Preparing to give a workshop

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Fred Hulser of Houston, Texas wrote, “I recently agreed to do a small landscape/plein air workshop and I now realize I may not be prepared. While I’m more experienced than many students, I have never taught an art workshop or art class. I just read your letters on teaching and see I am not the only one to pester you on this subject. What should I do?”

“Frio Rapids”
oil painting, 10 x 8 inches
by Fred Hulser

Thanks, Fred. Conducting a workshop is a serious obligation and a responsibility. The job of instructor, in my view, is to help people realize themselves at whatever level they are at, and to further engage them in the basic academic exercises that are so wanting in contemporary art education. These goals are often compromised by customers who range from inflamed youth in need of channelling to companionable, contented geriatrics. If you feel you’re not prepared, here are a few things you can do: Prepare a couple of demo-lessons where you can illustrate a few techniques or specific exercises. Most often you need to strengthen a student’s facility with form, composition or colour. Help them to really look at the environment. Making it possible for students to unlearn bad old habits is as important as giving them new good ones. Be prepared to go around to individuals as they work. Easel-side coaching is its own fine art. You need to size up work and offer no more than two or three suggestions at a time. Couch your critiques between praise and encouragement. Be nice. Many of your customers will be mothers. If you have permission, take their brushes in hand and demo briefly right on their work. Give equal time and attention to all participants who ask for it. Some don’t. While teaching is an altruistic endeavour for many instructors, it is also part of one’s own growth and education. In the words of John Jay Chapman, “Benevolence alone will not make a teacher, nor will learning alone do it. The gift of teaching is a peculiar talent, and implies a need and a craving in the teacher himself.” More than anything, it’s important to drop your own precious ego. Your students are paying you — they deserve value for money. Just as you are, they are processing information and winnowing directions. Tune in and help them find their potential and they’ll be friends for life. Best regards, Robert PS: “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” (John Cotton Dana) Esoterica: At about the age of 12 I attended a demo given by an ill-prepared gentleman to whom the word “incompetent” would aptly apply. Nevertheless, watching that guy fumble along gave me ideas and confidence. He gave me the courage to follow my own path. Seeing the need for studenthood in him, I confirmed the need in myself. Nevertheless, the best teachers give freely from an enriched resource of accumulated wisdom. Feeling the joy of empowerment as their students grow and flourish, the best teachers lose customers and gain colleagues.   Explaining your good painting by Michael Chesley Johnson, ME, USA / NB, Canada    

“Rainy Day Fish Shacks”
oil painting
by Michael Johnson

I’ve been teaching workshops for about ten years, and it’s interesting to listen to students who have taken workshops with other artists. Quite often they learn that a good painter doesn’t necessarily make a good teacher. Painting and teaching how to paint are two separate skills that are linked only by a common theme. Teaching requires the skill of analysis and then the skill of clearly articulating that analysis. I know many painters who are good at what they do but have a hard time explaining it. Students are amused when they hear me talking to myself as I demonstrate, but I find it useful; it helps me to understand what and why, and then it helps me to communicate that “self-discovery” to the students.   Back-up plan by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

pastel painting
by Sharon Knettell

Giving a proper workshop requires preparation from both the teacher and the student. Even then, unexpected mishaps occur. In one I was giving in at the Scottsdale School, the model simply did not show up. Another very fine artist had this happen to him and both he and I were vilified on the Internet. There was nothing at the time that either of us could do about it as it had never happened to either of us before. So to those of you giving a figurative, have a back-up plan for a no-show model.     There are 2 comments for Back-up plan by Sharon Knettell
From: Anonymous — Jun 24, 2011

This happened when I was in a figure painting class few years ago. The instructor phoned a sex trade girl who showed up in half an hour. She was an excellent model but the instructor commented later that the fee was way more than for the regular model. Unconventional solution, but a win-win.

From: Liz Reday — Jun 26, 2011

A no-show model is understandable- but how about a no-show teacher? I paid for a workshop to be given by a big name artist only to find the guy had over-imbibed his subject matter and sent a student in his place. The student did her best, but she really didn’t have the experience or the ability to offer the class a similar experience. No refunds. He could have replaced himself with an artist buddy of comparable stature. And no, the student did not become subsequently famous or successful. No more workshops for me.

