Artists of all experience and skill level admire the abilities of more successful painters and want to learn from them, even if its only through an instructional video. If a great artist is offering a workshop near them, there is an even better incentive to go and learn face-to-face. But after its over, and you are making the drive home, you will inevitably face the question, was it worth it?
Last Saturday I drove a few hours to Nashville, TN to attend the one-day workshop offered by artist and instructor, Roger Dale Brown. The emphasis of this short class was to learn how to develop a large studio painting from references acquired in the field including painted field sketches, videos, photos, and written notes. Roger is a very successful painter who knows what he is doing, and knows how to explain it. I believe that is a key characteristic of a good workshop teacher and Roger fills the bill. As the student watches the experienced teacher deftly mix paint then spread it on the canvas with confidence, their minds are reverberating with a continual question “why?” Why did you choose that brush, that color, that value? Why did you wait to add that color? Why did you start the block in with that color only to add its compliment later with broad brush strokes? The instructor who can answer those questions (and many more) in a way that students can understand, is the one who is transferring his skill as well as his enthusiasm.
A good location is essential for a learning environment to be cultivated. Roger’s workshop was hosted at an artist’s studio designed for classes in a renovated warehouse. There was plenty of space for students to spread out comfortably, good lighting (not natural, unfortunately, but very adequate), accessible food and lavatory facilities, and comfortable furniture for breaks. This facility had the additional benefit of extra studio easels, side tables, chairs, and moveable lighting, all of which the students took advantage of.
I really appreciated that Roger’s workshop had a well defined objective. The students knew what they could walk away with before the first session started. Roger’s demo also had a step-by-step approach that was sharply focused on the workshop objective which made the student painting session in the afternoon much more productive.
The attendance at this workshop was not as high as his usual sessions and I appreciated that Roger was available often for help and discussion of the student work. He didn’t just leave you alone or show up only once or twice during your painting time. He was right there moving from easel to easel with questions, answers, and encouragement. After all, isn’t that what you are paying for?
What did you learn from the workshop that you can apply the next time you paint? I’ve been to some sessions where you ask yourself after 3 days of watching a very mediocre instructor ramble on about his ambitions, did I really learn anything new? Did I just pick up a few neat tips or did I learn something fundamental to good art that I can apply right away? If the instructor wowed you with his demo skills, you might ask yourself, was this worth it just to watch a great artist paint, or did he help me become better with a brush?
Now I won’t ignore the fact that many artists have other objectives for attending workshops than those I have offered here. Maybe you merely want to network, build art relationships, or just meet the instructor and develop a better relationship with them. You could be attending to learn more about good materials or just to practice with other like-minded people. No matter what your motive, your expectations will determine what you get out of the event and you need to have a clear view before you go of how to measure success.
Lets not forget that having a good time can be a worthwhile reason to go and that can be easily experienced with a great group of friends, both old and new. Happy painting.