The Art of Taking an Art Workshop


There are so many wonderful Felting and Surface Design workshops available around the country as well as in Europe, that I never have a problem choosing one. This summer I might have overdone this luxury a little too much by choosing three in a 2 month period.

I chose two of these classes specifically for the teacher, the other class because of the subject matter. I was taking one five- day workshop in Surface Design with Jane Dunnewold, one three-day class in felting a garment with Charity Van der Meer, and another five-day class with Sachiko Kotaka, a co-inventor of the Nuno Felt process.

There is a lot of preparation and expense to participate in a workshop. There are travel plans to make, schedules to coordinate, supplies to buy and/or make, and packing it all up.

It can be a real hassle. Is it worth it? Well, that is a loaded question. There is the obvious answer, that I love learning new things, meeting fellow artists and crafters, seeing how others work and teach, and enjoying the camaraderie that follows by being in such a group.  However, the other side of the coin is I dislike taking workshops.

Why? I am embarrassed to say there are a lot of reasons, but the main one is the anxiety I experience while in these learning environments and pathetically, traveling to them.

I do not drive long distances, so making arrangements to get from the airport to the hotel and then to class everyday can be daunting. The last class I took, I forgot to follow up on making the arrangements to get from the airport to the hotel. I  had to call the host of the class at the last minute to find out what my options were- definitely embarrassing.

But the anxiety that I experience in the class is what really makes it hard for me . What’s it like for me?

STRESSFUL. I am always the one asking too many questions.  I usually need clarification, more than once. Instructions can be given so fast one can hardly write them down fast enough, let alone absorb what the teacher is saying. Taking good notes would help. But how do you  listen, absorb, and watch, all at the same time? It is a skill set with which I am not proficient.

I used to think it was just me who didn’t get it, but often it turns out 1/2 the people don’t understand what was said or demonstrated either. But they don’t ask questions, for one reason or another. Sometimes a few students go straight off to begin the task, but have to redo it because they actually misunderstood.  It’s like playing the game- telephone. By the time each person interprets what the teacher said, you have many permutations.  I figure it is best to ask again and again until I know what is trying to be communicated. I really want to understand.

I know how annoying I can be asking all these questions, so I often end up apologizing. But if I don’t understand what she is saying in the classroom,  I sure as hell won’t have a clue what to do at home. After all, my motivation for taking the class is to be able to repeat the project at home.

Now I realize there is an art to taking a workshop.  Merriam-Websters dictionary defines ‘art’ as a skill acquired by experience, study or observation.  We know that learning a new skill can be frustrating, challenging and often painful. This is what I am experiencing now, but hopefully with more practice I will find taking workshops easier.

Without seeking out new things to learn; my journey would not be as fulfilling.

I would love to hear about your workshop experiences.

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