  ‘Stickems’ for demos by Bernie Hoffman, Lords Valley, PA, USA   I am 80 years old and have drawn since elementary school. I have received many awards and scholarships (including to Pratt Institute) and I have been published, etc, etc, etc. At retirement in Florida I attended a portrait drawing class. The instructor was so bad I felt I could do better and therefore was encouraged to teach. I have designed and perfected my own portrait course that has become very successful. I now teach portrait classes in Florida and Pennsylvania. I agree with all your suggestions of which somehow I have done without any guidance. I enjoy teaching and I have had remarks from older adults such as “I’ve taken art classes for 20 years but this is the only one that I have ever really learned something.” You suggest: If you have permission, take their brushes in hand and demo briefly right on their work. If you ask for permission I do believe a student would be reluctant to say ‘no.’ I use a “stickem” to personally demonstrate on and then they have theirs and mine to compare side by side. At the end of the session the students still have their original artwork and keep the slips as good reminders. There are 3 comments for ‘Stickems’ for demos by Bernie Hoffman
From: Gwen Fox — Jun 23, 2011

I would love to have been one of your students… sound fabulous! Our history (which is our age) gives us much to offer to the world….glad you are sharing.

From: Katherine Spencer Harris — Jun 23, 2011

Thank you for your helpful comments. Could you please describe what is a “stickem” in some more detail? Thank you, Katherine

From: Joy — Jul 02, 2011

I take occassional classes from an artist/teacher and she uses a variation of what might be a “stickem”. She paints a little example on a scrap piece of watercolor paper -which we all are careful to have handy. These are treasured pieces and I often refer to them.

  Safe to experiment by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA  

original painting
by Gwen Fox

Robert, you are so correct when you stated teaching a workshop is a serious obligation. Being prepared takes time and lots of love of the subject. Being prepared also allows the teacher to be able to really listen to the needs of the students. Each student comes with different fears, desires and focus. I begin my workshops letting my students know they are in a safe environment in which to experiment without the fear of judgment from me or the other students. In other words, I want them to be able to view failure as growth and not the end of their painting ability. This sets the tone so everyone relaxes and they are then free to step out of their comfort zone. Learning solid principles of art is essential, but it is also important to understand our artist mindset. When we leave a workshop we want to leave a better artist and a better person.   A most interesting lesson by Adrienne Moore, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Bruano Morning”
original painting
by Adrienne Moore

I was a public school teacher for thirty five years and I learned to respect every individual student for their particular talent and ability. When asked to conduct a workshop for adult artists, I was challenged like never before in my professional life. I spent long hours designing ideas for each level and ability of the class, not being sure of how much they could absorb. The class was planned for a week long and I had probably the most interesting lesson of my life as I applied all the skills I had learned from my students over the years and applied them in this plan for my adult artists. I soon discovered that there was no fixed way to teach such a diverse group. For some it was an early morning demo that occupied them, others were bogged down with ideas to create what they hoped to achieve and they needed special time because of their choices. A few were ill equipped to be in this level of a class, but the enthusiasm and camaraderie carried us all through. I had to individualize the program and diversify. I needed to work hard at my lesson plans and have so many alternatives to get the class motivated. I think it was the most amazing class because I had real doubts that I would succeed as a teacher and the class were so reassuring in their response. We really did have a wonderful experience.   Teaching teaches you by Vie Dunn-Harr, San Antonio, TX, USA  

“What is a Tulip?”
oil painting
by Vie Dunn

When I was 19, I was painting and actually showing in a celebrated gallery in my city. An older woman asked me to teach her to paint. She was an art teacher with an art degree and I was intimidated with her experience. When I told her I had never taught, she informed me that she would be at my house the next Tuesday and she was bringing 3 friends. She said she would come for no charge and her friends would pay. She was a pushy woman and was not taking NO. Today I am grateful for her confidence in me and then her insistence. I spoke with my teacher who said, “Violet, as long as you know one thing they don’t, you can teach them. You just have to run in front of them.” Teaching certainly taught me! One thing I would add to Robert’s advice is to recognize each person’s individual expression. I have those who come to study with me and their goal is to paint just like me, which is not practical. The moment I see a consistency in a brush stroke or uniqueness in color combinations, composition, etc, I embrace their expression and try to help them understand the beauty of what comes natural from them. They can build on this their own style. Of course, this moment can be a long time coming, but to recognize it when it arrives is the sign of a good teacher. There are 2 comments for Teaching teaches you by Vie Dunn-Harr
From: Janice TL — Jun 24, 2011

Beautiful painting. One of the loveliest and most intriguing florals I have ever seen!

