Art workshops - Carrie Curran teaches students the basics at the annual Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE)
Carrie Curran teaches students the basics at the annual Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE)

Art workshops are an important opportunity to continue your growth as a painter. Hours or days away from everyday responsibilities and routines gives you the chance to spend concentrated creative time with like-minded peers and to focus your attention fully on your artwork.

With no laundry to be done, no meals to prepare, no bills to be paid, it’s a time for you to nourish and replenish your creative spirit. Whether you’re looking to grow your skills or explore new avenues in your work, art workshops and classes are an investment in your fine art future. Here’s how to get the most from the experience — both during and after the event.

Editor’s Note: Transform your skills with insider secrets, techniques, and demos from some of the world’s best plein air artists at the next Plein Air Live online art conference!

Prepare to Succeed

Select the right instructor. Is it better to study with an artist whose painting style is similar to your own, or is an opposites-attract approach more helpful when selecting an instructor? Actually, both options can be beneficial: the former for reinforcement and fine-tuning, and the latter for breaking out of a rut.

Browse exhibition catalogs, juried shows, books, and videos for instructors whose paintings you like. It could be work similar to your own, or something different that makes you think and challenges you in a way you find appealing. If a class or workshop focuses on a technique that you definitely don’t like, then don’t sign up, but in general, choose art classes that will open you up and make you grow.

Research the instructor’s credentials. Visit their website to find published articles about their process; blogs and books written by the artist can also provide insight into their artistic philosophy and help you determine if their class would be a good fit for you. Above all, seek out recommendations from artist friends or from art organizations you belong to. Word of mouth is often the best indicator of a class’s value.

Once you’ve selected an instructor, check out their schedule. Class calendars are typically made two to three years in advance, with registration opening six months to one year prior, so looking at least one year out will give you a good start. Local art colleges or associations tend to have foundational or fundamental classes every season or semester, depending on their scheduling.

Identify your skill level. As a potential student, you need to make an honest assessment of your painting level (beginner, intermediate, advanced). If you’ve never taken a class before or have taken several but still don’t feel you’re where you need to be, you are a beginner. If you’ve mastered basic skills and have some level of proficiency, you are intermediate. Even if you consider yourself a professional artist, you can hone your craft and meet other professionals by continuing your studies.

Pack appropriately. To start, order the recommended supplies on your materials list at least three or four weeks before the class begins to allow time for delivery and to familiarize yourself with their properties. Don’t be afraid to contact instructors if you can’t find an item or if you’re confused by something on the course list; in many cases, they’ll have items available for purchase.

And don’t skimp on supplies, either. If you’re going to invest in an art class, it’s a good idea to have as many of the suggested high-grade materials as possible. The right kind of paper, paint, and brushes make all the difference when it comes to enjoying a successful experience. In addition, you might want to bring along some old or unfinished paintings to experiment on or simply to paint over, along with a notebook or sketchbook and your own photo references. For plein air art classes, also bring a portable easel for painting on location, and a backpack for transporting your materials.

To an instructor, the right mindset is the most essential thing an attendee can bring. Be positive, be open to learning things that challenge what you may have been taught before, and recognize that a workshop or class is not the place for competition or making a masterpiece.

Behave yourself. Common sense and rules of etiquette apply. Arrive on time (10 to 20 minutes early, if possible). Turn off your cell phone. Don’t talk over the instructor and don’t hog the instructor’s time. Be ready to work, challenge yourself, and handle constructive criticism.

During a demonstration, soak in as much as possible. Take notes and ask questions pertinent to the techniques the artist is illustrating. In a class or workshop setting, it’s unrealistic and rude to expect the instructor to hold your hand through the class at the expense of the other students.

Know when to call it quits. Instructors typically recommend taking it easy in the evenings. At most, you may want to look at your day’s work in a new setting and get ideas of what you’d like to work on the next day, or simply prepare your materials for the morning. To be at your best and most receptive, you need to be well rested.

Don’t fear the critiques. Critiques are a significant part of the art workshop experience — both hearing comments about your work and also voicing your thoughts on that of others. It’s all part of the learning experience. Don’t take it personally; it’s meant to help, to give you honest feedback to help you take your work to the next level.

PACE attendees offer one another advice and support during a paint-out
PACE attendees offer one another advice and support during a paint-out

Next Steps

When the art class or workshop is over, the real work begins. It takes time to assimilate all the information you’ve been given, but you need to dive in right away and put what you learned to use rather than waiting for weeks or months. The important thing is to manage your expectations. You may actually see a drop in quality in your paintings for a while as you sort out all the new ideas you’ve been exposed to. Keep pushing through; the paintings will work themselves out.

Continue to study other artists’ work; go to galleries, museums, and art centers. Put past paintings up and compare them to what you’re doing now. Have they changed, and do you like what you see?

Carve out windows of work time. If it can’t be every day, be firm in setting aside at least three hours of uninterrupted painting time a week. The more time you have to practice, the more quickly you’ll experience a meaningful breakthrough, and the better painter you’ll be.

Equally important is giving yourself time between sessions. Most students like to take one big workshop or intensive art class each year, or to wait at least six months before taking the next one. You need space between sections to apply what you’ve learned. If you see yourself repeating the same mistakes or are in a rut, this may tell you it’s time to take another class. The key to your growth — and ultimate success — as an artist is to keep creating and stay excited about learning.

How to Pick the Right Educational Opportunity For You

Decide what kind of art you want to create. Is there a particular medium you want to learn more about, or one in which you want to further develop your skills? Is there a particular style or approach you’re drawn to most — impressionism, realism, abstraction?

Research workshops both near and far. Start by checking out local college, university, or community education courses. If you have art clubs or art societies in your area, they may offer classes as well. Nearby artists may hold regular classes or have opportunities for one-on-one education. You might also consider taking a workshop from an artist you admire even if it means traveling to another city or region.

Read the class descriptions carefully. How much time will you spend actually painting versus watching the instructor demonstrate? Is the class in a studio, plein air-based, or a mix of both? How large will the class be? Does the instructor provide hands-on instruction? How many new materials will you need to purchase for the class?

Ask to speak with the instructor. If you’re still unsure if a class is right for you, reach out to the instructor directly. Talk to them about your skill level and past experience, what you hope to get out of the workshop, and the way you learn best to see if their class will be a good fit.

Browse art video workshops available now at, including how to paint landscapes, sunsets, waterfalls, and much more!

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