An artist’s perspective.
All artists and other professionals go to workshops or classes to refine their skills and learn new techniques.
I recently went to a floral workshop in Taos, New Mexico which was taught by Gwen Fox. Not only is she an accomplished painter, she also provides painting advice and art business advice.
Going to a remote workshop incurs additional expense and effort. I made flight plans. I needed to arrange hotels and a car rental – I flew into Albuquerque since it is not easy to find a reasonably priced flight directly into Taos. After all that, I still managed to try to check into the wrong hotel when I arrived (they wouldn’t let me).
So why go through all of the trouble? Why not just read a book about the subject? Here are five reasons.
#1 New tools and knowledge
This is the obvious one. You will encounter new information or at least a different perspective.
Another interesting aspect is that you can learn from other students. You see what they struggle with, what lessons they value. There is an exchange of different ideas and styles. (The best teachers admit that even they learn from their students. )
Encountering different viewpoints is helpful.
#2 Stretch yourself
The biggest opportunity in a workshop is to stretch yourself. Any teacher will present new ideas and techniques that you currently are not using. Your best use of your time there is to give these all a try instead of retreating to the comfort of what you already do. You are wasting your money if you elect to be safe. So the challenge is to be open to newness.
Even if when you fail (such as all the paintings you created are duds), you learn by finding out what you can do, and what you like and don’t like. Then you take away and implement what works for you and grow.
In my case, I don’t often do florals since I feel that they are over done (likely because they are a subject universally identified as pretty and they sell very well). Florals have also be perfected by many artists and all variations may have been done before. So I do not feel any inclination to compete – what could I add to the subject?
I am more and more identifying myself as a storyteller who paints – but what story is found in flowers? I had the idea going in that if I could somehow suggest the additional presence of people then that would make the painting more interesting.
I ended up doing two paintings that incorporated a little of this element.
In Roll out the Floral, I added a trowel in one of the barrels to show ongoing care that someone was taking with these flowers.
In “Wall Flowers”, the brick wall and the hint of lettering on the right side indicate that this is a residence or business and not just an isolated flowering bush.
I hope that these signals increase the interest of the painting by allowing more of a narrative to play out.
Gwen is adamant about the use of acrylics and the effect that they can create not only in florals but in all paintings. (I used to use acrylics but thought they appear flat. Today’s acrylic paints have improved these qualities.)
However, I had a reluctance to switch as I have been getting very comfortable with watercolors. Many artists consider watercolors as the most difficult paint to work with well and I wore this as a badge of honor. So I had to work through this resistance.
But since this was a the workshop, I vowed to use the small selection of acrylic that I bought for this purpose. Although I strayed and painted two all watercolors, my other efforts Included acrylics.
Note that I used both watercolor and acrylic in the same painting. I am continuing to try this combination on other paintings.
#3 Make it a vacation
Always make sure that when you travel that you take time to explore and enjoy your surroundings. I added a weekend afterwards – it would be a shame to travel to Taos and spend the entire week inside a studio! This made it more of a vacation.
Spending eight hours of painting can actually be mentally draining so having the freedom to sight see and check out restaurants is a good way to keep it fun and recharge.
#4 Demonstrate your commitment
Spending money and spending time to improve is a sign to yourself, others and the universe that you are serious in making improvements. Making the statement that I am moving forward is a boost to your progress.
#5 Put your show on the road
Get out of your natural environment and be this identity. Are you ready to declare that you are an artist, entrepreneur, positive person, realtor etc. I was often asked “what brings you here?”. I would respond with “I was taking a painting workshop and Yes, I am an artist”.
This has an element of learning to travel with the accoutrements of your trade. How do you travel with art supplies? Hint: put any liquid paint inside a plastic bag in case the air pressure causes the cap to pop. The bag will no longer be clear but at least all of my clothes are not now tied-dyed.
Also you are networking and making new friends, contacts and supporters.
I hope that this has inspired you to adventure out and take a workshop. Or if you have one scheduled, to make better use of it – to add fun instead of it being several days of work.
What have been your experiences (good or bad) of a workshop? Which of these reasons is the most important to you. Please comment below.