Inspiration is such an intangible.
It shows up where you least expect it and comes in many forms. I just returned from attending the TexArt workshop on the campus of Schreiner University in Kerrville, TX . It was co-sponsored by the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation (SKB) and the SAA (Society of Animal Artists). Talk about inspiration!! The format was very interesting; there were 5 instructors teaching for the entire five days and 3 instructors teaching one day workshops. We could choose to stay with one instructor or move around to any workshop we chose. We all found it a very hard choice as we wanted to do everything.
What workshop to choose?!!
I had thought I would be flexible, but as the time got closer and I read more on each workshop, I thought I would spend most of my time with David Rankin who works in watercolor. I work mostly in watercolor too but my technique is dry brush watercolor and he is a master of wet-in-wet watercolor techniques. Just thinking about having to work wet-in-wet gives me heart palpitations, so I thought working with him would be out of my box and good for me. I was thinking that I might have time to sneak into John Banovich’s 1-day workshop on working large and Sally Maxwell’s 1-day workshop on scratchboard. Wes & Rachelle Siegrist presented a 1-day workshop on miniatures. Since I already paint miniatures I thought I could pass on their workshop but I still would have liked to see them work more in-depth.
Above are images from the instructor QuickDraw. Top Collage, clockwise starting at top: David Rankin, Wes Siegrist, Sally Maxwell. Bottom Collage, clockwise starting at top: Jan Martin McGuire, Dan Chen & David Turner, James Coe.
The week before I left I went back to all the descriptions and looked up instructor websites. The other 5-day workshops were David Turner – sculpture, Jan Martin McGuire – acrylic, James Coe -plein air painting and Dan Chen – 2D/3D mixed media. Well, I don’t sculpt, I don’t paint in acrylics (never really liked them) and though plein air painting is something I would like to do more of, I was thinking it not for me this time around. A truly stellar line-up of instructors to choose from!
I decided to look at instructor’s websites. Once I navigated Dan Chen’s website I immediately said, ‘this is the workshop for me’. He works in many mediums, so do I; he predominantly paints/draws birds, but also paints plants, as do I, and I was intrigued by his combinations of mediums, including combining his 2D and 3D works. I have to admit that I struggle a little with the fact that I don’t concentrate on one single medium mostly due to the fact that it makes it harder for me to be ‘marketable’ to galleries. I pick the medium that best supports the story I want to tell with my work and I thoroughly enjoy working in all my mediums. Suffice it to say, I am never bored!
Taking time to explore
I arrived in Texas a few days early to do some birding – always an inspiration! I don’t keep a formal life list, but have counted over 10 new birds added, and I am still going through all of my photos trying to ID some. Two of the new birds are the prizes of the Texas Hill Country: Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. What a great start! I actually went to the Art Institute of Houston and upon graduation got a job in Austin, Texas as an assistant graphic designer. I probably saw some of those very same birds during my years in Texas, but I was younger then, and you know what ‘they’ say about youth.
We had a meet and greet Sunday night with workshops starting the next morning. We had been assigned to campus housing, a 4 bedroom suite with 2 bedrooms each to a bathroom, and a common kitchen/living area. We were literally ‘back at college’! There was an immediate bond between all four of us roommates – I believe we will be fast friends forever. Each one has a story to tell, a journey well-traveled, an eye towards the future and insights to share. Sherry, Heather & Kathleen, I hope that we will all be back next year to once again room together at ‘Art Camp’. Such an unexpected gift and of course, much inspiration!
Monday morning found only 2 artists in Dan’s workshop, myself and one other. We also had two SKB helpers, aka roadies (Thanks Nancy & Ken). We watched a presentation about Dan’s journey as an artist; an incredible one indeed. Our afternoon was learning how to paint with Chinese watercolors on silk.
Day 1: Silk painting
We were all enthralled, both with watching Dan’s demo and with actually working on silk ourselves. I took to it immediately, as it is very similar to working with watercolor on vellum, although just a tad faster !!). Tuesday found only the 2 of again plus our SKB roadies. Selfishly, we were happy with our pretty much one-on-one workshop with Dan. We worked more on our silk paintings, watched another incredible presentation on Dan’s mediums and techniques, and watched Dan demo how he starts his mixed media drawings/paintings.
Day 2: Mixed media techniques
After watching Dan start a mixed media the day before, we then got to watch him ‘fix’ a painting brought in by Julie. Wow! He told us that this is how he happened upon his beautiful technique; he was pondering how to ‘fix’ a painting he was unhappy with. I learned very quickly that Dan’s mind is one of the most creative, out-of-the-box, ‘always solving problems’ minds I have ever encountered. He was very generous with stories of his journey, his techniques, his encouragement and importantly for me, his support and advice to continue working in all of the mediums that make me happy. His mantra is to have fun with what we do, for if we are not having fun, than how can we be creating pieces of art that please the artist in us, and secondly, touch a cord in our viewers and potential collectors.
By Wednesday, word had spread about how unique, creative and downright fun Dan’s workshop was, and by Friday, there was pretty much standing room only.
Attention to our careers and businesses
We also had the opportunity to sit in on some techie talks by SKB master techie Anthony Cannata including one-one-one help with our websites. Thanks Anthony! I was also pleased to have to chance to have aone-on-one talk about my marketing plans with marketing/publisher guru Bob Koenke. Bob asked me some very interesting, soul-searching questions, threw out some awesome ideas, both big picture and very specific, and gave me some concrete goals to work towards. Thanks Bob for your wise words and creative marketing ideas.
So much more than a ‘workshop’
Inspiration also abounded at all of our meals together – I spent time with my wonderful roommates, but also had the opportunity to make many new friends, learning about their own art journeys, sharing in our art camaraderie and just enjoying their company. I attend the annual conference of my American Society of Botanical Artists most every year, and I have a policy of sitting with people I don’t know throughout the conference so that I get to know them even though I am seeing many old friends for the only time each year and cherish the time I get to spend with them. I did the same thing here; the format of us all eating three meals a day together made it a very easy and natural thing to do. And by the way, due to the food being catered, it was very good, not at all like I remember from my college days!
I am sorry that I didn’t get to see any of the other instructors working, but I got a taste of it at our Instructor Quick Draw on Thursday morning. I believe in a higher power, call it God, fate, the universe, or call it what you will; and that higher power nudged me to take Dan’s workshop for a purpose; I found renewed enthusiasm for my work on vellum, validation for my choice to continue with different mediums, a desire to push my creativity and, yes, unexpected but vastly appreciated, inspiration. Thanks to SKB, SAA and a most heartfelt thanks to Dan!