A reader asks for advice teaching his first workshop.
Janith Mason at a Sea & Sky workshop. One of my all-time favorite photos of a student.
It looks like the rain predicted for Monday has moved up to Sunday, but I’m prepared; I rented a shelter for this workshopmonths ago. It can be a fly tarp, a tent, a shelter, your studio, or a porch, but you must have a place for students to keep working when the weather goes bad. Rain is inevitable.
Your first and most important step, however, is to get consent from the places you’ll take your class. The rules change when you’re not alone. For example, if you bring a group to Acadia or another national park, you need a permit and proof that you’re carrying insurance (which you should have anyway). Many state and local parks have similar requirements. Historic sites often also charge a fee.
Rain is inevitable. Here we are getting soaked on the Monhegan ferry.
If you’re painting a view along a street or road, remember to ask the property owner first. Stay on the sidewalks, the shoulder of the road, or in a pocket park if you’re in a public place.
You’re morally and legally responsible for the safety of your students. That’s why I don’t teach at Raven’s Nest in Schoodic, even though it’s a fantastic view. It’s not safe for big groups. Keep your people back from the road, and away from drop-offs and heavy equipment.
Know your own process and be able to break it down into discrete steps. Can you explain why you’re doing what you’re doing each step of the way? If not, go back and run through a painting in your studio and note each step. If you don’t have a consistent protocol, you’re probably not ready to teach.
You can’t demo convincingly unless you understand how and why you do each step in your process.
In a similar vein, if you’re not a natural-born encourager and coach, teaching might not be the best option for you. Teaching painting is far more than just technical advice. Your own personality is the biggest indicator of your potential as a teacher.
Write supply lists and disseminate them freely. Mine are in this blog post. (No, I don’t mind if you use them as templates.)
Every workshop should have a focus. This weekend’s is the composition questions raised by the gently rolling landscape of the Genesee Valley. In The Age of Sail, it will be watercolor sketching on the fly. Sea & Sky at Schoodic is longer, so we work more intensively on essentials of painting rocks, water, trees and skies.
Students need time to work alone, but they also need your attention.
Don’t take too many students. For me, twelve is about the maximum. Bigger classes end up with the teacher spending too much time demoing, and a video is cheaper and better for that. They’ve paid for your individual attention and problem-solving, and they should get them.
I do ask students to not spread out too far apart, or I spend all my time walking from person to person. When possible, I carry a bicycle with me to get from painter to painter faster.
The bottom line for a good workshop is one-on-one attention. Oh, and sunscreen.
Any time I have more than six students, I engage a classroom monitor. This person is responsible for setting up my supplies, logistics and answering simple questions (but not for teaching).
Lastly, I carry a teaching bag containing extra boards, rain slickers, palette knife, and bug spray. People inevitably forget something, and we want them to have a good time.
Addendum: I forgot to mention restroom access here. In the deep wilds you can use a porta-potty or nature itself, but in more civilized place, find a site with public restrooms.
Students make a good workshop great. Here’s how you can help.
Keuka Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. Yes, folks, there’s a lot of green out there, not that I’ll encourage using it out of a tube.
Study the supply list.
Note that I didn’t say, “run right out and buy everything on it.” Every teacher has a reason for asking for those materials. In my case, it’s that I teach a system of paired primaries. You can’t paint that way without the right starting pigments. Another teacher might have beautiful mark-making. If you don’t buy the brushes he suggests, how are you going to understand his technique?
A tube of cadmium green that I once bought for a workshop and never opened still rankles. I never want to do that to one of my students. When you study with me, I want you to read my supply lists (here for watercolor,acrylics and oils). If something confuses you, or you think you already have a similar item, email me.
Bring the right clothes.
Bring the right clothes.
Its in the 70s in Mobile, Alabama, where I expect to be painting next week. If I take my long underwear, I’ll be pretty uncomfortable. Likewise, if you come north without a hoodie, you will be chilled in the evenings.
I have a packing list for the northeast in the summer. If you’re going on the Age of Sail, Shary will send you a different list, meant for a boat. Follow them, especially in the matter of insect repellent.
Know what you’re getting into.
“How can you stand this? It’s all so green!” an urban painter once said to me after a week in the Adirondacks.
There are no Starbucks in Acadia National Park or on the clear, still waters of Penobscot Bay, so if you’re dependent on your latte macchiato, you may find it uncomfortable at first. (There’s always coffee; I don’t function without it.) I find the seals, dolphins and eagles ample compensation; others may not.
There are no latte macchiatos on Penobscot Bay, but there are consolations.
Be prepared to get down and dirty.
I’m not talking about the outdoors here, I’m talking about change and growth. I am highly competitive myself, so it’s difficult for me to feel like I’m struggling. However, it’s in challenging ourselves that we make progress. Use your teacher’s method while you’re at the workshop, even if you feel like you’ve stepped back ten years in your development. That’s a temporary problem.
