Friday, 28 October 2011


Workshop participants, in a Guernsey garden

I did say I would hop about a little in this blog, it is not meant to be an art instruction "course" of any kind....and the word "course" brings me to the thought that many of you might, at some time or other, be planning to attend a workshop with an instructor.   

 One (or two+) day workshops are great fun, but are rather different to longer painting holidays, which I will look at another time, since a painting holiday can be more relaxed, with the emphasis on the word "holiday".  A workshop is quite a different matter, and requires a certain amount of preparation - mentally as well as physically!   Here are some of my thoughts, based not only on my experience as a tutor, but also as a participant.


 1. Think a little about what you would like to achieve during the workshop. It may be that you don't really mind, and are happy just to go along and accept whatever happens.  But...if you know you are "stuck", perhaps, in certain ways, you could use the workshop to help you shift a little. 

2. Take your sketchbook with you…useful to show your instructor what you are capable of, and useful for notes in the back. 

3. Take one or two paintings you have done, if you have any, but don’t be upset if the instructor does not have time to see them…for instance, on a one day workshop, with lots of participants, it just may not be possible.

4.  If it is an outdoor session , make sure you are well equipped for the outdoors. Not just art materials – that is a given, and ( hopefully) a good instructor will give you a list of what to bring (if not, you could ask) - but do think about the weather - it is your responsibility, not the instructor's.  If weather is likely to be hot, take a hat, sun cream and insect repellent. For cold weather, warm hat, warm boots with thick soles (cold creeps up your legs from thinly-soled boots or shoes) and perhaps fingerless gloves. A warm scarf is good, particularly if it is windy. And always take a waterproof coat or jacket, no matter what season! 

5. Take a large plastic bag…the type you might be given by the dry cleaners is very useful, to cover up a painting AND board, at the end of the day. It can also double-up as an apron, if you forget that!

6. Take a pack or two of moist hand wipes.

7. Take drinking water, there may not be a nearby cafe when you are struck with thirst.

8. An apron can be useful.

9. If you think you may be working outside, and know you may need to sit to work, do take a folding painting seat…it may not be possible for the instructor to provide one.  If you are not particularly strong, then instead of carting a bag of kit around,  a bag on wheels is very useful too.  I use one all the time, even if it does make me look like I am off to the supermarket.  Might not be "cool", but it IS practical!

10.  Try out any new equipment or art materials you have purchased, to familiarise yourself with it/them.

11. If you have problems at home…try to leave them at home! I have heard students pour their hearts out to others about their horrible husband/rotten wife/financial difficulties/chronic illnesses – and although people might well be sympathetic, they actually need all their energies for the workshop, not for your issues. 

an unusual watercolour demo!


1. IT IS VITAL THAT YOU MAKE NOTES (ideally in the back of your sketchbook, so you will never lose them). You cannot possibly remember all you will hear from your instructor

2. As the instructor moves around the room, LISTEN to what is being said to other students. It may well apply to your work too.

3. MAKE A LIST of things which occur to you as you work. Then, when the instructor comes to you, you can ask about those things.

4. BE CONSIDERATE.  For instance, do not spray fixative in enclosed spaces, and try to contain your materials to your immediate vicinity rather than spread out too far, particularly in a crowded room.

5. BE ON TIME. Nothing worse for the class than waiting around for someone who is late, or takes for ever to pack up when it is time to move to a new location. If you do arrive late, and the class or demo has started, you have no right to complain or demand a re-run, even if you feel you have paid the full fee and are therefore entitled! (I have seen this happen!)

6. You may well feel nervous and apprehensive. Your fellow students are probably feeling the same way even if they don’t appear to be! Even a more experienced painter may feel apprehensive at a workshop. It is useful to remember that at every level, artists have their own demons to contend with and are very rarely self-satisfied!  So... Never compare your work to your neighbour’s…after all, they may have been painting far longer than you have.  You should only ever compare your work to work you were doing, say, a year ago...THAT is the best reflection of your progress.

7. REDUCE YOUR EXPECTATIONS.   The nerves, the unfamiliar surroundings, the problems of being away from the comforts of home, will all play a part. Your work may not be even as good as the work you do at home. Don’t worry about this…it is quite normal, and what you learn during a workshop will often show in your work at a later date. It's frustrating, I know, but this is often the way it works, even for more experienced painters.

8. Be OPEN-MINDED and ready to try something new. You are there to learn, so take a leap of faith and try whatever is suggested, even if it doesn't appeal to you. If it doesn’t work for you – so be it – it is just as useful to find out what does not work for you, as what does!

9. Accept criticism of your work with good grace;   any criticism you receive hopefully will be constructive, it will help you grow as an artist. Have a good think about what the instructor has said, if it seemed adverse to you. Try to examine your work again calmly, and see it through new eyes.

10.CONCENTRATE QUIETLY on your work, rather than chat away constantly to your neighbour. They may be too polite to ask you to stop talking – but they may actually want to concentrate without any such distractions. Chattering in a class can be quite disturbing for everyone, actually. Save it up for the breaks!

A workshop session can be really rewarding -  challenging -  exciting - enlightening - action-packed - but it can also be exhausting, overwhelming, frustrating, sometimes even downright upsetting - you need to be mentally prepared for anything.  You may go home filled with new ideas and renewed vigour and enthusiasm, or there is a small chance you may go home feeling rather shattered and despondent - it can happen.  BUT it is a risk worth taking - the chances are really good that you will have had the most marvellous, eye-opening experience -  suddenly new doors may have opened for you.  Your notes will prove useful in the days and years to come, and the experience will certainly have enriched your life.


  1. I really appreciate your posts. Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise.

  2. Really excellent summary. Thank you.

  3. Hi Jackie, Great advice, you really put a lot into your blog posts. Thank you for sharing it is kind of you to do so.

  4. A really excellent post Jackie - I've featured it in this week's "who's made a mark" and am also adding it into my website about Art Holidays

    Some of the points you raise makes me think you should also write one for people contemplating becoming a tutor - about all the things they are likely to encounter and how best to deal with them!

  5. thanks everyone, I am really glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Hi Jackie
    I really appreciated this post and will put it on the wall of my studio for students to see and pray we have a quieter classroom!!
    Best wishes
    Ann Swan

  7. Great tips for a workshop or even a local paint-out. They're all good.

    The one thing about fixative that I'd like to mention is there's an exception - SpectraFix casein fixative is the only one I know of that'd be fine for using in an enclosed space or a group. It's in a mister rather than an aerosol can, so there aren't any aerosol vapors. Either in the premixed form or concentrate mixed with vodka or Everclear (any strong white liquor), spraying it produces a faint pleasant odor about as if you just poured a vodka cocktail.

    The difference is striking. When I'm using it in my room, if I use any of the spray fixatives my cat verbally complains and slinks out of the way, he'll leave the room if he can till the odor's gone. When I use the SpectraFix, he ignores it or at most just looks up to see what I'm doing. Knowing his sense of smell is stronger than mine, I trust his judgment - if something doesn't bother the cat it's not as likely to bother my friends either.

    If you have to fly to get to the workshop, the other cool thing is that you can bring the concentrate and empty misting bottle, then just get some vodka locally to prepare it before heading out.

  8. I also have a mouth atomizer to use liquid fixative but haven't tried it yet to see if this too is less obnoxious than aerosol can fixatives. It might be another useful alternative. Just don't inhale while you're using the mouthpiece, you don't want to fix your sinuses!


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