Thursday, May 9, 2019

Have you tried the 'paint along' format?

The Regular, gouache, 5 x 8"
Jim is a regular at the diner. He tells us that he has been taking painting classes. He had one art teacher who made him buy a bunch of supplies and just lectured the whole time. He likes his new art teacher better because the class paints the same image all together. He says he’s learning a lot that way.

Question for adults who are learning to paint: Have you tried the "paint along" or "paint and sip" formats? If so, have you found them to be an effective way to learn and/or a fun way to socialize? 

If you have taken workshops with more traditional formats (lecture / demo / practice / critique), could you offer advice to teachers who lead workshops on how they can be more effective? 

By the way, my newest article for International Artist Magazine is about a day at the historic village diner, as seen through my sketchbook.


Rubysboy said...

to make workshops more effective for me:
* more talk about why you are painting this, what attracted you to this scene, what you are striving for in the painting
* more talk about how at each point in painting the picture you are referencing mentally this original vision or concept
* more talk about what you are noticing as you paint.

this implies less talk about materials and techniques except as these enter into the previous topics.

James Gurney said...

Good suggestions, and I noted many of the same things when I've attended workshops. Especially that first point: "why you are painting this, what attracted you to this scene, what you are striving for in the painting" is so important and so easy to take for granted or to forget to verbalize.

Jeanette and I often talk to each other about why we choose a motif or a composition that we think will work—and why we reject one that won't work. I recently watched an artist's video where he took some time to do that, and it was really fascinating to see what factors entered into that decision.

CerverGirl said...

My advice to teachers or what I appreciate are those topics mentioned above--what attracts the viewer/artist provides the energy to focus to create.

I have done the paint and sip venues as a schooled artist who had a long period of not creating art, for purposes of getting back into it, and socializing. But I stopped because once my educational practice was there on the canvas, it made people feel uncomfortable. But I do recommend them for people starting out who are interested, since materials are provided and they can be great fun. My advice to teachers at the paint and sips, or any teacher, is not to demonstrate directly on the student's art itself, because it can leave the student with a painting that is not theirs, and that is a very unsatisfying feeling.

For more focused classes or mentoring, I like when a teacher/pro evaluates the person's skill, and creates a project that is achievable/can be finished, just to build the confidence of the student artist. Someone has done that for me, and it really helps me focus on my learning skills.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...


Someday I'd appreciate, in your own words, your thoughts and methods concerning your layout and execution of your Scholars Stairway painting...and why it works.
A lot to ask, and one could trace off a perspective grid, but you've done more it seems. And while many works exist of impossible staircases, yours is more natural and less polished (as are your dinosaur paintings).
By "less polished" I mean you've purposely not polished it beyond a sense of realism and nature unto so polished as to be merely impressive.

Forgive my posting this question, but I try not to email.

Stephen and Nyree said...

Outside of elementary school art classes, I have never taken an art course. The closest I have gotten is to read your blog and trying to follow along with some of your YouTube videos.

At first my pale imitations were terrible, but over time by listening/watching and following along I have found I can apply principles and techniques learned and my imitations have improved. More importantly my own work has drastically improved.

Not having the experience of a proper art instruction I of course have no grounds for comparison. Yet a great deal be learned from watching and doing, if the artist/teacher explains some of the how and why. Thank you for providing us with your "paint and sip" instruction.

Lori Fontaine said...

Hi James
Workshops are a great way to learn skills, although I've noticed many attendees expect finished, gallery-ready pieces by the end of the session. Instructors could perhaps begin each session by explaining that the "magic" isn't necessarily the completed piece itself, but rather in the joy of learning.

One of my favourite (yes, Canadian spelling!) teachers uses the word "FUN!" often during his lectures as well as demos.He has such a blast painting that the rest of us are itching to pick up our brushes.Time stands still during his workshops--we look up to find 9 hours have passed and NO, we're NOT ready to stop!

A teacher can instill joy, discipline and determination in their students. Along the way, the students are also being taught the techniques they need to achieve the next level with their art. If they come away from the workshop with joy in their hearts from the time spent there, the knowledge will stay fresh in their minds.

