Ever a story... waiting to be told

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Fine Art of Taking A Workshop

Study of a new skin tone palette, using the subject from my graphite piece 
For a long time, I've had a mental block about drawing people's faces with colored pencil, because I've never been happy with how my skin tones look. When I saw that Dean Rogers was presenting a 3-day workshop last weekend, I decided to go. I wanted to learn his secrets for creating beautiful, glowing skin tones. 
1. Choose Your Workshops Wisely
The best advice I ever got from a workshop was, "Don't take too many workshops." I think an artist can actually hinder their own progress by trying to do too many new and different techniques. New and different doesn't always mean it's better for you.  I only go to workshops when there is a specific subject that I really want to know more about. I wait for the need to arise first, and then I keep my eyes open for a workshop that might address that need. 
2. Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
I like to go to workshops that require me to drive a long distance and stay more than one day, because those are the times when my mind becomes totally immersed in the purpose of the trip. During the workshop, I try to remain open to trying every new technique. Dean had a very different approach for applying the layers of color: his technique was much faster and produced beautiful effects more quickly than I ever could. He was a good instructor, and very generous about sharing all his tips and tricks with the group. For those three days, I put aside my usual way of doing things and tried to emulate everything that he demonstrated. 
3. Don't Expect To Bring Home A Finished Piece Of Art
(A workshop is not Arts-n-Craft camp)
At a really good workshop, the instructor will spend long periods of time demonstrating his technique while the group gathers around to watch. That's what Dean did for most of the third day. Some of the people eventually started to drift away, back to their own tables to work on their projects, instead of watching the demonstration. I understood their creative urge to do that... but I reminded myself that I only had access to this artists' expertise for a short time, and I wanted to garner every bit of information that I possibly could from him. I watched closely, I snapped pictures, I asked questions, and took notes.
I listened to the conversations of other artists around me, too. I wanted to go back home with a wealth of ideas; it didn't matter that I had very little time to produce any real artwork of my own. When I did get back to my table, I spent the time applying Dean's techniques to one of my own drawings that I had brought with me.
4. Be A Learner. 
One of the side effects of attending a workshop, is that it sets your mind to thinking about all kinds of ideas, beyond the specific content of the workshop. Because of the focused environment and the creative experiences in the workshop, I found that all kinds of thoughts and inspirations were coming together in ways that they never had before. At the end of the day, I always retreated to my hotel room and went through my notes and processed what I had learned, to think about how I might improve my own art when I got back home.
Now that I AM back home, I'm working on my streetscape again,  and I find that I'm working just a little bit differently than I was before the workshop. I feel a little bit stronger as an artist in general, and MUCH more confident about rendering skin tones if and when the time comes. I'm really eager to try a portrait project very soon!
What is your own approach to the world of workshops?


  1. Good advice, sounds like a good workshop. There aren't many workshops here in Sicily, if any at all, but perhaps one day I'll splash out on one of the numerous ones they do in the North of Italy. I would have to choose it well and treat it as an investment in myself and I certainly wouldn't want to take away a completed painting, that looked just like the instructor's... just lots of new skills and ideas!

  2. I do not think I've ever taken an art workshop! I like your approach though and would like to think I would do exactly the same as you did. So glad you got so much from this particular workshop, Katherine. I think it would have been a great one!!

    1. Sherry, you would love it. The whole atmosphere of being surrounded by other people who share your creative spirit, and all the ideas and inspirations that flow... I'll keep my eyes open for something in your area!

  3. I think we have the same approach, Katherine. When 1st learning, it's fun to take a lot of workshops to learn various techniques, but there comes a time when you want your work to reflect you and not pieces of 20 different artists :). Now, I would say there are only 2-3 artists out there I would travel to for a workshop. I'll be waiting to see your next portrait attempt and hope it goes smoothly for you.

  4. Sounds like you went into this workshop with the best student attitude! It's easy to get into taking too many workshops for the fun, the travel, the meeting new artists, etc., and forget why you are there - to soak up that artist's knowledge.

  5. What is a good resource to find out about artist workshops? For instance, where did you find out about this one? Thanks!

    1. Sarah, I found this workshop through an email newsletter from the art center that hosted the workshop. I subscribe to mailing lists of several art centers and art academies, and galleries, to find out about shows and workshops that might appeal to me.

