Friday, September 16, 2011

Question of the Month--What makes a great class?

For back to school month, our question was "What makes an ideal art class for you?"


For me, a good class is one where the instructor is WELL PREPARED, with a clear outline of what they intend to teach, with materials prepared (or clearly indicated in advance) and a bit of printed information. I hate to be in a class where the instructor rambles, or seems ill prepared, or just unwilling to give freely of their knowledge and techniques. I have learned that a good artist is not necessarily a good teacher. I try to keep these principles in mind when I am teaching, too.


A class where I learn something I will use through eternity. I love it when there are happy talkative friends and other artists to share in the fun of learning. I like lots of room for individual spaces so we are not cramped. A teacher that is fun, and easy going, but knowledgable is wonderful. Jan Harris is one of my favorites. She provides stuff, she knows what she is doing, she is well and soft spoken and helpful. She lets me wander.


I used to take everything and anything and now I’m more selective. First I look at the person's art to see if I enjoy the colors and design and they have a “home tone.” A number of years ago I took a class from a well-known east coast artist because of the technique she was teaching. I learned the technique but I found her art unsettling (along with her voice) and I ended up leaving the class early. It just wasn’t my thing. Second thing I look for are classes that are technique rich. I don’t necessarily want to complete a project, but want to learn a new way to use the same materials or learn about new materials that relate to the type of art I enjoy doing. Classes I’ve enjoyed include

Michael DeMeng's online texture class called "Art Lab":

Leslie Parson's Acrylic class:
Rosie Kelly:

And one I’d love to take is John Lovett’s watercolor class, once I have the courage:


Any class where I come out inspired and eager to do more is a good one. At this stage, I really value a constructive critique. At first it was nice to have positive feedback and hear that everything is great, but now I really prefer to hear in detail what I could improve on. Aimee Erickson at Multnomah Arts Center is great with critiques. She even does paint-overs on your paintings, if you want. A lot of people don't like that, but I learn so much by seeing how she would do my painting differently. Pamela Allen does a similar thing online with fabric art classes. She photoshops pieces of your fabric and shows how you could improve the composition. And I learned a tremendous amount in William Park's painting class by having him tell me what was off whenever I got stuck.


I have a check list for the classes I take. Do I know the teachers work? What have others said about the way they teach? Will I ever use this technique again? Classes are expensive so I want to get the most out of it as I can. I look for a venue that may have a smaller number of students in the class. What is the kit fee and how many supplies do I need to buy. That’s just the beginning then I go back and ask some more people. I have passed on a teacher because of reviews from my friends. Once I’m in the class room I want a nice hand out in case I forget all that important information in the confusion of excitement. I want room to work, a 6’ table would be nice. I want the teacher to do demos and walk around all day helping us. If I’m taking a project class I want to finish. I also want to use all the supplies I bought. It sounds like I said I, I, I, a bunch of times but I just spent $150 to $800 (for a 3 day workshop) and I want to be happy. I must say I have always been happy because I ask tons of questions. But here is where it came back to bite me-- I teach and with the above list to make me happy I have to make double sure I can make my students happy. Its hard work to run all day. It’s very hard to make every student pleased with their work but most teachers try. Bottom line is to ask the questions and you will be more satisfied in the end.


My favoirte class was a $5.00 Cold Laminate Collage class at Peddler's Pack in Beaverton.

I have continued to apply the process in my art work, have sold pieces and taught the techinque several times.


The ideal art workshop for me is one where the teacher is passionate about creativity and about sharing knowledge. Favorite classes for me have to do with learning jewelry techniques or assemblage art - I'm all about 3-dimensional creativity! I don't necessarily feel like I have to complete a project in a class, but have found that when I dust that "inner critic" off my shoulder and remember to "be in the moment" I am usually very happy with what I complete that day.

I do enjoy Michael de Meng's workshops and recently took 3 of classes at Collage on Alberta. He's got a wonderful sense of humor and I love his work and the techniques he shares so freely with his students. The photos are of Michael de Meng's workshop in June.


I love art classes where the teacher is full of energy and excitement about the subject or project they are teaching. It's contagious and can make anything even more fun. But beyond that I love when they bring lots of cool supplies that you can use to make your project so you get a feel for what kinds of things work. And last when they take the time to come by every so often as you are working on your project to give you an idea if you are on track or help you with problems.


The first and most important thing I look for in a workshop or a class is if the instructor's work or class project catches my imagination; if it calls my name, so to speak. Will I be learning something new or will it expand skills? I like to see actual examples or good photos of what will be done. Secondly, I look at the teacher's background and try to recall anything I may have heard about her or him from other people who have taken classes with that instructor. I like teachers who are prepared, focused on the subject at hand during class, who are good at listening to their students, and willing to share what they know. Size is very important as I've found that I usually get much more out of a small class. A larger group is fine if I'm somewhat comfortable with the medium and I really want to experience a class with a particular artist.

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