Monday, September 10, 2012

Take Three Days - And Improve Your Artwork!

Let me clue you in on a little secret. Most people are afraid to attend an art workshop. A great way to jump-start your art is to sign up for a weekend class! After all, most of us want to improve ourselves or our lives in some way.  Attending a workshop can introduce new ideas that will bring a fresh look to your work.

Start by selecting an art workshop that is held in an inspiring place. 

Last week I chose a workshop called "Weekend With The Masters," which was held in Rancho Bernardo, California. The surroundings at Rancho Bernardo were lovely! There were small brown rabbits hopping across the grounds and the sound of falling water from several fountains echoed softly through the gardens. 

The setting made me want to sit down and paint!

Along with the beautiful setting, your choice of artistic friends at a workshop is important. I like to select companions who will be an inspiration for me. 

As a matter of fact, during the grueling parts of our workshop, when it would have been easier to quit and walk away, my artist friends were reassuring and encouraging. Later, when they had stressful moments, I was able to provide them with constructive feedback and great support. 

In spite of all the fun times available at an art workshop - it is not for sissies! 

Eating is an important part of a workshop. 

At "Weekend With the Masters," we used meal time as a forum to discuss the new art techniques and philosophies that  we were learning. Whether you rough it on a mountain top with granola bars or dip your fork into the fixings from a luxurious buffet - good food at a workshop equals happy painting!

Although we ate like kings, we burned lots of calories! The paths that wound between the classrooms were long and often hilly. We worked out in the gym and swam laps in the swimming pool. It was immensely helpful to decompress after standing over our easels for six or seven hours. 

Check out the information about your workshop online before you go. There should be adequate facilities and helpful tips to make sure your experience is a good one. 

Our classrooms were spacious and the workshop sponsor, American Artist Magazine, provided the easels for us. The instructors were prepared with models, still life objects, props and lights. There was even an "in-house" store where we could purchase supplies and materials.

One evening we listened to a panel of world-class artists discuss their personal philosophies about painting their passion versus painting what sells:

  • Should an artist paint the harsh reality or should you only paint what is beautiful? 
  • What is beautiful? 
  • Should subjects in paintings be edited so that they are more likely to sell? 
  • Should artists paint what gallery owners want them to paint?

Below, David Laffel instructed us on painting a head shot from a live model.

David Laffel's one-hour block-in.

Sherrie McGraw taught a fabulous class on figure painting.

Sherrie McGraw paints the model.

Sherrie McGraw's two-hour painting.

Rose Frantzen painting "The Prophet."
Rose Frantzen's two-hour painting of "The Prophet."

On the last day of our workshop, our group traveled about 30 minutes to Balboa Park in downtown SanDiego. Everywhere I looked there were beautiful scenes that begged to be painted! 

Jennifer McChristian taught a plein air class in Balboa Park that was truly remarkable!  She had us paint small black and white value studies of different scenes using only four values. We had to eliminate the details of the scene and mass the shapes into single values.  

Jennifer's exercise helped me to realize that I usually paint too many details into my paintings. The simple black and white studies revealed ways in which I could strengthen my composition and understand how to better see the landscape in terms of simpler form and broader color masses. 

This one exercise was worth the entire workshop.

Why not add a little something to your art repertoire?

Find an art workshop that appeals to you. Focus on something you enjoy - like plein air painting or abstract still life. Perhaps you want to strengthen a weak area such as portraiture or figure drawing. Look in popular art magazines or go online to see what is available. Ask local instructors for information about workshops in your area.  Go for it!

You are just a few days away from improving your skills!



  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your black and white studies are amazing! What a great opportunity. We lived in Rancho Bernardo for 4 of our 6 years in San Diego. What a beautiful area to paint in. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back.

  2. Delightful discussion of your experience in a varied, productive workshop. Balboa Park is a magnificent place to paint. Loved your black and whites also. You are a spirited and sharing artist. Just found this today. 5/20/2016.