Pastel Pointers | Getting Ready for a Painting Workshop

I’m happy to extend a “springtime sabbatical” to Richard McKinley for the next four weeks. During this time, I’ll select some previous Pastel Pointers posts to share again; they’re all worth revisiting! — Anne Hevener, Editor

With the beginning of spring, the light is lasting longer; the days are becoming warmer; and color is reappearing from its hibernation in the somber tones of winter. With the onset of such nice weather, art workshops begin to go into full swing. A quick check of the workshop listings section of Pastel Journal magazine can give you an idea of the smorgasbord of pastel workshop possibilities happening this year.


Richard McKinley and workshop attendees enjoy a plein air painting session.

Workshops afford us the ability to get an insight into the painting concepts and habits of many of our pastel heroes. Admiring finished paintings is one thing, but having the ability to watch a hand in action is priceless. Having had experience with both workshop taking and workshop giving, I have a few observations that may help ready you for your next workshop adventure.

First, set personal goals and keep them realistic. Asking ourselves what it is we hope to learn or gain from a workshop makes it easier to know what to request from the instructor. I constantly remind my students that I’m not a mind reader. It’s their job to ask and mine to respond to the best of my ability; it’s a team effort.

Second, put effort into the requested supplies. If a certain technique is identified with an instructor and we wish to emulate it, the supplies are likely very crucial. This is where technique and broad painting theory pull apart. Techniques are often tied to procedures and materials, while theories are the concepts and aesthetics behind individual choices. Both work together in every artist’s work but can be applied individually to our own. In some workshops I want to learn how they put the paint on. Here, supplies would be very important. At other times, I want to understand the artist’s composition, value and color choices. This information is not so supply-dependant.

Third, take chances. Experiment. Make a mess. Painting safely only allows us to prove to the instructor that we do indeed know how to paint. While this validation from someone we admire is useful, it is rarely the purpose of the instructor. Most are motivated to challenge the participants with new ways of seeing and doing. Bring some photographs of finished work you are proud of to show the instructor. Then, spend the workshop taking some chances. Real painting growth will come after the event when you have had time to digest.

Fourth, work with someone you respect. While there is much that can be learned from artists that we do not admire, we will be more receptive to instruction and guidance from someone we respect. We are not in a workshop to prove our methods are correct. There is plenty of time for that when we instruct.

Finally, the best advice I ever received was to be a student, even when instructing. Whichever position you find yourself in this year, enjoy it!


Check out Richard’s 2013 workshop schedule on his website. If you can’t paint with Richard in person (or even if you can), you can watch him at the easel in his video workshops as a video download or on DVD.

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