From: Pamela Lussier — Jun 24, 2011

Dear Violet, I think what you’re saying is the most important thing. Teach the basics, give them a good base but watch them bloom. Each student is their own variety of flower. Pam

  Reverse roles by Ted Martinez, Trinidad, CO, USA   What I personally have found useful in teaching is to put myself in the student’s place and mentally go back in time and remember the frustrations, doubts, determination, and desires I felt when I was going through the initial learning process. The things we now do automatically such as perspective, pencil control, values and composition were as unfamiliar and intimidating as a foreign language. One of the most fulfilling parts is when the student becomes the teacher and the teacher becomes the student. Learning is a lifetime experience and even familiar things viewed from a different perspective, become new again. Before I started teaching, I was sure I wouldn’t like it but soon found I really enjoyed it as it is also a creative process. When I feel I can be of some assistance in helping someone explore and expand their capabilities, I am doing the same for myself!   ‘Messing’ with a student’s painting by Heather Bruce, Snohomish, WA, USA   Long ago, I conducted a workshop where the instructor spent time “improving” each student’s painting and even quipped at the time that they could lie and tell their friends they painted the whole painting. Interestingly enough, almost all the students told me later that they didn’t like having their paintings “messed with,” but felt compelled to say “Yes” when they were asked for permission to paint in their paintings. From that point forth, I made sure that small pieces of watercolor paper were available alongside each student, so instructors (including me) could demonstrate without painting in the student’s painting. I can count on one hand the number of times I have done that. There are 2 comments for ‘Messing’ with a student’s painting by Heather Bruce
From: Paul deMarrais — Jun 24, 2011

I don’t find this to be true and all. My students WANT me to work on their paintings while explaining the reasoning behind what I am doing. They tell me it helps them to see it done, rather than hearing a bunch of theory. Few don’t want me to work on their paintings. I always ask and it’s really easy to see who is comfortable or not. We are all students of art.

From: Jim Oberst — Jun 24, 2011

I learned a great technique from Tony van Hasselt that I’ve started using in my watercolor workshops. I take around with me an acetate page. I can place it over the student’s painting and show how to improve it using thick, dark paint on the acetate. This works especially well in watercolor since most students don’t have adequate darks, and aren’t good yet at putting a few small dark touches here and there to “finish” a painting. It doesn’t work for everything, but it does work most of the time. I don’t want to paint on a student’s painting unless it is a real throw-away (from their point of view).

  The joy of empowerment by Robin Baratta, Belmont, ON, Canada  

“Swallowtail butterfly”
mixed media painting
by Robin Baratta

One of the greatest joys as an artist is teaching. I’m incredibly proud of all of my students and their accomplishments. The ‘joy of empowerment’ is addictive as any drug. The key to good teaching is to find that place between encouragement and critique where the student learns what they must do and gains the confidence to do it. Another aspect of teaching others is that it forces you to define your own experience, to distill it into teachable chunks, therefore making you a better artist. The long tradition of artist-to-artist training is still the most accessible form of training for many. New artists are trained, ‘old’ artists become more focused, and many a professional artist is able to continue as such with the added income. There is 1 comment for The joy of empowerment by Robin Baratta
From: Gwen Fox — Jun 23, 2011

I couldn’t agree more…..very well said.

  Small world by Fred Hulser, Houston, TX, USA  

“Palos Verdes Bay”
oil painting
by Fred Hulser

Before I opened today’s letter, I had already received several emails commenting about it, from both friends and people I’ve never met, including another artist here in Houston who was thinking about organizing a plein air workshop. Small world. I, for one, am grateful for your efforts to connect it. While I’m writing you anyway, I’ve wanted to ask if I could get a digital image of the complete painting a portion of which appears on the dust jacket of The Letters. Analysis of that painting clearly illustrates a lot of important painting points and I would love to use it in my workshop. I don’t use this phrase often — in fact, I cannot remember when I used it last — but it comes to mind and feels appropriate, so “Bless you.”   There is 1 comment for Small world by Fred Hulser
From: Sandra — Jun 24, 2011

Fred, your painting is wonderful….


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Preparing to give a workshop

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Jun 21, 2011

As an old mentor of mine once said, “The best teacher turns the student on to himself.”