You can disregard what you learn when you go home, or incorporate only small pieces into your technique, but you traveled to be challenged, and you can’t do that if you cling to your own solutions.
Listen and take notes.
Connect with your classmates
I know painters from all over the US. I met most of them in plein air events. There’s power in those relationships. Exchange email addresses. Keep in contact. Follow them on Instagram or Twitter.
Take good notes
Listen for new ideas, write down concepts, and above all, ask questions. If your teacher can’t stop and answer them mid-stream, save them for after the demo.
I’m teaching four plein air workshops in the coming year. Message me here for more information, or visit my website.
Yes, there are bathrooms. We like to call them ‘heads’ on a boat
Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas
If you’ve been thinking about taking my Sea & Skyor Age of Sailworkshops, this is a reminder that you have only two weeks left to get an early-bird discount. That’s $50 off the price of the boat trip or $100 off the Acadia workshop.
The Age of Sail is June 10-14, 2018 on the historic schooner American Eagleout of Rockland, ME. Sea & Sky is August 5-10 at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park. Here are some questions I’ve been asked recently:
Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas
What do you do if it rains?
While the rain in Maine falls mainly on the plain, it does sometimes rain over Penobscot Bay and the ocean. American Eagle has a canopy over the main deck for when the boat is at anchor, and we’ll use that. At Schoodic, we have access to a pavilion. In either case, if the worst happens and we’re totally unable to work outside, there are interior places where we can gather.
Are there bathrooms?
Yes and no. On a boat, a toilet is more properly called ‘the head.’ Although American Eagle is a restored heritage boat, she does have these modern conveniences. Schoodic Institute does, too.
On the boat, you’ll sleep in a berth. At Schoodic, you’ll have a room in an apartment with a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and access to laundry facilities. Out in the woods, we either drive to the nearest park facility, or we take an amble into the woods like the locals (bear, moose, and foxes) do.
Outrunning the Storm, Carol L. Douglas
Are these workshops handicapped-access?
Schoodic Institute is, but let me know if you have physical limitations when you register. Our painting locations are all accessible by car and involve little hiking, so you won’t miss out. American Eagle is not accessible. It was built as a working fishing boat.
What about food?
In both cases, all meals are provided, so you don’t have to worry about where and when you eat. Schoodic’s chefs prepare lunches and snacks for us to take into the field, and we have breakfast and dinner cafeteria-style. American Eagle’s cook and mess-mate feed us three squares a day on deck.
Both trips include a lobster boil. Schoodic’s is prepared by a fisherman from nearby Corea, ME, who hauls that day’s catch over to us. On American Eagle, you’re likely to see Captain John Foss row his dinghy into a nearby harborage to buy seafood off the dock. You’re encouraged to make dinghy jokes.
An island lobster bake, in progress.
Can I get a glass of wine?
You can bring some along. In Maine wine and liquor are sold in grocery stores, and you can easily pick some up along the way.
What about black flies or mosquitoes?
I’ve painted in the far north from northern Alaska to Labrador, and the worst black flies I ever did see were at Piseco Lake in New York. They’re an early-summer phenomenon, which is why we’ll be out on the water in June and on land in August.
Watercolor field sketches, by Carol L. Douglas
What equipment should we bring?
For Sea & Sky, all mediums are welcome. Here are my packing lists for oils, acrylicsand watercolor. The Age of Sail is a little different. I’m supplying everything, and we’re going to work in field-sketch style in watercolor and gouache, the better to capture fast impressions.
A reader once posted this comment on my blog: “Noted watercolor painter John Marin of the Maine coast not only painted many boats but also painted from a boat. He rowed out from Mt. Desert Island where he sketched and painted quick minutes-long watercolors while bobbing in his rowboat. One was on display at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art this past summer… Mount Desert Minute Drawing, most likely a view of Cadillac Mountain, and can be seen on this web page.
Don’t put your drawing in a box, put a box around your drawing.
Painting a nocturne.
There may once have been blueberries in abundance on Blueberry Hill. Now, it’s a parking loop above spectacular rock shelves and worn round cobbles, reaching down to an impossibly blue sea. The landscape is punctuated by beach roses, spruces, and jack pines.
Yesterday’s was an almost painfully clear light. Schoodic Island lies about three-quarters of a mile offshore. To have painted it in muted greys would have been an abject lie. There was little atmospheric perspective. Farther out to sea, the horizon was a pale, milky gold. Later in the day, of course, the wind rose and that all changed.
Nancy’s never toned a canvas red before. She looks skeptical.
