View Full Version : Need Tips On Giving On-Site Demos

Kathryn Wilson
03-23-2006, 12:45 PM
I got brave and asked the Manager at our local Jerry's Artarama store just what was involved in becoming one of their regular workshop instructors.

Pastels take such a hind-seat to all the other mediums in Raleigh, instruction-wise, I thought it would be good to give a beginner workshop - so this precipitated my conversation with the store manager.

For the bigger workshops, there were requirements that I did not feel I was ready for, but he suggested 1-3 day workshops, or to give an evening demo at the store.

I think starting with a demo would be a good idea - just to get a feel for the amount of interest there is in learning pastels before offering a workshop.

So, all you demo-givers - what's the scoop? How do you prepare? What do you actually include in a demo? Do you practice the painting and your instructions several times before the actual demo? Any tips you have would be most appreciated.

Deborah Secor
03-23-2006, 07:32 PM
I demonstrate every week at my classes, and have for something like 17 years now so in some ways I may not be the best one to answer this. You know how it is when something is so ingrained in you--you almost can't figure out what it is you do! But let me give it a try.

One of the most important aspects of a demo from the student's point of view, I think, is that the instructor not simply paint but talk about what she's painting while doing it. This is not an easy thing to do, so it might be a good idea to close yourself in the studio and talk out loud as you paint, trying to describe what you're doing and why. Practice speaking LOUDLY when you're facing away from them, and then stop and turn around so that they can ask questions now and then.

If you know you'll have an audience seated and watching you, explain your materials thoroughly at the start. Prepare to answer 'what paper are you using?' and 'what pastels are you using?' at least 4 times each in the course of an open demo (if people come and go.) I usually have a small piece of Wallis paper ready to pass around so folks can handle it without everybody coming up to the easel to feel it. My standard introductory demo includes a lot of info on what pastels are, how the ratio of pigment to binder affects hardness, brand names, favorites, and a bit about costs. I show my colour shapers, and tell them what kind of charcoal to use. Someone always asks about fixative!

I usually have a piece of paper cut and taped on my board already, but I begin by toning it for the audience so that they understand the process. Then I talk about composing while I draw it on the paper using charcoal. I apply one layer of color, and stop to take questions so that I can step back and look at it from a distance before going on. I encourage people to ask their questions as I paint, explaining to them that I'm not doing this demo to make a beautiful painting but so that they can see and learn about how to do it. Many times people are afraid to interrupt you as you paint, thinking it's some kind of cerebral and sacred activity. I joke around, asking if they're out there and explaining that my worst fear is that I'm up there painting and talking and everyone has left! That usually gets them laughing, talking and asking questions.

I usually choose to paint from a familiar photo, or one that I'm really excited to try, and feel confident I can make into a good painting. I print it on an 8.5x11" sheet of paper and clip it to my board, so that the audience can look at my reference as I paint. Sometimes I have a smaller version of it in my hand so that I can look at it more closely, sometimes not. I don't like using excellent photos--and I've found that in a demo if I have a rather dull photo that I can make into a much more interesting painting, it makes more of an impression on the viewers! If it's a 'picture postcard' photo my painting may not live up to it... It's also quite valid to have a second, already-finished version of the painting you're doing in the demo to show.

It takes a little practice, but it's fun to show people what you do. Don't think you have to talk every single second you paint, but keep things moving with anecdotes if the silence gets too oppressive. I sometimes ask a friend to attend the demo to act as a sort of friendly shill. She can ask a key question or two, or remind me of things I've forgotten to mention.

Don't feel that you have to have a picture perfect finished painting at the end of the hour or 90 minutes you paint. It's not meant to show how good you are, it's meant to show the potential of the medium and one way people can use it. Have a couple of finished paintings (one matted so they can see it without the glass, and one framed so they can see how good it looks) ready to show, too.

I really love doing demos. It's a blast to talk and paint, but I'm a natural show-off, I think. I love explaining the medium, and showing what you can do with it.

Hope this helps. Have fun!


Kathryn Wilson
03-23-2006, 07:57 PM
Wow, Deborah - I knew I could count on you for some great input. This is exactly what I needed.

Anybody else? You may have suggestions and not know it - :) Have you attended a demo that was particularly helpful to you - we could talk about that.

Donna A
03-23-2006, 08:19 PM
HI! Deborah has some great comments! I'll agree with what she has said and add a few other thoughts.

