Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about workshops recently; not only my own, but those I've taken in the past.  I always held the idea that if I could learn one unmastered skill, or have just one good aha moment, it would be worth the cost.  But really being practical during these tight economic times, is one skill in a three day workshop worth the total cost? That's point one!

Thinking back, I wish I could say that every workshop I took made a big difference in my painting skills, but sadly I can't. Most of the time the workshop consisted of a demo, personal anecdotes, a few questions asked by the audience, followed by the artist dobbing some paint on my canvas, saying very little if anything significant or helpful.  In one case, I had to ask the teacher to stop by and give me advice.  I have to admit though that workshops are my kind of fun. Being with other artists and sharing a common interest is rewarding.  Maybe just the experience is justification enough; that's one way to look at it!  That's point two!

So lets take a deeper look into the idea of taking a workshop away from home.

There are some really good master artists offering workshops these days at various locations all across the United States. But be prepared to pay big money for big names. Such workshops can run as much as $600.00 to $1,200.00 for a three day workshop and sometimes more. Then there is the cost of travel, lodging, and food costs to consider in addition to the cost of the workshop bumping the daily cost to nearly a $1,000 per day sometimes. If you can afford it, a workshop with a big name can be lots of fun and you get the bragging rights to say that you have taken art lessons form Master Artist (put your favorite artist's name here). In addition, your get to rub shoulders with the big name and the people that the big name attracts.

With regards to my point two; don't be offended if you don't get one-on-one attention by the workshop presenter! Most, if not all, workshop presenters know very well that many of their attendees are there for the experience and to have a good time (I'll have more to say about that a bit later in this post).  They don't know whom might be a budding new discovery artist and in some cases they may not even care. I have found that if the presenter is a Big name often times there are other big names attending the workshop too, and the big names tend to associate with one another; certainly not the novice painter.  It can be very difficult to break in to the inner circle unless of course you are an attractive young thing.  Sorry if this offends some of the male instructors but it comes from personal observations. The other way to be ignored is to be over a certain age.  Some instructors view you as a "Sunday painter" and are treated as such.  You know what I am talking about so I won't say any more.

So what's my point? A workshop may not be what you need.  First, if you are going to take a workshop know why you want to take the workshop in the first place.  For the novice, this might be to get a good start, to have that great experience, or to rub shoulders with a big name.  If any of these is your goal, fine! But, before you spend lots of dollars on the workshop find out if the artist you admire for their style of work has a book or books and/or DVDs that you can learn from, and then do your homework.  Next, sit down and practice, practice, practice.  You should have your basic skills down pat or you will embarrass yourself!  Until you have gained command of the basic skill sets that allows you to put paint to canvas with some assurance you are wasting your time and money with most workshops. Better still, find a good local artist and teacher that will critique your work and offer advice.  And better yet, find a local teacher that you can take classes from on a weekly basis.  With all the great books and instructional DVDs available, you can master quite a few skills in the privacy of your own studio. And nothing is better than long term learning with a good instructor for real progress.

At this point you might be wondering why I am giving this advice since it would seem I am shooting myself in my own foot.  Here's the honest truth.  I gave my first workshop (after teaching weekly classes for years) this summer and I was really excited about giving my students the best instruction I could.  As I planned out the five days, I asked a couple of seasoned instructors for their advice.  And guess what? Their advice was don't go to all that work and trouble.  Just give them an experience that is entertaining, and paint a little on their canvas and they will be happy.  They won't use what you give them anyway when they get back home, I was told.  Really?  That's not my style and never has been as a professional educator for more than 25 years.  Needless to say, I gave it all I had and it was a success (and I was exhausted too). 

So my advice, if I may, is to ask around before signing up for any workshop.  Check with others whom you know who have taken from this teacher or that to see if the workshop is going to give you what you are wanting.  Do your research; read everything you can find about the artist and their style of painting, and then see if they offer something more than just workshops. 

Weekly classes as I said earlier is the best way to go since it gives you time in between to let the information soak in and time to practice at home.  I'm posting here a painting from one of my weekly students who began her study back in February.  She has been coming regularly and works very hard.  Great work Shayna!

Why did I write this?  I have wanted to take a workshop to strengthen my portrait skills from an instructor that would elevate me to the next level.  Each time I start to register all of the above ideas have stopped me.  So, I have decided to take my own advise; that is to practice, read, watch DVDs, and practice, practice, practice. And I mean every day; not just when I feel inspired!  No still life painting for me has taken place for many weeks now.  And here is some of the results --- one of four portraits that I have completed.  And when I am ready I will look for an artist with whom I can study not for a weekend, but for weeks and months --- just as the Old Masters did with their inspirational master artist teachers.

I would like to hear about your experiences (no instructor names please) with workshops.  If you disagree, please let me know.  I would like to be convinced otherwise.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Yesterday's post with the image of the portrait I was working on was met with very positive comments.  Today I finished it and am pleased.  The hair was a challenge due to the fuzziness of the curls and the light that glowed from behind.  My vision for the painting was to capture the light in the hair and to give a light airy magical feel like a fairytale princess.    Here is a close up and the finished piece.  My efforts now will be to spend more time on the figure and the portrait.

By the way, this was painted on a panel which I haven't used for a few years.  I don't know why I got away from using this smooth surface. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

So What?

This week as usual, I read my semi-weekly newsletter "Painter's Keys from Robert Genn.  This one was entitled--So What?  Boy did it hit the mark for me.  A writer asked Robert how to elevate their work beyond the "so what" level.  She stated she could draw and paint well but she knew there had to be something more.  Robert said that in the literary and theatrical world they had a French term deus ex machina which means "God from the  machine"  or roughly translated, "God made it happen."  This device is used to solve an unsolvable problem or when an author paints himself into a corner.

Here is the gem of advice.  "Ask yourself what extraordinary thing could be made to happen in your picture.  Examples would be, among many things, a burst of light or an unlikely inclusion.  You need to think of something just a bit magical.  An engagement of imagination brings a shot of emotion, drama or surprise."   Wow, did that make me see things in a new way.  It gave me permission to be a little unorthodox.  Thank you Robert Glenn.  To read this newsletter just click here.
My still life paintings from now on will be influenced by the "so what?" question.

This week I decided to paint a portrait just for the fun of it.  A few months back a friend of mine posted a picture of her daughter on Facebook that just captured my imagination.  Her pensive look and flowing golden hair was right out of a fairytale.   After getting permission to paint her using the photo, I finally got around to put image to canvas.  It's not finished but I'm off to a good start (I think).  Her hair is light and golden yellow but with the light coming from the top, it glows with an angelic softness. 

I've finished the top portion of the hair but the lower part is fine curly, almost fuzzy, ringlets.  The challenge is to capture that softness without breaking up the lights and darks and loosing the form.  There is a reddish cast to the yellow ochre and gray green cascade of strands so I laid in the darks first.  Tomorrow I will pull out the lights where necessary to the right of the ear and below.  Her entire left should is covered with soft, fuzzy, single strands.  Not sure how to tackle this just yet.  I am keeping the background high key and light filled.  When finished, I will post a better image.  Wish me luck!
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