Monday, May 4, 2009

How to make the most of an art quilt workshop – or any other!

I’ve taken a lot of workshops in my time and I definitely got more out of some than others. I gradually discovered that there were several steps that would help me to make the most of a workshop - apart from killing off half the other attendees on the first day so as to get more attention! Well, it would get you more attention, I suppose, but not the kind you need!

Pre plan well:

before you even start looking at the goodies on offer, write down what your ideal workshop would be like.

D’you want to learn more new techniques?
D’you want to make sense of those you already know?
Is there a teacher whose work you admire so much you’d really like to get a sense of how s/he thinks?
D’you simply want to have fun with a bunch of friends?
D’you want to visit a certain place? (I’ve never been to coastal Maine and I keep checking Haystack for a workshop I’d like to take!!)
D’you want to be able to work on a piece and have the teacher come by several times a day for discussion and assistance?
D’you have a particular skill or area of knowledge you want to learn? If so, what?
D’you want a class where everyone makes the same thing – and learns a particular specific pattern, or d’you want to learn how to work from your own ideas – a class where everyone is making something different?
D’you want to leave with a completed piece? Or one or more interesting beginnings? (A completed quilt, I found, is unlikely unless the class is working to a specific pattern with limited design choices – and even then I never managed to finish any thing!). I love it if I go home brimming with several different ideas. You decide what is important to you.
What were most/least useful/fun etc workshops you ever took?

It’s difficult to combine some of the above – so know what your priorities are. For example you might wish to know a lot more about a teacher who makes extremely fine technical work, but you know you’re more of a loose person (that’s me!). In which case, write the teacher and ask if you can work at a different pace or level.

Make a short list of possible workshops based on your decisions so far.


Arashi (tie-dye) workshop

Then read the descriptions carefully AND the supply list – a lot of information can be gleaned from that. Don’t be afraid to email the teacher. I’ve had several pre-class enquiry emails and welcome the chance to clarify what the workshop is about. Often the organizers have limited me to a certain number of words in the class description.

If personal attention is important or you have a special need, please contact the organizers. Find out the size of the workshop and decide whether you like a class with 24 students because of the anonymity and chance to see a lot of other people’s work, or whether you prefer a class of 12-15 where more individual attention is possible. Also if you have a special concern – e.g. allergies to perfume ( as a teacher, I always request that the organizers ask people to avoid wearing perfume) please let the workshop organizers (and the teacher, if appropriate) know.

me sept '06 asilomar

Asilomar: demonstrating use of organza
(yes, the shirt doesn’t go with the quilt!! do take the right wardrobe with you – should definitely match your fabric!)

Travel Plans
If the workshop is some distance away from your home, check the time the class begins and consider arriving the day before. As a teacher I think the students get a lot more out of the class when they’re rested and raring to go instead of being completely worn out with horrible travel experiences. And please don’t party so much the night before the first class and arrive really late and really hung over!!! That’s fine later in the week!! But not on the first day!

The Supply List: make sure you get everything! But if an item doesn’t make sense to you – email the teacher – yes we can make mistakes! But also I’ve noticed that lists may get incorrectly transcribed, or some item has a very different name in a different part of the country. If you’re travelling by air and there’s a heavy item on the list, consider whether someone else might have the item and be willing to share: e.g. an iron. Also substitutes are frequently perfectly acceptable. I remember one class where a teacher specified a certain kind of paper, I had masses of a different kind but went out and bought more of the kind she mentioned – which was of inferior quality. When I got there, I learned what I had would have been just fine – she had been trying to keep the costs down for people with no previous experience.

I try to keep my supply list inexpensive except for the fabric – do take good quality fabric. I’ve seen people pay a thousand for a workshop, then bring cheap and nasty fabric that wouldn’t ever look good in the hope of saving money..there’s something wrong with that!

Also, check to see if there are expensive extra supplies that the teacher will be selling – I would think seriously about this, and decide if this is something you really want to do. I have been in settings where I’ve heard people grumbling about this – forewarned, means you can decide ahead and won’t feel the need to grumble. Or you can take some extra money with you and have fun stocking up!

