What I learned while teachingPosted: March 25, 2018
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.