Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Workshops: A Student's View


Last month I posted my top 5 tips for instructors on both planning for and execution of an art workshop. In response, I received an email from an artist who shared with me her own list of tips from the perspective of a student. I think her thoughts are right on target and have included them below. I believe they could be helpful to many instructors in our community. Any resemblance to a workshop instructor that you have had may be purely coincidental. Or not.

1. Avoid extended introductions. Class time is usually limited and it should not be used to "get to know each other." At retreats, people can get to know each other at meals and the bar. Classes should be - primarily - for instruction.

2. Avoid padded supply lists. An oversized supply list is a safety net for the teacher, but can be a hardship financially and physically for the participants. Try to limit lists, or perhaps provide a "bare bones" list and then some suggestions for additional "niceties." And do not list items by specific manufacturers unless they are absolutely necessary. Instead, provide the item type and then share info about your own likes.

3. Make sure that the workshop content reflects the pre-workshop description. Yes -- I have taken workshops with artists who presented a totality different project or technique from the one offered.

4. Attitude. The teacher's first job is to generate enthusiasm or excitement for the subject. I think I believe that an enthusiastic teacher with lesser skills can often outshine the skilled teacher who is "just there." On this topic...

-----Do not demonstrate boredom.
-----Do not use workshop time to work on your own projects.
-----Do not present a "live" book or video. By this I mean that a workshop should be largely a unique entity and not just a "phone it in" presentation of the instructor's videos or book.
-----Avoid editing the content/demonstration when there are a number of "groupies" present. They may have heard the basics before , but the newbies deserve the full course.

5. The Delicate Dance. Instructors are charged with a dual task: to present/protect their own style/vision and to foster/nurture individual expression in their students. Not an easy task, but when it is done well, it is a source of creative excitement. I think it is what we are seeking when we sign-up for workshops and retreats.

Thoughts? Opinions? Additional tips?

14 comments:

Jo Murray said...

Well said...I couldn't agree more. I've been to workshops where the supply list was huge, and most of it remained unused.

pattisokol said...

I agree completely. I really don't like to carry a lot of supplies with me. Basics are better. Even better to have supplies available as I always like experimenting with new things and new techniques.

Darlene Campbell said...

Have not been to any "Live" workshops yet but I could understand the scope of any of these happening. This is a good and grounded list obviously from an experienced student.If I were an instructor this would be valuable info to keep in mind.

Quinn said...

I would add that an instructor should not play music or allow a participant to choose music that all must listen to. Taking a vote will simply marginalize those students who can't work with music. Earphones solve the problem for music lovers.

Even when a student asks for help, it's better to offer suggestions than take over and alter a student's work.

It's tempting to "fix" something, but a student comes to learn, and that often happens through mistakes they can see themselves.

Kelly Kilmer said...

"Do not use workshop time to work on your own projects."

Agreed with all of the suggestions but had to comment on this one. Some students don't realize that some teachers teach best when they work along WITH the students. It might look like they're working on their own work but they're using class time to teach and demonstrate techniques and ideas so that the students can see and understand their process. It works far better than pointing to something finished and saying, "Make something like this." It also is an excellent opportunity to learn not only how someone processes the steps in their work but also works through problems.

elle said...

oooh, such a great post. I agree. I'd add to both teachers and students, extend grace. Perfect teacher, perfect class, AND perfect student is a hard to find combination! ;~)

donnaj said...

Well said. hate long supply lists where you don't use/need 1/2 of it. On the other hand, don't like when they say they'll provide and don't. Really don't like the "introduce yourself, tell something" time suck either~i'm there for a class :) one thing you left off-do NOT use class time to socialize with people that aren't in class who drop by~lack of respect to those that paid to learn something. (seen it happen)

PocketSize said...

LoL that's my mom and me on the right side of that picture, and the look on my mom's face cracks me up...

Anyway, with that out of the way, I love this list. Especially item 2. Long supply lists are even worse when you're at a retreat taking multiple classes, but they're a problem for me anytime. First I have to break my back carrying a bag that weighs as much as I do, then I have to stash it somewhere that's out of the way but still accessible in the class space. And everybody's got the same massive amount of STUFF to stash, and we trip over each other's bags, rolling carry-ons, crates, etc. To be honest, the one thing I like about a certain big-name designer/instructor's classes is that he tells you to bring nothing, and everything you need is provided. Of course, with a whole company behind him, he has the luxury of being able to do that, and it limits what you have available for use. But it's nice to not have to bring anything.

The only thing I would add to the list is that it is better to teach a technique than a project, or at least teach a project that relies more on the techniques than the design. The reason there's only one thing I like about the aforementioned big-name instructor's classes is that you leave with the same thing everybody else has, just maybe with some different colors and slightly different placement of a few elements. What's awesome about your classes and about Michelle Ward's classes is that the project being taught is just a vehicle to show the techniques, and the parameters are so open that everyone's looks different. Even the more structured classes like I Witness, while they have the same prompts, allow enough room to use our own materials and make our own creative choices about motifs and composition.

Whoo, that was long, sorry, I didn't realize I had so much to say!

Anne Marie - Toronto said...

I give my students permission to make mistakes! I tell them that's the best way to learn. I also let them know that there are no rules in my class.

oneartistjournal.com said...

BRILLIANT!! True, true, and true and true and true all the way...
Orly

Parabolic Muse said...

I like this list for the most part. But I do feel the supply list issue can be improved upon. I think someone who has done the project or technique enough times should know exactly how likely we are to use particular supplies, and which ones are not really necessary for a beginner. I have always wondered if certain supplies on a list are required or optional, and I think it's okay to list every optional supply and let the student decide how much to bring.

I agree with what Quinn said about music. Luckily, most in person classes I've taken were not accompanied with music, but when they are, it can be pretty distracting. If others like music while they work, they can bring their own earphones.

I'm going to continue in a second comment.

Parabolic Muse said...

One thing I really appreciated in your workshop is that you make sure everyone can hear you and see what you're doing BEFORE you begin a demonstration. I also appreciate that you provide some of the comment elements, such as paper towels and water containers. and often, when there is a large area or more than one room, instructors don't think to move around through the whole area. You were aware enough to visit everyone and make sure to take time to answer questions and discipline the people who were joking around too much. Not that I took it personally...

Parabolic Muse said...

in the second comment, I meant to type 'common' elements, not 'comment' elements.

Darla Deiparine said...

I would just like to say that most of the workshops I have taken I needed to fly commercial airplanes like so many others. I think the teachers should take that in to account too. "How trouble some will it be for my students to get and take home their supplies and finished projects. For example one instructor had assigned a 30x30 canvas $30.00.This was not acceptable for airline luggage size. I had to ship the canvas home at the cost of another $30