This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
One of these days, you may decide to take a workshop, or maybe you already have. When you find the right workshop for you (we talked about this last week), you want to get the most out of it, and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that your expectations line up with reality.
The Norwegian Artist teaches regular workshops throughout the region, and because we like happy participants, we try to address major misconceptions that people walk into the room with, one of the most major of these being that they will walk out, two days later, with a polished, finished painting, suitable for entering into a show or exhibition.
Not reality, and not just in our workshops.
First of all, if you’ve read through the prospectus of any major show or competition, you’ll usually find the clause that work done under the guidance of an instructor – whether in private lessons or through a workshop – is generally not admissible. The obvious reason for this is that the painting is a fusion of two artists – you, and the instructor – and it is not 100 percent representative of your own independent work.
Secondly is the place factor: most workshops last anywhere from one to five days, and they are not run around your inner biological painting schedule. While it’s exhilarating and energizing to work in a room of colleagues, it is daunting as well, and rare is the human who fully unwinds and loosens up in this environment.
This is not the mindset in which you normally produce your best work.
Third: time. Even a two-day workshop does not consist of 16 hours of solid painting. You set up. You chat with the person next to you. Somebody across the room can’t get his brand new easel standing. The instructor instructs. You break for lunch, come back a little sleepy (you’ve been standing on a strange floor in a strange room the entire morning); you walk around the room and look at what other people are doing. There is no way, in a room full of disparate and diverse people, that you can replicate uninterrupted painting time in your studio. You are simply surrounded by too many distractions. Rather than begrudge these distractions, however, enjoy them – they’re part of the experience.
Fourth is the most important: the primary goal of the workshop is not to produce a finished painting – it is to try different techniques that you’ve never encountered before; it is to listen to someone who does things a particular way and who is explaining these ways to you; it is to suspend the way you think things should be done – just for the duration of the workshop – and experiment.
There is a reason each workshop instructor teaches the way he or she does, and the exercises put before you are part of that instructor’s lesson plan – something thoughtfully developed to impart specific information that the instructor considers important. If you are unwilling to fully jump into what the instructor is advising because you’re afraid of “ruining” the painting, then while you may come out with an acceptable work that sort of looks like what you generally produce, you will not have pulled out the most you could have from the workshop experience.