April 26

Workshop Woes


This past weekend I taught a workshop. And whether you are teaching one or attending one, I have found that there are 3 things that must be tackled head-on….

Number one. The easel. I love my French easel. I got it from an estate sale where another artist had loved it and broke it in first. But, really? Could this not be tougher to set up? There is no graceful way to unfold, unclip, slid, unscrew, tighten, snap, unlock, rescrew, adjust, twirl, stretch, clamp, measure and tighten again….and tighten again. All the while knowing that other artists are trying hard not to stare while secretly fearing tackling their own French easels. But I summon up my courage, and in my head I yell in my best pirate voice, ”Avar, ye Kraken! I fear ye not!” then proceed to wrangle my easel into submission.


Number two. Stuff. George Carlin has the best comedic routine about lugging around all of our “stuff. “ And we pastellists have a way of collecting a lot of stuff! What to bring? What to bring? We can’t bring all our stuff – just what we think we will need- which is most of our stuff. I can’t give much advice here- I am just as indecisive as the next artist. Luckily, I have a travel box and so whatever pastels fit- goes. (and all of this stuff too….)


Number three. Fear. Yep. We artists that teach workshops have a good dose of that to overcome too. I remember a demo I did for an art group not that long ago. I was talking a lot (as I tend to do) and I remember looking at my painting at the mid-point and realizing that the face was off- the ear was way too far away from the correct position, and the shape of his head was, well, not good. I swear I broke out in a cold sweat and thought I was having my first hot flash. Scary! But I kept talking and kept chanting in my head, “never let them see you sweat, never let them see you sweat….” Not one of my best moments. I think I said something like “See? This portrait thing is hard!”

So, fear can be very strong in a workshop atmosphere. I have had artists ask me to put them in a corner where no one could look at their work while they were working, which I am happy to accommodate as best I can. I stopped doing “critiques” at the end of my workshop too. I know that is a typical thing, but I figure attendees have already gotten a lot of feedback from me by that point, so why put them on display? And no matter what you say, it can feel like THEY are on display, not just their work.

I was lucky enough to attend the very last workshop that master portrait artist Daniel Greene taught two summers ago. Talk about fear! He is the ultimate master painter, and known to be very honest in his feedback. Working in the barn, we would hear the footsteps coming for us and we trembled at our easels. But, a good dose of honesty is what is needed sometimes! Like bitter medicine. Workshops are work. No doubt. A whole room of artists working to get better? Tackling their fears and equipment together?

Nothing better than that.






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