Sense and nonsense of workshops…and about Wood Carving on your own (part 1)

July 1, 2007

Are you a talented artist? Do you have enough energy to seek the adventure of your life? Do you love experimenting? Do you have enough inspiration for a lifetime? Can you read? Do you want to commit yourself? Do you have perseverance? Do you have the ambition to achieve a goal? Do you want to explore your potentials? Do you trust in your capabilities? Do you believe in yourself?

So what do you need workshops for?

I know – this is a very provocative question. My intent to ask this is not to compromise other artists’ potential income. It is a call for awareness, for thinking about how to utilize your resources carefully and stop spending precious money on things that go under the attribute of “must haves” in the sense of shopping. It should also work as a help for making the right decision and become aware of your expectations before you subscribe to a workshop. If I could add to the improvement of workshops in general by making a couple of points very clear, a student might not have thought about before, I have reached my goal. It is a simple calculation – the more valuable workshops you have the more confidence you could have in their potentials.

I often hear artists “bragging” about having been to this or that workshop and I cannot get rid off the feeling that quantity counts more than quality as it happens with so many other things. I also hear many complaints about workshops, where expectations were not fulfilled because the student expected something different from what was offered or worse, where the teacher was totally incompetent.

In our world of total abundance we have entirely ceased to think about what we really need. This applies to artists also. The expectations we have towards our environment is large and the willingness to reduce our “stuff” to things we really need, is small. We invent all sorts of excuses why we “need” this and that new equipment and don’t realize that this is only another addiction to shopping and collecting or hoarding behind it – yes hoarding! I think it is time for contemplation.

So I would like to ask: What do you need a workshop potentially for?

  • to learn new techniques
  • to get to know new materials
  • to improve your skills
  • for inspirational purposes
  • for working in a group – synergy
  • to enhance your resumé
  • because you need a teacher
  • to get to know people – socializing
  • because you have no discipline to work alone
  • because you need to get away from home
  • because you need a justification for travelling
  • because you need affirmation

Let’s start with the first one:

New techniques – this is a good reason to participate in a workshop. Although there are plenty of other possibilites how you can learn new techniques: books, internet – which is full of all sorts of good tutorials, meeting other people working on the technique – ask per e-mail whether you are allowed to visit their studio – many artists offer an open studio walk once a week or month, free or cheap courses of your art supplier (these are sometimes offered on a 1-2 hour basis for free or a very small fee) – just use your cognitive capabilities to check out potential information. Even craftfairs might have some potentials to get to know about new techniques and materials – at least they can give you a glimpse of what you might be interested in to investigate further.

Believe it or not but I have learned about quilts some years ago during a craftfair, an event that finally led me into silk painting. You never know what opportunities this might open for you.

Okay I must admit – this is not quite an easy way to learn and for some techniques it is really impossible. F.e. if you have no environment at home where you could work on messy things such as paper making, or even pottering because you simply don’t have the appropriate wet room in your basement while living in a 2-room apartment – then you better look for some other place.

But even in a 2-room apartment things are possible if you are witty and really committed to achieving something on your own without spending big bucks on sponsoring expensive workshops.

The wood carving and sculpturing I learned totally by myself, happened in my living room, that was more less entirely turned into a studio during the day and went back into a living room – more or less – in the evening. It was quite annoying – I must admit it – being forced each day to clean out all the dust and wood chips – but it was worth while and the only way to create these pieces without spending extra money on space and workshops.

One of the pieces I created was a triptych, entirely hand carved from wood, 85″ x 93″ in total, inspired by ancient Indian stone carvings and other art. Don’t ask me how I moved it around in the small room, but it was possible:


Indian Triptych
Krishna and Radha
pine wood, 85″ x 93″ x 7″
©2001 Petra Voegtle

Another one was a figure, 43 inches high:


Putri Dedes
Putri Dedes, pine wood, 43″ x 28″ x 19″
©2002 Petra Voegtle

I know these examples are quite extreme but I wanted to show what’s possible – you only need to extend the limits in your brain and rely on a friendly and patient neighbourhood.

It also shows that you need a great deal of self assurance just to overcome your doubts about your potentials. Don’t listen to other people who would tell you that you cannot do this or that. Family is sometimes the most difficult obstacle to overcome. And they are often the ones who know the least of your true self. If you really want to do something – there is almost always a way to achieve it. A friend of mine once said (thanks Annie) – there is no “I cannot” – there is only “you can do it”!

Additionally my experience has shown that demanding the utmost of your potentials is often done under pressure only and not in comfortable situations where you can work under relaxed conditions without time limits and without financial constraints. Lucky are the ones who can while they are well supported. More often pressure demands the best of you! Success that is achieved under the most difficult circumstances is the sweetest. This applies to many people not only artists.

New materials – this really depends on what you are up to. If you suddenly decide to try your inspiration on precious jewellery – you probably need not only good workshops but to invest in a good education.

I think utilizing your common sense and weighing costs against your goals you are on the safe side. Expensive materials are better tried in a workshop before you invest big bucks in buying the material to discover later, that it is not to your liking working with the new stuff.

How often do new materials end up in the cabin – unused (not excluding myself here!) ?

Improving skills – now this is really a good reason to book a workshop if you cannot get along practising on your own. But don’t think you could ever improve your skills – whatever you might do – without practising additionally.

I really don’t know why many people seem to believe that, when they have attended a workshop, they suddenly are perfect in doing what they wanted to do. Workshops with a good teacher can only lead you on the right track, correct mistakes, help you to take the right direction but they never replace training and practising!

This really applies to anything, whether you are an artist or not. I really wonder sometimes why people think they are an expert for this or that only because they have attended a course for 4 weeks or less and received a nice big certificate – telling what? This is truely ridiculous and dangerous in cases where health issues are involved for example. I just cannot believe how careless people are sometimes or feel impressed by lots of papers, blown up resumés and CVs which do not prove anything at all. If you rely on assumptions only and don’t check out the truth you won’t be well advised. Don’t open the door for easy betrayal only because you did not invest time to check things out.

Btw – the skills of an artist do not include mastering the techniques of oil painting or any other direct art related capability only but also facilities such as organizing your work, planning of exhibitions, meeting deadlines, how to sell your work, advertise and market your work, to write press material and all that stuff that is necessary for a business. Too often all these skills are totally neglected or even denied to be necessary. Well – not every artist has the resources to employ an agent or manager and not every artist can call upon a career as a business person. Who is going to do the work then? Workshops in these areas are highly recommended!

(…to be continued)

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4 Responses to “Sense and nonsense of workshops…and about Wood Carving on your own (part 1)”


  1. Bravo ! Well said !
    When I quite my full time job to concentrate more on art I really DID have to analyze why I wanted to take this workshop or that. I take very few classes now – and they are generally a technique that I need to learn more about. I find that a well written book on a subject gives me enough to get me started. Then I can tell if it is a technique that will work well for me. Looking forward to the second part of this post !

  2. vyala Says:

    Thank you, Marie, the next part will be coming soon.

  3. shannon Says:

    Thank you!
    What an excellent writer you are, and very insightful. I was feeling a little weird about not wanting to take the next installment of a course, but you’ve put your finger on it exactly, and now I don’t feel bad at all.
    Keep it up — I’ll visit often.

  4. vyala Says:

    Shannon – this is the best compliment I have ever received because it tells me that my thoughts are not that wrong. Thank you!


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