I'm the kind of person who prefers to NOT be behind a lectern or big table----but out "with" the other artists----so when I'm demoing, I'm talking peer to peer in attitude---and painting as though I would in private in my studio (except that I probably combed my hair better!) :-) An "attentive casualness" is a good mode----and when I make some strokes that don't work----it's a GREAT oppotunity to let the others know IT IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD! :-)

I think that encouraging "adventure, exploration, experimentation" and---sooo important----really, really paying attention to what the subject looks like and what is going on! And finding joy and celebrating the beauty of our subject!

I much prefer to work from life when I demo---because I do have most of the artists who work with me paint from life-----unless they are pretty experienced IRL, then they work from photos they have taken themselves. I do work from photos in a demo once in a while, but not often.

As well as discussing the materials, I'll discuss the light, the color interactions---warm and cools within the hue, values and the intensities; the dynamics of the composition, whys and wherefores of composition, etc. I really work with people on seeing color!

Getting them used to the idea of believing in themselves and feeling comfortable at the easel will be so lovely for them! And HAVE FUN!!!! Treat it like a party you are thowing and welcome everyone.

And my dear late mentor always said to explain that this is a demo and it will likely not turn out all that well----and apologize before you even begin. Then----you can either say you were right----OR----just smile. Well, that is what he said and did and he gave lovely demos! Although he had a very marvelous Hungarian accent, very classically trained in Budepest and always had a more professorial demeanor. :-)

You'll do great!!!! Do enjoy----and you will be a great gift to those who are fortunate enough to watch your demo!!! First of many!!!! Very best wishes! Donna ;-}

03-23-2006, 09:03 PM

Great advise here !
I may even give some demos to my PEZ dispensers. I have a few you know....
I'm sure you'll do great, Kat. Good luck !

Kindest regards,


Kathryn Wilson
03-23-2006, 09:53 PM
Great ideas Donna - although I much rather think that giving a demo at Jerrys would be more for people looking to start in pastels and the demo would have to rather basic, you never know who might show up - Yikes!

Jose - what a fab idea - I should line up anything that has a face on it and pretend that they are an audience - just for practice.

03-23-2006, 10:08 PM
do let us know how it goes, this is so exciting for you! and, i'm nervous FOR you too!

i never realized that demo givers dont' plan to make something great. so often they DO! i just can't imagine jabbering away, and getting something decent on the easel, must be tough to manage!

Kathryn Wilson
03-23-2006, 11:02 PM
Hey Chewie! Thanks for that - I can just imagine that I get into a painting so deeply that I'd forget to talk - or vice versa, talk so much the painting turns out awful.

Gotta watch the Rohm and Handell videos again - see how they do it.

K Taylor-Green
03-23-2006, 11:37 PM
What a great oportunity for you!!

I usually set up a demo at our yearly art guild show, but it is more informal. I work as I do at home, and answer questions. So many of these people are nonartists who love art, and come to see the exhibit. They love to watch.

Kathryn Wilson
03-24-2006, 12:08 AM
I've had a small amount of practice talking to people while doing plein air - people walking by usually stop to comment or show their kids "a real artist" - :) So I've pretty much overcome the shyness of someone watching while I am working.

03-24-2006, 08:18 AM
Kyle, You will be fine..I do demos a lot also, and just got caught into doing one yesterday that I had not planned at ALL!!! Just jumped in and started, not knowing the outcome.. I find that stopping to answer questions, explain a little more, etc...give me a chance to step back and look to see how things are progressing, I also get my students involved, asking what would you do at this point, etc...the key is to let your confidence show, even if inside you are a little nervous...

03-24-2006, 02:57 PM
Kat you've received a lot of good information already, but I'm going to toss out some other ideas. One good thing you've already done - gotten comfortable with people looking over you shoulder as you work. That's the first and usually the hardest step. The next step is learning what "style" of demo best suits your personality. I've seen "talkers" and "nontalker" both be very successful at giving a demo. Personally, I'm rather in between the two. I know, there's some of you who know me and can't believe I'm not a full blown "talker"! :lol:

One of the most impressive demos I've ever seen was by Bill Herring - well make that several of the most successful demos. Bill is a "nontalker" as he is working. He prefers to play loud music of various types, stands there in his west Texas attire - cowboy hat and all - and begins. First he'll explain about the paper he uses and a bit about the composition he will do, and then asks that no one talk to him or anyone else for awhile, but assures everyone he will pause to step back, observe what he's done, and take questions. Bill is a true showman as well as talented artist with surprisingly little ego. I was present at one demo - a portrait from a magazine photo - when he stopped mid way, turned to his audience, and apologized for such a poor attempt at a painting. He said he didn't think he could save this one so he took another piece of paper, explained a bit his reasons, and started all over again. The second attempt was a smashing success and a great demonstration of even a professional knowing when to say, "No! This isn't working so I'll not waste more time on it." His audiences are always completely involved in watching, and not shy about asking questions or even suggesting maybe what he's done could be done differently. I've seen him take those suggestions, consider it might be right, and then proceeding to do as suggested. I've also heard him say, you may be right, but I don't think so...

