To say I was in a funk is too strong. I guess you could say I’d kind of painted myself into a corner. However you want to describe it, I was ripe for a creative shakeup. Much as I love my work and love my life, earlier this year I was in need of a creative change of some kind.
Sometimes the perfect catalyst for change is simply a conversation with the right person at the right time. That right time was in February, and that right person was my “Art Sista” Joan Fullerton, who swung through Santa Fe for a night during a winter road trip. ‘Just the day before her arrival I had received disappointing news regarding some competition I’d entered — I don’t even remember now what it was — but the rejection still stung a bit when she and I sat down at a small table at Santa Fe’s Violet Crown Theater restaurant and ordered a round of pizzas and vino. For three hours we sat there sipping, noshing, giggling and discussing all things Art: painting, materials, marketing, teaching, learning.
Joan is one of my Art Sistas who has found a fantastic balance of creating her own art and teaching others** She’s a well sought-after instructor, and travels far and wide sharing her insights via painting workshops.
Part of our conversation that night was regarding teaching, as Joan encouraged me to consider offering workshops out of my own studio. The benefits of teaching, she said, are huge. For not only does having to explain and guide other artists help you to articulate your own creative work, but — maybe best of all — you learn from your students; the experience feeds and inspires your own art. And you make new friends. And sometimes even you even acquire new collectors.
I was intrigued.
Years have passed since I’ve taught anything — be it basic drawing, elements of color or backpacking and camping skills. But when I used to do it — when I used to teach all those things — I enjoyed it. And I think I was pretty good at it.
If I were to offer workshops in my studio, I could only handle a couple of students at a time, for my studio is small.
And ohhhhh…. the idea of making room for others to paint is daunting.
Then there’s the issue of language.
It’s been so long since I’ve taught art-making, that I’m not sure I possess the vocabulary or language skills essential to convey concepts to beginners. I’m so used to conversing with myself about art, I’m not sure how well I could vocally articulate ideas to students. I’m sure I could eventually get up to speed, but those skills have long been lying dormant and would need a good bit of massaging to spring into action.
“Hmmmm….. What I should probably do is take some workshops myself…. see what goes on in a painting class…. Otherwise I haven’t have a clue what kind of exercises to put together, or how to guide students….”
And that’s when one of those moments of clarity hit me — the kind where you suddenly wake up, realizing you’ve been sleeping for decades in a self-made cave:
I haven’t been a student in years.
Oh sure, I consider myself a perpetual Student of Life, and a whole lot of what I read is about expanding my knowledge on various subjects.
But I haven’t been an art student in a classroom setting in ages.***
It’s kind of like a few years ago when I became reacquainted with artist residency programs: I attended one back in the early 90s — it changed my life — and then never gave them another thought until Art Sista Shawn Demarest encouraged me to apply to Playa. For 20 years artist residencies were simply not on my radar, and now they’re back on now.
Or when it dawned on me one day a couple years back that, despite hiking all my life, I hadn’t been backpacking in two decades (and promptly set out to fix THAT lack).
Same with taking art classes. After earning an advanced degree in painting, I just got busy making art. And for many, many years I’ve done just that, without really giving art classes a second thought. Doubtless I’ve felt I already know all that I need to know to make my art — which is true. To a point.
Time to change that and be a student again.
Which is why I found myself two weeks ago barreling west on I-40 to Flagstaff, then cutting sharply south on Rte 89 to descend into the red earth vortex of Sedona, Arizona to attend a 5-day, all day, painting workshop.
What did I learn?
** Darlene McElroy is another of my Art Sistas doing this… (see below…)
*** Two exceptions: I did take a one day workshop 12 years ago, when Joan invited me to join her in taking a mixed media workshop with … Darlene McElroy! It’s how I first met Darlene, who has since become another one of my closest Art Sistas. Darlene’s workshop transformed my art-making, leading me into mixed media painting.
The other workshop was about 8 years ago, taught by Joan in her Palmer, CO studio. Filled with great energy, lots of laughter and terrific insight into technique and processes, I can see why Joan has waiting lists to get into her classes.