How to be an artist

Making a start

Over the last 15 years, since I began painting again, I have attended a fair number of art workshops, some online and some in person. I’ve watched numerous people on YouTube demonstrating techniques. These workshops can be very helpful in showing how to approach particular materials. I see this as learning how to paint. What I am also interested in helping people learn is how to be an artist.

Teaching Techniques

Let me explain my thinking on this as I feel these two things are very different. Teaching how to create a painting is often about specific materials (acrylics, oils, pastel) or techniques. Whereas learning about being an artist has a number of other dimension. The two I’m going to write about are the process of painting and the process of developing oneself as an artist, on an ongoing basis.

I have about 20 years teaching experience in other fields and I wanted to bring some of the approaches I have used in teaching other subjects to how I teach art. I wanted my teaching to have clearer learning objectives and outcomes, to support the attendees in their learning. The sessions would still be enjoyable and fun, but I felt that to give people a rich learning experience I wanted to do more than demonstrate an approach or technique in making a painting.

Structured Learning

An example is a one day workshop I recently delivered for a local art group. The workshop was an Introduction to Abstract Painting. For this group I had decided to put together a booklet with exercises to be completed during the session. The day began with some questions. The questions were about what type of artist you are. Then we went on to do two exercises on colour mixing and to reflect on what we had learnt. Participants were encouraged to make notes on the process as they were going along. The day was a mixture of this type of structured exercise and reflection, as well as demonstration of techniques for the group to then use in their own paintings. Along with this, I spent time with each person offering them individual coaching on their work.

All my workshops now include reflective questions alongside structured exercises to help people in their learning. I still demonstrate in these sessions but I have also including more input from me in the way of formal teaching and structured experiences. A shift from the workshop being a whole day of me painting and the delegates watching and then learning from watching and asking questions. This is where learning moves outside of how to use materials, how to paint or draw a particular way. Or about composition or colour. There is no doubt that these are key skills to have. For me, learning about being an artist is also about developing authentic artistic sensibility and learning from the process of your own art making. A large part of this is reflecting on the work and learning from what you are doing.

Exploring Pattern

An example of this process in action in my own work is a recent decision to explore pattern. I rarely use regular mechanical styled pattern in my work. I love this kind of pattern in others work and example of this would be the work of Jane Davies american artist. Some pattern does appear in my collage work, particularly quick pieces in my sketchbook, but not in my larger paintings. So, I have set myself the goal to explore this and see how it might begin to appear in my work. I may find that actually there is no place, but this will only come through exploration.

A little bit of pattern top right in a study from the Monochrome Challenge.

I have set up a PInterest board for capturing images of pattern I like. I will be regularly doing small pieces in my sketchbook exploring pattern. I intend to put together in inspiration board for my wall in my studio to keep this top of mind for the next few months. It will be interesting to see how this changes. I have been, and will continue to journal on the experience of using pattern and what I notice about how it shows up in my work. Which is not very often at the moment. This process of exploring is, for me, hugely important in being an artist. Learning and working out what I want to develop in my work. Deciding what and how I want to learn and deciding in a process for that. Some of the key elements in being an artist.

How do I teach or coach people to be an artist?

Firstly I am not prescriptive about what you should do, or how you should do it. My aim is to encourage people who attend my sessions to discover what they need to know about their own ways of making art. With the result of being able to support yourself in your artistic development more effectively. Studio sessions and workshops will have a structure and exercises that are geared to help with this. Coaching will be more exploratory although I will make concrete suggestions on things to do to improve your art practice.

There are three ways you can learn with me. I offer individual coaching sessions which are delivered online. These can be booked either in a block or individually and will very much depend on what you want from the coaching. I offer a free half hour chemistry check where we can discuss your objectives for the coaching. You can book a chemistry check here.

Studio Sessions. These are half day painting sessions at my studio in Buxton for a maximum of two people. For more information see my website page. And you can check out feedback and comments on workshops here.

Finally, my new workshop program is launching in the next few weeks. Sign up here to to keep in touch and find out first about the programme and my exciting new courses for 2020. Or follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

How to Choose an Art Coach

pexels-photo-313690
Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

My top five suggestions for how to choose an art coach.

Chemistry Check

Chemistry is probably one of the most important aspects of how to choose a coach. You will want to click with the person you are working with. You will also want to feel confident in their skills,experience, and knowledge. Some ways to check this out are to do some research along with meeting them before you begin to work together.  You can look to see if they have a blog? How they write can be a helpful way of understanding their thinking. Can you find them on line? Are there Facebook, YouTube or Instagram videos of them speaking. This will give you in insight into their personality. You can also ask for a trial or a chemistry check where you get the chance to do some work first before committing. It may only be a half hour but it can give a feel for what it might be like to work with the person.

Psychological Safety

The most effective coaching is when we feel able to talk about the things we are not doing well so that we can be helped. To do that we need to feel psychologically safe. In other words, we need to know that what we are sharing will be kept confidential. That we can reveal our vulnerabilities and be treated with respect, without judgement or criticism and be supported. We need to know that the person will help to support our self esteem.

So, feeling psychologically safe is an important part of how to choose an art coach. Do you feel comfortable, supported and safe. Because psychological safety is hugely important if we are going to be vulnerable. If we don’t feel safe enough to be vulnerable then learning will not take place. How can we tell if the coach we are thinking of working with will be the kind of person we can trust with our psychological safety? The same mechanisms I suggested for the chemistry check can be useful. Do they seem like a person with integrity. Do they meet their agreements, including the small ones? Are they clear in their communication with you? These aren’t acid tests and they will give you a sense of the person’s approach, attitude and way of working.

What Coaching Experience do they have?

A good question to ask is to find out about what experience the person has. They may not have direct experience of coaching, they might have experience in teaching or in other related areas which can be equally relevant. Some experience of working with people in a one to one coaching or teaching capacity is important because they need to know how to give feedback in a positive, clear and constructive fashion. They also will need to understand how to structure a session, set goals for the session and know how to facilitate and coach rather than advise. A good coach will rarely tell you what to do, although they might sometimes make suggestions. Mostly what they will be doing is facilitating your thinking and exploration, helping you find the answers for yourself.

Coaching Models

You will also want to work with someone who has some training in coaching or adult learning. Training will provide ways for them to think about the how to coach effectively. It will also mean that they will recognise when something is beyond them. It is important for a coach to know when they reached their limitations. Or to know when not to open up work when they do not the skills to deal with something.  My model of coaching is transactional analysis which has lots of ways of thinking about personal psychology and  communication.

A straightforward way to find this out is to ask what models they use. A good coach will be able to describe how they work and the principles they use.

Referrals and Recommendations

Finally another piece of information to gather in how to choose an art coach is to ask people you know and trust for a referral to someone they might have worked with or know. You can also ask people you are considering working with if they have any testimonials that you can read on previous work they have done.  If  other people have has a positive experience this can help you in your decision making.

I offer coaching from meeting rooms in Buxton and Stockport or online using Zoom.  Click here to find out more about how I work as a coach.

Have you worked with an art coach?  How did you go about making your decision?