Another demo I've seen that was different was by Bill McEnroe. Bill came prepared to give a 90 minute demo, but he had four "starts" to the finished painting. One was the underpainting, the second had the the composition drawn on, the third showed some of the first layers of pastel, and the fourth one he was able to complete. This was a very complicated piece that was being presented to a pastel society meeting so the people in attendance had at least some experience with the medium. There is no way he could have gotten to even near finish in the 90 minutes allotted to him without this method. Bill was a college art professor so he is accustomed to talking while demonstrating, and very good at it too.

You however, believe you'll be making a presentation to those who'd like to try the medium and you have no way to know how much they know about pastel. Do you know if the audience will remain for the entire demo or walk by as you work? That can make a difference too in how you proceed. If it is a "stay in your seat" demo, you won't have to repeat yourself when questions are asked and can go with a prepared script so to speak. You could even do as Bill Herring does and tell them you'll stop to take questions. I've seen this method used many many times at the IAPS convention demos. In fact if I think about it, it is probably the most used method there. Some of them will talk a little while working, but not take questions until a designated time. If you are in a "walk by" situation, you'll probably get much less done in the time allotted so having finished examples of your work will be even more important. When I demo at local art supple stores in this situation, I keep my techniques and composition simple because I know I'll be interupted many times with questions as I work. Like Deborah, if I'm working from a photo I use a "fuzzy" photo. If I'm working from a still life, it is a very simple still life. You are "selling" not only the pastel products that you sponsor provides, but also yourself as a possible insturctor. Prospective students want to see someone with confidence, knowledge of the medium, and a friendly approach to those who don't know too much about pastel. It is easy to say to a seated audience, "Hey! In the time allotted for this demo I may or may not produce a good painting, but you will see enough to know what pastels are like to work with. I have examples of my finished work over there." It is a bit more difficult to look knowledgeable to someone who hasn't heard this statement, and may not realize you have finished work sitting near by. We all know almost every painting has a moment of "the uglies" where you'd like to toss it all in the trash! :o Bottom line: Have fun and that will be obvious to your audience. Kat you appear to be a confident, sharing lady and I think you'll have a good time and do well for yourself and Jerry's.


Kathryn Wilson
03-24-2006, 03:36 PM
Anybody want to be my little muse sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear during the demo - :evil:

Peggy, thanks for sharing all your experiences with successful demos - those are good things to keep in mind. I guess I will have to question myself as to what would be more successful - I think the "wait until question and answer time" sounds good to me.

Tressa, thanks for your vote of confidence - :smug:

Donna A
03-24-2006, 07:22 PM
Great ideas Donna - although I much rather think that giving a demo at Jerrys would be more for people looking to start in pastels and the demo would have to rather basic, you never know who might show up - Yikes!

Jose - what a fab idea - I should line up anything that has a face on it and pretend that they are an audience - just for practice.

Hi, Kat! Oh, we'll all be there as little angel muses on your shoulder, cheering you on!!! :-)

And I guess the ideas I suggested seem to me to be absolutely ground-zero basic----even in light of acquainting artists with what may be a new material for them----or even if painting is a new adventure for them!

And Peggy has added wonderful ideas along with Deborah and others! I was fascinated to read her comments about the fellow who pretty much did not speak. I know that has to work for a lot of artists in an audience, but then I have also heard many artists complaining that they never said anything or never let you ask anything while "it" was happening.

I, personally, would rather have people ask questions while we were at the point of what was going on that stirred the question. (grammar???) But that is purely personal. I think I am more focused in some ways on what I can share with them than what I am doing----with them around. Don't know if that expresses what I'm meaning, but----it does make it work for me.

I know you will find your own way that will be wonderful for your audience and very satisfying for your sense of sharing!!!! They will be very fortunate to have you leading them on to new adventures!!! Yea! Donna ;-}

03-24-2006, 07:43 PM
It is true, that many artists work differently.."the GREAT" Handell asks that you not SPEAK while he is painting.. I saw Bill Hosner do a portrait demo in NYC, and he was fabulous. very personable, and stopped several times for breaks to answer questions,and give the model a break.. I cannot answer a lot of indepth questions while I am painting, but I do try to speak and at least explain what I am doing.. you might feel more comfortable advising students to jot their questions down as they come up, and have a more intense discussion afterward..the main thing is to take what you know and have been advised, and use what you can to make the experience fun and educational!!! :)

Kathryn Wilson
03-24-2006, 08:24 PM
You guys have me all pumped up - now I am excited about this opportunity.

