Taking an Art Class to Sharpen the Saw

Even artists take art classes. You can’t create and teach your brains out without re-filling the well. Or, as a friend of mine calls it, sharpening the saw.

Why do you need to take a class? Learning something new is a good reason. But there are other great reasons to take an art class. You can see the world through the eyes of the instructor–which can be a whole new view. You get to meet other people who are also open to learning–my idea of the best people to meet! You get to try something without fear of failing,

Mediterranean aloe, maybe a yucca, but a desert flower in any case.

competition, or being wrong. You get to relax and play. And most of us don’t play enough.

Artists who teach need to take classes to relax, to be on the other end of the desk, to see a new palette, a new view. Having fun in a class also makes an instructor aware what it’s like to be in class. Just as everyone who has a guestroom should spend the night in that room, every artist who teaches should take a class.

This week, I’m taking a three-day watercolor class. I’ve had some bad experiences in water-color classes,  largely due to me. I once chose a class for experienced watercolorists because the instructor told me they worked a lot alone, and he could help me begin. It was a big mistake. He really wanted to help the advanced students (completely understandable) and when students walked around, they looked in horror at my inexperienced mess. “Do less, do less!” the instructor said, as he breezed by. Once he looked at my color mess and said, “Who’s winning? You or the paint?” I didn’t know there was supposed to be a winner. After three classes, I decided that it was a bad situation for both of us.

Another class was for college students, and we spent the first three hours studying the color wheel. Appropriate for the people in the class, but not for me, who has been friends with the color wheel for years.

So when Alice Van Overstraeten gave three, two-hour classes at Jerry’s Artarama in Tempe, (classes are on August 28, 30 and September 1, 2010), I signed up. I love Alice’s easy approach. Nothing is a mistake. Anything can be worked in, worked

Three imaginary flowers. Not Rudbekia, not echinachea, just flowers.

out, worked over, or adapted. She’s full of energy, and in yesterday’s class offered to demonstrate for each person, personally, right at their table, on any image they had chosen from the huge pile she brought in. (That’s a lesson in teaching in itself!) That’s a lot of work, but Alice’s technique works well because she focuses not on details, but on the overall impression of the subject.

In the first class, I chose florals. I like them because I do a lot of nature journaling, and don’t want to do a botanical rendering. Catching the color, the mood is perfect. I also tried a chicken. It’s hard to do just enough chicken to look like a chicken without too much. Less is more.

The watercolors in this post are the ones I did in the class. I’m not looking for perfection, just relaxing into a new technique. I can’t wait for the other two classes!

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and raw-art journaler. Her book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published in June, 2011 by North Light Books.