Please click on paintings to view larger.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How to Get Your Best from Workshops

Drawing demo from mannequin

Are you wide open to new learning when you take a workshop? Or are you maybe, even just a little, caught up in looking like you have a half a clue about what you're doing...


Embrace the Adventure

Just finished teaching a 4 day portrait workshop at my Canmore studio. At the beginning of my workshops I always encourage students to  think of it like a laboratory for learning, a place to try on NEW things, to explore territory that is foreign and unfamiliar, and most importantly to have ZERO expectation of going home with a "successful" painting. And then we all agree to celebrate frustration and fully welcome it when it inevitably shows up.


Bring Your Warrior Spirit

These things can be a hard sell, as they require a willingness to check your ego at the door, never an easy feat. My group this past week was whole-heartedly committed to it, which made it super fun to teach them. I was blown away by how hard they worked (pretty much had to kick them out of the studio each day) and stoked to watch them make leaps and bounds of progress.

This kind of "willing to fall flat on your face" commitment to learning serves our growth as artists more than anything else we can do. If failure becomes an important and valuable part of the journey forward, rather than something to be avoided at all costs, then the real learning can begin.

Focused engagement at work

How do you create optimal value from a workshop environment? Please share your #1 tip in the comments below - we'll all benefit from the wisdom!

17 comments:

  1. Your approach as instructor is very wise and your subscribing students can't help but learn so much this way. Kudos to you, and them!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Liz, I think you are absolutely right about having no expectations of taking home a masterpiece and a teachable spirit is a must. But the thing I think is most important for me is not comparing myself to others in the classroom, so that I become unable to paint. I just want to be able to soak up everything the instructor has to offer, then take it home so it can percolate. Workshops are a real treat, a special moment in time, that I look back on and see how they have influenced my art one way or another. My last "workshop" was actually a self directed retreat at Greenville Arms in Hudson, NY. I had to come up with my own agenda and set goals for what I wanted to try and accomplish. But because there were other artists there I still learned a lot!.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree Dawn, sometimes I think it's best to not go looking at everyone else's work as it has a tendancy to swing the door to comparison wide open.

      That said, it can be a great ego practice to check out what everyone else is doing in a curious and supportive way while simply observing the part of you that wants to compare.

      Delete
  3. What a marveloue summary of the values you taught me in this summer's workshop. The experience was wonderful, in a large part due to this exploratory attitude. My painting took a giant leap forward because you helped me free myself. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow Paul, what a lovely comment, thank you so much :-)

      Delete
  4. I think it's important to forget your own process and just try to learn what the instructor has to teach. You can integrate what you learned into your own process later, but during the actual sessions, you have the best opportunity to understand and absorb what is on offer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great advice Bobbi, couldn't agree more!

      Delete
  5. Hi Liz,

    Attending a workshop is very exciting and a little daunting at the same time...the unknown. You don't know who is going to be there, part of the fun, and you definitely don't know what you will learn. That is a key for me, not trying to re-invent myself, but picking up ideas or techniques which will help me improve.

    Liz, yours was my first workshop, and the world of painting was turned on it's ear for me. I don't try to paint like you (not that there would be anything wrong with that), but I'll bet I think of you and your process every time I start a painting. Baby steps and the odd leap are what keep us going and improving. A willingness to step into new territory presented within a workshop setting is nothing short of invaluable, and a tremendous gift. I'd love to attend at least one a year, but unfortunately that hasn't been possible.

    All the best and thank you, you have been a tremendous influence in my journey with the paint.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think it is important to leave your excuses a the door. When I find myself making excuses for my work it's because I am focusing on the end product not the learning to be had. So I say park the excuses and bring on Mrs. Rogers or El Diablo and teach me to paint...
    Thanks again Liz !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh El Diablo is a the teacher you want Neufeld, no question. :-)

      Delete
  7. What you have included in this post are the most important for workshop attendees. Knowing that the classroom/lab venue of a painting workshop is a SAFE place to make mistakes, is one I really dwell on. I am like Vern, when I take a workshop, it isn't about learning to paint like the master who is teaching it, but rather taking what I know and adding what I didn't know to make my work better.
    Painting is such a complex process - all the problem solving that is attempted...I love sharing and being shared with all those intimate jewels (for as an instructor I learn much, as well) that make one feel successful or at least grasp a higher reach of understanding. For me, the camaraderie that spins out of a workshop is paramount!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love what you've said here Patti and I couldn't agree more with regard to camaraderie.

      Creating a space that fosters a supportive network at the outset is a priority for me as an instructor - it is a powerful element that greatly enhances each person's ability to relax into the learning.

      Delete
  8. I agree with your advice and with the comments.
    You take a workshop to learn from a painter whose work you admire. You don't want to paint exactly like they do but you want to incorporate some element of their work into yours.
    Don't expect to "get" everything. Don't expect to have finished paintings. Think of your paintings as "notes" you take with your brush rather than your pen.
    Expect that in the future you will realize from time to time, as you paint, the lessons from the workshops.
    That's how it happens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Notes you take with your brush" is a fabulous perspective Mary, love it!

      Delete
  9. Such an interesting discussion. I agree with everything, and love your suggestion that students should leave egos at the door. I think of workshops as an opportunity to build your toolkit so that you have more options at your disposal when you go back to your own studio. You choose an instructor because they have something(s) that you want. Be open so they can give it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great comment Jody. It is challenging as an instructor when attempts to instruct are met with defense of a contrary approach.


      Home is the place to do what you normally do, a workshop is meant for stretching... the further out of your comfort zone the better. :-)

      Delete