From: Karen Lynn Ingalls — Jun 21, 2011

Teaching is an art form in itself. A good painter may not also be a good teacher. I studied with a number of excellent painters – several were good, in differing ways. One, a noted contemporary painter, was one of the worst teachers I ever had. Another taught me not only to paint, but to see. Ahhhh! Now THAT is a gift. It is one I try to emulate in my own teaching.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 21, 2011

Maybe it is the difference between oil painters and watercolor, but when giving a demo, I would never paint on one of my student’s paintings. I demo frequently when teaching because artists are visual learners. We learn from hearing about it, seeing it done, then doing it ourselves. I carry along to my workshop several pieces of watercolor paper just for the purpose of demonstration, some already prepared with a drawing, others blank. If I am requested to demo a particular thing like tree bark or clouds, I pull out the paper and demo it for everyone to see. In the end, each person must make their own decision about what to put in his or her painting. I think that if you paint on the student’s painting, they then paint all around that area, afraid to disturb it and possibly intimidated by it. They have learned more about how you paint than how they can paint.

From: G. Repko — Jun 21, 2011

At the cusp of my new life from teaching science to the freedom to explore, continue to learn, and create art, I was asked to teach a small group of students. I have had different groups of students of all ages over the years. I have found that if I know my subject matter well, have prepared a solid plan for each teaching period, and have alternate methods to get my ideas across, my students enjoy our time together and have shown growth. I do not like to over plan. A basic outline allows me to “think on my feet,” enabling me address the ebb and flow of student needs. I want the student to have a successful lesson, meaning they will see a positive result at the end of the lesson/session. Positive feedback and encouragement is a must. My students usually do very well, and I am just as excited for their achievements as they are. I really enjoy teaching and consider it great fun. I believe that this helps make it fun for the students.

From: Darla — Jun 21, 2011

I’ve only done a couple of workshops years ago. I am one of the world’s worst public speakers. Being prepared with a step-by-step script is a lifesaver. To write the script, think about what you would need to know if you were just starting cold learning the particular technique of the workshop. Also have everything that the students will need to do the workshop; either provide it or make a materials list to send out ahead of time. The best part of workshops is watching the delight on the students’ faces as they find out what they can do. The saddest one I ever did was for some elementary school kids who had decided ahead of time that they couldn’t do art. I tried to change their minds, but it was an uphill battle.

From: Nathan Robinson — Jun 21, 2011

The convention of workshops is flawed, but it is still way ahead of other forms of teaching art.

From: John Ferrie — Jun 21, 2011

Dear Robert, You have given this would be instructor some excellent advice. But I think you have missed some basic instructions that are crucial when approaching teaching a painting class. Some warm up exercises are crucial to getting everyone on the same page. Just some simple gesture drawings or some horizon sketches will get everyone on the same page. Like you said, some are mothers who have always yearned to paint and others are experts, you never know. The vision of each artist is different as well. If todays lesson is all about landscapes, make sure people know that before you begin painting. Or if working with a figure, there are dozens of things you can ease the class into without wasting everyone’s time. Telling the students to work within a certain area of the model and not having to tackle the whole thing on the first day. Or making sure they are painting the space between the model…Sounds “artsy fartsy” but students love to feel like an artist. At the end of the day, painting should be fun and fulfilling. Nobody wants to come home from a painting class carrying a “Hot Mess”. John Ferrie

From: Brent Simon — Jun 21, 2011

Unfortunately there are many unqualified workshop givers who are in it just for the money. Some are very poor artists and poor teachers as well. Any artist considering taking a workshop needs to make a calculated decision whether a workshop being offered is any good. On the other hand, many workshops are just an excuse for getting together, and for these, I guess, any conductor will do.

From: Allan Hynds, UK — Jun 21, 2011

You don’t need a license to conduct a workshop. Perish the thought.

From: Chris Murray — Jun 21, 2011

Once the student gets over the feeling of intrusion one has when the instructor asks and takes your brush in hand and paints a bit on your work, it is often the quickest way to see the possibilities. The instructor has the advantage of coming on the work freshly and is able to quickly put a finger on the problem or problems.

