Last year, I taught my very first painting workshop in Bangalore. It was a 3 hour online workshop where I taught the participants to paint a seascape. I was very excited, but equally nervous when I started preparing for it, because I wanted so much to make it an enriching experience for the participants. They were gonna take out time from their busy schedule to come paint with me, when they could be doing anything at all that weekend!
Since then I've conducted a number of workshops, and each one has been a learning and enriching experience for me.
Some of the things I’ve learnt from that experience, that may help you if you’re planning to host a workshop yourself are below. It may even interest you if you’re planning to attend one, and want to know what to expect.
Create An Experience:
One of the things I was very clear about was I that I wanted to design my workshop on the lines of what I would like from a workshop as student. If I'm asking someone to invest their time and money into the workshop, I wanted to give them a memorable experience, of not just painting, but everything from the day they sign up to the day they paint with me.
This is why I curated and put together full art supply kits, with extra canvases and other full sized packs, that they could use later too, a personalised handout, a print of the reference image, a little thank you gift, and shipped it to them two weeks before the workshop. It was like a surprise package of goodies! It ensured that each participant had all the tools that were needed for the painting, and did not have to scour for supplies during the pandemic.
I made them a part of the behind the scenes preparation of the workshop, the assembling of the kits, my tech and art setup etc., which they found exciting. I created a group communication channel on WhatsApp, for each of them to get to know each other, and exchange introductions, notes, challenges and tips, and I'm happy to say some of them are still in touch with each other.
This is how I tried to create a whole month long experience for them, and make my offering different from others. It also enabled me to charge a slightly higher price for the same kind of lesson, because at the end of the day, money is an exchange of value. Unless you give that something extra, you can't demand anything extra.
Encourage creativity, but teach specific techniques:
The reason why somebody would sign up for your workshop and not someone else’s, is that they want to learn to do something specifically the way you do it. Which is why you must focus on unique things that make your art yours, and try to teach that. I feel like the participants must leave the workshop knowing something they didn’t. Which didn’t come from their own head, something that they know YOU for. Something that they feel they couldn't have learnt from anybody else. So have a plan around that unique thing that you are going to teach them.
Make them walk out with a completed project:
I once attended a workshop where the instructor focused so much on techniques that we only ended up practicing different types of lines and shapes, and never got to finish a full piece. Of course we had the knowledge on how to do that at home, but we didn’t walk out of the workshop with a sense of accomplishment. As an instructor, always strive to get the participants to walk out with a finished piece, which they can put up on their desks/walls/give away as a gift. That’s when they will think they got their money’s worth.
Break for activities:
However exciting a long stretch of painting might sound to you, it might not feel that way to someone who is just there to experience something new (Specially in in-person workshops). Keep in mind the state of mind of the participants. Break for activities, which can be art related, if like me, you don’t wanna do stuff outside of your comfort zone. In my painting workshop, I had a break to talk about the basics of drawing and composition, and gave them little 10 minute activities to try out what I was talking about.
Prepare a handout:
Is it just me, or does everyone feel happy when handed a brochure/handout? On a more serious note, do some homework and pick out a few very practical specific tips to create the kind of art you’re teaching, and put them down in a handout. Make it as easy to follow and as less abstract as possible. For example, don’t put in, “Create layers to achieve depth in the painting”. Instead, put, “Use masking tape to get a straight horizon line. Remove the tape only when the paint is completely dry.” Be as specific as possible, because they will forget things you mention.
Show your work:
It’s always great to start a workshop with confidence. And I know you’ll be more confident as an instructor if you gain the confidence of your students. So show them some of your work. Let them see that you can actually do what they want to learn. Get them excited about the prospect of creating something.
Have a personal connect with each student:
As an instructor, make sure you are interacting with each student in your group at least twice during the workshop. Some may need more attention than others. Make sure you give it to them.
Smile, be friendly:
It’s always great to be humble, friendly and approachable. It’s not a place for you to show off your skills. It’s a place to make their time worth it. It’s not a one and done thing. You want to retain the precious contact you make with other artists while teaching a workshop, and the only reason they’ll come back for more if they like you. Be genuine, friendly and go teach with a positive attitude :)
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