Sunday, August 28, 2011

Workshop Junkies and More Thoughts on Plein Air Painting Workshops



"Lighthouse Rocks" 6x9 pastel - contact Michael

What's the best way to fast-track your painting skills?  Some seem to think that taking lots of workshops is the way.  But no, that only makes you more educated, not more skilled.  Especially if that's the only time you paint.

The best way to improve your skills is to practice outside of a workshop.  A cellist doesn't get better at playing Bach's solo cello suites by reading textbooks and listening to recordings; he gets better by playing.  Sure, the cellist needs feedback, and that's why he works with a cello teacher.  But every cellist knows that the cello lesson isn't the only time you practice!

It's the same with painting.  You can watch all the videos, read all the books and take all the workshops - and get a virtual MFA in the process - but it's not going to make you a better painter unless you practice on your own.

There's a type of student we painting instructors call "workshop junkies."  These are students who take workshop after workshop and build up a formidable warehouse of painting knowledge, but who rarely paint outside a workshop.  They don't have time, because they are busy travelling and taking workshops.  These students have so many different ideas about how to paint that they've picked up from so many different instructors that they don't know which end is up.

Here's what I recommend.  Treat  yourself to one real workshop a year, just one.  Pick a painter whose work you like.  Check around to see if he's a good teacher.  (Some pretty good painters aren't.)  Read through his material - his book, a magazine article he wrote or his teaching philosophy on his website - and see if he's on a path you want to go down.

Then, take the workshop.  Be humble, and listen.  Ask lots of questions.  Take notes.   Listen some more.  During the workshop, try to incorporate what you've learned as you paint.  Finally, don't take another workshop for a year.  Just go out and paint, and remember what the teacher said.   If you found it valuable, use it; if not, discard it - but don't stop painting.

15 comments:

Celeste Bergin said...

Michael, this is the best advice I've read in a blog in a long time...kudos to you for telling it like it is. I think many instructors want to say this, but they don't because they don't want to run their "junkies" off! lol LOVE the painting that accompanies this post...your blog is always a visual treat. p.s. Hope Hurricane Irene is not being too hard on you.

Mary Byrom said...

Michael you call your instructors "he" consistently. Must be you forgot some of the great women instructors you have studied with?

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Celeste and Mary. Mary, I use the term "he" pretty much for any person of undetermined gender. It's an "old school" thing, where "Man" was used instead of "Humanity," "Mankind" instead of "Humankind," and "he" was acceptable for either gender when speaking in indefinite or general terms. Nothing personal! And I do remember the great women instructors.

Jo Castillo said...

Great post. Very good advice. I like the painting, too. Hope you are safe from Irene.

Lee McVey said...

Michael,
You are absolutely right about this. If students would practice more on their own, they would also be able to better hear the suggestions of teachers and be able to heed them instead of just hearing the words.

MarilynW said...

Very good advice. I enjoy your blog very much.

from Felicia Barnes said...

I took your wortkshop in Ohio this year. I did take 3 workshops in one year -- one was a portrait workshop, one a still life workshop and yours, plein air. Now, as you suggested, I am practicing. Thank you for continuing to teach us in your blog here. I find every entry full of good and practical advice, as well as knowledge. Thank you for doing this for us. I hope after I get some more practice to take another workshop from you in the future. Felicia Barnes

Elaine Hurst said...

What a wonderful aricle/blog post! Thank you! I know a lot of people who take workshop after workshop, or class after class, and forget to try to find their own, unique painting style. Thank you!!

daniela.. said...

Make sure Hurricane Irene detours around you so you can just keep giving your excellent advice.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, everyone. Irene knocked out our power last night, and I am now checking mail at a public library where they do have power. More updates later, once we get power.

Kathy Piper said...

Thanks! I was feeling like a slacker, just plugging away on my own. I live in a very out-of-the-way place and lack funds for travel and workshops or classes. Figured I was doomed. I wouldn't have stopped painting, but i feel more validated. Thanks again!

Kimberly Vanlandingham said...

Great advice! I had asked an instructor what was the best way to determine my style. I was told to paint about a 50 or sixty paintings and then we could discuss it. That's how I ended up doing these small ones I sell on ebay. I can't believe what good advice it was. My still life work is much slower/detailed realism, but this loose small stuff really has helped me with color relationships. Paint, paint, paint.

kim shields said...

Thank you for this, I was beginning to think I was not truly learning as much as others who boast about all the workshops they take. I am not financially able to do that so I continue to paint alone every day in and out of my studio. I do try to take one workshop a year and I am constantly studying others work in books and magazines. Thank you for saying it is ok.

painthorsestudio said...

Thanks so much for such practicle advice! Being mother to two young kids and running a home/farm with my family does not leave me the freedom to take off and do workshops very often. My goal the last 3 or 4 years was to take 1 workshop a year...but I was not satisfied with that up until now! Maybe I'm doing something right after all....! Great painting...

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Even though I teach workshops, you all have my permission to take fewer. Thanks for all your comments. Early on in your painting years, it's important to build a good base of knowledge, and I do recommend for that time reading widely and taking classes or workshops. But at some point, you have learned the basics, and it is time to focus on refining the skill. I'd rather learn one way to make a painting and become an expert in it, than to learn ten ways and to be just so-so.