I like to start my workshops by asking students to do a painting as they always do, without ‘orders’ from me. This is the only way I can see what they know. That works best with relatively experienced painters, and I’m lucky to have such a group this year.
That doesn’t mean I stay quiet. We only have a week together and I’m full of ideas. I start by making soft corrections. But I don’t yet start to dig into the matter of process.
Beach painting, Maine style.
One thing I’ve noticed recently is how many people start their sketches by drawing a box corresponding to the aspect ratio of their canvas. Then they draw a design inside of that box. To me, that’s backwards.
The drawing is the exploration process. We should start it without limitations, and let our fingers tell us what’s interesting. From there, we can crop the box shape around it, instead of the other way around.
Becky’s hair tie.
At lunch, I showed my students four or five ways to do a value study, none of which I currently use. Then I relented and showed them the method I do use. Of course, how it’s done isn’t important, just that it isdone.
I’m gently kicking the braces out of what has worked for them before. This is no place to leave people, so this morning I’m doing a long demo about my process. There’s nothing revolutionary about it: it’s cobbled together from teachers and painters who came before me. The goal is a fast, efficient alla prima technique that can deliver a finished painting in a few hours.
This young lad was so taken by Fay’s painting, he thought she could sell it, “for maybe $85 or $90.”
Meanwhile, I’d promised them the moon. A few minutes after seven we trundled down to the shore of Arey Cove. I’d guessed at three fundamental colors based on how the moon rose on Sunday night—a blue-violet shade, a clear blue shade, and a soft white tinted with yellow ochre.
A bald eagle flew along the shore just in front of us, low enough that we could see his tailfeathers. He perched nearby and stayed to watch the moon with us.
Painting in Paradise.
There was low-lying moisture on the eastern horizon. It looked for a while as if we wouldn’t have any moonrise at all. But suddenly, there she was, flickering behind the scant clouds. She rose steadily in the sky, a brilliant orange harvest moon, nothing like the pallid yellow orb of yesterday. We scrambled to adjust our color while she played peek-a-boo amid the clouds. Scratching from mosquito bites, we watched her slip behind a larger cloud. The eagle swooped into the gathering dark. It was done. We packed up.
As we walked back to our car, the sky cleared momentarily. The moon poured out a brilliant golden blessing of light to guide us home.
Now is the time to buy an artist you love—possibly even yourself—a special gift for Christmas. Spend a week painting with Carol L. Douglas in one of the most beautiful venues in America—inspirational, mystical Schoodic in Maine’s Acadia National Park. And if you reserve before January 1, you can save $100!
Far from the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor, Schoodic has dramatic rock formations, pounding surf, and stunning mountain views that draw visitors from around the world.
At 440 feet above sea level, Schoodic Head offers a panoramic view of crashing surf, windblown pines and enormous granite outcroppings laced with black basalt. Across Frenchman’s Bay, Cadillac Mountain towers over the headlands of Mt. Desert Island.
You might look up from your easel to see dolphins, humpback whales or seals cavorting in the waves. Herring gulls will visit while eiders and cormorants splash about.
A day trip to the harbor at Corea, ME is included. Far off the beaten path, Corea, ME is a village of small frame houses, fishing piers and lobster traps. Its working fleet bustles in and out of the harbor.
Your instructor, nationally known painter and teacher Carol L. Douglas, has taught in Maine, New York, New Mexico and elsewhere, and regularly returns to Acadia.
Concentrate on painting
Meals and accommodations at the beautiful Schoodic Institute are included in your fee. This former navy base is located right at Schoodic Head. It gives workshop students unrivalled access to the park.
All skill levels and media are welcome
Carol Douglas has more than fifteen years’ experience teaching students of all levels in watercolor, oils, acrylics and pastels. Her Acadia workshops are very popular. “This was the best painting instruction I have ever had. Carol’s advice in color mixing was particularly eye-opening. Her explanations are clear and easy to understand. She is very approachable and supportive. I would take this course again in a heartbeat.” (Carol T.)
It’s easy to get to painting locations on the Schoodic Peninsula. A ring road with frequent pull-offs means you never walk more than a few hundred feet to your painting destination. And Schoodic itself is only 90 minutes from Bangor International Airport.
The one-week workshop is just $1600, including five days’ accommodation in a private room with shared bath, meals, snacks, and instruction. Accommodations for non-painting partners and guests are also available. Your deposit of $300 holds your space, and if you reserve before January 1, you can save $100 off the price.
You can download a registration form here or a brochure here. Complete registration forms should be returned by mail to Carol L. Douglas, PO Box 414, Rockport, ME 04856-0414 with your $300 deposit. Or email the form here and make a credit card payment by phone to 585-201-1558.
Refunds are available up to 60 days prior to start, less a $50 administration fee. Final payment is due 60 days prior to the start of the workshop.