From: Robert Redus — Jun 21, 2011

Fred…the one thing I know clearly about teaching is you will find out exactly how much you know about your subject…when you are in a position of teaching…your subject. Students have found you for whatever reason and if their reason doesn’t align with yours…welcome to the world of art seminars… I’ve taught for many years and found students either wanting the “Instruction” or the “Information”…both are very different…Instruction is a step by step mentality where everything follows rules…usually your rules….bendable…yet still your rules….the Information is more of…”hand me the brush….give me the ideas…tell me how they work…and leave me to doing how I just translated what you told me to do…the “Information student”… uses their ideas to move while the “Instruction student” waits for your ideas before moving…neither one seems any more advantageous…while both can produce great results… I think before you… ” take their brushes in hand and demo briefly right on their work.” … I’d find out in the first 5 minutes of the class….what they are doing there…how much they know about what they are doing….what do they want it to look like when it’s all done…and what they want to do with what they’ve learned later down the road…. Good luck with your program….

From: Lisa — Jun 21, 2011

I have found the best way to find out whether a student wants you to demo on their work is to ask them, give them a choice. When I used to go to workshops I was more than happy for a teacher who I respected to work on my painting, then I had their example to keep and refer to. I never looked upon my workshop efforts as anything more than a permanent record of new techniques, workshop reminders etc etc but I am also very aware of students who want the painting to be entirely their work and or they want a complete painting to keep, gift or sell. It is always very much a case of being aware of your students wishes and not bulldozing over the top of them.

From: Suzette Fram — Jun 21, 2011

“If you have permission, take their brushes in hand and demo briefly right on their work.” Love all your advice, Robert, but on this one, I strongly disagree. If you want to show a student something in particular, you should do so on a separate surface, never on the actual work itself. Otherwise, when the work is done, can the artist sign the work in good conscience, or it is then a ‘collaboration’ with credit due to both student and teacher. Even if a piece is started during a workshop, it should still be the work of the individual and only the individual, unless it is only an exercise never meant to be shown to anyone.

From: Bernie Armstrong — Jun 21, 2011

Interestingly, it’s generally the painters who need the most help who resist the idea of briefly letting an instructor show them how to achieve certain effects or passages on their painting in progress. Especially beginning painters tend to think their paintings are “precious” and feel the need to keep them original and unsullied.

From: Carol Ferguson — Jun 22, 2011

The best teacher is someone who knows the subject well — whether it be academics or art — but remembers what it’s like not to know.

From: Tatjana — Jun 22, 2011

I have always let the instructors demo on my paintings because I was always curious to see what they would do. But people vary in this regard. I once recommended some art classes to an absolute beginner. She later told me that one of the instructors asked for permission to work on her painting, which she found offensive to the extent that she decided not to take any more classes. It may be a good idea for the instructor to ask the whole class about this in advance of approaching anyone, to avoid offending someone who is as sensitive as that student.

From: Eleanor Blair — Jun 22, 2011

Before I taught a series of painting classes at the Harn Museum of Art a few years ago, I spent some time reflecting on what experiences, lessons and information I used in my own painting, and I built my lesson plans around that. My classes focused on materials, value studies, color theory, and perspective drawing. I suggest that Mr. Hulser consider his own process and development as a painter, and create the content of his workshop from his own personal experience. I’m sure his students will learn a lot.

From: Patsy Heller — Jun 22, 2011

I can’t believe this is the subject of your much anticipated twice-weekly letter! Three of the people I paint with on Mondays have asked me if I would teach. I’ve never taught anyone, but we often offer suggestions within our group and show each other what we know. I don’t know if that’s worth money. However, I’m honored and I think I may give it a try. I love your newsletter and have learned much from it.

From: Jim Lorriman — Jun 22, 2011

You painters are a fortunate crowd. I have had to stop teaching as I can no longer afford the insurance premiums nor the restrictions that the underwriter placed on whom I could teach. I had to carry 2 million in liability insurance and was not allowed to teach anyone 18 or younger. Now I teach through video. It is not the same as having a student whose eyes are opened to the wonderful world of wood turning or having the necessary interaction that makes it so enriching for both student and teacher. However, it does work. I have had people that have seen my video ask to bring pieces in for a critique. Some very creditable work has been produced. My video can be downloaded using the following info: Host: Username: ftp45985813-6 Password: H2o0l0d9 The file is called The Art of the Stick Video. There is no cost to download or share the video.