  6. This is great advice Katherine! I like the idea of looking for a workshop once you have worked out a need instead of just signing up for something random. I look forward to seeing your portrait work!!

  7. Katherine, this is not about workshops. Once on here I started to scroll down and slowly take in the wonder of all your work. Reading most of the posts that went with them, all of your entries into shows and your awards.
    I can only say this from my heart. You are an artist that I admire. Your paintings are beyond some of the best I've seen.
    Your work is a joy to see. It's truly a gift that you have. May you continue on this path, knowing you make people smile. Barbra Joan

  8. Wow Katherine - such wonderful advice. I have never had the privilege to attend a workshop but now because of your great tips and thoughts when the opportunity arises I will follow in your footsteps. I think along with all you said that not only in workshops but in studying books with demos, etc. one needs to use restraint because it is hard to focus on just what is important to you at the time...so I will give this more thought too. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Hope you have a beautiful week-end.

  9. Katherine, excellent advice. I'm sure you have learned so much that you will be able to use in your future paintings. BTW I saw "Sanguine" at the CAC on Wed. - it's beautiful, so detailed. I didn't put anything into that show.

  10. My approach is very similar to yours. I watch every demo too, as that is what I am there for and have paid for, and pick little nuggets from each workshop I attend to use in my own work. Really interesting post and thank you for sharing your thoughts

  11. Great advice Katherine and I fully subscribe to all the points you make! And as you pointed out, we really only get as much as we put in and it really is a talent to find the right teacher and to be a good student :) thanks for a great post !

  12. I completely agree with your philosophy and wish more workshop attendees would think the same way. As an artist who gives workshops I find that many attendees simply go to every workshop they can, a bit of a shotgun effect, to hope they find something they like.

    There are two types of workshop attendees that I've found: The first want to be entertained and paint; the second want to learn. Unfortunately, the first can often be the larger numbers in the group.

    Production of a finished piece is often high on their wish list too, instead of a learning experience. The urge to paint or draw and do so well right away is challenging to deal with and perhaps a reflection of today's 'instant gratification' society.

    I agree that artists should experiment with a variety of techniques but a style and interest in a subject should emerge and the goal would be to become as proficient in that technique/medium/subject as one could by being selective about what workshops to attend to further knowledge.

  13. Well said Katherine. I have been to just 4 workshops but they were carefully selected because I admired the work produced by the artists (which doesn't mean they automatically make good teachers of course). At a Mike Sibley (graphite) 3 day course I was amazed how many people expected him to critique and discuss work they'd taken along, rather than letting him get on with his demonstrations ... but he dealt professionally with them all and I learned a lot from him

  14. I love how the brickwork is coming along Katherine. I'm very drawn to earthy terracotta colours in architecture.
    I have only been to a few workshops and those have been with artists whose work I admire enormously and who work in a style that resonates with what I am aspiring to achieve in my own work.
    I hope what you brought away from your workshop enables to you nail the skin tones you are after! I love seeing the progress shots of this piece!

  15. Hey K!

    The streetscape is so perfectly nostalgic! As usual, the details are fabulous. You are so talented at depicting architecture in such a way that it captures all of its charm and endearing quirks. Your buildings have personality!!!

    You will do some great work with the knowledge you gained at the skin tones workshop and I look forward to seeing it!

    "Souvenirs" went to Florida for Spring break? COOL!

  16. Your storefronts are wonderful!
    I work completely differently and in oils. My recently posted storefront is an example.
    As for workshops. I've taken many but you are right in your observations on the reasons why people take the workshop and the level of teaching skills an artist may have. Not all are good teachers. The best workshop teacher I've ever met is Carol Marine. She is thorough and knowledgeable. A total professional.

  17. I would love it if my area HAD more artists workshops! There are definitely art classes that can be taken but they are rather pricey and discerning whether it is worth the price is sort of hard. They are also generally during the day when normal people have to work. Haha! I would love to take a class on more classic styles of portrait painting as my own style is more impressionistic. I would also love to take a class on metalsmithing as I think that it would add a lot to my jewelry. Hopefully I'll get a class or workshop in soon and then I'll let you know all about my experience! :)