We try it!

We Try It!: Art Workshop (as a non-Artist)

I love companies like Living Social and Groupon. For a lot of reasons really, but primarily because 1) I, too, am allergic to paying full price, 2) they encourage me to travel to new parts of the city where I otherwise would have no reason to go, and 3) they offer me opportunities that without discount I couldn’t afford. One of such opportunities was a three-hour workshop at an artist’s gym in Brooklyn.

An artist gym is a community space that artist’s can rent workspace in and usually has a gallery attached. It’s really great for artists, as it gives them a space outside of what is surely a pea-sized apartment to work. This means that the size of their artistic vision and creative expression doesn’t have to meet the size of the high cost/tiny studio rent situation in New York City. Additionally, it’s a community, which has the added bonuses of accountability and support.

This particular artist gym makes additional money by teaching workshops that range from silk screening and sewing to oil painting and figure drawing. Because the fear of letting the world know that my horrid hand-eye coordination is matched only by my inability to perceive spacial relations, I opted for a more theory oriented class. Intro to Color Theory – stepping outside my comfort zone, but, you know, not too much. Or, as I like to phrase it, expressing my creativity, but in a way where my current language – aesthetics and theory – translates.

The class was really great. The woman who ran it was warm and reassuring, and there were four other students in the class (a computer programmer looking to broaden her horizons; a professional artist who, though understands color intuitively, feels she could benefit from the theory behind it; a performance artist and director dabbling in visual arts; and an elementary school teacher who is looking looking to scratch her creativity itch). My first step, especially since there was a professional artist in the group, was getting over the fear of being judged. Hearing the diversity of backgrounds certainly helped, but it was really my inability to mix yellow-green (or, rather, to mix yellow-green so well that I mixed the same color for it AND green) that forced me to confront my fears… I realized it was OK, because lady on my right was having a hard time with her blues and violets! We clearly were all going through similar self-conscious states, as we were all ready to compliment each others’ variations on red-orange. (Though they obviously were lying to me.)

I can’t stress enough how important it is to work the other side of your brain. For me, I spend so much time in theory and analyzing (left brain stuff), that my right side gets bed sores from lack of use. I began to understand how important it was to “switch brains” one afternoon while freaking out about a paper, a friend recommended I picked up a piece of paper and did some sketches. It wasn’t a mindless task, like zoning out in front of the TV and it wasn’t turning off my brain completely while throwing my arms up in defeat. It was keeping myself alert, receptive, and perceiving while giving myself a break from my current project.

In the same way that sketching relieved the anxiety I was having about a particular paper, the art workshop somehow managed to take my mind off graduate applications for THREE WHOLE HOURS (this is an infinity in waiting-to-hear-back-from-graduate-school time). Earlier in the day, I had reached the point of true obsession. (Admittedly, a lot rides on my acceptance into my two remaining responses like getting to start my life in a new, lovely city with my lovely, loving partner and getting to do it with TWO bunny rabbits.) But I’ve reached the point where I consider a trip home – an hour and a half round trip as an unnecessary excursion – just to check the mail so I don’t have to wait until 10 when I get home to hear my fate or survive another day. This art class has been the only thing that has allowed me to not feel the pulling in my chest that is the near-crippling fear of rejection.

When I arrived home from my art class, (I checked the mail and then) I sat down to reflect on how instances of creative expression inform my work. Certainly, there is the obvious connection given the fact that I am currently in a philosophy and aesthetics program. But aside from that, opportunities like the art workshop or last week’s Sunday Writing Challenge are more than just a break from your every-day-task (whatever it may be). Take the writing challenges as another example. By pushing myself to write in new mediums – exercises in fiction, creative writing, free writing, and blog writing (!) – I’m instilling a habit of coming to my academic writing with the same attitude of exploration. It’s allowing me not to kick my own ass so much. (I, again, shamelessly refer you to my post and excellent commentary on the shared experience of and like Impostors Syndrome.) I realized that I already think that academic writing can be creative and expressive in the way that it builds, informs, challenges, and postulates. The problem is that, when I sit down in front of my computer, I forget what that feels like, that that’s how I want to feel when I come to my work. But when I attend a class, or sketch a tree (with a stick-person sitting under it), I realize that I already have this perspective toward my work, I’m just learning how to exercise it, to have that mentality when I open my latest work-in-progress.

I’d recommend it to anyone who feels in a rut generally, who’s looking to push their comfort zones, or, frankly, that just must scratch that creativity itch. I think you’ll find, as I did, that it’s more than a break from your everyday routine, but that it enriches and highlights how creative and expressive that everyday-ness already is.

I learned a lot at my art class. I learned basic vocabulary like intensity, value, and gradation. I made a color wheel! And the color black from primary colors (harder than it sounds). I met some really great people and was reassured that I’m not the only left-brainer who yearns to express myself creatively through new and challenging mediums. Most importantly, I learned how utterly essential it is that, even without sweet-ass coupons, I continue to find opportunities that allow me to do so.

By philososaurus

Raised on the farmlands of the Midwest, this gluten-free, feminist bunny took New York City by storm earning an MA in Philosophy. She’s currently encroaching on the normative territories in Chicago, spending time jamming the Discursive machines of ‘health’ and ‘illness,' and relaxing with her animal companions: Pfeffer, Yoshi, and Mr(ish) 'Saurus, her human-animal partner.

10 replies on “We Try It!: Art Workshop (as a non-Artist)”

How timely! I have two color theory books in my Amazon cart from earlier this morning.

