Wednesday 20 February 2013

The gifts of knowledge

Over the past few days I've been figuring out my schedule for spring workshops. While teaching art was not something I envisioned as a big part of my life as an artist, over time it's become an important component of my yearly schedule. Each spring and fall I now offer a roster of day-long workshops where participants (mostly adults) join me in my studio to learn about coloured pencil drawing or silk painting based on my own accumulation of education, experience and skills.

Many artists shun teaching. Perhaps they're possessive of their hard-earned knowledge and unwilling to share, or they're shy and the idea of speaking to a room full of eager learners is daunting, or they don't have the right kind of personality to teach what they know, or the right skills, or maybe they simply don't want to! Whatever their reasons, I'm sure they're good ones - after all, we're all different. But for someone like me, who first taught night school in my early 20s (I was terrified at the time), offering workshops is a good fit. Not only that, I have discovered that sharing my knowledge has resulted in some unexpected benefits.

I have found that there are few things that compare with the profound enjoyment of seeing workshop participants succeed, sometimes creating things they didn't know they were capable of. Observing them have an "ah-ha!" moment when the realize they have grasped something totally new, or tapped into a hidden talent, or tried a new technique that works magically well, and knowing I have guided them to that happy place is intensely gratifying. I'm particularly tickled to observe students progress over time, their confidence and skill growing all the while, and to see some of the amazing creations that blossom from the seeds of knowledge I planted.

A silk painting workshop in progress

Not only do my students learn from me, they have helped me expanded my own knowledge base. They pose insightful questions that I have to dig deep to answer, they come up with interesting ideas that make me research new possibilities, and they make suggestions that cause me to ask "why didn't I think of that?" On an ongoing basis I am challenged to coherently explain art-making from many aspects, from general day-to-day habits to specific technical applications, and this has made me analyse my own processes and improve my grasp of exactly what it is I'm doing! It has made me, I think, a better artist overall.

And then there's the inter-personal stuff. I think making art should be enjoyable and relaxing, not scary or stressful - although I must confess I have my own scary and stressful art-making moments from time to time. However, I have observed that, for some, fear of failure or concerns that their efforts will measure up unfavourably against their peers can hinder the learning experience. Creating an encouraging, supportive environment where everyone feels comfortable and benefits from learning and creating together, no matter their individual abilities and backgrounds, can be challenging. I have found that a balance of cheerful encouragement, solid information and individual coaching is a good formula and generates an atmosphere of positive energy. When participants finish the day feeling that they've grasped the concepts, mastered the skills, and had fun doing it, then I feel like I've done a good job.

A work in progress at a pet portrait workshop - coming along nicely!

I've watched my roster of workshops grow - thanks in no small part to encouragement from some very supportive individuals (you know who you are) - as has my following of students, so from a customer satisfaction perspective I must be doing something right. And from my own perspective I've come to recognise the value of teaching as an enhancement to my own growth as an artist and an individual.

Not only that, and perhaps best of all, I've made great connections with students whom I now think of as friends.

If you're interested in my upcoming art workshops, I invite you to visit my website for full details.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Full circle

As I readjust to life back home in Canada, barely back from a two-month sojourn in the southern Caribbean, I'm seeking refuge indoors from the cold, grey drizzle by downloading and reviewing the myriad of photos that I captured during my trip.

I had commenced, all those weeks ago, with this photograph: a ground dove nesting behind the air conditioning unit at the apartment in Trinidad that served as my home base. Regular readers of my blog will have seen it in the post Southerly Migration.

As time passed, I kept watch over this dove, checking regularly and ever-hopeful for an indication that the eggs had hatched. In December I travelled to Guyana for a week of adventures and returned to Trinidad to find her still hunkered down on her nest. Then I was off to Grenada, returning in January to find she was STILL there with no sign of any change. More weeks went by, and I finally began to think this dove was simply messing with my head! Then one day I noticed she was absent from the nest. There was no sign or sound of life - not a peep nor a rustle. I figured something had gone wrong and the eggs had simply failed to hatch or perhaps a predator had paid a visit.

Then, on my very last day before heading home, I noticed movement in the nest again. To my delight, this was what I saw:

Momma dove had successfully hatched two youngsters. All the time they had been quiet as mice, crouched down in their nest as she furtively came and went, bringing the babies food and nurturing them along. It was only as they grew, fledged and neared the time they would leave the nest that they became visible. I suppose when you belong to defenceless and vulnerable species, keeping a low profile is the best survival strategy.

What remarkable timing! To see this little family come full circle was a fitting conclusion to my southerly migration. Now if only the temperature outdoors could match the warmth I feel in my heart!