Workshop workshop


Dear Artist,

The most exciting thing about giving a workshop, I’ve found, is the kindling of ideas on how to do it better next time. Inspiration from other artists has informed my work and approaches. It’s easy to forget, working in our studios day after day, about the silent and knowing spirit that exists among lifelong learners.


“Edna Smith in a Japanese Wrap”
oil on canvas ca.1913
by Robert Henri (1865 – 1929)

The most endearing lesson I learned from taking a workshop is how much there is to learn. A wealth of skill and knowledge is out there in other artists who have been seasoned by their muses and, again, by other artists. Joseph Addison said, “What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul.”

Workshopping — both giving and taking — inspires skill-building, connectivity and personal evolution for artists of all styles, professional levels and abilities.  Where solo development is often the key thrust with residencies, a workshop can be an efficient boost to the development of skills among peers. And a workshop getaway can renew passion in a matter of hours or days. Your revolution awaits.

Here are a few ideas if you’re thinking of giving a workshop:


“Snow in New York”
oil on canvas 1902
by Robert Henri

Share your unique, honed skills and inspirations — this is good and expected.

Allocate your resources of creativity — some workshoppers will be shy, some demanding. Listen and consider your response. As an instructor, your words are being held high.

Advise gently — and learn — as you watch your now shared personalized systems being incorporated into the work of others. “The challenge is to work with the artist in the direction he or she is going, at the same time introducing potential windows,” said Dad.

Here are a few ideas if you’re thinking of taking a workshop:

Include a change of scenery — new sights, new eyes, new work.


“O’Malley Home, Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland” 1913
oil painting by Robert Henri

Allow yourself to be pushed, or push yourself to a better, different way of working.

Do research on your instructor. Be prepared.

Commit to a period of focused time. Watch, listen and don’t be afraid to give it a try.

Accept that there may be some destruction of old habits in the process. My dad told me, “We all stand on each other’s shoulders. It’s what’s done later, in private, that counts.”


“Portrait of John Butler Yeats”
oil painting 1909
by Robert Henri

Trust in a future treasury of new ideas.



PS: “Art is, after all, only a trace — like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness.” (Robert Henri)

“I am not a teacher but an awakener.” (Robert Frost)

Esoterica: Our Painter’s Keys Workshop Calendar reaches tens of thousands of artists all over the world. It has a directory organized chronologically, and with each new letter a current workshop is featured. Artist instructors list workshops offered in Tuscany, Sedona, Maine, Mexico, Scotland, and many other places, in every type of painting media and style. Instructors tell us that the Calendar is what helps them find qualified students. Our worldwide community ebbs and flows with the gentle and fiery dream to improve and expand. To view upcoming workshops or to list, you can go here.

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“To know in order to do: such has been my thought.” (Gustave Courbet)



  1. Thank you again for an inspiring and informative post. The images are great….love Robert Henri (who doesn’t), and it is a good reminder to keep yourself open and let go, especially when taking a workshop. It is in large part what you are there for. Step out of your box. In appreciation, Jill

  2. Thank you for the link to your dad’s quotes as it brings me back to those wonderful workshops I was able to experience with you and your dad. I also found that in the silence of watching the instructors much is learned and their quotes can be as eternal as their art. Thank you for a good letter Sara. Here is your dad’s quote I smiled at today: “Once as I sat painting, I became aware of a man’s face hovering near me, moving closer and closer to the panel I was working on. When he spoke he said, ‘That is a fantastic brush!’ (Robert Genn)”

  3. Risk-taking is never easy but always explodes rock for new light and new roads. Workshops are perfect for happily taking risks, – doing it differently, looking from a different angle, trying this, or sliding out of a same old stuck style.
    A workshop with Robert Henri might have inspired us to avoid perseverating on technique, but rather to take risks to follow the spirit of a thing.

  4. Jan Christie on

    One of my early and most favourite workshops was with Phil Chadwick at the Southampton Art School in Ontario several years ago. Still remember it! Thank you, Phil!

  5. Thanks for adding the Irish scene. I don’t think I’d have picked it as being by Henri. There is always something new, even if it is old.

  6. Imagine my great surprise and delight to be remembered by Jan after 8 years or so. Jan had this red art bag that also served as a seat – brilliant. Every workshop was different as I fed off the energy of the participants – going in the direction they needed or wanted to go. We all learn something every day… Solon, a Greek philosopher. Thank you Jan

  7. Pure gold. Thank you for another inspiring letter. I’ve been painting all my life and at 39 years of age I’m about to give my first workshop on still life painting. I’m both excited and nervous. This letter couldn’t have come at a better time!

  8. Thanks for that Sara. I have to say that in all the years I have taught workshops, I find I learn from my students every time. Either I learn something about painting, something about teaching painting, something about gear (students are full of innovation and ideas) or something about people.

    Mostly, it’s a great way to pay forward the mentoring and generosity I have received.

    I make a point of attending workshops every so often as a means of professional development, and also as a means of regaining “beginners mind”. I allow myself to experience frustration, pressure, bewilderment. I suspect it makes room for me to become not only a better painter, but a better teacher.

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