03-24-2006, 08:58 PM
May I add one little bit of advice:

Practice outloud, but have a tape recorder on while you do so. Set a timer and figure out just how much time you'll need for each section of the demo. When you play it back, you'll find areas that you'll perhaps want to expand on and other that need to be cut back.

Just a thought. I teach one on one from a photo and from real life. It is a lot of fun and you will love it. Take a deep breath and go for it!

03-24-2006, 10:20 PM
I have no tips, but I am so glad to see you wanting to present pastels w/Jerry's. I'm always looking for workshops to fit in my schedule and will scan their workshop schedule without luck for pastels. I live several hours away and would consider weekend workshops if they were offered. Good luck with your demo.

Kathryn Wilson
03-24-2006, 10:33 PM
Hi! I see you are a new member, so Welcome to Wet Canvas and to the Pastel Forum.

I too have seen so little offered by Jerry's for pastels - I've asked and asked for something more and they say there is little to no interest in their bigger workshops. So I figured we needed to spark some interest by doing a demo - as many people do not understand pastels and how to use them - so here's one for marketing!

If I do a demo or a mini-workshop, I hope you'll come - :)

Kathryn Wilson
03-24-2006, 10:35 PM
Midge, thanks for the tip - I will be practicing like crazy - my dog and my husband may get tired of being an audience - :)

03-24-2006, 10:40 PM
I would love to come for a weekend workshop if it coordinated with my schedule - single mom w/every other weekend off. Otherwise, I don't think I could make the cross-state drive for something really short. Raleigh is probably 5-6 hours for me and I am not an eager-to-drive type.

I'll wait until you get your confidence up and go for the bigger deal! Ha - add me to your mailing list, sister.

Kathryn Wilson
03-24-2006, 10:42 PM
Kewl - :)

Kitty Wallis
03-25-2006, 05:55 PM
Hi Kat,
Fear not. Most jitters disolve within minutes. All the advice you've received is excellent, I have only one comment to add. Remember how you feel when you watch a demo. Remember your interest in how another artist proceeds, even your empathy when there are difficulties. Too often we ascribe very critical attitudes to our audience. I have never found those fears to be real.

In 'The Mystery Of Picasso', a movie showing him making many paintings, he runs into trouble in one of them. You can hear him saying, in french, "This is bad, this is very bad, this is very very bad." But he didn't have it edited out of the film.

Have fun.

Kathryn Wilson
03-25-2006, 07:10 PM
:thumbsup: Thanks for the tip Kitty - and I will remember your calm manner you portrayed when doing demos at IAPS - quietly working away, but very helpful in answering questions.

04-15-2006, 10:10 AM
Wanted to let you know I saw a pastelist/multi-media guy listing Jerry's/Art of the Carolina's on his workshop schedule:

He'll be at the Expo in DC in June, too.

04-15-2006, 11:32 AM
Here's my two cents...

1) People like "show and tell". I always try to have samples of different products -- pastels, papers -- that I can pass around. If the group is small, I try to have samples my audience can KEEP. Sennelier sends me little boxes of samples to pass out...Kitty has also provided samples of her paper.

Talking about these samples also helps kill time, if you find yourself finishing a demo too fast. Or if the audience doesn't have many questions.

2) Be prepared to SELL your work. Bring pieces you want to sell...tell people the price right up front and let them know they ARE for sale! You'll be surprised how well this works!

Good luck!

Kathryn Wilson
04-15-2006, 07:17 PM
Wanted to let you know I saw a pastelist/multi-media guy listing Jerry's/Art of the Carolina's on his workshop schedule:

He'll be at the Expo in DC in June, too.

Yes, I have taken the workshop that Sean Dye does on multi-media with pastels - now if I could only catch him doing a workshop with oil pastels, I would be ecstatic.

Kathryn Wilson
04-15-2006, 07:19 PM
Thanks Michael! I haven't bit the bullet yet - life keeps interferring and have had a set-back on plans - but I'll get back on track again real soon.

I definitely think you are right about show and tell - I will keep in mind all the questions I used to have when watching someone else paint - "how in the world did they do that!" :)

04-16-2006, 11:14 AM
About a month away from when you are giving your demo, send a note to the different manufacturers. I've had good luck with generous samples from Sennelier (http://www.savoir-faire.com), Great American Art Works (http://www.greatpastels.com), Mount Vision (www.mountvisionpastels.com (http://www.mountvisionpastels.com)) and, of course, Kitty.