The Traveling Artist


Shelli Alford and Rob Liberace at his Sarasota, Florida workshop.

After my youngest went off to boarding school a little over a year ago, I decided to create a new job for myself. The very-tall-order job I created was to become a “Traveling Artist.” The job description: learn how to paint like a master from living masters and then to blog about the workshops and classes that I attend. My blog is called

Like many of you, I was very frustrated with the art education that I received in college. For a very long time, I thought I was the only person on the planet who wanted to know how the old masters created their works of art. It would be wonderful if there were a “master” ranking list of current artists who paint like the original old masters. But as I cannot find one, I created one for myself. I have never showed it to anyone, but every time I hear about an artist or I see someone’s work at The Art of the Portrait Conference that I love, I look them up and find out if they give classes or workshops. I assign a star rating from 1 to 5 (although I have yet to give an artist a 5) and then attend workshops or classes by artists whom I rank highly. The list is constantly changing and readjusting as I discover new artists.

It took me months to find a place where I could take classes from someone I respected. I joyfully found my first class with Alex Tyng at the Wayne Art Center in Wayne, PA. And so my self-directed art education began.


Dr. Johan Cedarlund, director of the Zorn Museum in Mora, Sweden, me Shelli Alford and Jeremy Lipking

Since this first class, I have attended classes and workshops from Aaron Westerberg, Rob Liberace, Jeremy Lipking, Ellen Cooper, Casey Baugh, Garth Herrick, Sadie Valeri and David Kassan in many different cities and countries. I am in Utah right now attending a great one with Ryan Brown. There have been workshops that I have not enjoyed, but when that has happened, I have followed my parents’ rule: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So, I just don’t blog about them.

As a result of my experiences taking workshops and blogging, I have developed a number of resources for potential workshop students, including upcoming workshops, price lists, tips for working with models, and much more. But before you dive headfirst into the wonderful world of workshops, here is a list of “unexpected things to expect” about workshops, plus my suggestions to artist teachers who want to provide the best possible experience for their attendees:

Unexpected things you should expect when attending oil painting workshops
Traveling to a new city (or country!) can be logistically difficult and will often be expensive. The upfront workshop fees do not always include all costs, such as model fees, travel expenses for day trips, extra supplies, etc. Transportation can definitely be a limiting factor as well… how do I get to said day trip? Be prepared to be flexible, or be proactive and call ahead of time for ALL the logistical/financial details.

Me Jeremy Lipking and some of the Swedish workshop attendees.

Me, Jeremy Lipking and some of the Swedish workshop attendees.

Free Tip for Workshop Hosts
Workshop instructors can help make these situations easier by handling the logistics of the workshop and presenting them upfront. Communicate every aspect of the workshop ahead of time so attendees know when and where they have to be and which supplies are required. Then, help coordinate how to get there. This is doubly true for workshops in other countries. Your attendees are there to learn art, not memorize the local public transportation system or pay for your personal vacation.
*Additionally, charging model fees is stingy and rude; just don’t do it.

If you are traveling to a workshop, odds are that you are going to have to spend the night somewhere. Workshops do sometimes provide accommodations, but they do not always accommodate you. For example, I was surprised at one workshop to find that in my room was… another person. I had not been told that I would be sharing a room, and I was not happy about it at first, but the problem ended up being a blessing because I met someone who became a terrific friend. Whether you are someone who needs their own space or is up for making new friends, be aware that you may have to speak up ahead of time to get what you want.

Free Tip for Workshop Hosts
An interesting way to approach the lodging logistics is to tell people upfront if you expect them to share a room before they sign up; then provide the option for them to pay extra for a single room. This way, if attendees feel very strongly about having their own space, it is an option, but it would cost more than doubling up. As in my case, I would never in a million years have agreed to a roommate given the straight option. On the other hand, I would have missed out on meeting a great friend.

Workshops don’t usually provide all the supplies you will need, and may not let you know what you need ahead of time. This means you might have to consider schlepping your easel with you, especially if it is a Plein Air workshop. Set up an arrangement ahead of time if your workshop does not already supply easels to take one on loan from the workshop. Also, if you happen to have paper towel preferences (my personal favorite is Viva), check for grocery or art stores near the workshop in advance. I know that sounds trivial, but think about the space packing paper towels takes up! Take advantage of those cool local art stores (like at the Scottsdale Artist School). You might find something you didn’t know you were missing.

Free Tip for Workshop Hosts
If you are putting on a workshop that requires specific supplies, you are doing yourself and your students a disservice if you do not a) let them know ahead of time, or b) offer for sale what they will need. This is a great way for workshops to make a little extra money. Easels and paper towels are two crucial things, but you will make everyone’s life easier if you have a little of everything beforehand in the package price or for sale at the workshop, as people really are bound to forget something.
Ryan Brown, Barack Alius and me, Shelli Alford

Ryan Brown, Barack Alius and me, Shelli Alford

Workshop attendees gossip. We all do it. Here are the top 3 things we talk about:
Whether or not a teacher artist behaves appropriately and professionally around models and groupies. Okay. Workshop instructors, I am speaking directly to you. Want to get people who attend your classes talking about the right things? Be professional around your attendees, the models, and your “groupies” (yes, you know who they are).

How much personal attention an instructor gives each attendee. Even if an attendee is shy, no one wants to feel neglected. Your attendees are not cattle; they each have special needs. Keep workshops small, or come up with a system that allows you to interact one-on-one with each attendee. This will most likely mean tightrope walking between encouraging your attendees to ask questions and controlling that one attendee who is totally hogging your attention.

Money. If attendees are being charged for something, such as a model fee, that was not included in the original price, you can be sure they will have something to say about it. I really cannot overstate how rude that gesture is. Every attendee should be told upfront what costs are involved; this is a necessity. These starving artists are already paying a lot to be at the workshop, so the least you can do is be forthright about what they are getting into.

Closing Thoughts

For more pointers and opinions, head over to my blog. But I will end on a positive note, leaving you with three really cool ideas that were highlights of workshops for me:
A wonderful idea from the Townsend Atelier was how to handle jockeying for a good easel position. There were a lot of attendees and all of the easels were already set up with a number attached to them. Each attendee drew a number from a bowl and, via lottery system rules, had to go with whatever easel they drew.

Another great idea, from Charlie Miano of The Southern Atelier, was when he had his Italian father come up to the workshop one day and bring us a delicious Italian wedding soup as a kind of send-off lunch. It felt so nice to be appreciated and was a great way for the attendees to unwind at the end of the workshop.

Finally, at the Jeremy Licking workshop, we were given the email addresses of the fellow attendees. This provided a great forum for gossiping communication.

I hope this help you as you embark on your own wonderful adventure of workshop touring. I love it! The teaching is so concentrated I feel I make much more progress at a workshop than I do in a lengthy class.

Have questions or suggestions of a great master artist? Submit your comment below.

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