I've just returned from an intensive five-day workshop taught by Kari Minnick at the Bullseye glass studio in Santa Fe New Mexico. This workshop focused on a variety of techniques that will have a huge impact in my own work. (The photo above shows one of my pieces from the class). This all has led me to think about the value of taking art classes and workshops.
Signing up for an art-related workshop is a calculated risk: You hope that what you're going to learn will be worth the registration fee (which, for many of these workshops, can be quite expensive), the loss of time taken from your own studio, and any travel costs, from airfare to hotels, to meals, that you'll have to invest. (However, if you've started a business around your art and have a tax ID, all of these costs are deductible at tax time.)
Due to the explosion in popularity of working with glass, there’s a dizzying array of workshops available across the country and even abroad. It seems that every glass shop offers beginning classes, while many community colleges, universities and even neighborhood recreation centers offer classes in stained glass, glass fusing, lampworked beads, even glass blowing. If you live in a city with a thriving art center, you'll probably be able to find classes through that organization. For those willing to travel, the Glass Craft and Bead Expo held annually in Las Vegas offers literally dozens of courses, while manufacturers such as Bullseye Glass sponsor classes in both their home base of Portland and in satellite stores, such as those found in Pasadena, Santa Fe, and New York. If you’re planning a vacation, a Google search of glass classes in that location might turn up a bonus to your trip.
Assuming that you have a limited time and budget, how do you choose the class that's best for you? Here are some thoughts that I came up with that might help:
a) If you're just idly shopping around for something to do, then it's certainly worthwhile to give anything a try. But if you are looking to build your skills in a particular area, it's best to select a class that expands knowledge you already have. In other words, if you're a painter and think that it might be fun to take a glass fusing class, you can certainly take an advanced class but you won't get as much out of it because you don't already have the basic knowledge in glass that will allow you to fully understand the technical aspects of what's being taught. In my opinion, it would be better to take an introductory class so that you can appreciate how to work with the medium, and after that, take a more advanced or specialized class.
b) Most art and craft-related classes fall into one of the following categories:
• new or specialized techniques
• how to use new materials, equipment or tools
• specialty subtopics or projects
• skill building
• stylistic development or expansion
• Master class with a Master Artist
• workshop with local tours
Finding what's right for you depends on where you want to go with your art. If you're in the early stages of your learning, classes that help you build your skills to make your work look more professional might be what you're after. If however you have a good solid foundation, you might be interested in expanding your repertoire and learn new techniques or styles. Art pieces that combine more than one technique tend to stand out in a gallery situation.
c) Last but not least, there's the consideration of who's teaching the class. Taking a class from an established artist may sound exciting in theory, but make sure that you resonate with their work by visiting their website or Facebook page before you sign up. It also doesn't hurt to call the sponsoring organization and ask about that teacher, to see what the feedback has been from other students. Some teachers love to interact with their students during and after class, which would provide you with plenty of opportunity for you to show them your work and ask for their comments. Other teachers might be less social, but the course content might make up for that. Before you sign up, be sure to read the course description and if possible, the course outline or syllabus, to make sure that you know exactly what's going to be covered and whether it’s right for you.
In addition to these points, there is the intangible set of benefits that you get simply from being in the same room and rubbing shoulders with your instructor and fellow students. Sometimes just watching them work provides you with insights and ideas to improve your own techniques and processes. Often a special energy emerges when the teacher and members of the class are sharing in the excitement of making new and wonderful things. And, one last suggestion: Don't be afraid to go to lunch or dinner with your class members: It’s a great way to learn about one another and possibly launch friendships or mentorships that will enrich both your life and your career.