Workshop Afterglow

workshop

Summer Rapture, 8 x 10, in 11 x 14″ white mat, $100

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Summer Rapture II, 8 x 10, in 11 x 14″ white mat, $100

. . . even the brightest and most creative aren’t immune to this nagging sense of dread–a feeling that, eventually, someone will pull back the curtain and reveal just how untalented and unworthy they truly are. Maya Angelou once confessed, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”

Rich Karlgaard, Late Bloomers

Quality sleep eluded me last night. I retired to bed around 1 a.m., and then REM activity aroused me at 4:50. Wishing to hold on to these details, I turned on the light, retrieved my journal, and recorded the dream for over thirty minutes. The time was well-spent, I believe. Turning the light out, I tried to return to sleep, but realized thirty minutes later that it wasn’t going to happen. So . . .

My morning in the Gallery at Redlands has been quiet and very satisfying. I have nearly finished reading Late Bloomers, and am so enriched by it. I used the quote above for a portion of my “talking points” that opened the weekend’s watercolor workshop in Flint, Texas. I shared with the group my embarrassment when introduced with glowing words such as my host had just used. After all these years of painting and workshops, I still feel that Toto from the Wizard of Oz is going to pull back the curtain, and the workshop participants will see that the “artist” is just a bent old man pulling levers, not accomplishing anything of value.

The format for this workshop was a first for me. I pre-planned every step of the painting process, and thought through how I could present this one-day session without making the participants think they were merely taking a “Painting with a Twist” class. The image sent me was taken from an Italian setting:

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I received the image via email, and as I painted it ahead of time, I recorded in my journal the steps I took from start to finish. I emailed the line drawing, encouraging the participants to trace it onto their watercolor paper before coming to the workshop.

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Next, I determined that I wished to render the top portion with Winsor & Newton Transparent Yellow, the bottom with Winsor Violet and a touch of Transparent Yellow, and the center with an even blend of the two colors.

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From this point forward, I would take the students from the top of the composition to the bottom, demonstrating various techniques for rendering details.

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I took my finished painting to the workshop for them to see as a reference painting, then began a second one from the initial line drawing, and demonstrated the stages in the same order as I had done just a few days earlier. I was astounded at the quality of all the paintings that emerged, and the enthusiasm of the participants still has me feeling warm inside.

All of this is just to say–this is not the way I paint. I have always disdained a formulaic approach to making art, and so have struggled with the pedagogical aspects of the artistic enterprise. Reading Late Bloomers has brought many of my feelings to the surface and I am attempting to get them out in the open. Because I didn’t learn the way I was expected to from my youth, I always harbored self-doubt about my abilities. And as a public school teacher, I always loathed the formulaic approaches handed me–lesson plans, teaching students the “steps” to the process, data analysis, grade distribution, ad infinausea. I still believe curiosity is the student’s greatest resource, and if s/he has the drive and courage to explore the frontiers of knowledge, this student should not be confined to “steps” of a process.

So. For the first time, I took my students through “steps” to a painting, but tried all along to convince them that following the steps wasn’t what made them an artist–each one had her own vision, and that vision is sacred. I didn’t expect identical paintings from them, and I didn’t get them. What I did get was an amazing array of paintings of an Italian scene. And each student seemed satisfied that she had created a quality piece of art and not a cookie-cutter reproduction of the teacher’s work.

I believe that all legitimate art is a synthesis of Apollo and Dionysus, the two competing gods behind Greek drama. Apollo represents the steps, the discipline, the rules of the craft. Dionysus represents the spontaneity, the passion, the individual’s creative eros. Last weekend, I brought Apollo to the session, but the students allowed their own Dionysus to enter the arena of creativity. And I still smile at the memories of that day.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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5 Responses to “Workshop Afterglow”

  1. Sandra Conner Says:

    What a satisfying experience for you! I’m so glad it went well and continues to bless you.

    As a creative writing teacher, I find the same kind of situation with each of my classes: determining how much step-by-step process I need to teach and how much I need to emphasize and push for digging deeply and finding their own creative spark and giving it freedom. Most of the time I do share the step-by-step patterns — but generally give them more than one pattern that has worked for several different kinds of writers. But then I remind them that all rules can be broken for the right reasons — and actually should be broken at times — and I try to give ample exercises and assignments that will force them to find and release what’s in their own souls. I’m often amazed as well at their results.

    I also often use my own work to teach from — the positive and the negative aspects — and I usually find that I’m a little nervous about it, wondering if they will end up thinking their teacher isn’t all that great a writer either. And like Maya Angelou, I sort of wonder if each new book will show me up even more as the imperfect writer that I am. 🙂

    Like

    • Sandra Conner Says:

      P. S. I forgot to say I love the painting. If I had to choose one over the other, I think I’d choose # 1, but that’s probably because I’m very partial to blue.

      Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Sandra, what a spectacular response, thank you! I love the parallels I perceive in the creative endeavors of visual artists, writers and musicians. And pedagogy has always fascinated me, particularly when the one discussing it is constantly going out on a limb rather than reciting known patterns. I have decided that I will produce a “formula” in future workshops, but at the same time offer the disclaimers that you articulated. Again, thank you.

      Like

  2. Cheryl Rose Says:

    David, the painting of the Italian setting is mesmerizing. I so love this piece of work. It transports you to another time and place. What a blessing to be so gifted. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

    Like

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