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.