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Workshop Survival Skills

by Carolyn Henderson on 5/15/2012 7:17:59 AM

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.

 

Whether you’re giving them or taking them, workshops are a lot of fun. The dynamism generated by a group of divergent, enthusiastic, active artists is enervating, so much so, that if you don’t take a few precautions and keep mindful of some small actions on your part, you can exhaust yourself by the end of the second day.

 

Be aware: while some of these suggestions sound like, duh, major obvious, I wouldn’t mention them if I hadn’t seen the results of people not following them. Not pretty.

 

First and foremost, stay hydrated. I’m serious about this – there is so much information and learning to absorb in a limited amount of time, that it’s easy to forget that your physical body needs some absorbing time as well. Either take advantage of the coffee and tea table (I know, I know; they’re diuretics) or bring a beverage of your own and sip through the day.

 

You’re surrounded by people; you’re in a closed room; you’re probably standing more than you’re used to – it’s easy to get dehydrated without realizing it.

 

On the same theme, take advantage of breaks when you get them – especially the lunch hour – and resist the temptation to stay at the easel and gently work while you nosh chips. Unless you are a fulltime artist, you are probably not used to working this steadily for this long at this consistent rate, and you’ll find it hard to finish out the afternoon if you don’t pace yourself.

 

I make a point of physically removing the instructor, my Norwegian Artist, from the premises so that he can eat, walk, and clear his mind before the next chunk of instruction time.

 

If you haven’t painted for awhile, try to get back into it several weeks or months before the workshop begins. With the limited amount of time available for the class (most workshops run between one and five days), you don’t want to waste any of it reviewing rusty skills, or discovering that your brushes should have been replaced two years ago. (And regarding the latter – if the instructor gives you a supply list with specific brushes, paints, and other materials, get them; don’t substitute without clearance.)

 

Workshops do not work miracles, neither are they designed to do so. While they can jump start your excitement about your artwork, if you’re not working on your own, getting frustrated and moving beyond that frustration by constant practice, a workshop will not solve this problem.

 

Neither will it do you much good if, after the workshop, you set the supplies away for another day, only to find that a year has gone by and the supplies are still put away. When you carve out time in your life to attend the workshop, schedule time afterwards to put into practice what you’ve learned while it’s still fresh in your mind.

 

Many workshops are a combination of lecture and demonstration – passive activity on the participants’ part – with painting, active activity. This combination allows both instructor and student to pace themselves, enabling each to get more out of a full day, so when the instructor invites you to set aside your brushes and listen to him talk, resist the temptation to stay at your easel and listen on the side.

 

The magic mixture of preparation beforehand, active participation during, and post-activity afterwards, isn’t so much magic as it is common sense, ensuring that you will get the most out of what you put in.



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Related Posts:

What to Expect from a Workshop: A Finished Painting?

5 Things to Ask Before You Take a Painting Workshop


Topics: advice for artists | art education | Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews 

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 12 Comments

Carol Schmauder
via faso.com
Thanks for sharing your advice for workshop attendance, Carolyn. I have yet to attend a workshop, although I would like to, but I think some of the advice is appropriate for work time in the studio also. I have a tendency to work too long without taking breaks and it just causes me to become exhausted and not as productive as I could have been had I stepped away from my work for a short time.

Diane Overmyer
via faso.com
Thanks Carolyn for reminding artists that it is necessary to put in some painting time before and after a workshop to get the most from it. I spent five intensive years in a college fine arts program as a nontraditional student. At the end of my 4th year, I was finally able to take a landscape painting class and then a plein air workshop by a well known landscape artist from outside our region. Those two events totally changed my painting style, but I had spent countless hours ahead of time painting on my own. I also immediately put the information I learned into practice by continuing to paint plein air for the remainder of the summer. When I returned to my studio classes in the fall, many of my fellow art students wondered what I done over the summer to loosen up my brush work.

Cathy de Lorimier
via faso.com
Carolyn,
You write, "...you don't want to waste any of it (workshop time) reviewing rusty skills." So true! I am so thankful that William Schneider gave us homework several weeks before his upcoming portrait workshop that I am taking. He wisely sent all the participants step-by-step directions on how to draw a face accurately. What a guy! Over time, I have had the chance (and basically HIS instruction!) to practice my drawing skills to create a human likeness. By the time I get to his painting class, I won't have to relearn drawing the face all over again, and can concentrate on the painting instruction he gives us. This was so wise on the part of the instructor, and I can't help but think it comes from a lot of past experience on his part of having to reteach drawing to students who come to his class to learn to paint. Is this forethought the norm for most workshop instructors? Simply a smart idea.

Sharon Weaver
via faso.com
I will be teaching a plein air class in the field through Los Angeles AAcademy of Figurative Art in the summer session and your article makes some good points. One more thing to consider is attitude. Be open to new ways of doing things and realize that you will take from the class what you put into it. Every workshop I have taken, I learned something new. I was ready to change different things at different times and open to that change.

Judy Mudd
via faso.com
Great advice Carolyn. I've given and taken workshops and what you have said is oh so true. Especially, the instructor taking a break from the environment. I teach portrait workshops and if I don't get away from the room, I am drained at the end of the day. Some students want to continue talking about the class during lunch and usually don't mind this, but after a day or two, you really need that break.

