Worth-It Workshops

The tranquil moment above took place during my watercolour workshop in Saskatchewan earlier this month. Maybe every watercolour workshop should include time spent on the water, as I can't imagine a more peaceful way to start the day. I've taught more workshops in the last year than ever before, and each workshop is a richer experience than the one before it. I always like to tease my students, telling them that I become a better teacher every time I teach a workshop. While my local classes focus on teaching basic painting techniques, in a destination workshop I am usually working with students who have painted before, so I focus on style development and encouragement for students in the midst of their personal watercolour journey.

Our host, Beth, opened up her brand new barn studio to our group, and it was a treat to work in such a light-filled space, full of art created by Beth and her friends. I spied a small painting I had created last year during my "Little Jewels" art event as well. Beth's home is full of art, and after class I enjoyed looking through her art books, doing "homework" that never seems to end. Artistic theory is such a huge topic, and I was very encouraged when I read in Nita Leland's book on colour theory, Confident Color, that colour theory is a theory, so what we know about colour is somewhat fluid and changing. Because I'm more of a "learn by doing" person than one who studies academically, I don't really feel like an expert, I just know what works for me! One of my favourite and most versatile colours is turquoise. It finds its way into almost every painting, and it's fascinating how it influences the other colours in the painting. Below is a wet-in-wet "warm up" created by soaking the paper, and then dropping in cobalt teal, quinacridone gold, and raw umber violet straight from the tube. Splashing drops of pure alcohol created interesting texture, as the alcohol evaporated and "froze" areas of the painting. I thought the shapes created by the alcohol look a little like micro-organisms swimming under a microscope, perhaps this represents the cellular makeup of a loose watercolour painter! A watercolour workshop is only as good as the people who attend, and I was incredibly blessed in my hosts, Beth and Stan, who graciously offered their home and studio space, and catered the entire event. I was treated like both a friend and honoured guest, and the atmosphere was both welcoming and relaxed. Conversations around the meal table included the entire group, and while many husbands would begrudge opening their home to a group of strangers, Stan was a blur of movement, serving as "butler" and host, offering humour and light-hearted teasing.

The most common thread in a watercolour workshop is of course, a love of watercolour, and for many of us, who paint alone much of the time, it can be such a soul-feeding experience to meet with others who share our passions, to be able to "talk shop" and share ideas. I love hearing that students have made lasting connections through a workshop experience, and keep in touch even after the workshop has ended. A big part of teaching a workshop for me is also taking the time to listen; to recognize that my students come with stories and experiences to share, and we can learn from each other. Making personal connections means looking into one student's aquamarine eyes as she told me her goals, laughing with another as she shared a disastrous "first attempt" and her plans for the next version, respecting the grace and strength of a student who came to the workshop having recently broken a rib, persevering unflinchingly. These students inspire me and I could share a small story from every student I met at the workshop. They are valuable. I was so inspired by my host, Beth. Her beautiful art room and the art throughout her home testify to her passion for art in many forms. I came home with a resolution to take the time to see my own personal art collection on the walls in my home; so many pieces are in storage or need re-framing, and have for years. Beth is a member of a local art group that has strong ties. Many of the workshop attendees are a part of this group and deep friendships are evident. I have the same "family" feeling when I meet with fellow artists in my own community, and I want to spend more time with these old friends. It's so easy to get too busy to connect in person.

In the weeks and months spent planning a workshop, I often wonder if it's "worth it." There are many unknowns when I commit to teaching away from home, a thousand details that need to be anticipated and organized, and it's a lot of work. It can be exhausting to devote my days to working with a group of students of varying degrees of experience. I don't always make much money teaching workshops, especially when travel is involved. But I come home rich in so much more, with new friendships, ideas for new paintings, "light bulb moments" where I realized a new way of teaching an old technique, and a mind buzzing with sights seen and places explored. I'm so thankful for the opportunities I've been given to teach, and the students who trust me with a piece of their watercolour journey.

I have several workshops coming up in November 2017, June 2018, September 2018. Details can be found here.