Be prepared to Listen and Learn different ways of doing things.
This sounds obvious! However, I’ve been in classes where people didn’t even want to try a different way of doing something, and I thought to myself – why not just try? What are you here for? Stay open to new possibilities, see how it goes…then make a decision as to which way works best for you.

Write down your goals for the workshop and your important questions before the first class. As a teacher, the first thing I do is ask everyone what their goals are for the class – I write those down so that I can be sure I give the help and information necessary for the person to reach those goals, maybe not in the workshop itself (depending on their complexity)…but at least to know how to reach them. And so I like students to have their goals and questions ready – I might not be able to answer them all on that first day, but I can be thinking about them – that way we both get more out of the workshop. And I don’t mind in the least if a person is there to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere – that means if I look at her/him and s/he’s smiling, things are going okay!

Please don’t worry that a question might be silly. Honestly I’ve never had a silly question yet – usually at least two others are wondering the same thing. The teacher may not have addressed the point because they never thought of it, that’s doesn’t mean it’s silly!!! So ask away!!!

Actually, while I’m writing about asking questions….I found it was always helpful when I was listening to a teacher to write down my questions in my notebook so that I could phrase them clearly, and note the answer down right away. Also, if I thought of a question (or a comment) while someone else was speaking, I wouldn’t forget it.

Take a notebook – and a camera
In any class there’s going to be a lot of information, especially on the first day. It’s also lovely to look back over notes from several workshops – and see photographs – it helps to recall the knowledge gained, and also some of the fun!

BE open to the possibility of new friendships

100_0964You can meet some really interesting characters in a workshop!

I took a class about 10 years ago at a place I’d never been and was horrified by the “greeting” I was given by people who were the “regulars”. I was told that all the good spots in the room were reserved for the “regular” people, who were of course “more important” - this was true in the dining hall too!! I was rejected from joining groups at several tables before I found the dark corners! And I’d gone there to meet other art quilters!!! It’s good to mix with new people, as well as enjoying the company of old friends. (needless to say I never went back to that particular workshop).

And finally – look after yourself! Nothing is worse for teacher or students if someone has an accident however minor.

But – do have fun! And remember the notebook!

If you have been, thanks for reading! See you in class!



Nina Marie said...

What a wonderful blog! Its so useful to organize your thoughts and ideas going into a long class. If as a student you have a good idea of your goals and processes, then you can communicate that to a receptive teacher.

Rayna said...

LOL - great post, Elizabeth! Thanks!

Knowing what you want out of a workshop is really important. The first thing I ask each student is "why are you here and what do you want to walk away with?" It helps them focus and it really helps me manage their expectations and be a better teacher!

Often, students will e-mail me for more details ahead of time so they can decide if it is for them or not, and I appreciate that, as I know you do.

Ditto about supplies: I have been guilty of leaving something out by mistake (ouch!) as well as having the organizers transcribe incorrectly. Staying flexible is the key to working around that!

Lyric said...

Lovely post! I've linked to it in my blog as I think it touches on so many points that people really should think about before signing up for a class.

Thanks for taking the time to put it together!

Tracey said...

Good post .. I'm teaching in a couple of weeks and your post is a terrific source of info for both student and teacher alike. Is it acceptable do you think to ask a retreat organiser to forward the names of your students before you go so you can contact them just to say hello, tell them your looking forward to teaching them and ask if they have any questions in advance? Or is that too much?

Elizabeth Barton said...

I think it's an excellent idea to get the email addresses of the students in a class beforehand so that they can be asked if they have any questions. some well organized workshops already do that! Another way is to include your email address on the supply sheet. Both work.

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Wonderful summary. I too often expect too much of myself, push myself too hard because of the expense in money and time to get to the class. I know I need to lighten up! If that doesn't scare you off, I have a suggestion...

I live in mid-coast Maine! I realize that taking a relaxing class/vacation is utterly different than teaching, but how about TEACHING at Haystack? I'd sign up the first day if I could (and invite you to Camden for tea or coffee or chowdah!).

Thanks also for the suggestion of getting e-mail addresses of students... I have, after a class, forwarded an e-mail thank you or follow up from a student's query to my contact to forward to the class, but I like the idea of doing even more than including my e-mail on the supply list.

Cheers, Sarah