How does one get the most out of an art workshop? I’ve had some disappointments along the way, and from what I’ve heard; I’m not alone. Based on my experiences as a student and an instructor, here’s what I’ve discovered:
1) Ask Around – Before enrolling in a workshop talk with others who have studied with the instructor you’re considering. Get feedback from more than one person. Weigh what the majority says. Any one person may have a skewed perspective due to personal preferences. We’re all different. For example, some of us want structure. Others feel their creativity is restricted by structure and want freedom.
2) Make Contact – Many instructors extend invitations to answer questions beforehand on their blogs, websites or supplies lists. Take advantage of the offer. Some instructors take the initiative and touch base with students before class via e-mail. A good sign that someone has your best interests at heart.
3) One Size Doesn’t Fit All – I’m a little suspicious of workshops that say “For All Levels.” I enrolled in a three-day-one-of-those when I had only been painting about six weeks and got so discouraged I almost gave-up watercolor. It was beyond my skill level and the instructor wasn’t able to give me the extra guidance I needed out of fairness to the other fourteen more skilled attendees. And on the flip side, if you’ve been painting for several years and want to be stretched and challenged with intermediate techniques…it could be one lon-n-n-n-g class.
4) Check Your Baggage – We’ve all got it. Stuff that’s better left outside the classroom. From the student’s point of view, X number of dollars have been spent in good faith for an instructor that’s got her act together. And from the instructor’s point of view, X number of hours have been spent in planning in anticipation of students who are punctual, prepared and present.
5) At Least Try It – A few years ago I attended a watercolor workshop by a nationally known artist. The class member on my right was a fine draftsman and spent most of the day drawing an intricately detailed pen and ink and never put paint on paper. The class member on my left used the painting method she was already comfortable with instead of trying what the instructor had spent two hours demonstrating that morning. I was this little sponge sitting between both of them; soaking up everything the instructor did. Now, I know we are not supposed to compare, but I couldn’t help wondering, why are they here?
6) Don’t Fight It – You signed up for an art class, not a karate tournament. One of the blessings of teaching a beginners class is I don’t usually have to wrestle someone to the ground to get them to, for example, mix red and green to create lovely, mingling neutrals, not found in a tube that cause their friends to gather around in awe asking, “What color is that?”
7) Don’t Beat Yourself Up – Some of us have vicious, unrelenting, damaging inner critics. I’ve seen numerous students with promise and potential self-sabotage. It’s painful to watch and often difficult to stop from the outside. Be aware of how you are talking to yourself on the inside as you paint. Affirming or brow beating?
Having Fun Yet? –Your inner artist loves to play and often goes into hiding when things are taken too seriously. Delight in observation and discovery. As one beginning teacher once told me, “It’s only paper, flip it over.”
9) Enjoy Being With Other Artists – Taking a workshop is not just about learning new techniques. It’s also about meeting other artists and sharing ideas. Take the initiative and break the ice during free times and lunch. A good icebreaker question: “So, what other instructors have you studied with?” There are also the enriching friendships that can be formed. An artist I met in a beginning watercolor class in 1999 is still one of my closest friends today, eleven years later.
10) High Expectations VS Realistic Expectations –Don’t expect to paint any masterpieces during a workshop. The purpose of a workshop is to receive new information, try different techniques, make mistakes, accept suggestions, and to try again. Always, to try again, preferably in solitude, after the workshop. No workshop can magically turn you into a better painter. The key to improved skills is painting on a regular basis. In an ideal world, that means daily.
11) Did This Workshop Meet Your Expectations? – There’s that word again. Expectations. This question has been on almost every end-of-workshop-survey I’ve ever received. And it’s a tough one. I’m beginning to believe it’s better to be open at receiving what the workshop offers than limiting it to what we think it should offer. We don’t know what we don’t know and if we can reign in our sometimes-limiting, pre-conceived ideas, we might gain a fresh perspective or a new awareness, which is priceless.
Nothing can be done except little by little.
--Charles Baudelaire, a 19th century art critic who had a profound effect on the Impressionists.
Enjoy the Journey!