You will have to imagine the leap in my soul when this Master Canadian Artist said to me, "Now, THAT'S a good little painting!"

orchidartist said...

I took one 'paint along' course with Gordon MacKenzie. Never again. He just started painting and we were supposed to copy what he did. Being 'loose and expressive' (but not TOO much) were key. Unfortunately we had no idea what the reference was because the image was in his head. I'm an artist that has to see something before I can paint it - as in I have to be able to look at something and get my subconscious working on it first. Then, somehow, the painting starts to take shape.

The one thing he did that I found unique was his using an old butcher tray and making compartments for paint around the edge of it using hardening white silicone caulk. The compartments were about twice as wide as those in traditional plastic palettes, and wide enough for his 2" sky brushes.

I found the entire several day experience unsettling, and came away, not with more faith in myself as a painter, but much less. I prefer the instructor who can help us analyze composition, relative value, and color, as well as an approach for first, intermediate, and final layers. As a botanical artist by training, who finds it easy to see and paint ALL the details, doing the reverse and simplifying complex subjects into a believable painting seems incredibly challenging. I appreciate watching you work.

sawdust said...

The Evolve online program has been the best thing for me to learn art at home. Not necessarily a workshop format but the instructors are some of the most engaging and supportive I've ever met. All the concepts are broken down to build a solid foundation that can be expanded to pretty much any medium, even digital.

Carole Pivarnik said...

I have taken a lot of workshops. My reason for attending most was to gain a technical understanding of someone's process and what they do to get the results they get. It is not usually the subject matter that interests me; I'm usually thinking about how I'm going to apply some elements of their process to my own or incorporate techniques for the subjects *I* like to paint.

For me as a student, the most effect workshop format is: Instructor explains one piece of a process or one technique, demonstrates it briefly, then guides students as they practice. When appropriate, one on one critiques are really super helpful. If there is time at the end of the workshop allowing for a group sharing of overall work and discussion among students about what was most challenging for them, it is also quite informative. Off the top of my head, three watercolor instructors I've taken workshops from who do this approach so very well and seem to be masters of time management are Sue Archer, Iain Stewart, and Lynn Ferris.

Richard said...

There are mirror neurons in the brain. See here So when you are watching someone do a task, you are "doing it" yourself, sort of copying it in your brain. This is now someone can learn without being told anything, but it can't apply to very long sequences. For example, in your oil painting video there is a tight close up of your hand sketching in the beginning with a pencil with a long lead and held so the lead itself is somewhat flat to the paper. Watching it I can feel myself doing it. To explain it in words would not really get it into "muscle memory." So it's often better to show someone something than to tell some how to do something. There are thing people pick up from watching other painters without being deliberately shown anything. For example, using the painting knife to mix paint rather than a brush.

Because mirroring can't be applied to long chains of behavior a teacher has to break a process like painting a picture into discrete small sections.


Jeff said...

I have taken one workshop. It was a lot of fun (including the socializing) and I enjoyed listening to the instructor and watching him paint. I learned a lot and I took a lot of photos that I still look at. But it also cost a lot of money and I could watch him paint and 'listen' to him with a DVD for much much less money. I don't know if I would learn as much from repeatedly watching a DVD as I did in person. I think that the way to get the most benefit from the workshop is lots and lots of practice when you get home. I don't know how many people do that. Otherwise it's mostly a fun but expensive short vacation.

Rich said...

I'm also attending a workshop. True, it costs some money, but coming to know all the co-chaps in the shop is already worth half the price: What a bunch of fellows;-)

The other half goes to the teacher: With a few words he points out all the mistakes in my painting-attempts. Saves me lots of trouble of repeating the same mistakes all over again.

João said...

A bit out of the way from the paint along or the iscussion about processes teachers use in workshops, your post reminded me a wonderful book, "Painting Chinese" by education scholar Herbert Kohl, who incidentally enrolls in a traditional chinese painting class in San Francisco in his seventies. Traditional chinese painting study follows a centuries old "program" and Kohl's book is all about how refreshing and transformative learning can be in spite of the apparent rigid content and challenging environment. Kohl spent three years in the chinese study, sharing a classroom with chinese american children in their teens and chinese teachers.