“I am still learning…” Michelangelo said this, at the age of 88, on his deathbed.
Regardless of whether we hold an MFA, claim to be self-taught, have newly retired to art, or were trained in an age of figurative art blight, as artists we are in a continual state of development. Fortunately, because we are living in the age of information, it’s easy to find many opportunities for continued learning, too many actually. In researching this article, I sent questionnaires to artists who responded to my Facebook queries and asked them to share their thoughts about their favorite workshop.
Cleveland painter Chris Benavides retired as an American Greetings illustrator and now pursues painting full time. He kicked off his next life phase by seeking workshops that would point his work in the direction he saw himself going and would address any weaknesses he might have. His screening process included looking for factual reviews, not ones that seemed star-struck by legendary teachers. Looking for specific instruction, he found Jeffrey Watts of Watts Atelier of Art. Jeffrey teaches the Reilly Method which is where Chris learned about mapping the features of the face.
Vermont Portrait Painter, August Burns, whose credits include a commission to paint the governor of her state, found dedication and focus with the “phenomenally smart and generous” Alyssa Monks whose workshop she attended at Monks’ studio a few years ago.
3-hour workshop demo by Dominique Medici
August also hosts workshops at her own studio and invited Dominique Medici to teach her Limited Palette Workshop and was inspired by her “gift for bringing out everyone’s best, no matter their level.”
12-day demo by Joshua LaRock
Even artists who classify themselves as beginners when they took their favorite workshop do well when they seek out workshops to address their specific needs. Joyce Danko took a workshop with Joshua LaRock at the Grand Central Atelier in New York because she had never “built” a portrait before. She hoped to learn “tangible, effective methods for realizing a likeness without overworking the portrait.” She states that LaRock’s teaching provided for her the “essential groundwork to build, adapt and improve her work, on her own terms.”
Diane Gills Robinson also classified herself a beginner. In 2013 she found so much inspiration from instructor, Laura Spector at the Art League of Houston that she took her workshop three times. Diane said she “found herself sitting with an MFA to her left and a BFA to her right, and neither had ever been taught the chemical and technical practice of mixing paint” until Spector’s workshop.
Workshop demo, in progress, by Karen Offutt
In compiling responses, I found some interesting lineages of instruction. Maria Bennett Hock along with myself consider Karen Offutt’s figure painting workshop at Alia Fine Art Studios in Raleigh, North Carolina as our favorite.
In addition to Karen’s “thorough knowledge of color theory, optical mixing” and her clear and direct, teachable approach to figure painting, Maria credited Alia Fine Art Studios as a “venue very conducive to instruction. The class stood in a semi-circle where Offutt was able to walk easily around the circle and help each student.” Maria also appreciated that the class ate lunch together in a common area, and the art discussion continued giving everyone a change to get to know one another.
Continuing the lineage, Karen Offutt, whose process was recently featured in the Portrait Society Members Journal, credits Portrait Society Faculty and Presenter, Quang Ho as her favorite workshop instructor.
Tracy Ference also took a workshop with Quang Ho in 2013 at the Caleb O’Connor Studios in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She recalled that Quang Ho was approachable, attentive to each student and offered plenty of positive advice. Also prior to the workshop, Quang asked each student to send him 3 or 4 pictures of paintings from their portfolio. Quang then prepared a slide show of their work and gave critiques and suggestions.
Portrait Society artists are not shy about learning from those that came before them. PSoA finalist, faculty and face-off artist, Anna Rose Bain, took a workshop from Nancy Guzik in 2012 and felt she gained incredible insights that she now carries with her into her own career. Nancy Guzik “dug deep and pushed us towards greater self-awareness…channeled that fear and turned it into positive energy.” Anna says, “In three days, I learned to overcome fear. That is no small thing!” Anna has only the highest praise for the teaching method of master artist, Nancy Guzik: “I can’t say enough about her firm, yet somehow angelic demeanor as an instructor.”
Because we had so many responses from artists of all levels, this is the first part of our two-part series on “The Best Workshop I ever took…and Why!” Thank you to all the respondents for your time, and your thoughts are greatly appreciated.