From: Barbara Timberman — Jun 22, 2011

Please…………don’t encourage beginning workshop instructors to demonstrate directly on the student’s canvas. That will become a habit for him/her. Then the student’s work isn’t really his/her own. When I began my art career, about 55years ago, I took a workshop from a well known artist…he painted on my canvas and the result looked like his work. Can’t you encourage people to carry a sketchpad or such to demonstrate on that? I think we shouldn’t touch a student work unless specifically asked by the student to do so. I believe we should encourage creativity and originality as much and as often as possible. Therefore you know what I think about the the artist whose assistants do all the painting or work. That person isn’t an artist but a business marketing exec. Grateful for your wonderful letters. Recently a student whom I sent one of your letters to….gave me your book which I treasure.

From: Christine MacLeod — Jun 22, 2011

I enjoy all your letters but especially the ones about teaching art. I am a recently retired teacher who fell into teaching art because of my passion that has grown over the years and has developed into a career. I am certainly not in your class as an artist ( but I have lots of teaching experience) and one thing that you suggested to Fred Hulser gave me pause. Even with permission I would not paint or draw on a student’s work. I found as a student I resented it (and sometimes it’s hard to say no) when a teacher worked on my piece because even if I was making a mess out of it, I then didn’t have the opportunity to fix it my way. I appreciated the suggestions but I would rather have had the option at least of making the decision to make my own changes. As a teacher I found that if I made changes to a students work it was then difficult for a student to assess exactly what their progress was. Aside from evaluating the student’s work, they had difficulty evaluating it and that in my books was the real cardinal sin. My suggestion is that Fred carry a small pad around and show techniques, he can certainly use his students colours, brushes, pencils etc. But in my opinion never, never work on some else’s artwork.

From: Grace Karczewski — Jun 22, 2011

These are great suggestions on teaching. We are all capable as artists, and as a teacher you will learn as you teach.

From: Libby Schmanke — Jun 22, 2011

I love the part of teaching where I “never cease to learn,” but sometimes it has led me to assume my students know (or should know) more than they do. As the years go by, new batches of students seem to be dumber and dumber, until I recall that I myself am getting further and further from the “tabula rasa.” Like Maria teaching the musical scales in the Sound of Music, a good teacher may say, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” It is not a bad thing when your student says, “I already know that.” They feel good about themselves and ready to handle the next step, and now you know where to start teaching.

From: Frances Poole — Jun 22, 2011

I understand the nervousness of doing a workshop for the first time. I did my first one earlier this year but had the advantage of teaching for many years prior. I think Mr. Genn gave excellent advise as usual; especially about being prepared and giving equal attention. I would like to add a couple of bits of information that may be helpful. The most important one is to gain confidence in yourself by focusing on a few main points to keep the ball rolling. Pick a few basics for beginners and a few for more experienced painters. Be prepared and you will display confidence. You can do this in the following ways. First you need to go back to the beginning. Before my workshop I began a painting and wrote down the basic steps; information I take for granted but vital for rank beginners and the poorly trained. As I worked I spoke out loud to refine my vocabulary and clarity as I took notes. Hopefully you plan to do a demonstration on how to begin a painting before the attendees start working. Have a few facts at hand to keep you going, like using a view finder and adding elements from outside of the frame to improve a composition. (35mm slide holders work wonders) You can explain aerial perspective and the importance of creating depth or talk about foreground, middle ground and background, and how to lead the eye into a painting. You may choose to show how to block-in land and tree masses and the importance of using under-color to start. Some people will want the very basics like; do we begin with the sky? But for more advanced students perhaps brush strokes, paint application and sky holes will be more important. As painters, we take a lot of this for granted but facts like these can be jewels of information for attendees. You can’t teach everything in one workshop, but everyone will benefit from your expertise if you focus on several main points, think of both beginners and the more advanced and not try to cover everything in one day. Edit information until you have enough to carry you through (each) day or edit as you go if that is more your style. The prep work will be well worth it. By being well prepared you will feel more relaxed, will have a good time and the attendees will love you.

From: Pat Megraw — Jun 22, 2011

I have only given one workshop but I teach two classes a week and love every minute of it. Your quote about never ceasing to learn is so true. I learn from a lot of sources but one source is the students themselves as their problems arise. You have to be quick on your feet but there is nothing as satisfying (other than days in the studio).

From: Sheliah Halderman — Jun 22, 2011

I have been teaching pastel classes thru our local community college for the last few years. I have to agree that I feel that I learn more by teaching due to the fact that I have to think thru the process of creating a painting to my students. It also makes me strive even more to impart all the components of a good painting.

