What I learned while teaching

I’m just back from my spring break week in South Carolina and Georgia, where I spent a few days teaching a workshop in Palmetto Bluff, and then a few days wandering around Savannah before heading back to Montreal.

I still haven’t scanned the sketches I did during the week, so I’ll save those for another post. In this one, I thought I’d focus on the workshop itself, the students’ work, and the things I learned while teaching.

When you teach outdoors, you have to adapt to changing weather conditions (we had our share of those this week) and be prepared with lots of “Plan B” exercises in case of rain. Urban sketchers are traditionally a hardy bunch: we’re ready to take whatever comes, meteorologically speaking, prepared to travel light, move quickly and, judging by my Palmetto Bluff students, willing to work hard. I’ve realized that every time I teach a workshop, it’s as much a learning experience for me as it for the participants. The main lessons I hoped to tackle in our three days together were composition, value studies, simplification, painting with lively washes, and using a limited colour palette. Over three days, we managed to cover all of that, and more.


On the first morning we picked a spot on the property and used a view of the salt marsh as a way to study values. The dark curving branches of Southern live oaks, in the foreground, provided a perfect dark contrast to the light sky and headlands in the distance. In the afternoon we used the values studies as reference for larger colour sketches. The marsh setting was a great subject for value studies since the lights (sky), darks (trees) and mid-tones (marsh and headlands) are very easy to identify.

So what did I learn on the first day? It took some thinking (which I did on the airplane ride home), but I realized that Day One is when I get to know each workshop participant and try to figure out what they’re trying to achieve in their sketches. As you can see, this group’s skill level was very high.


On the morning of Day Two, I asked students to put away their pens and pencils and instead use brushes to draw the framework for their sketches. Many had never tried going straight to paint before, but the sketches of houses and plantation ruins around Palmetto Bluff were fresh and lively.


After lunch an impending rainstorm moved us indoors to a wide wraparound screened porch with great views of a dramatic sky. At one point it became so dark when the rain finally arrived that a student pulled out a flashlight from her bag so we could all see the demo I was working on.


The Day Two takeaway, for me: no matter how well you pick your locations, it’s crucial to have some shelter close by in case of rain. (And a flashlight!)

The forecast for Day Three included lots of sun, but with the addition of cold temperatures and gusting winds, we found shelter on a quiet street of Old Town Bluffton. After my demo, students settled down to sketch. Often on the third day of a workshop I find that the concepts I’m teaching start to gel. I noticed that everyone was more relaxed (or possibly exhausted or frozen!) and also taking more time to draw, so instead of moving to another location for the afternoon we stayed in the same spot for the entire day. What did I learn on Day Three? I learned to give students more time to finish their drawings and integrate the concepts they’ve learned. This resulted in some amazing work!


We ended each day with a critique, which included looking everyone’s sketches and identifying how they could be improved or completed. I don’t know about you, but when I’m a participant in a workshop, I’m so focussed on my own sketch that I don’t see what other people are working on, so this gathering is really important.


And in classic Urban Sketchers style, there has to be a group photo with sketches in hand.


If you think a workshop is something you might be interested in, have a look at my workshop page for upcoming events in 2018 and 2019. Or drop me a line if you have a local group and are interested in inviting me to your city.


28 Comments on “What I learned while teaching”

  1. Nancy Dwight says:

    Wonderful to relive our glorious week!


  2. Lee Warren says:

    Shari, is your Fredericksburg class full? I can’t believe I missed this. I’m two hours away but I leave for Tuscany the next evening. I’m not sure if I was supposed to miss it this time, if you know what I mean. I think I stopped checking your site after I chose not to go to France or maybe all the courses weren’t up yet. And I’m in driving distance to SC also!

    We will get together eventually and I’m learning all the Principles of Design and so much that is needed to improve my skills. 😁

    Lee Warren

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Judy Sopher says:

    I can’t tell you how outright jealous I am !! Hope someday to get in on one of your workshops. Meanwhile, I rewatch your Craftsy classes. Really enjoyed this post and seeing all the work.


  4. Isy Falkner says:

    Seeing your post in England. I enjoy craftsy. That’s lovely seeing everybody’s work and how we are all so different in how we see and how we apply our art. Your students’ work is fantastic. Thank you Shari for showing us their work. Their talent and what they have learned is obvious from looking at the fab pictures.


  5. Ellen Simpson says:

    Shari, the workshop great fun. Even the blustery weather. Thank you so much, you’re inspirational.


  6. Karen Kubovchick says:

    What kind of sketchbook are the students using? Karen Sent from my iPhone



  7. Alison says:

    Thanks for this reportage on a truly memorable workshop. What a terrific group of people. It’s a treat to see these photos. I’m so happy I was able to take part. I learned a lot, and even more will continue to sink in. Many thanks to our local hosts.


  8. Margriet Bunger says:

    Awed, star-struck and feeling inspired by your terrific and so very kind teaching!!
    Unforgettable experience in a beautiful location…


  9. Jauch says:

    Well, I envy those ladies for this amazing opportunity.
    I never sketched, but I do some drawing. I just bought some aquarella and will try them soom. 🙂
    Thanks for the inspiration!


  10. Lisa Daniels says:

    I miss you and your wonderful teaching style already. It was a pleasure and honor to be with you for 3 days–selfishly I wish it was longer. looking forward to Porto!!


  11. Monique says:

    You are one buy lady! What a yr you will have!


  12. Isabell says:

    Hey Shari,I find your reflections on the different stages of a workshop very interesting and totally agree on the last part: to give participants more time to assimilate the content of explanations and demos and finish their own work. The results of your workshop shown here confirm that!!! Besides it has been 5 years since I last met you in Barcelona but reading your blog entries kind of brings you closer. I look forward to seeing you in a few months in Porto 😀


    • Isabell, it’s great to hear from you. I follow your work on social media too and I always enjoy seeing your large scale watercolours. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. Writing all my thoughts down was a great way for me to remember all the things to do in the next workshop. I’m really looking forward to seeing you again in Porto!


  13. joantav says:

    I love seeing and reading about your workshops. They look so great and I know your students always learn a lot. I’ve learned from you just by watching you on the occasions that we met. At some point the stars will align and I will get to take a workshop with you. I was hoping to do that in Porto, but no luck with the workshop registration. My year has a lot of travel in it so I can’t carve another trip into it. I will see you in Porto.


  14. pamlopez15 says:

    Hi Shari,
    Just back from the trip having stopped off in NYC. I couldn’t stop talking and reminiscing about the workshop! My daughter must be glad I’ve finally left!
    Thank you for the absolutely wonderful experience of learning from you. I’m working on loosening up and using bigger brushes! Looking forward to joining another one of your workshops soon. XOXO


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