Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hold the Worms

Often times – too often perhaps – I paint by the seat of my pants. I’ve got the idea in my head and trust enough that my mental image and experience will be enough to carry me through. This habit of working comes from years of standing at my easel focused on the task at hand. I rarely invite others to watch me work, therefore I rarely worry about my step-by-step procedure.

Me, evidently trying to get the words out...
One of the challenges of teaching a workshop is taking all the muscle memory, the habits and the gut feelings and putting them into a coherent format that another person can access. Workshop participants are usually not satisfied with grunts and long pauses.

Composition, color, value, rhythm, spacing…they’re all vital parts of a complicated whole, and challenging – at least for me – to put into paragraphs. In the college years these concepts would each be given weeks or semesters of time. Most workshops cover a weekend at best.

There’s also the issue of the students’ previous experience. In a class of, say, 20 students, there could be photo-realists, impressionists, weekend painters and dedicated lifers. How to leave room for their personal quirks and style, yet also balance that with information I can provide so they can further develop those quirks and deepen that personal style. My job, I believe, is to help them become better at what they do, not become better at what I do.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much and what to cram in to these two days of workshop I’ll be leading soon with a terrific bunch of artists in Valentine Ne. I’m doing somersaults to make sure I’ve got it right, or at least close. Color? Value? Composition? Good golly, lifetimes are given to understanding this stuff. Am I giving enough?

Yet it occurs to me that I’m not the only one who needs to prepare for class. While it is a fair question to ask, "What is the teacher going to teach?", there is another question that deserves to be asked, and that is, “What do you plan to learn?” 

Taking a workshop is not all about sitting in a safe nest, mouth wide open like a baby bird waiting to receive nourishment. Little bird, it’s your job to watch how others fly, and to flap your wings as hard as you can to leave your comfort zone and take off on your own. You get to exercise those muscles, take off with your new found knowledge and be willing to bounce off a few branches and land hard on the ground a few times before figuring out how to do it your way.  Mama bird gets to encourage, offer some helpful advice, and eat worms while baby bird works their tail feathers off.

So that's my lesson plan. Present, nudge, and push a little. Watch you fly to new heights. Hold the worms.


Chris said...

Very good thoughts on teaching. And it is exactly the way I approach the classes I take too. As a little bird, I try to take what the momma bird gives me and I try to make it apply to what I do. I don't take classes to make what the teacher does. Rather I take classes to make what I do better. Thank you for the inspiration!

Patty said...

Which is why you are such a wonderful artist Chris. You know your path and use what others give you to enhance your work. Thanks so much for stopping by!