I can’t count how many workshops I’ve attended over the years. Some good, some bad and some life-changing. Workshops play a huge part in my professional life and I would recommend everyone to invest in on-going training. You wouldn’t have much confidence in a surgeon or a dentist with rusty and out of date skills, would you? Well, it is the same being an artist and teacher. I think of art as a profession like any other, It’s important to keep growing, to keep learning.and to keep skills current.
Going to workshops are part of my professional development. I work these periods into my diary after thinking long and hard about where they will fit in with my teaching and practice. I try to do at least two a year and over time they have become more focussed and intensive, becoming an integral part of my work.
Students will often ask my advice about where they should go and what they should study. Following is a list of important notes that I would consider.
Ask yourself what are you signing up for? DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST.
- Do you know who the tutor is? Look up their work. Do you like what you see? Are there any reviews of previous courses? Ask around and see can you talk to someone who has attended a course with this artist previously.
- Is it the right medium for you? Is the course targetting oils, watercolours, mixed media or all three?
As well as checking the tutor’s credentials, it’s important to suss out the host and the organisation that is holding the workshop.
- Is it professionally run?
- What are the facilities like and what is included – teas, coffees, lunch? Does the school provide materials?
- Is the host or school easily contactable? This is an important one, a lot can be gleaned from the communication with the host. A good host will provide information on accommodation, travel and places of interest and the host should make themselves available for questions.or for any problems encountered. Will the host be available during the course? If there are many students, the tutor should have a right-hand man to deal with incidentals during the day.
This brings me to something that should be considered – the size of the course. A good workshop will have a cap on the number of attendees. I have been on workshops with the same tutor where there were 16 students on one and 31 on another. There was no comparison in workshop effectiveness. Ask how many will be attending and RUN if it’s too big, you won’t get the attention that you’ve paid for.
OK so you’ve done the research and you’ve decided on the course. You have been in contact with the host and had all your questions answered. What next?
Be prepared to focus. During regular, weekly classes one often meets the same like-minded students who eventually become friends.
Workshops are completely different. A group of strangers are thrown together into a studio, often with a variety of abilities. If you’re prepared for this you can design your plan of action.
I always try to be blinkered and zone out from any general chatter and zone into the wise words from the tutor. I also try and pick a spot where I can work without too many distractions such as people passing by, or being too close to the sink, the materials table or the kettle.
Workshops are often an expensive exercise and it’s important not to miss anything. The cost of the classes, accommodation, travel and day to day expenses add up and so it’s best to be in tip-top condition during the time and leave the socialising for the end of the course.
I take copious notes and write them up in the evening again. I’ll also revisit those notes a few weeks later to make sure they’re set in stone. It’s important to note that you aren’t going to remember everything. This is why I return to the same tutors again and again. I always come away with more understanding even if I’ve heard it before.
I’ve been lucky to be able to cherry-pick workshops, they fit in with my lifestyle. I study intensively and then go back to the studio and practice, practice, practice. That is what it’s all about. As my lovely husband once said to me ‘Workshops are not for showing what you can do’.
THINK OF A WORKSHOP AS PRACTICE AND NOT AS A PERFORMANCE.