Donna Robillard
via faso.com
As you mentioned, the things are 'major obvious', but oh, so true - for both the instructor and the attendee. Thanks for your commonsense articles.

Patrice Federspiel
via faso.com
Mahalo Carolyn, I have coordinated, taken, and currently teach watercolor workshops, and you are spot on with your advice. Workshops are a great way to learn a lot in a short amount of time. They are exciting and stimulating and require down time for integration both during and after they are over. It often takes weeks or months to realize all that we've learned during the intensity of a workshop experience. Remaining open to the flow of the experience is as necessary as is practice once it's over.

JO ALLEBACH
via faso.com
EXCELLENT ADVICE! I HAVE TAKEN SEVERAL WORKSHOPS AND CLASSES. THE PERSON GIVING THE CLASS REALLY MAKES SUCH A BIG IMPACT. THAT IS WHY I FIND OUT AS MUCH AS I CAN ABOUT THEM BEFORE SIGNING UP. I HAVE HAD GREAT EXPERIENCES AND AM FORTUNATE TO LIVE IN PHOENIX SO I CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SCOTTSDALE ARTISTS' SCHOOL AND SEDONA ART CENTER WHICH IS ONLY A COUPLE HOURS AWAY AND MAKES FOR A GREAT TRIP, TOO.I AM SO GLAD TO TRY THE NEW THINGS I LEARN I OFTEN HAVE TO FORCE MYSELF TO GO TO BED. AND TOO MUCH SOCIALIZING CAN TIRE YOU OUT TOO. LOL

Carolyn Henderson
via faso.com
Carol: Guilty as charged. As a writer sitting -- as opposed to standing in the studio -- it's easy to keep going without water, without stretching, without breaks -- and the Norwegian Artist is the one who gets me moving, arriving at the door to my studio announcing, "I'm taking a break. Wanna take a walk?"

Diane: Excellent thoughts. I would venture to say that the most important aspect about getting anything out of a workshop is that "countless hours ahead of time painting on my own." Crucial, crucial, crucial.

Cathy: Drawing skills are indeed muy muy important in extracting maximum out of workshop, but sadly, many people don't have what they need, or sadder still, think that they don't need what they don't have. In a workshop dealing with representational work, it's an exercise in frustration to pull out the oil paints, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, and expect to produce something, well, representational, without those basic drawing skills.

Sharon: Attitude is a major factor, indeed. I wish for you a roomful of students open to trying something new, even if it seems so oddly different from anything that they are used to. The best of everything to you in that class!

Judy: Yup, yup, yup -- as delightful as it is to chat with students during the "downtime," it's not downtime for you unless you get away and take time to relax. You approach the situation wisely.

Donna: I continue to be flabbergasted by the "majorly obvious" things in life that gradually dawn on me, bit by bit!

Patrice: Workshops are condensed, aren't they? Kind of along the lines of eating the frozen juice paste straight out of the can instead of diluting it with water. After awhile, you realize that workshops are actually at least a half-year process -- three months before, two to five days of the workshop, then three months after.

Jo: It's one of those yin yang things -- all that stimulation from the energy and movement in the workshop, then trying to get the rest you need (while your mind is buzzingly processing everything you learned that day) so that you're ready to hit it tomorrow.

Mr. Franklin
via faso.com
Thanks for sharing a bit about workshop survival skills. It's very inspiring article. I like to work part time but because of financial crisis I'm doing now full time job (9 Hours). This job makes me boring everyday and I want some serious suggestion, what can I do about my job?

Patrice Federspiel
via faso.com
Aloha Mr. Franklin, first decide whether you are a "morning person" or an "night person" (if is is easier for you to wake up and fall asleep you are a morning person).

I'm a "morning person", so when I worked FULL time, I would get up 30 min to an hour early to paint before going to work. I knew that if I waited until the end of the day I wouldn't paint. When you start your day doing something for yourself that makes you feel good, your whole day improves. And the more often you do it the easier it becomes.

If you're a "night person" do this in reverse, paint later in the day, just make sure you do it!
Hope this helps.
Aloha, Patrice

Diane Overmyer
via faso.com
Dear Mr. Franklin,
My heart goes out to you...and all of the millions of other people who have to make themselves go to a job everyday that is not fulfilling to them. There is so much that could be said on that subject alone, but one bit of advice that I could give you in regards to your current circumstances, is to use the time at your job (which I am taking it not too mentally demanding, since you used the term boring) and keep a notebook handy to jot down creative ideas that might pop into your head. Also focus on the good aspects of your job. Hopefully it is providing you with a steady income, hopefully you are able to encourage someone each day and just maybe it will allow you to have the means to better persue your desire to create art. To every life there is a season, your time will come! In the mean time look for those small ways to continue to grow in your creative abilites. As I have grown as an artist I have realized that even though time at my easel is essential, there is also a tremendous amount of time spent doing other tasks that I feel are needed to be successful. Even reading art related articles and blogs will help to shape our thoughts and our art. So hang in there!










 

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