I possess a Master’s in Art Education. I do not have a Bachelor of Fine Arts nor a Masters of Fine Arts. Most of my actual art education has been through my own trial and error, reading books, working for Golden Artist colors and tons of workshops with excellent instructors.
I have studied with Canadian artists’ Donna Baspaly, Mike Svob, Suzanne Northcott, Brian Atyeo and a few choice others. My American training has been with Mary Todd-Beam, Carrie Burns-Brown, Frank Webb, Pat Dews, Pat San Soucie, Gerald Brommer, etc…
For me, there are two types of workshop teachers: technical experts or instinctual painters. Being an information junkie, I love the technical instructors. The more paper, the more explanations, the more techniques, the happier I am. I enjoy classes where the instructor demonstrates a technique and discusses how they may resolve the mess they created. I’m at the stage, as a artist, where I want to understand how they think about design and composition, color, etc. I know all the rules, I want to learn how to break them effectively. It wasn’t always that way but it is now.
Generally, I have difficulty with instructors who are all instinctive and cannot explain their process. I do enjoy watching their demonstrations but as an instructor you should be able to discuss composition and design, explain your choice of colors or placement of shapes. I’m usually easy going with workshops believing that you learn what you learn but with sky rocketing costs of supplies and instructor fees, I’m getting picky.
Of course, nirvana is attained if the instructor is able to work on both sides of their brain going from technique to instinctual and are able to explain their decision-making process along the way. I have only found a few teachers who have the ability to shift between the two brain hemispheres. I’ve often heard attendees say: “ You are either a painter or a teacher”. Now, I must admit I’m biased here as I do have the ability to do both so my choice of instructor is skewed.
After taking so many workshops I have learnt to ask a lot of questions. It is also important that you know who you are and what you want to get out of the workshop. Here are some important and helpful questions to ask to maximize your workshop experience:
What exactly will be covered in this workshop? Does the prospectus state that clearly?
If the descriptor sounds wishy washy, chances are so will be the course.
Will there be handouts? If not, can we record what is said?
More and more participants may have hearing or other impairments.
Will there be demonstrations? And if so, will there be time more or less time to paint?
A while back, there was a movement from artists’ where they would no longer demonstrate how they painted. The thought there was that they would push you towards your own discoveries and style. Now that is a skill! How do you adapt to 20 to 25 different personalities and requirements?
No demonstrations and subtle guidance is a specialized class which should not be labeled workshop but a “Master’s class” or an “Open Studio” classes. Catherine Chang Liu is a master of this form.
How long has the instructor been teaching? What are things people have said about that teacher?
If you have attended many workshops, you can ask others their opinion or experience with that instructor. Being famous or teaching a long time does not guarantee a good workshop experience. Don’t be afraid to ask the organizer these questions.
Will the instructor make time to speak to each student individually?
Instructors are often guilty of roaming and stating “just call me if you need me” and as the old saying goes: “the squeaky wheel gets the oil “ or all the attention as it were. Some people will just not ask for help for whatever reason and the teacher needs to be aware of that fact.
Will there be critiques? How often?
How many rules does the instructor have?
The worst class I ever attended by a top international instructor had so many rules it was run like a military camp. No photos, no talking, no recordings, no questions while teaching, etc…The only time I considered leaving a course! Had I not registered for another course the week after I’d have left South Carolina for good.
Will there be lectures? Are they structured or based on student input?
From my own experience, I enjoy a class where I can see what will be covered every day yet there is room for flexibility should another topic become more important according to the needs of the class.
How long is the material list and will you be using all of the material?
Nothing more annoying than attempting to find some obscure product like ink with resin in it and then the instructor does not cover or use that product.
There are many other inquiries you can make but the most important questions for you are to know your personality type and be aware of what you personally want to take away from the workshop.