Tuesday, October 01, 2013

How to get the most from a workshop

I’ve wasted lots of time and money on workshops, mostly art related, wasted because I had no procedure for follow through. All athletes know the importance of follow through. You don’t just throw or kick the ball but you complete the movement by getting ready for what comes next.

Workshops are the same.

You prepare by ...
·         reading whatever you can find that the leader has written
·         practicing what you’ve read about
·         gathering whatever supplies are stated by the teacher
·         packing your Go-Bag and dressing the part

During the workshop you take notes and put into practice what you’ve learned.
At least this is how we should begin...

But in the past I’ve made a crucial mistake. I would go home and unpack my bags, file my notes and return to my usual routine.

And what happened? I forgot what I learned because I didn’t follow through. I didn’t stand at my easel every day for the next week to practice this new method I learned. I didn’t re-read my notes. I didn’t work in my journal to explore further ideas for how I could adapt this to my skill set. I didn’t work hard after the workshop to drill the new knowledge into my memory banks. I wasted my time and money even though I probably had a good time.

As a student teacher I learned that there are many ways people learn. Some learn best by reading, some by hearing, but all learn best by doing… and then doing it again and again.

Continuing to practice the new skill over and over is a given. I knew better but I simply didn’t apply it to my own role as a student.

Growing as an artist or writer or whatever kind of maker you are depends on follow through: putting the new skills into practice, thinking about ways to make this new skill part of your way of being.

It’s been awhile since I attended a workshop but I’m taking one this week. I have my supplies ready. This will be a collage workshop with Donna Watson. I'm taking it because I admire her work and because after a fallow summer I need a jumpstart and I think Donna is just to one to help me.  I am excited to learn a different approach.
In addition to gathering the recommended supplies I have done some thinking about this class and I’ve decided to go with a focus of my own. I’ll do as she says but with my own plan in mind.

I chose a color scheme. My paints are the black and white she suggests and to these I added blues, browns and bits of orange. I like working on a square format so I cut my substrates 10” x 10” instead of 8x10. I have a vision of making a book out of these collages so I will strive to make pieces that will work together, flowing from page to page. Eventually there will be text on each page so I’ll keep that in mind as I work.

When I leave the workshop after two days I’ll have made a good start on my master plan.  But the skills I learn and the ideas I develop won’t stop here. I’ll keep working. I won’t put away my supplies; I’ll lay them out on my work tables and I’ll continue working on this until the flow stops naturally or I’ve reached completion.

I won’t turn to other work yet. I’ll keep on doing what I learned, what I started.  This is the beginning, but not the end. And not a minute will have been wasted.


  1. Thank you for your thoughts. I went to a watercolor workshop on Thursday and you've reminded me about how important it is to practice what I learned - lots of small value studies will train my eye and can be done quickly, anywhere. My sketchbook is going right into my purse.

    1. I'm determined to practice what I preach, Corrine. I've unpacked from my own workshop, re-read my notes, journaled my thoughts on the class, got ready to work...and came down with a bad cold that's laid me low. Life has a way of creating delays

  2. I haven't attended many workshops because I just don't hear of many in my neck of the woods, but Donna's would be one that I would love to do. My problem is that although I come up with wonderful ideas, feel enthusiastic, sketch and develop them on paper ..... most of the time I don't follow through. It's something I wrote about in my journal. I need to follow through. Very interesting post Jo. Hope your cold clears up quickly so that you can continue the thread. I would love to see the art you create, inspired by Donna's workshop.

    1. Robyn, I think most of us do as you described, work through many ideas without bringing them to an actual product. It's part of the process. When I look at your blog and website I see that you have made lots of lovely things; it's not that you never complete an idea, but you choose to work on the right ones for the time. I used to teach and one of the things I loved was tossing out ideas to my students and see what other hands and minds would do with them. That was so very satisfying and what I hope this blog of mine will do... give others ideas and techniques to work with. Maybe you would like teaching.

  3. Thanks Jo, I suppose we would never be able to complete all the ideas we have. Not sure I would like teaching but then I've never tried.


I appreciate comments and questions.

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