8 Steps for Getting the Most Out of a Watercolor Workshop

Have you ever taken a watercolour workshop? What is your best memory or biggest lesson learned at a workshop? Have you ever struggled to get the most out of a workshop and felt like you were missing something?

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I believe in workshops and their ability to help you surge ahead to new levels in your artistic journey, and I love teaching in person and connecting with students face-to-face, but in every workshop I've taught, I've had students come to me to tell me about a disappointing workshop experience or an instructor who let them down. I've seen students "turn off" halfway through a class, feeling like they've failed.

If you're planning to take a workshop this fall (don't forget to check out my workshop schedule here for available in-person classes), there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of your workshop, and prevent "workshop remorse."

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  1. Choose the right instructor. In a workshop situation, you benefit from the opportunity to learn in person from an experienced artist. Ideally, they are also experienced in teaching and have strong communication skills to accompany their mastery of the medium. Choosing an artist who doesn't align with your goals, or have the ability to clearly communicate technique is a good way to find yourself feeling frustrated in a workshop situation. Artists today have the opportunity to "audition" an instructor by studying their art and teaching videos online, so do your research.

  2. Be open-minded. When choosing an instructor, you might not need to choose one who exactly mirrors your style, in fact, it's a good idea to choose an instructor whose strengths align with the weak areas in your painting, while still creating from the same basic intent. 

  3. Don't forget who you are. A wise instructor doesn't want to teach "chameleons;" they understand that the best students seek to apply the principles learned in a workshop to their own personal style and vision. The goal isn't to copy your instructor, but to develop your own skills and identity as an artist.

  4. Be willing to fail. A workshop situation is no time to create masterpieces. Let go of any expectations you had that the hours you are spending will bear immediate fruit. The distractions found in working alongside other students, the sheer volume of information and the time it takes to process all conspire together, and you are going to feel frustrated if you were expecting great art right away. Learning time is like practicing scales on the piano - you're not playing a song, you're building skill to make beautiful music in the future. 

  5. Plan ahead. This is actually number 1 if I were to order this list by priority. My readiness to absorb information in a workshop situation is directly related to how much time I've spent painting in the weeks and months before the workshop. Paint as much as you can beforehand, and you will have a pile of questions and observations that will be fed during the workshop. 

  6. Be patient. Again, the sheer volume of information means you will feel overwhelmed with content during the workshop. Don't worry if some of it feels completely foreign. In the time following the workshop, as you continue to paint, your mind will be processing the information and it will come out when you are ready. I like to visualize a child growing; when you are new to watercolour, you're short, and much will fly over your head. As you grow, you get taller, and the info you're ready for will hit you right between the eyes! 

  7. Don't make major changes right before a workshop. I send out supply lists to workshop students before a workshop, however, I actually prefer students to use supplies they are familiar with, rather than making major changes to their palette colours, paper or brushes. Using products that are comfortable and familiar to you will allow you to focus on technique rather than struggling to understand new colour combinations with every brush stroke. If you can, bring the recommended supplies alongside your usual materials, so you can introduce them more gradually.

  8. Relax. Whether or not you feel the learning happening as you participate with the class, every time you are painting, you are growing your skills. The negative emotions artists feel usually have their roots in fear; fear that you won't be able to learn what you need, that your paintings will always fail, that you don't have what it takes and no instructor will ever be able to teach you anything. These fears lie to you! There are so many positive aspects that fear just ignores: You've made a wonderful investment in your mental health. You've stepped out of your comfort zone. You're taking positive steps to strengthen your skills, instead of letting your weaknesses serve as an excuse to give up.

Grow your skills and register for a workshop today! Schedule & destinations here.

Angela FehrComment