From: Louise Scott-Bushell — Jun 22, 2011

Thanks for your letters. Sometimes they arrive and seem so pertinent to just how I am feeling and are often uplifting and encouraging. Regarding this letter about teaching, I would like to say that the teacher should spend time with all students not just those that ask for her advice or help as you suggested. (Re:Give equal time and attention to all participants who ask for it. Some don’t. ) I teach and also attend seminars/workshops and notice that some students are very vocal while others may be too shy or can be overwhelmed by the vocal ones and don’t get the help they need, want and deserve.

From: Karla Pearce — Jun 22, 2011
From: Verna Marie — Jun 22, 2011

Robert I have to take exception to one of your suggestions. No one touches my painting unless it is a study and then I will paint over it, trying to emulate what was done. To me the best workshops were the ones where the teacher painted the same object along with the students and after watching how it was done, we would go to our easels and see if we could apply what was being taught. Sometimes just saying, “your darks aren’t dark enough” or “your ellipse is off” will work but if it is brush stroke and application of paint, I want to see it done and not on my painting.

From: Diane Oser — Jun 22, 2011

This material was so pertinent to what I do, both with art and music. Thank you for affirming my techniques and methods in sharing with others.

From: Victor Huang — Jun 22, 2011

This is a most valuable forum for people who have the inclination to learn. Good going.

From: Virginia Urani — Jun 22, 2011

Five years ago I taught my first weekend class in watercolor for beginners … I call it, Getting Your Feet Wet with Watercolor. I had never taught a class and was very flattered and exciting about teaching. Then, I became very nervous. I planned the class with the idea of teaching people things I would have liked to have known when I began painting concentrating on very basic techniques. My goal was to provide an atmosphere where people would feel free to experiment and have fun while at the same time becoming familiar with the medium. And, under that, I stressed that the most important thing of all was to see the beauty in the world around us. Over the years I have made some modifications … some very structured work with painting colorwheels and value charts but the emphasis on seeing remains. I cannot express the joy I feel when people who have never painted or done any artwork in their lives create beautiful work. And best of all when someone says to me … “I will never ever see the world in the same way again.” It is hard work, but so very rewarding.

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 23, 2011

Formal group workshops are one thing and one-on-one instruction is another. A “teacher” only requires you to know more about a specific subject than the person you are teaching, not to be a world renowned master. It is beneficial for attendees to know your level of expertise and also their own skill (or lack thereof) … nothing is more frustrating than to have to pause instruction to teach basics to a workshop participant while the other more experienced painters stand idle. No, you can’t assign “amateur, intermediate, professional” levels to anyone … but if others are asking a painter to conduct a workshop they apparently are expecting to gain something. Just give them their money’s worth. You’ll learn more about art instruction this first workshop trying to verbalize your knowledge and impart that clearly and concisely so that another may apply the technique. Communication is vital.

From: Anna M. — Jun 23, 2011

I find it interesting that some people choose to take a blanket approach to whether you should or should not paint on a students work. I’d be disappointed to encounter a teacher with little flexibility and no desire to change their approach depending on the medium, personalities, type of lesson etc. For goodness sake, provided it is not watercolour, if you don’t like what the teacher did on your painting, PAINT OVER IT. Teaching is a fluid thing, a creative and adaptive brain accompanied by a firm understanding of your subject and a willingness to work with each person based on their abilities and personality maketh a great teacher. And just maybe, alot of time can be saved if you are not pulling out paper and demoing separately, in my experience a student ALWAYS wants value for money, learn alot in a short time and then go home and recover. I have learnt alot from many workshops and taught some as well. I always hope my teacher will be knowledgeable, talk alot about what they are doing and hopefully be pleasant to be around. But most importantly a much better painter than me. A student who wants to learn will also be able to adapt to their teachers style of teaching if they really want to improve. You don’t get to be an “art rock star” without an open minded approach…

From: Carol Nordman — Jun 23, 2011

Thank you for this excellent article. I always look forward to reading what you write and this one rates one of your best in my opinion!

