Make Like a Tree, plein air, 11x14. Available.
This sounds like a silly subject, I know, but as a workshop instructor who takes her job very seriously (and with a great amount of humility), it is important to me that everyone who comes to one of my workshops gets the most out of it that he or she possibly can. With so many workshops coming in 2011, I thought it might be good to post a little primer here on how to make the one that you choose really count for you. After all, you are spending not only your money, but your time away from other work and family to spend time with an instructor. Whether it is one of my workshops or someone else's, you are gambling A., that this wonderful painter whom you admire so much is actually also a good teacher; B., that you won't come to the end of the workshop wondering why you wasted your time; and C., that you will actually have information that continues to stimulate your mind for months or years to come.
My role as instructor (and indeed I think the role of any instructor) is to be fully prepared for class. We've all been to workshops where we felt the instructor gave little thought to what he or she would actually say, having prepared for teaching only in the brief, few minutes it took them to drive over to meet the students. Or, we sense that this instructor has repeated this same monologue so many times it has become boring. For me to prepare for a one-week workshop means 2 to 3 weeks of preparation time, even if I have already taught the same workshop several times in the past. I want every workshop to be new and exciting in the event that previous students register. And, since I am a continuing learner myself, I want to make sure that any new epiphanies I may have had are translated well.
I can only do so much to make your workshop experience a great one. While I only have a handful of rules (see final note below) for workshop attendants, I want to share here some ideas of what YOUR role as a student might be.
- Read the intended audience, and sign up for workshops that pertain to you at your current level of development. If you are a BEGINNER, and the workshop is directed at intermediate to advanced students, you should contact the instructor, give them some idea of where you feel you are currently, and ask if there are things you could do for several months to prepare for this higher-level workshop. Be honest with the instructor, and if advised not to attend, do not take it personally. While even beginners can get something out of an advanced level workshop, it can be distracting to other students in the class if you require extra hand-holding. You want an instructor who will be honest with you. It means he or she is thinking about the good of the class as a whole, so any workshop you do attend with this person will have your best interest in mind as well. If the intended audience says "all levels," as many of mine do, it is still wise to inform the instructor of you are just starting out. This is especially true if the workshop is only a couple of days long. Personally, it helps me to prepare some specific information just for beginners if I know there are a handful in my group. The same is true for the opposite scenario. If you are an ADVANCED PROFESSIONAL attending my workshop, I want to know that. There are advanced ideas that can be introduced to the group as a whole, and then prepared in a more specific way for individuals ready to hear them.
- Communicate with the instructor prior to the workshop if you have specific goals in mind. While not all instructors may not like this idea, I prefer knowing my class before I meet them face to face. So communicate with me. A few things you might include by way of introductory email are:
- What your weaknesses are
- What your goals are
- With whom you have studied
- Where I can view samples of your work online
- What you specifically hope to learn from me
- Be "in" class and ready to go. If you are working with new equipment (such as a new plein air easel, etc.) take it for several test drives before the first day of class. Note: Mostly I do not mind helping you figure out this stuff on location, but it has been known to seriously cut into your painting time since I will likely make certain all of the other students have been assisted and are well on their way before helping you. Also, give the instructor your total attention once you arrive until the very end. If you know the workshop is only 3 days and you have to miss a full day of it, consider not taking the class. Chances are this instructor will offer it at another time that works better with your schedule. Arrive on time, rested, and ready to work every day.
- Take from people who can teach. Do not let foolish pride stand in the way of taking a workshop. I know a lot of people who will only study with someone with a "big name." Or, here it comes..., men who will not study with women. While studying with really great suggests that logically you will become a really great artist, consider this:
- Is this person a good instructor, or simply a good artist? Not all master painters are great instructors. Learning from someone you consider a peer or similar in ability can actually stimulate growth more quickly because you are intellectual equals. This means dialogue during your one-on-one time with the instructor doesn't have to spent learning a whole new language. Instead, you speak in similar terms, but need only mentally process a different approach or theory. Often times an instructor who is nearer your development level can spot weaknesses in your work because they have only just walked that tightrope recently themselves.
- A little story: I remember the first time one of my workshop participants was someone I considered a better painter than I. Naturally, I studied this person's work very closely online to try to determine what I could bring to the table in order to give her a successful workshop experience. By the way, it was clear on the first day that she felt the same as I about her abilities. Probably, she came to this workshop because she had always wanted to paint Italy with a group, and thought maybe it would be fun. At the end of the week, she actually said, "Wow, I learned so much." It shocked her. Trying not to be prideful myself, I knew that every student at the critique could clearly see she did in fact paint much better than I did at the time. However, what they could also see was how her work had grown amazingly quickly in just 6 days.
- Give it a try. Okay, so that sounds really dumb. But do not go to a workshop in the hopes of somehow being "tapped" by the instructor as the golden child. You've come all this way, paid good money, to impress me? Flattered perhaps, but I'm not impressed. Try what I ask of you. Recently I had a workshop attendee who has been painting for a good number of years throw all caution to the wind and really let go off some things to try what I suggested. It amazed me to see this new work coming from her. It amazed her too. Now that... impressed me.
- Respect the design of the class. I build my workshops to have an arch, building day two's task based on where we began on day one, and so on. That's not to say that sometimes, like most "performers," I read my audience and adjust my dance to suite your response. But it is bad form to make added demands on the teacher that are not outlined in the workshop description. For instance, if you want a portfolio review, and that is not part of the scheduled workshop time, email the instructor in advance to see if you can make an appointment to do that outside of class. If you have a topic you'd like addressed that does not fit the general flow of the topic, ask me about it after class. I may suggest that we discuss it in class, as a group, or I may ask for additional time to prepare a thorough answer and email you later.
Final note: I mentioned earlier that I have a few rules for workshop attendees. They are simple:
- No whining. Give me something I can constructively work with in order to help you. We all feel frustrated and sometimes we just have to let that frustration out. That's fine in my class, and I honestly hope you feel safe enough with me to do that. But trying to put your frustration into something you can describe with meaningful words helps us both work better toward the common goal... success! (Oh, and if it's your room you are unhappy about or your coffee is cold, perhaps there is someone who can help with that, but it probably isn't going to be me.)
- Have fun. It is going to be hard work and you are going to be very tired at the end of each day, but if you are not having some fun too, neither of us will be very happy by the end of the week. It's like this, I work very hard spending long hours doing something I love. It's still work. I'm just blessed that I happen to love my job. There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you are doing, so loosen up a bit and have some fun.
- Bring your sense of humor. I take my charge as an instructor very seriously, but I also use comic relief to make all of us feel more at ease. You can relax in knowing that I respect you and your time just as hopefully you respect me and mine. Our moments spent laughing, perhaps sharing a glass of wine with dinner, and general camaraderie with other students in the class is a good thing.
Here is a list of workshops currently scheduled for 2011. There are a few more that are in the development stage, so I hope you will check my website often for updates. Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can help in any way.
P.S. Recently received this book. Love it!