My big project of this year is opening a permanent teaching studio.
As I move forward with it, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to different approaches to learning to paint.
The Four methods
I think there are broadly four approaches to teaching skilled representational painting these days:
- Atelier training
- Online courses
- A local art teacher
There’s much to say about this that I don’t have time or space to go into today. But personally, I’m pretty sure that the atelier model is the most effective in teaching a comprehensive set of fundamental skills.
Accurate drawing, values, form, colour (well, maybe not colour so much) materials, history of a tradition – all of these things can be taught very effectively in a full time program, where you’re in the company of other people striving toward the same goals.
And I imagine that the shared journey is very motivating. It’s a lot of the reason I run an online art community of my own – so that both myself and the members have a group to be a part of.
It is very motivating, even online, so it must be even more so at an atelier.
At the same time, I do think atelier training comes with a certain aesthetic bias toward classicism. Whether you appreciate this or not is largely a personal position.
This training also comes in for some criticism of the homogeneity of its approach – all the artists are doing the same work.
But I think you need to look at what happens to the atelier people after they’ve finished and had some time to develop their individual voiced to judge that, and the best place I know to see that is the suggested donation podcast.
A look down the list of their interviews shows an incredible range of artistic voices, all of whom have a very high level of skill, and most of whom are atelier trained.
But here’s the thing: Even if we want to, few of us have the opportunity to put our lives on hold and go and study for three years or more.
Even fewer of us can afford it.
I should point out that what I have to say about workshops here is meant to be taken in a very general way. There will, of course, be specific examples that are very different and much more effective.
From what I’ve seen (which admittedly is a fairly limited amount) a common model with a workshop is that attendees get to spend a few days in the company of a well known, highly skilled artist – an “art star”, even, sometimes.
The artist demonstrates, then the attendees try their hand at a similar kind of painting, with comments and advice from the artist as they go.
I’ll just come out and say it: I’m not at all convinced that this is an effective way to develop your skills.
If you attend a workshop like this you will pick up some knowledge, for sure.
But if they’re just demonstrating and describing what they’re doing as they go – well, frankly you won’t learn much that you can immediately apply.
The reason for this, I think, is that very often the instructor is much more painter than teacher.
They’ve developed skill in all the fundamentals of drawing and painting over many years, and are demonstrating their personal approach, as it is now. They’re vocalising what goes through they minds as they paint, explaining their decisions as they go.
If you don’t have a similarly high level grasp of the fundamentals, their specific techniques and approaches will probably not get the same effect for you as they do for them.
What you need is what got them to where they are now, not what they’re currently doing.
3. Online Training
I do quite a bit of this myself and have also taken quite a few online courses, so I’ve seen it from both sides.
Whilst it would be silly to contend that online training can ever compete with in-person training in terms of depth, it does have some distinct advantages – most of which are tied to convenience:
- Don’t have to travel
- Much, much cheaper
- Do it in your own time, rather than trying to cram in everything in a few days
- Go over things as often as you like
That could mean that you can learn more thoroughly than you can at a workshop, say, because you have the opportunity to constantly refresh your understanding of the content of the course.
The big disadvantage is that you’re not in the same room, so the instructor can’t see what you’re doing, what you’re getting right and what you’re getting wrong.
I’ve given workshops that have been attended by people who have already done some of my online training, so I know first hand that there are things I see and can instantly correct in a workshop that I would never know people were doing with the online only approach.
4. Learning with a local artist
I have no experience of this myself, either as a learner or a teacher, so it’s hard for me to comment.
But I think the effectiveness or otherwise will depend very much on the teacher.
Obvious advantages might be a very personalised approach without a set curriculum, instant personalised feedback – it could be a very effective way to learn. Perhaps the most effective.
The biggest disadvantage must be that if you don’t have someone good near you, this way will be unavailable to you.
And how do you judge if someone is a good teacher or not if you’re a beginner yourself? You can’t. Even if their work is impressive, they might be a terrible teacher.
So what about my approach?
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve tended towards thinking that a hybrid approach will be the most effetive way for me to teach what I know.
If you already follow me, you’ll know I stress the importance of exercises and developing skill in the funamentals of painting and drawing. It is simply the most effective way not only to develop skill, but to develop your work and vision.
When I teach a workshop, I want to pass on an effective method of learning, not any specific technique.
So I look at it from a point of view of how many execises I can demonstrate effectively in the time, that will be the most relevant to the people there.
The exercises are backed up with video versions you can access any time, so hopefully you can get the best of both worlds, to an extent.
I’m not interested in teaching how I paint so much as in teaching what has got me to the point of being able to paint as I do now – what helped me make the most progress on the fundamental skills that underlie the work.
I think that’s the best way to ensure that you make progress.
Workshop schedule for 2020
I’m currently working on a workshop schedule for this year, which I’ll put up in the next update. I’m trying as much as I can to bear in mind all of the above thoughts as I do it, and to develop something that will best meet your needs.
Attendance on a workshop will also mean access to online course materials that can be followed as you have the opportunity to do them. Ongoing feedback will be an option too – low level for free, more engaged and regular feedback as a paid option.
I’m hoping to find a sweet spot that makes the most of all the approaches whilst minimising the disadvantages, and take into account what opportunities people generally have to study.
The main point is that it will be coordinated – there will be a progression of skill development, taught most effectively in a combination of in-person and online teaching.
That’s my idea. I’m near the beginning of evolving this method, so some things will change as it evolves. But a cornerstone of the approach I intend to take is that once you come to me, you will always have access to some level of support.
Of course I’ll continue to supply online-only teaching, because not everyone can manage the travel and financial comitment of a workshop.
But that too will hopefully be much better informed by the in-person teaching I do.
I’ll update again soon with progress on finding the studio space, and will also flesh out the actual workshops I’m planning a little more in my next post.
Till then, I hope I’ve given you something to consider that might help you make your own decision about what kind of training will work best for you, whether you decide to get that training from me or someone else.
I would dearly love to hear what you think about this post, what has worked best for you and what hasn’t worked so well.
Any thoughts you have on how I can best arrange my teaching to give you best result – from a point of learning and convenience – will be very useful to me.
I want to make sure I develop my teaching inl ine with what you actually want and need, rather than just impose my own ideas.
So please do add any thoughts that come to mind in the comments.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,