Beating the Workshop Blues

I have gone to numerous watercolor workshops. Some were taught by nationally known watercolorists and some were taught by local artists. The amount learned had nothing to do with how well-known the artist was.

The first few workshops I went to I was so in awe of the teaching artist’s work, and so extremely excited about the class, that I became intimidated. During these classes, most teachers give the students an assignment to do. Some students end up with beautifully painted pieces at the end of the day. I was not one of those students. My assignments ended up pretty awful. I did not want to let anyone see my work.

I had a tough time synthesizing the information that was taught. I had a difficult time painting even weeks after attending.  I ended up with many painting messes. My husband sensed my frustration. He suggested that I stop going to workshops.

What was causing me so much grief? I actually thought about not going to workshops again. I couldn’t figure out what my problem was.

Then it hit me. I was trying to paint exactly like the teacher. But, my work never looked anything like the teacher’s. Why, because I had my own undeniable style. I couldn’t paint without my style showing through. Thus, forcing myself to paint like someone else was creating a lot of anxiety, especially when the work looked nothing like theirs.

So at my next workshop, I decided to let myself off the hook when it came time to do the assignments. I did some talking to myself. “This is for practice.” “You learn the most from your mistakes.” I stopped expecting to create anything of importance. I let myself relax. Once I relaxed, I started to have fun. It is really hard to have fun when you are being so self-critical. I found that other students had this same exact problem.

I realized that I did not have to use every technique or suggestion that the teachers taught. I decided to give myself time to process all the information. I pulled out the techniques or tidbits of information that I thought would be beneficial to my own painting techniques and tried them. I used baby steps. I applied one or two new techniques instead of 5 or 6. I gave myself permission to fail in my quest to improve. I found that I still had my style but with a new twist. I was a much happier participant with this new attitude.

With my new attitude, I began to notice how other students behaved at workshops. Some students were very well-versed in; I guess you could call it, “workshop etiquette”. These people developed a relationship with the teacher and students, sharing contact information, taking the teacher and other students out to lunch as a group, talking to everyone as if all had something of value to share. They were relaxed and having a great time.

Then there were the students that were very worried about taking notes of every word the teacher said. These people were also extremely concerned about having all the same supplies the teacher had. These students obsessed about brand names, paint colors, paper quality, price and place to purchase. Some of these students interrupted the teacher asking never-ending questions about supplies used in the demonstrations. Some would even run off to the art supply store during lunch to purchase supplies they had just heard about. If only these people had everything the teacher had, they could then paint just like the teacher.

As I watched and studied other participants, I could see my old self in some people and my “new and improved self” in others. You can learn a lot by watching others.

Now, I have a much more relaxed attitude when I go to workshops. I try to enjoy myself. I give myself time to process the information. I take it slowly and try to limit introducing too many new things at a time to my painting repertoire. I practice the techniques. Then I see how I can put a spin on what I have learned to make it more my own.

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