Preparing for a Workshop

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The photo (above) is courtesy of Garry McMichael, and was taken at a Minnesota workshop I conducted in August 2007.

One of the great pleasures we can experience as painters is having the opportunity to work with another artist. Being able to watch the formation of a
painting, to ask questions clarifying the information discussed, and to have individual guidance at our easels makes a workshop precious. Fortunately, we live in a time when travel is easily accomplished, and workshop schedules are readily available within the pages of art-related magazines like The Pastel Journal and The Artist Magazine. Before deciding to work with an artist, my advice would be:

  1. Study the artist’s paintings, enquire about his or her teaching style, and ask yourself what it is you hope to gain from the experience. Knowing what you wish to gain will help in communicating better with the instructor. I often inform my students that I’m not a mind reader, so it’s their responsibility to ask for the information they seek—instead of waiting. Decide if you’re looking for validation or a kick in the pants? Is it the instructor’s personal style that interests you or the chance to work in an exciting location with a peer? You should come to a workshop expecting to struggle. You should be painting outside of your comfort zone, taking chances, and pushing yourself to adapt to new procedures. Leave your ego at home. You’re not there to prove anything to the other participants or to the instructor, but to humbly grow.
  2. Make your travel and lodging plans well in advance. Contact the local coordinator for guidance. They’re usually familiar with the location and can provide individualized advice. If possible, arrive a little early to become familiar with the logistics, providing some time to relax. Having a good night’s rest and knowing where the workshop is meeting helps in relieving the stresses associated with a new adventure.
  3. Put effort into acquiring the requested supplies. If you wish to emulate an instructor, using the products they employ will improve your chances. Bring some photographic representations of your paintings to help familiarize the instructor with your work. As a teacher, I find these very useful when working with someone for the first time. Don’t expect to show every painting you have ever produced and know that originals may not be appropriate at the beginning of a workshop. But a small portfolio, or a few photographs, tucked into your painting bag can prove very helpful.

By being better prepared for the physical and mental requirements of a workshop, we afford ourselves the opportunity to leave more excited, ready to continue our personal artistic journey wherever it might lead. And watch for me; I might be the fellow next to you at the next  pastel workshop you attend!

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