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Friday, January 27, 2012

What Makes a Great Art Workshop?

'Crow Creek Fall' 5x7 plein air pastel ©Karen Margulis
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I have taken some excellent pastel workshops. Each one has given me skills and a unique perspective that I have incorporated into my own way of working. I would like to share some thoughts on how I choose a workshop and review some of my favorite workshops,beginning with Stan Sperlak. First, what do I look for when choosing a workshop?
  1. The most important thing is that I like the artist/instructor's work. If I admire the work then I will be more interested in learning about how the artist works.
  2. I look for an instructor who is organized. I want to know what we will be doing, what to bring and once the workshop starts does the instructor go over the schedule, have maps, have handouts? There is enough to think about with learning new things so I don't want to wonder about the logistics.
  3. I learn best from an instructor who combines lectures/talks with plenty of demos. I would rather have a few short demos than one long one. For me handouts to accompany the lectures are a nice bonus.
  4. I love workshops where the instructor goes the extra mile and shares reference books and materials, meets with the group for a dinner or informal art talks after class. As a teacher myself I know it is tiring but as a student I really learn from these after class sessions. I appreciate the instructors who takes time to meet after class some evenings.
  5. I prefer to take workshops with a small group of students but for the most popular instructors this isn't always possible. Some instructors do a great job making sure that everyone gets individual attention at the easel no matter how large the group.
  6. I like an instructor that gives plenty of group feedback...whether at the end of each day or the end of the workshop but I learn so much from hearing what is said about everyone's work and not just my own.
When choosing to take a workshop I try to find reviews or talk to other artists to find out if the workshop instructor meets my criteria. This isn't always easy to find so I will be reviewing my favorite workshops in the coming weeks. I'd like to start with one of my top choices...Stan Sperlak

'Farm View' 8x10 plein air pastel
I have taken three workshops with Stan. He meets all of my criteria and then some....which is why I keep going back! Here is a little bit about Stan's workshops taken from his website
"Stan believes in working from life first, and understands the artists need to also work in the studio. Here he excels in teaching students how to see, analyze and re-interpret a scene, how to bring from within yourself paintings that reflect your emotion and connection to your subject and produce believable images. Stan constantly weaves lessons from life, history and nature into all his critiques and lectures. You will come away from the workshop with a new appreciation of the world around you!"

Stan really goes above and beyond to be sure he helps you no matter what your experience level. I love how Stan is able to relate lessons about the natural world to art. For example he doesn't just demonstrate how to paint a sky or a sunset....he explains why the colors in the sky look as they do...while you are out looking at it. Now when I paint a sky I remember this lesson and it helps me make better paintings.

Here is a Stan experience that sums it all up... My two friends and I attended a workshop at Stan's Crow Creek Farm. At one point we were struggling with painting a field. Stan was making his rounds and realized we were struggling so he got his easel, set up and did a quick demo to show us a way to approach the field. (He had already done 2 group demos) That is connecting with your students and really helping them learn! We will never forget how he went out of his way to make sure we understood how to see the aerial perspective in that field.

'Afternoon Weeds' 5x7 pastel
The paintings I am sharing in this post are all plein air paintings I did at a workshop at Stan's Crow Creek Farm in Goshen New Jersey. It is a wonderful, inspiring place and a fantastic location for a workshop. Stan has a full schedule of workshops for 2012 and you can see them all on his website. If you can get to one, you will not be disappointed!
See Stan's work HERE


Diane Artz Furlong said...

Great blog post. Love your work and Stan's. Would be glad to take workshop from either of you.

Karen said...

Thank you Diane! I hope to meet you someday!

Diane said...

Just read this post Karen. What great info to know before thaking a workshop.Stan will be doing a workshop in my hometown of Columbus this year and I was thinking about taking it.You have convinced me!