From: Patricia Solem — Jun 24, 2011

Thank you, Robert, for your letters. They are the high point of my week. I have only taken one workshop. Although the teacher was an excellent watercolorist, she gave almost no instruction and didn’t even walk around to look at our work some of the days. This workshop will only remain memorable because three of my good friends were taking it also and because of the fabulous scenery of Sonoma County, California. I have been teaching watercolor for several years but most students appear and disappear quite quickly. A couple of long term students have improved greatly, for which I feel a lot of satisfaction. I have learned a lot just from the lessons I have prepared. Whether I or the student gains more by the experience, I don’t know.

From: Lori Boast — Jun 24, 2011

This was a great subject and I find the comments enlightening. I have not taught a workshop yet, but plan to. I have taught art one-on-one, with astounding results, so I am encouraged, but as several people point out- not everyone can teach. No one should start teaching without understanding how different people learn, and how to assess whether or not they are learning. In my “real” job, I often give large classes in computer related areas, to basic users. I took a train the trainer course that was invaluable. When I give a class I want to ensure I am imparting valuable information in a way that the student will learn it, add it to their repitiore and then use it in their own work. So one also needs to limit what they are teaching, and have key lessons, and repetition. And most of all, if at all possible- follow-up. Maybe ask the students in a week or so if they are using what they learned and to submit an example for critique- based solely on the lesson. This will also show them you care.

From: Anna — Jun 24, 2011

I took many classes and workshops but I have never had a teacher follow up by calling me later to ask how I am doing. Many did follow up with ads to take more of their classes.

From: Sandy Glass — Jun 24, 2011

If an instructor asks me if he/she can work on my piece, I ask that instructor if he is willing to co-sign the finished painting or sculpture. That usually brings an end to the notion of a collaboration. I really object to this idea and as an instructor, I wouldn’t think of asking permission to demonstrate on a student’s work in progress. I demo on a separate piece of paper if necessary. Love all your other ideas though.s

From: Wendy — Jul 08, 2011

All workshop givers should be registered with Robert and evaluations by their students should be published under each name.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 12, 2011

So much is being made of the fact that an instructor should not work, or more accurately, put hand to a students work. Those of you are all missing the point of instruction. The student in my estimation should attempt to work the piece and if need; after repeated attempts to explain; the teacher should show the student- on his work- how to accomplish the problem they are having, one of two things can happen from here, either the teacher wipes off what they did or leaves sufficient space for the student to continue in the same area. What has to be make clear is this is not a class to make art; it is a class to make mistakes, to rework, not to make finished pieces. Too many students come in for the express purpose of getting the teacher to help them finish a work they started, hopefully, with a little instruction. It is more beneficial for students to make multiple starts – without any finish- in the beginning. A basketball coach takes the ball away from the student and shows him how to toss it. A Chef steps in to show the student how to chop, dice and place garnish, a math teacher marks a students work and corrects mistakes. Almost any profession one can name, the teach will make direct contact with a students work. Why is this such an issue when it comes to making art? The purpose of teaching is to demonstrate even if it happens to be on the students work. When a student reaches a certain level of comprehension of the techniques and methods, direct contact will not be needed. I have cut through more B.S. more quickly simply by making the correct mark on the students work when they don’t seem to be getting it. A picture is worth a thousand words. So those who think a teacher should never touch their work, good luck, for it will take you twice as long to get to the point. Question your reasoning for this attitude, not the teacher who demo’s on your work.

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062411_robert-genn Mary Padgett Workshop The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Still standing

acrylic painting by Virginia Boulay, AB, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Gera Benoit of Burns Lake, BC, Canada, who wrote, “The instruction of art in a workshop needs to be open to process, allowing form to unfold rather than forcing it through a narrow doorway, in my opinion. If a workshop is not going to allow for this diversity, it would be helpful to state this up-front to discourage those who rebel or defend against a ‘truth’ that is not their own.” And also Karen Lynn Ingalls who wrote, “I studied with a number of excellent painters – several were good, in differing ways. One, a noted contemporary painter, was one of the worst teachers I ever had. Another taught me not only to paint, but to see. Ahhhh! Now THAT is a gift. It is one I try to emulate in my own teaching.” And also Sandra Bos of Cookeville, TN, USA, who wrote, “Learning color, value, shape, texture, and line, is only PART of learning to paint. To me, learning to respect Art (with a big ‘A’), falling in love, and showing passion is most important. Talent is wonderful, but if there is no love and passion in the work, it becomes a ‘picture,’ and we have plenty of pictures in Wal-Mart.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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