Workshops, Classes, and Demos

"Last Lotus" by Richard M. Dziak OPA

"Last Lotus" by Richard M. Dziak OPA

As I’m sure most of you have noticed is that there has been a tremendous increase in workshops just about anywhere you may live. And, I would venture to say that painting in oil workshops may have started to, or already have, overcome the number of those in other media. Classes have always been popular whether they are at a museum or someone’s basements, and demos, are demos…

Which of the three do you think offer the most to the artist in terms of value for your money?

I have taken a couple of workshops, and have given several over the years. I haven’t really taught any classes in oil painting, but I am an experienced teacher. Demos, well, seen many and done many.

With that in mind, let me give you my thoughts, and then you can bombard me with your objections, or, better yet, your support.

Most of the artists I’ve had in my workshops either don’t really need my instruction at all, because they are well on their way, or they would be better off taking classes. What’s the difference? Well, the key difference is “Time”. Workshops generally last anywhere from 1-7 days and in most cases are very intense. They can be expensive, especially if not given nearby. Classes, on the other hand, generally span several weeks, but are limited to 1-3 hours per session, and offered once a week.

The experience I have gotten in giving workshops has been, for the most part positive. Although I did give a workshop “Painting in oils, en plein air”, in which half the class didn’t want to go outside to paint. Then they complained that they didn’t get enough attention because I spent most of the time with those that painted outside the building. But that’s ok. The other workshops were better, but after they were over, I wondered how much good I really did.

Most of the students/artists wanted to paint like I paint. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to paint like anyone else. It’s like why would anyone want to sign their name like anyone else? Later, I would see paintings at local shops and shows that I actually thought I had painted. No, just knock offs of what I do when I paint, done by previous workshop students.

Now, I have to ask, who gains more here? The student that picked up on some techniques and palette use that they may, or may not use in the future, or the instructor, who now has been complimented by copy, and getting his or her name spread around in the art world? I’d say the latter.

I know many of you say that it is of equal exchange, etc. and after 3 or 4 days of intense painting from sun up to sun down did wonders for your work. Of course it did! But what if you had done the same thing on your own? Now, I know we all learn from others, and you can’t beat the camaraderie, but give it some thought. If I were to take another workshop, it would be to go to some exotic place to paint new sites, and get to know other artists. To me, that would be where the value lies, and the most fun. We all know that there are workshop junkies that are looking to find their own way… but through others?

Now what about classes? Well, I like the idea of “Time” being on my side. In a class the subject is more focused, i.e. perspective, figure studies, etc. And, you have time to absorb what was instructed. Then you go on your way and do what is assigned and bring back your efforts the following week. To me, this is a much better scenario, usually less expensive, and we can pick what we want to learn. We also have the social aspect, and it can be fun.

That leaves us with demos. Well, I like demos. Everyone likes demos. Why, because we don’t have to do them. We just watch, and let the demo person do all the work. They are even more appealing if informal, and you can leave when you want without making a stir.

In conclusion, let me say that I wrote this blog because sometimes we as artists shortchange ourselves, and the thing we need the most, may not come from the obvious. We all have to go and find our own way, and a little help along the way is always welcomed. But let us go forth with confidence, cut ourselves some slack, and have some fun with this crazy thing that we seem so desperately NEED to do.

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  • Rick, the wise one, makes several good points. If you are a beginning painter, skip the workshops and find someone in your area to study with. Why? Painting is a discipline. Being able to work on problems week after week, learning from your mistakes, enjoying the good things and having a sounding board will make you a better painter. Workshops are great, but at the end of the 3-5 days the artist that taught the workshop isn’t going to be around to talk you through your work.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good information provided in a workshop.  I have taken several in the past and they do make you look at your work differently and everyone knows you will not do your best work in one.  That is not what you are there for….you are there to learn. Oh, and by the way, if you are taking a workshop or classes, leave your egos at the door.  That ego can keep you from learning!

    • Cherln

      Rick, Awsome words of wisdom. OK, I am now looking for a painting partner, Anybody interested in San Antonio?

  • Richard Dziak OPA

    Bridgette, all good points………especially the ego one………thanks for your comments.

    • Chuck Marshall

      Hi Rick,

      Well, having taken both workshops and classes, and taught both workshops and classes, I have to agree on the concept they are different in certain areas. A workshop is not a good place for a beginner in my opinion. They are better suited for a structured class. One needs a foundation to start from to be in workshops. Workshops can be anything from technique to conceptual learning, but not a beginner situation. The workshop instructor would spend way to much time trying to get the student up to speed instead of teaching the point of the workshop.
      And, If I am teaching a plein air workshop and my students didn’t want to go outside, I would say they are in the wrong workshop. I won’t waste my time on a student like that. I am there to teach the subject, they are there to learn it. If they refuse to participate, then they shouldn’t have a voice.

      I don’t mind the student who takes the workshop as a vacation, as long as they are there to learn. In a class situation, those who didn’t come to learn soon dissapear on there own. Its much easier to stop coming due to the cost difference.

      No matter which scenario, I always get the student whos ego stops them from learning. The phrase “I know” tends to be the first sign. The very same person usually tells others they didn’t learn anything as if the teacher wasn’t good enough.

      As far as who learns more, I am assuming you mean student verses instructor? That is a toss up. I have learned so much as an instructor.

      I agree there seems to be a huge amount of workshops out there. I believe this is due to so many factors that you can’t put your finger on one thing. I will say it seems to have grown since the economy dipped. All in all I am happy for all the great choices of instructors now teaching. There is a huge amount of talent out there.

  • Richard Dziak, OPA

    This is Rick, the writer of this blog……..our objectives of an ideal post would “include personal stories, techniques and thought -provoking questions……….since previous blogs concentrated on personal stories and techniques, I felt that personal stories and thought-provoking questions would be the way to go………

    With a membership of 3400 I was mistaken in thinking that at least one member of our organization would have some type of comment, pro or con……….apparently not…….the only comment came from a non-member artist friend.

    So what does that tell us?

  • Dziak

    Thank you for your comments Chuck…………you managed to say what I wanted to say………but in a better fashion…………