Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Workshops #2- The Right Ones for You

In my last post I discussed in general various ways to find good workshops and how to approach the process of making the most of them.

I want to emphasize a point that I only briefly touched on but is of major importance.  Take workshops from artists who paint the way you want to paint.  Painting styles range from photorealism to near abstract representational art to total abstract.   Painterly impressionistic art has remained extremely popular for over a century but may not be for everyone.  Plein air painting at its best is loose and spontaneous.  You may have a special interest in maritime art which calls for a more exacting approach.  Detailed wildlife art would be another example.  Techniques may vary widely though the basics, e.g. composition, remain the same.   Spend time looking through fine art magazines in your local bookstore to see what speaks to you.  Subscribe to one or more journals that appeal to you and look at the workshops in the advertisements.

Lastly (at least for now),  find instructors who have personalities and teaching styles that work for you.  Constructive criticism is vital- getting nothing but complements does not move you along.  Brutal criticism is also counterproductive.  I have never experienced the latter but know a few who have.  Fortunately it is very uncommon and word of mouth is helpful here.  It is a good idea to inquire about the maximum size of a workshop  before signing up.   Large workshops dilute individual attention and no matter what an instructor says, a teacher/student ratio of more than 1/14 is undesirable, at least for me.  I prefer 1/12 or less.  This is especially true for those just beginning or in cases where travel and lodging expenses are involved.  In other words, try to get the most from your workshop dollar.

Once you find an instructor who is a good fit you may want to consider studying with him/her for a while if that is an option.  If not, many artists who teach have blogs, instructional videos and demos on YouTube.  Being mentored is a path that many great artists have taken.  Eventually you will find your  own unique style.

Thanks for reading and happy painting!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Worshops #1- Take them!

After my initial series of painting classes I decided to try a workshop.  In contrast to classes which typically are weekly or biweekly sessions with a group, workshops are all day sessions that run 2-7 consecutive days (sometimes even longer).  They may focus on anything from a genre, e.g. still life or figurative, to a specific goal.  Examples of the latter might be plein air painting, putting more light into your paintings, color harmony, etc.

Artists of all skill levels take workshops, including some of the top contemporary painters.  There are more to chose from than ever in every part of the US as well as internationally.  Beginning painters may be reluctant to try one out of fear of the unknown, but I highly encourage them to do so.

Choosing the right workshop can be daunting so I will make some recommendations.  If you have friends in the local art community talk to them and find out what is going on in your area.  If you are on Facebook or other social media start following artists that paint the way you want to paint and see where they are teaching workshops.  Find artists you like on the internet.  Join their mailing lists and review their websites regularly.  Check with local galleries that carry art that you admire to find out if their artists give workshops.    Word of mouth is the best way to find out who are the best instructors! An artist who promotes himself/herself the most is not necessarily the best teacher.

Most importantly, don't be afraid.  After my first one I was hooked.  I take about 4 per year which gives me time to practice what I have learned before taking the next one.  Even one per year can make a big difference and may be about right for many painters.

Try to paint as much as you can before every workshop so you won't be rusty.  Make sure you have all the recommended supplies and that everything is in working order.  If you are bringing a new easel make sure you can set it up so you aren't frustrated before you even start painting.  Many artists include a manual with the supply list and/or recommended reading.  Study these ahead of time.  Take notes and refer to them afterwards.  And, most importantly, keep painting and working on whatever you have learned.  Save your studies, at least for a while, to remind you of the lessons learned.  Don't let painting a masterpiece be your goal.  Nobody does their best work in a workshop because they are stretching themselves.

I have jokingly referred to myself as a "workshop junkie", but I am really a workshop enthusiast.  Junkies are painters who go from workshop to workshop without practicing in between.  I think that for some this is a social outlet, and while the associations and friendships that result are an added bonus, the goal should be to grow as a painter.

I save something of my own from each workshop as a benchmark.  Below is a detail of a painting I did in a still life workshop a couple of years ago.  I never could have painted this without good instruction and it hangs where I can pass by it every day- a lesson on the wall.  (I show the detail because the rest of the painting wasn't so great....)

Thanks for reading!