Saturday, September 14, 2019

Etiquette for Painting Workshop Instructors

Workshop in St Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada
Learn more about my plein air painting workshops at

Having laid out rules of etiquette for students, it's only fair that I give equal time to instructors. Instructors are also sometimes at fault for bad manners. Lack of manners is sometimes just a lack of awareness. With that in mind, here are some tips for those of you who teach. 
  • Give students what they paid for, and then some. I've heard stories of teachers wandering off for a couple of hours to let students paint on their own, or of only painting a demonstration and then giving no further instruction for the day.  If the students are expecting this, fine. But do deliver what you advertise. It's a good idea before a workshop to review the workshop description so you know what your students expect. 
  • Work with, not against, the workshop volunteers. They may have never worked with you before and may not know what to expect. Discuss with them before the workshop exactly what your needs are (tables, easels, lunches, plein air location list, etc.) but also what their expectations are.  Recognize them publicly for their efforts.
  • Start promptly and finish promptly. If you're still waiting for a student to arrive before beginning the session, don't. Get started right on time. Also, students may have a life outside the workshop, so don't run late. If they traveled for the workshop, they may have come with family or friends who may be expecting them for dinner or a hike. 
  • Don't drag students around all morning looking for the perfect painting spot. Do your homework by getting to the workshop a day early to preview locations. You don't want to be surprised on your first day to discover parking is limited, that there are no restrooms or that the location is too far to drive to. Preview all locations, and make sure you have a couple of alternates. 
  • Give frequent breaks. You may be a marathon painter, but not everyone is. A short break every hour or so will refresh them so they can absorb more. You might use a break yourself. (I know I am guilty of this, and I invite students to stop me!)
  • Respect where your students are coming from skill-wise. Don't forget that you, too, were once a raw beginner. Try to remember what it was like when you were struggling to learn. Teach with patience and understanding. Also, students have different backgrounds, so try to use this variety to enrich the experience for everyone. 
  • Listen to your students. Give them time to ask questions. Treat every question, however basic, as one deserving serious attention. But watch out for the needy student; give equal time to everyone. If someone asks a question that is off-topic, offer to answer it during lunch or a break. Don't be afraid to suggest that the topic is better answered in a different workshop. 
  • Don't paint on student paintings without permission. There's no faster way, of course, to show what you mean than by painting directly on top of a student's work. But some students prefer that you don't touch their paintings. Ask before grabbing a brush. 
  • Be kind, but be also fair and honest. You aren't doing your students any favors by giving nothing but praise. If a painting can be improved in some way, say it. Some students do better with blunt criticism than others; proceed cautiously until you know how much they can take. 
  • Finally, stay upbeat. You may be exhausted after having traveled two solid days to get to the workshop. You may be unhappy with the workshop facilities.  You may be in the middle of some life crisis. Whatever, keep it to yourself. Students don't need to be burdened with any of it. Save your grumpiness for your hotel room. 
And above all, be encouraging!  Not matter how a student may struggle, respect that student's efforts and encourage them where you can.

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