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.


12 thoughts on “Workshop Tips

  1. This is an excellent post, Armand. I've been to a few really poor workshops, and I have stopped going to them altogether because of it. Unless I see one given by an artist that I really admire, or one that deals with something specific that I need to learn. It's good that you let people know what kind of workshop you're going to run and that you take the role of instructor seriously. People can learn a great deal from you and your artwork!

  2. I have got to agree about doing your homework, some should not teach. I attended a workshop from a well known artist that I admired.
    His teaching style was simply to hit on the pretty girls, find out where all the good restaurants and clubs where, and talk endlessly about himself. His one real demo of a hour was great to watch but he could not verbalize while painting. I was so discouraged by that experience that until someone comes up with a "Angie's list" or something similar forget that resource. I have learned more from you just following your blog than I did from him in three days.
    Thank you for being a real teacher.

  3. Great insights. I remember being so impressed when I first talked to you about teaching. You said that you were taking a lot of workshops to learn what to do and what not to do when you teach them.

  4. Katherine,

    I have been hearing too many bad workshop stories in the last few years. Serious students are becoming frustrated with all of the garbage out there. Hopefully by speaking up and shedding light on the problem we can change things.

  5. Jim Serrett,

    An Angies list type of forum would be a great way to expose the problems in the industry. We would just have to be able to check the veracity of the comments to keep the shills out of the mix.

  6. James,

    Yeah thanks. I still take workshops from time to time and I am more vocal now about what I expect and really check with the instructor before I sign up to make sure they are prepared. Being proactive about how we deal with these things is important.

  7. Good post, Armand! The workshop season is here, and students looking for workshops should make sure the teachers are professional, eager to share and competent. Like you, I've been teaching for many years and have taken many workshops, too, and I've seen it all. Good teachers, bad teachers. And you're right, there are many more people trying to teach now who probably shouldn't be.

  8. This is a great post, Armand! The art of teaching art is very different from the art of doing the art. Explaining the process of painting–while painting–and putting your head into a student's work when offering individual assistance, as well as providing a context for it all (from master artists of the past and sound principles of art), is respectful to students who are taking a lot of time and money to learn. They deserve no less. Including an evaluation sheet for students to fill out (anonymously, if they wish) at the end of the workshop (include a stamped envelope for the student to mail it back!), is an important part of refining teaching skills. Thanks again for this post. You are obviously a very good teacher. I have enjoyed the others comments, as well.

  9. Thank you, Armand. This is good information to help be a better buyer of painting instruction.

    I like the one poster's idea above about some kind of online rating/review tool for workshops.

    I've not yet had the opportunity to take my first workshop. But I will use your questions to help me ensure I find the right one. I have no interest in feeding someone else's ego if I'm paying hundreds to learn.

    And I'd like to experience more practical learning from application as well as verbal knowledge transfer. Showing beats telling in so many situations.

  10. Well said, Armand. I just recently posted a piece on workshops on my own blog. It focuses on getting the most out of workshops rather than on how to find a good one. I am going add your post to my site because it complements my own perfectly. I will, of course, credit you and your blog.

  11. I have taken a couple of workshops with Armand and he is an excellent teacher and he has set the standard that i now expcet in a workshop.

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