One of the joys of going on an art workshop is the other participants. It can, of course, also be one of the nightmares, and the fear of who else might be there may be what's stopping you from signing up. I've been on a variety of courses over the years, ranging from a mere hour (at a large craft exhibition) to several days (at residential art retreats such as Higham Hall
in the English Lake District
), as well as some teaching small groups face-to-face myself, and there are definitely certain personality types you'll meet.
1. The Fish Out of Water
Artist Patrick Oates demonstrating mark making at a landscapes workshop I attended.
Someone who is wondering why they ever thought that coming on the workshop was a good idea. Usually but not always someone doing it for the first time. Who's finding the strangeness of the setting, the dealing with strangers, the coping with new challenges overwhelming and feels like they're about to have a meltdown.
Watch for the "rabbit in the headlights" startled and slightly panicked look. Don't crowd or rush them, offer gentle encouragement and enthusiasm. Once they get over their nerves, they're great companions on the quest to learn.
2. The Sunday Painter
Photos © Marion Boddy-Evans
Not a beginner, but a competent artist who enjoys painting for the activity rather than for selling to make a living. Usually has quality paints and brushes, knows how to use them, and has infectious enthusiasm and enjoyment.
3. The Quiet Mouse
Typically found in the corner, hiding behind an easel with the largest board they could find onto which they've put a small piece of paper (because art materials are expensive and they shouldn't really be spending money on themselves). They watch and listen, eager to learn but equally eager never to be under the spotlight. Often frightened to initiate discussion with other participants but enjoy listening in. Acknowledge their prescence, ask them questions to encourage joining a conversation, but don't insist they do, let them decide.
4. The Sponge
The participant who soaks up knowledge, mopping up every snippet. Bad sponges will pursue the tutor relentlessly, including at breaks, and try to suck them dry in their attempt to learn every single thing they possibly can in the time available and get their money's worth. Be a good sponge and stick to taking what the tutor offers and a reasonable number of questions during group session. Ask the most pertinent questions during one-to-one moments, not every single thing you've thought about. For the rest of the participants a good sponge will ask those significant questions you'd wished you'd thought of, or were still too shy to ask.
5. The Significant Artist's Significant Other
The person who is perceived as important in certain circles because of who they're married to, rather than for what they themselves do. Amongst a group of people focused on creating rather than status, personal insecurities may assert themselves in highhanded remarks. Ignore the words and look at their art. Have a bit of fun counting how many times they name drop, and how long it takes before they do so.
6. The Once-Upon-a-Time Art Club President
The loud, forceful, A-type
personality who likes to preface their sentences with "In the art association that I'm president of we do..."
and "Yes, but at my art club..."
. After not very long you begin to wonder why they're there as they don't seem open to new ideas. While you're gritting your teeth, try to remember that familiarity is a comfort zone, so relating everything to a known factor is a way of dealing with new challenges.
7. The Serial Workshopper
Like butterflies flitter from flower to flower enjoying the nectar but never make honey, so some people flitter from workshop to workshop but never stop to spend time applying what they learn. Great for tutors because all workshops need participants! A variation of this is the Tourist: there for a leisurely holiday with a creative theme
not anything that might resemble effort or work (but unlikely to interrupt anyone who does).
8. The Groupie
This is the one who has an obsession about the tutor and goes to all their workshops (and no others). Can be dangerous, because they will brook no dissension over the apparent greatness of The Master. Check to see if they have particularly sharp and long finger nails, and don't sit next to them at supper when they might be holding sharp cutlery. Seriously though, repeat students are a sign of an exceptional tutor (and location).
9. The Overtly Arty Person
Flamboyant and outgoing, veering on too loud and hectic for quieter souls, who wears their art on their sleeve, literally. What, depending on your age, might be labeled a flower child, a hippy, an arty-farty person, a free spirit, etc. Don't be put off by the costume and/or performance, the mind behind it perceives the world differently and interestingly.
10. The (Semi-) Professional
Life-long learning is part of being an artist, and many professional artists
take workshops to try new things, learn from other artists whose work they admire, and refresh their own creative batteries
. They often won't mention that they sell their work, and keep a low profile, both out of respect for the tutor and because they're there to enjoy themselves not teach. Try to position yourself so you can see what they're doing at their easel as you'll learn lots by watching these participants too.
Let's not forget the tutor. Their personality and teaching style makes or breaks a course. It's their job not only to lead and teach, but to judge and balance everyone's needs and demands. It's part-teacher, part-diplomat, part-psychologist, part-demonstrator. They are not a parent, neither are you a child; it's an adult-to-adult dynamic. Dictatorial tutors enforce their method as the only right way (and often sell their branded supplies) and the worst bully students. Motivational tutors share their approach, tips and techniques, how they would do it, encouraging you to try, to reach for what's beyond what you thought possible.
Last but by no means least, there's you. Because not all participants are stereotypes (or archetypes), and most artists are individuals. You are attending the workshop for all the right reasons. To develop skills, to learn new techniques, to recharge creativity, to meet interesting fellow artists, and to produce some inspirational art.
In return for the money you've paid, you're entitled to expect certain things. But rights come with responsibilities, to yourself, to the teacher, and the other participants. Be willing to try new things (repeatedly, not once only), aim for creating studies
not finished paintings (you're there to learn things, apply them more meticulously when you're back home). Ask and respond to questions, express your opinions, participate!
What is important is to always remember that, ultimately, it's down to you to get the most from a workshop. Don't let someone's personality or approach ruin your time. Try to be like a duck (letting it wash off you). As to where I would categorize myself in this list, well that's not for me to say...