master Student” wall display was on its way. As she showed me the soon-to-be-displayed student’s work, I was delighted to see that this was a particularly beautiful example of what a child can achieve with consistent attention to developing classical, realistic fine art skills. Lauren started classes with us when she was five years old. Now she is 18, and applying to colleges, planning to major in design.  Here is a collection of her work over the years, from youngest to oldest, from markers through a string of oil paintings. Enjoy!
















I hope you enjoy Lauren’s work through her teen years as much as I do . All of her teachers and I wish her the very best as she takes the next steps in her journey.


Crafting a Constructive Outlook

Developing resilience and optimism becomes inherent to any discipline, including the study of classical, realistic drawing and painting. That patient, calm attitude then spreads into our daily lives.

One way to distinguish a new student among a class of peers is to watch the eraser.  Newer students tend to rub lines away frequently, often with visible frustration.  Experienced students, however, hold their heads high, staying calm, and enjoy the moment, until their goals are met.

A flub on the paper of a hard-earned drawing can be rattling and discouraging.  Have you ever crumpled up a piece of paper and thrown it across the room following a drawing attempt?  How do we turn frustrations into challenges?

Developing positive self-talk is absolutely necessary to bring a representational piece of art all the way from start to finish. An experienced artist more or less internalizes the serenity prayer, accepting what they cannot change, constructively changing what they can, and developing the wisdom to know the difference.  Here’s how:

An artist is host to two inner voices: The creator and the critic. The creator scribbles away with reckless abandon, or otherwise just draws something in. The creator says, “I want this to be here.  Here is my attempt.”   The critic steps back, analyzes the work from a distance and says, well, this part of the line should go more to the left.  This shape needs to move higher”.   Too much criticism, from another person or in one’s own mind, is why people give up.  A tactful teacher, with lessons that match the student’s skill level, helps the student experience the balance between these two vital roles.  The inner creator constructs the artwork 85 – 90% of the time, and then the inner critic is encouraged to self-correct about 10 – 15% of the time. The teacher sees to it that the student can experience those important small failures, and build resilience over and over, in reasonable doses.  This is the way to avoid tears, wrinkled papers, and harboring resentment or shame. Instead, classical art students can beam with pride after finishing another masterpiece.


Once this practice is repeated piece after piece, year after year, students deeply understand that patience and persistence bring about results, and that anything but a positive attitude is a waste of their time.  This outlook, which I have repeatedly seen become stronger through the teen years, shapes students’ entire days, school years, and futures.

The creation of a positive, constructive outlook, from the inside out, is just one of they ways that the arts enrich countless lives. Pick up a pencil and sketch! May you have a richer, more positive, more constructive day, as well.



With Katie, developing patience benefits her every day.