After teaching oil painting workshops for 30 years the time has arrived for me to step down, step back, and step out. There will be no comeback tour. Future teachings will be confined to my weekly blog and to YouTube videos.
Many of you reading this have taken a workshop at one time or another, some of the experiences have been great, others not so good. So what makes for a good workshop experience and what benefits can be derived from them? After many years of observing and teaching workshops, opinions have been formed. Following are a few of mine.
Responsibilities of the instructor
1) Instructors should first and foremost be good artists. Talking about creating art and actually being able to do so are two very different things. (Not all good artists are good instructors; finding both will require some homework).
2) Be able to impart sound art knowledge in a clear understandable way reinforced through demonstrations.
3) Be responsive to each person as an individual needing personal, particular art direction.
4) Be encouraging, yet honest.
5) Teach principles that are foundational to creating quality works. Encourage students to think and see for themselves for the purpose of being able to express their own unique vision. (Workshops are not about creating clones of the instructor).
6) Encourage questions. Be generous with knowledge. Create a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Workshops can be stressful for everyone.
7) Be well prepared and organized.
Responsibilities of the student
1) Read supply list provided by instructor. Organize your equipment prior to the workshop and bring everything on the supply list.
2) Make sure all equipment and supplies are clean, organized, and in good working order.
3) Come with a cheerful attitude and a willingness to learn. It’s deadly to have a “know it all” attitude for it will blind you to learning new things. (This goes for the instructor as well).
4) Come with an attitude of kindness, humility, generosity, helpfulness, and sharing. All your fellow classmates will embrace you.
5) Do your best to follow the instructor’s instructions. Put your biases on hold.
6) Do not feel intimidated because you are not as advanced as others in the class.
7) Ask questions, seek answers and direction.
8) It’s easy to say, but as best you can, overcome your fear of failure, and fear of not pleasing the instructor. Dive in. You came to learn. Mistakes and poor painting are a given in most cases.
9) Work hard, enjoy the process, take notes, apply what you learn.
I selected Dot Courson Workshops and Anita Elder-The Art Loft, to host my last three workshops. Both of these ladies provide a nice venue and see that attendees and instructor feel welcome and are comfortable.
I asked them why they host workshops. Both began hosting them as a way to improve their own work and teaching ability. Dot Courson wanted to break out of her static mindset after studying with one artist for some time. Some of her students desired to study with Roger Dale Brown but couldn’t travel the distance involved to do so. The Mississippi Painter’s Society had just been formed, so Dot and her husband began hosting workshops for the group. Today those workshops have Dot Courson’s name attached to them and are attracting some of the nation’s top artists and instructors.
Anita Elder just loves art. She loves people that love art, and she enjoys spending time with them. She appreciates learning from the knowledgeable instructors and seeing the fun and excitement experienced by the students as they learn new things.
Students speak of the benefits
There is a big market out there for workshops. Classes are full of enthusiastic students, and many of them spend a considerable amount of money just to study with one of their favorite artists for a few days. What is the attraction? Why attend workshops? I asked, they responded.
Katrina Clark: To gain a better understanding behind the thought processes and techniques of other artists in relation to the creation of their works of art.
Jacquelyn Sligh: I attend in order to improve my art, observe and learn new and different techniques and refresh my art spirit. Generally, I leave a workshop with a new zeal and enthusiasm related to my art. It is also good to be with other people with like interests and to learn from them.
Mary Alice Lee: I attend workshops to gain technical knowledge observe individual techniques of instructor and participants and to develope meaningful relationships with fellow artists. I have been blessed to receive an abundance of all of the above.
Michael Ann Bellerjeau: I made a decision based on some criteria. Looking at where I wanted my work to go, I only wanted to join a workshop taught by 1) someone whose work I admired and had qualities I’d like to carry into my own work and 2) the topic of the workshop was specific enough to advance me in the area where I was struggling and couldn’t get past in my self-studies. 3) the cost was affordable for my budget balanced to need for materials. I had a 4th criteria, which was that the instruction and use of time in the workshop was worthwhile, but there isn’t really a way to determine that except through word of mouth. On top of that, the best artists are not always the best instructors, so it’s difficult to gauge. My first workshop was fantastic and more than met my expectations! By sticking to my criteria I chose a hit!
…and what has been their greatest benefit to you?
Jim Henderson: For a non professional, I enjoy getting away from the daily routine and just painting and thinking about painting for 3-4 days. I like the opportunity to get to know the workshop leader and the fellow classmates. I also enjoy the comradery of just being with fellow artists, visiting and exchanging ideas. Hopefully, I see some old friends and meet new ones.
Deborah Brasfield: Learning motivates me to become a better artist.
Julie McCullough: Benefits of attending are what you make them. Take what you learn and actually put it to use. If you go into a painting workshop being open to listening and practicing the skills you have learned, you have accomplished your goal. I received a much more beneficial gift In my last workshop. The camaraderie and “click” with others within a group is rare. Driving away from what I felt was a “find your soul” trip to Dahlonega, GA, I felt a sense of calm and sadness all at the same time. Calm from what I had achieved from this workshop, sadness from the thought of meeting a whole new group of friends that I might not ever see again.
