There's Nothing Quite Like Custom Made

22 May 2011

Garvies Point 2 by Robert Zellers, oil painting
Garvies Point 2, oil on linen, 28 x 42, 2009. All works by Rob Zeller.
I’ve always dreamed of having something, anything—shoes, a coat, a car!—custom made. While all of those are pretty much still out of my reach, I know that I can custom design how I get my art training.

There are a lot of options out there for us art-minded folk, but I spoke to Rob Zeller, director of the Teaching Studios of Art, to get some guidance on what I should look for in art classes and what kinds of art instruction are out there to choose from.

Zeller believes that the best way to become an artist varies according to the individual. There is no one ‘best way.’ But certain artists are drawn to certain methods or media, and we as artists have to be mindful of our own interests. “I always gravitated to places where the faculty work looked the best. I’d ask myself, does this artist’s work do it for me? If someone can do something that I want to know how to do, I’ve gone out of my way to try to find those people to give me that information,” Zeller says. 

The actual instruction in an art workshop will vary by instructor, so take the time to ask what a typical session is like. In some cases, you’ll be working all day for one to three days. Other classes will be briefer in session length, but may spread out over several weeks or months.

Oil painting by Rob Zellers, Offsides
Offsides, oil on linen, 28 x 36, 2006.
An instructor’s teaching style is also good to know beforehand. Some instructors start with an art historical slideshow or lecture on the drawing basics or oil painting techniques being taught, and then students go to work. Other instructors will work for 15 minutes then stop to instruct and walk around the class, and then go back to painting for another 15 minutes, bringing the work to a finish along side the students.

The most valuable thing in a workshop, and one detail you should ask about, is how much easel time you’ll receive and the size of the class. These can give you a sense of how much attention you can expect to get from the instructor—the bigger the class, the less one-on-ones you’ll presumably get with the instructor.

Paulina, oil on linen, 9 x 12, 2009.
But the best way to get the best instruction is to keep your mind open—not to mention your eyes and ears. Some instructors are not good speakers, but are better demonstrators that give a lot of non-verbal cues. But what unites great instructors is that they all come from a place of sharing and showing how they work. “When I first started I tried to adapt myself in whatever way it took to get the information I was after,” Zeller explains. “And that’s why I believe in having a lot of different people on my faculty—some students need to work in different ways. You need variety.” In doing so, Zeller promotes the philosophy of letting creative types be creative.

Knowing what to expect in an art workshop is the best way to get the most out of any kind of art instruction. Cover to cover, Painting Workshop With the Masters gives you the inside scoop on workshops and instructors from all across the country. Getting to know these artists’ methods and practical information about their workshops means we are doubly lucky. We get a sneak peek at the instruction that people pay top dollar for, and when you decide to take your own workshop, you’ll be able to make your choice from a position of insight because you know the best of what’s out there. Enjoy!


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