How Artists Can Accelerate their Education through an Art Class

Ingrid Christensen
Sep 10, 2018 4:14PM

Students in adult education art class London UK. Photo by Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images.

If your artwork feels stale or you’re experiencing creative block, one solution might be to step out of your routine and take a series of art classes or a workshop. Below, we share some considerations to keep in mind as you go about finding a class that’s right for you, and for making sure you’re getting the most out of the experience.

Choose the right class

Workshops are taught across the world, in every medium, by instructors ranging from relatively unknown artists to internationally acclaimed masters. In comparison, more traditional classes, which often occur weekly and stretch out over the course of weeks or months, are typically led by instructors in your area.

But regardless of whether you want to travel abroad for a short-term workshop or commit to a recurring local class, choosing the right one has more to do with you than with the location or the teacher. Before you begin your search, determine what you want to learn. Be as specific as possible—it will help you avoid the trap of taking a workshop with someone simply because you like their art.

Perhaps you want to loosen up your style or learn a new medium or technique? Or maybe you want to try out plein air painting or sculpting in clay. Identifying what will help you most in your creative pursuits, before you begin looking for a class, can be instrumental in narrowing down the vast art class offerings out there. In other words, if a class doesn’t address your goals, don’t sign up. With patience—and the internet—you’ll find one that’s designed to teach what you want to learn.

Make sure you have the right materials

After enrolling in your class, study the supply list that your instructor provides. Rather than waiting until the last minute—and risking not having the right materials at your first class—determine what you need to buy early on, and start shopping as soon as possible. If you’re considering substituting materials on the list, get in touch with the instructor first. They’ve put together a list designed to align with what they’re teaching; tinkering with it could make your experience in the class more difficult.

You should also examine any tools you already own that you’re planning to use to ensure that they’re in good condition. If you’re attending a painting workshop, for example, you’ll have more success with brushes that are crisp and flexible than ones that are worn down, stiff with old paint, and loose in the ferrule.

Prepare mentally

Before you begin a class or workshop, prime yourself to be open, curious, and adventurous. Leave your own rules about how to make art at home, and plan to accept new methods and ideas, without judgement.

One helpful mental exercise is to remember how you felt when you first started making your art. Perhaps you were engrossed in the process and the end product was only a part of your excitement; maybe you took pleasure in handling the materials. Some of the work you made during that time might still please you, while others you may want to forget. Prepare yourself for either outcome, and remember that the end products are not the point—take advantage of the opportunity to hone your skills and learn new processes.

Get to class early

Something as simple as arriving at your class before the studio fills up can make a difference. You’ll have time to find a good spot, set up your workspace, and meet the instructor. A calm start also means that you’re able to focus on the introductory instructions and absorb more than if you arrive in a flustered state. Just remember that your teacher has also likely arrived early to set up without haste, so give them the space to do so.

Keep notes

Your notes will be gold in the months ahead, when you’re alone in your studio and trying to remember the methods you learned and advice you received. Take the time to jot down step-by-step instructions, and snap some pictures, too.

Keep your ears open

During class, try to find a balance between focusing on your work and listening to your teacher’s instructions and feedback. This includes conversations happening with your classmates—it can be extra learning for you. If you hear your teacher offering a piece of advice over and over again, make a note. It could be a key concept that may help you with solving a problem in your own work.

Ask questions

Get involved in your learning by speaking up when something is unclear. If you’re struggling with a technique, it’s likely that someone else is, as well. Remember, though, that your instructor has to address everyone’s questions, so be patient and aware of the other students in the room.

Take risks

Cautious, timid, anxious efforts will result in cautious, timid, and anxious art. Decide to be fearless; the only things at stake are some art supplies. Remind yourself to focus on the process, not the end product, and take a bold approach to creating. You’ll learn much more by diving deep into new methods and materials than you will by cautiously dipping a toe.

Expect an emotional roller coaster

Prepare yourself for some ups and downs as you learn. You might be excited at the start, as you begin working with new techniques, then frustrated when things don’t go smoothly. You might feel anxious about grasping a new method, and possibly even envious of your classmates’ success. Don’t let ego become a part of the equation; instead, embrace the feelings that you’re having. Uncomfortable scenarios can shake you out of your old habits and help you grow as an artist.

Be productive beyond the studio

Whether you’re taking a short workshop or a long-term class, get to know the other students. You have a rare opportunity to spend time with like-minded peers and fellow artists. Join them for dinner and make new friends.

The evenings during a workshop, or the days between classes, are also time to review what you learned. Reread your notes, and think about what you created. What went well? What didn’t? What questions do you have? What should you focus on in the next class? And, importantly, are you learning the thing that you came for? These review sessions will give you clarity and purpose for your next learning day.

Bring what you learned back to your studio

After finishing a class or workshop, resist the urge to immediately launch into a major project. Instead, take time to process your experience. Reread your notes and expand on them while the information is fresh; look at the work that you made for clues as to what you’d like to explore more deeply. If you learned about color, for example, you might ease back into your work by making color charts or doing small, simple color studies. After so much activity and risk-taking, it’s important to give yourself time for reflection and consolidation.  

With preparation and the right frame of mind, you’ll be able to reap the full benefits of taking a class, and it will continue to unfold in your mind and work for months to come.

Ingrid Christensen