I realized I needed to re-explore the creativity I had buried under school and college and life, so after I had taken art history a couple years earlier, I declared an art minor and I feel like that really helped me academically, personally, and professionally. It taught me how to look at things differently and it was a welcome distraction, like you mentioned. I had taken a lot of art classes through middle school and early high school, and actually one used Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain and it really got me into the meditative aspects of contour sketching and the rejuvenating quality of sketching for no purpose.

Right now I’m taking a lot of solace in re-learning how to knit while I finish up my masters thesis, apply for jobs, potentially move to Alaska, etc. The color theory books are for matching yarn colors in projects, if not a loftier goal, but I think it will also help me branch out in my clothing choices, too.

I COMPLETELY agree with what you’re saying (perhaps because I said it, too, lol). What books did you get?! I’d LOVE LOVE to get some recommendations. Are they both for yarn? I currently have an Intro to Acrylics one, and I may return to it now that I ‘get’ color a little bit more, but I still feel like it’s instruction is hilariously close to this:

Also, I’m obsessed with the idea of spending a few, secluded months in Alaska. Preferably when the sun never goes down. Yesssss…..

I just googled color theory books and there was a top five site by a graphic designer. I also found them at the library catalog, so I might check them out before I decide if I want to buy it before I move. They are just pure art color theory books, I am not big into knitting books yet, even though my friend works at our local yarn store and I’m sure I could snag it at a discount.

As for Alaska–my boyfriend is from there originally and wants to move back, so I applied for some jobs there and in Seattle or Portland so it’s the big waiting game at this point. I am not planning on that far north though.

As a writer who sometimes teaches creative writing workshops in various settings, I can tell you that in my case I’m thrilled to be working with people actively interested in writing. It’s exciting, and so much more fun than teaching, say, an intro course at a university where people are just filling a requirement. So for anyone worrying about judgement from a professional, don’t. In most cases, if you show up with an open mind, the instructor will be enthusiastic about your presence no matter what your skill level.

The exception to that are the obnoxious people who walk in expecting to be “discovered,” certain that I will tell them that they don’t need to change anything, I’ll get my publisher on the phone right now. Those people are usually disruptive jerks and are very often terrible writers because it’s about their ego, not about the craft. But you’re totally not that person, so don’t worry about it.


LOLOLOLOL I can’t even IMAGINE what that would be like as a teacher. “Dear teacher, I know this is an intro class, but I’m gawd’s gift to creative writing. Stop what you’re doing; bask in my glory.” Nevermind… I have a pretty good picture =)

The teacher was really fantastic. Not at all what I had expected (I suppose more of an introverted artist type?) She was bubbly and excited about theory and doing the projects herself and saying things like “ugh! this yellow green!” Relieving to the rest of us beginners…

I’m sure teaching in this sort of space is WAY different than teaching at a university. I’ve only experienced the latter from the teacherly perspective.

HA! Now I’m trying to think of the philosophical equivalent to an Intro to Figure Drawing class would be.

So the first time I took a life drawing class I was 17 and finishing up my senior year at a Catholic all girls high school. I got in there and I was the only one under 40. The instructor took one look at the pad of paper I had brought and decided it was too small, so he got me another one (I brought the largest pad I owned!). I was shaking in my shoes. At one point the instructor came over to me and pointed out how he liked how I was using lines to accent the contours of my drawing.

The model, an older gentleman of eastern European decent, chimed in with, “Oh, so she can not just draw me, but she can draw my accent too! That is very good.” At that point fear went down the drain. A little later the instructor complemented me on my ability to take instruction and said he could see how quickly I was getting better.

I’d like to think that feeling a little goofy when first taking on art is normal, as it is viewed as a semi-mystic process by the media. But art classes really are for learning so don’t feel bad about not knowing, because if you already knew there would be nothing left to learn.

Whoa! Drawing figures! You’re hardcore. I’m still at “smushing paint around.” (Also, that’s an ADORABLE way to compliment someone’s drawings.)

There’s definitely a mysticism, romanticism around being an artist, especially in NYC (or big mega cities like it). I certainly admire artists for their ability to have a vision and see it through. I can have ‘neat ideas,’ but they are far above and beyond any skill I have. In fact, I wouldn’t even know what skills I’d be lacking to complete some of them as I have no idea what techniques they would even take! Moreover, though, I love finding different mediums to attempt to express myself through.

Less about the end, more about the means in and of itself. I’m a process kind of gal.

I was prepping for an application to a fine arts college, so I was pretty serious. I had already dabbled in a lot of drawing and painting classes, and drawing naked people was pretty much my last big hurdle. Now figure drawing is one of my favorite things to do. I find being in a dimly lit room with a piece of charcoal in my hand and an easel in front of me very comforting.

Also I think, particularly when you are just starting out, that it can be a really bad idea to judge your art against anything other than your past efforts. Don’t worry about being up to the quality of such and such person, worry about doing better than last time. The other thing to learn is how to balance the desire to improve (which never goes away) with being able to be satisfied with what you have done. I always feel that I can do better, but I’ve learned to be happy with completing a piece that I worked very hard on. The two sensations don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

This sounds great! I’ve always wanted to take art workshops at the AGO here in Toronto, but I’ve felt a bit intimidated. I’ll have to take the leap this summer when I don’t have a full class load.

What medium were you doing the mixing in? I love colour mixing. When I paint at home with oils, they’re so lovely and bright and the texture is so awesome and buttery, I sometimes get an impulse to just lick the palette, they look so nice. But I don’t because that would be gross and I’m not THAT weird. Overshare?

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