Art Workshops and Comparing Your Work to Others
I used ink and watercolor on the cypress trees and hedges sketchbook study above. There was a lot of appreciation and breathing in the French air on the lawn where we stayed. The workshop had all the magical scenery (queue the location shots from A Good Year), food and wine, and culture you might imagine from that region of the world.
*And* there was ART, everyday, all day long. One of my favorite things about art workshops is days-upon-days of discussing art making, art supplies, art marketing, and artist experiences with fellow artists. And No One Changes the Subject.
Stretching Your Art Making Skills
Along with that dreamy deep dive into all things art, there are challenges related to following instruction from someone who paints different (better) than you.
Every date with your workshop muse tows your art-making towards the unfamiliar; plein air, group painting, loose brushwork, critiques, a different palette/color selection, foreign tools and rapid-fire assembly of art-making via someone else’s approach.
If you’re accustomed to getting your art right at least some of the time at home, painting at a workshop can be a lesson in humility.
The Conundrum of Artist Comparisons
My friend Sharon Williams left this comment:
Here is my conundrum and I am wondering if this is something you struggle with as well. Do you deal with comparison with other artists? I love my work, but then I see someone else’s style that I love and immediately feel that I am no longer ‘enough’. This particularly happens just after I take a workshop by a wonderful artist. I am in one right now where we are doing loose painterly portraits. My problem is that I am not a loose painter when it comes to portraits. Try as I might, I find it almost impossible to make a face with chunky brushstrokes. It try it, but hate it. Skin is just too soft for that IMHO. So, the question is, is it OK to be who you are, to paint with your own voice while continually stretching yourself to grow to get better, and NOT be able to be a loose painter, or is that a cop-out? My work is definitely not photorealistic and colour is my strength, but I just can’t seem to do it like some of the artists I love. ~Sharon
I remember – several years ago – wrestling with two months of no painting after a workshop with an incredible painter whose methods contradicted every one of my art-making habits.
I had plowed a comfortable groove of regularity in my studio, focused on output and frequency. Everything I painted during the workshop was dryer-lint. When I came home, I couldn’t paint anything even a gum-wrapper above awful.
Learning New Things Has Always Taken Time and Practice
Fast forward to a decade later, and I still use lessons from that workshop. The source of my frustration at the time was the gap between my comprehension and my skills.
I knew what the instructor was describing, and I loved the demonstrated results, but I couldn’t accelerate – in just one weekend – my abilities (color mixing, drawing, values, layering) to match my understanding.
I also realized that I could find collectors, fans, and compliments for my work, and marinate comfortably in those affirmations. But that praise would not appease the little voice in my head that wanted to paint more like the artists I considered uber-talented. So, I had a lot of work to do.
Art-Making Shortcomings, or Learning Process?
Does that frustration from bumping into art-making shortcomings mean we should stop taking workshops, and retreat to comfortable, routine studio habits?
That’s up to each artist to decide. Next to the awe from watching a great painter demonstrate their skills, I get a magnifying mirror look at myself.
With a long list of artist skills that need work. A challenging workshop is a reality check that contradicts the seduction of existing compliments and collectors.
Every artist has to set their own bar, right? I’ll take the discomfort and feelings of inadequacy at a rockin’ workshop if it inspires accelerated conviction to grow as an artist.
How do you approach a challenging art workshop?
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.~ Confucius
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I send these blog posts to subscribers (you can sign up here) a few times a month with links to art-related articles, other artists’ sites, and my own studio happenings. Content usually covers both painting and printmaking, with a hefty dose of the emotional wrestling I find inherent in most creative endeavors.
I use this blog space to unfold and examine my own procrastination, stuckness and struggles to make time for and get better at my art.
My hope is that despite the solo nature of studio and art-making time, we each find more solid ground, and a prioritized conviction to get better at this when we discuss it together.
I’m really glad you stopped by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.John Steinbeck