Workshop Tips

By Armand Cabrera

I have been teaching workshops for 15 years now and have been taking workshops for over 20.  My teaching came from a need to share information with other artists that seemed to struggle with the mechanics of painting and the philosophy of professionalism. At my last workshop I heard horrible stories from my students about the lack of professionalism from some artists who are now teaching. I thought I would offer some tips for students on what to look out for when signing up for a workshop.

When I started teaching I made a vow to myself to never repeat the things I saw in some of the workshops I’ve taken from other artists.  As a student I vet my teachers and call them before I sign up and make sure they are providing a professional service for my money. I suggest you do the same and if you don’t get the answers you like spend your money elsewhere
There are a lot of people teaching now, some because of a bad economy and those people are probably not teaching for the right reasons.  If you are taking a workshop there are some things to look out for to make sure you have a good experience and don’t get taken advantage of.

A workshop should have a large well lit venue provided by the teacher or organization that will fit the students and their equipment comfortably. This goes for plein air workshops too. Bad weather is no excuse to not get a painting day in at your workshop. If the teacher or venue hasn’t rented such a place for the week, even if they don’t use it, that should be a red flag to a student.

Number of students most people can comfortably teach 10 to 15 students more than that becomes a challenge and takes away from individual attention. If you only see an instructor once during your painting that is another red flag that the instructor is lazy or has too many people in the workshop.

In my workshops I come around to every student at least three times for each painting session. We usually work on two paintings a day. They see me at the start the middle and the finish of each painting so they can get complete guidance on their work.

I always ask if my instructors demo. If they don’t, I don’t take their classes. I don’t care how good they are as a painter; they are a lousy teacher if they can’t actually show you how they do something by doing it in front of students in a workshop setting. It’s another red flag and deal killer for me as a student.

Abusive teaching styles aren’t acceptable either. If an instructor is too stupid to explain something without throwing a temper tantrum or being abusive then they should not teach. I have witnessed firsthand some abusive teaching tactics and didn’t put up with them; you shouldn’t either.

A workshop should be an enlightening experience that invigorates your painting. As a paying customer you have a right to demand a certain level of professionalism from a workshop and teacher. If we hold high standards we will insure we get everything we want.