Its not often I get angry, and certainly not in an art workshop. I’ve been to many of them, over a hundred! and they are always happy smiling places with relaxed friendly artists ready to learn and experience new ideas, enjoying the challenge of tackling a new subject in a novel way, having a play with the art materials and being creative with colour, tone, line, composition and texture. I love going to them as it opens my mind up to new ideas and lets me be creative with something that I might not even have thought of before I went.
So I was looking forward to this workshop as I gathered my stuff together, brushes, acrylic paints, board to paint on, easel, board to lean on, sketch pad, pencils, kitchen roll, towel, old besplattered shirt to cover my clothes, and source material since we were painting trees in the landscape. When I arrived the nearest table to the natural light of a window was at the back of the room so I plonked my stuff down there saying hi to the many familiar faces in the room and smiling companionably at the others I didn’t know so well. I noticed the artwork that was propped up at the front of the room, admiring the work the artist had done and knowing I was really going to enjoy this day as he put so much atmosphere into his work, there was a depth to it, and strong darks letting the viewer concentrate on the distant lights in the landscape. He could certainly paint, and I admired his ability. We settled down on chairs around him to listen as he talked about his work, his influences, his love of the countryside and trees. Then he said we would start to paint and uttered the words that always make me shudder in horror “Step by step” – I sat up and said “How long will it take?” and he looked over to me and said “All day” to which I asked “Does it have to? Can’t it be just half the day and then this afternoon we can do our own thing?” to which he said sharply “It will be all day, how else are you going to learn?” I said nothing at that point, although I was seething as he said “Everyone happy?” there was no reply to him from anyone as they were all making their way to their work spaces and he knew full well I wasn’t happy! It was a good job as I was at the back of the room so I could take my seething energy away as I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but decided that there wasn’t much else I could do but carry on with the day, and just count the day as a *learning day* rather than a *producing something I like because I made it day* which it usually is! So I said nothing to him, but muttered to a good friend who knows me well “I’m pissed off!” as she smiled in knowing sympathy.
He had the image drawn out, and gave us all the same black and white image to copy onto our boards. All the same, and all the pictures would be the same. And after that was done he said we’d do the sky as he showed us how to mix cobalt blue and white together for the sky. There was something I was waiting for him to say and when he obviously wasn’t go to say it I asked “What time of year is this?” he looked over at me (ah, the trouble maker again) and said “Good question – its summer!”. Ok, so that helped I could start to imagine the picture now, knowing how to make the sky a summery blue rather than a cooler one of spring or a more golden one of early autumn. Because, and this was my whole problem with the step by step method, there was no finished picture for us to know what we were aiming at, no idea of what it should look like, and worse than that, we all had to go at the same pace as the slowest person in the room. This is why I hate this system so much. You can’t be creative, you can’t work fast, you can’t get into the art flow that takes over when you are lost in a painting, you can’t put your own pieces of happy accidents in the work, you can’t find the momentum, and you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to be aiming for, and what its supposed to look like.
The day plodded on, and we stopped for lunch. Another inforced break, sometimes I’ll carry on painting for part of it if I want to do an area that needs to dry for the next stage. Someone I know well, another woman artist, came over to see what I’d done, and said in passing “I hate step by step too, but I didn’t want to say anything” and I thought, yep, that tutor thought I was the trouble maker and actually it was only because I had spoken out and the others hadn’t.
After lunch, the picture slowly took shape, and as I looked at the clock at 3pm thought to myself “Mmmm….. only an hour left and we’ve got a lot to do yet”……. as the others sat at the front watching the artist paint a group of trees on the left of the painting. As he spoke I followed what he was saying whilst rushing to do everything that I knew was in the picture. And then I heard him say the immortal words “You’ll have to finish this at home” as I thought “Yes, why am I not surprised! He hasn’t finished the picture, we haven’t finished the picture, we don’t know exactly what it should look like, and he’s not allowed us to be creative!”
At the end when we were all packing our stuff away, usually I go over and say a personal thankyou to the tutor and say how inspirational it’s been and how much I’ve enjoyed it. I went over to him and said “Thankyou!” as I looked him in the eye, and turned away. There was no point me saying anymore. I can give constructive criticism, I can give friendly advice for the way to improve on things, but I’d lost the will by that point.
As I gave another artist a lift home we talked about the day and I spoke of my frustrations, and she agreed and said she also hated step by step . And she said quietly “It wasn’t a good one was it….” and I could hear her disappointment too.