Friday, August 23, 2013

Things I Learn from Teaching Workshops

I like to look at every experience as an opportunity to learn something new, even when I'm the teacher! It keeps my eyes open to new ways of seeing and my mind thinking about new ways to do things. Last week I taught another workshop on painting animals. Since it was a week-long class I decided to start with a drawing lesson first. I truly believe that you can't be a good painter until you've mastered drawing. Many people take one of my classes and come in with no drawing experience, and they're able to turn out some nice generic landscapes. However, to actually learn and understand how to model three dimensional objects drawing skills are a must.

We started with a cat and learned an easy way to get proportions right by using one standard unit of measure, in this instance the distance from the outside of the cat's left eye to the outside of it's right eye. Then we used that measurement to judge the proportions of everything else when we put our marks down. Even the 12 year olds (the youngest I allowed in the class) seemed to understand this.

We started our acrylic paintings the next day. Everyone tried to paint my little Gold Retriever puppy with the rose, and most of them were successful. A few students wanted to branch out on their own projects and that was OK with me too.

Two people in the class had been creating art for many, many years and to my great surprise these students were the slowest to grasp the concepts I was teaching. I do not think this was a case of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. I've never believed that anyway. Dogs are smart and they can learn a new trick at any age. What I do believe is that these artists had been doing things in a different way for so many years that they actually BLINDED themselves to the possibility of doing it another way. At some point in their artistic journey their minds had become closed to the possibilities. I don't believe this was intentional. I think it happens whenever you become too focused on the process instead of the results. I have noticed that a lot of artists can tell me what they want to do: paint looser, forget the detail etc.. I'm not sure these artists have every tried to do this on their own though. They wait for someone to come along and SHOW them how, when they should be figuring out on their own how to achieve this, putting in some practice time and then ironing out the details at a workshop. Instead they expect to master the whole concept in one week. It can't be done.

On the other hand, the students who had no idea how to proceed were able to follow along more easily as they had no preconceptions about HOW to achieve the result they wanted. I've included a few pictures of the participants and some of the student's work here. It was an acrylic painting class but I admit to taking my dog home and doctoring him up with my oil paints. :)

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