Sally Mitchell: Confidence and humility… Learning that everyone’s approach is a little different and that art is personal. Not everyone is drawn to the same style/type of art. This builds the confidence that it is ok to have successes as well as failures in your own art. The humility comes from failing and also realizing that there are zillions of extremely talented people in this world and you are only a spec in comparison.
Steve Miller: When workshops are taught by someone who has put the discipline and time into their art and studied under others, one of the major benefits is that years of information are squeezed into a short amount of time, like a capsule that supposedly contains all the vegetables needed for one day. Those who attend have a wealth of information available to them from an instructor that has invested years into painting. That information is spread out before them like food on a banquet table. The live demonstrations provided and the one-on-one, hands-on instruction that focuses on each painter’s weakness are really valuable. I personally learn better when I see a problem worked out on the painting that I am creating. I don’t believe these benefits can be accomplished through any means other than a workshop. Watching a master working through the issues and problems that arise in the painting process, whether it be their own painting or one of their students, is truly a priceless experience.
Durinda Cheek: Not just watching a painting demo, but having the instructor talk about the process, about what he/she is thinking, about what steps he/she is taking, and about where the painting is going. I recall some of the best artists I have been blessed to study under and how I came away with more to think about. It’s not just about the “how” but about the “why”. I try to glean what I can apply to my work.
Carolyn Clemmons: I have attended three workshops this year, each artist had a totally different style of painting and palette. I learn so much from the demos in watching how they mix paint and how they apply it to the canvas. One class applied bright colors, another class was a still life and showed us how to set up a still life, and this class was a landscape. I have learned a lot this year from attending workshops. I also like meeting the people from different areas of the country with the same interest. You can also learn from like minds. I have had a good year learning and doing what I love.
Michael Ann Bellerjeau: This particular workshop had many benefits since it included quality time – lecture (knowing theory, or the “why” is key) and demos, the “how”, but also a good 2-3 hours of side by side instruction, the “do”. It’s the best way to learn! Hear, see, do – and redo on the spot, as we gained correction and practiced it immediately. A workshop also allows for quantity time with an instructor, which if the class is small enough, you can extract other bits of valuable information through the day such as the how-to of the art business, valuable work habits, tips, techniques that are more caught than taught, etc.
Another benefit of a workshop, as well as regular local classes, is that they help build a community of artists to grow with, especially if the workshop is local. You can discuss your work, ambitions, materials and share frustrations. Blended with the advancement of social media, you can stay in touch with those farther away and share in encouraging one another as you see their work online.
And finally is the value of turning away from “real life” to focus on learning your art form. Sometimes you need to get away and train in order to break through to a new level or get out of a rut. Kind of like spring training in the majors. In the right environment, it may help in emotional or spiritual ways also, to help reinvigorate or re-instill purpose, or just re-set your frame of mind.
Katrina Clark: I would say the validation of what I teach my students is the same as what professional artists teach at workshops.
Jacquelyn Sligh: I have learned many skills, techniques and ideas that have assisted me as an artist. I learn so much from the demos and discussions followed by hands on. I also learn from the interactions with others. My problem solving skills are improved. I also am encouraged that we all need work, practice and growth.
Doris Ingle: The greatest benefit has been the realization that I do have a skill that can be enhanced by work and study, that seems to be in the under current of what each artist has to say. I appreciate the guidance I have received from each and every one with whom I have studied.
I’m grateful to Anita Elder, and to Dot Courson and her husband Jackie, for hosting my last three workshop. They will always be special friends to my wife and I. I’m always amazed how blessed I have been over the years to have met so many wonderful people while teaching. Those attending these final workshops were no exception. What a special assembly of fine people! Thank you for your trust.
The student works shown in this post are all painted with a very limited palette of Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Yellow Pale, plus White. All three workshops focused on Value and Color. Each day began with instruction, followed by a demonstration illustrating the lesson taught. The first day of the 3-day workshops dealt exclusively with value, resulting in each participant creating a black and white painting. Days 2 and 3 concentrated on color. We thoroughly analyzed the color wheel and its possible uses. Each morning was spent demonstrating a completely different color scheme. I painted the exact same scene six different times. The only thing that changed was the color scheme. It gave the classes an excellent opportunity to experience the value and importance of considering the varying possibilities of color. Each class was assigned very specific color schemes but were allowed complete freedom in how they were used. We worked with Equilateral and Isosceles Triads, Square and Rectangular Quadratics, and Extended Analogous palettes…all intermediate and tertiary colors mixed from the three primaries mentioned above.
I’m often asked if I will continue teaching. The answer is, I am discontinuing the teaching of workshops, but will continue using my weekly blog and occasional video to share those things that will be helpful to you. I hope you’ll stay tuned.