I am so excited about how my Watercolor Trees class at Daniel Smith went! I know lots of you think of me as a teacher, at whatever level you perceive – but there’s a big difference between teaching online and in person, especially in something like watercolor.

First, when teaching online I can keep filming over and over if needed to get it “right.” While I sometimes keep booboos in if they’re teachable things, but if there’s a way more efficient and clearer way to teach something, I’ll reshoot for the sake of being clear. When I take classes I really appreciate a teacher who’s tight on technique – able to explain it well and clearly, as much as possible, to make it an idea I can grasp and carry out in my own way!

For the demo last week (as well as class) I brought a ton of paintings that had trees in them. There were probably 50 people that attended! I was pretty shocked. A bunch from my sketch and plein air groups came, and my church, and students who’d signed up for class. It was wonderful to see so many wanting to learn! Daniel Smith has this cool mirror setup so people can watch — it means you watch with it flipped since it’s in a mirror but works pretty well.

To make it viewable for people way in the back, I worked on a half sheet – twice the size I usually work. EEEEP! But working big forced me to 1) use my biggest brushes, and 2) use big bold brush strokes. I was thrilled that the painting worked nicely – and it might give me courage to start trying to work a little larger once in a while. By the end of the demo I had a waiting list growing, and lots hoping that someone would bail on class!

One of the attendees, who happens to be in one of my urban sketcher group, posted her thoughts and photos HERE.

Two day workshop

We started class this weekend by mixing greens. I know lots of artists who struggle with greens, and they swatch them out til the cows come home – but you never really know what they can do until you see colors together. I had the students make a page of trees (any type or shape of tree) and play with dropping one color into another from whatever palette they had. Get to know your colors by playing this way; swatches don’t show you how a pigment acts in context, but you get painting practice AND color mixing studies in one fell swoop by doing this together.

I did have handouts for students, but really wanted them to be successful in ways I don’t always experience in real-life classes. Often they feel frustrating because it’s super hard to make a beautiful “frameable” piece in a classroom setting; I know that’s a hope I pin on classes that’s unreasonable, but I made an effort to get students to see what we were doing as *studies* not paintings. We broke a quarter sheet into thirds for one exercise, trying to get them to make their own step by step “handout” – first do one pass in each third, then the second pass in two of them, and a third pass in a third. That could be a great reference in knowing just how far to go in each pass.

I think it was a good idea, though I need to find better ways to explain our goal more clearly. I had a couple paintings of Puerto Rico that just needed a few touches, so was able to talk through what I was fixing and why.

I’m also a big fan of crediting my own mentors for all they’ve taught me. I was waxing on about Bjorn Bernstrom at one point, and at the end of day one we had a few minutes and I decided to show them a quick idea of what his technique is like – slathering on thick paint, then washing it off in particular ways and creating gorgeous bloomed skies. Don’t mind the mountain here; this was a 15 minute demo, so I can’t be held responsible for a big old lump. LOL. The sky was amazing enough that I think my students will fill Bjorn’s next class in our area!

Below was a demo that started on Day One – I ran out of time to get farther than this on it, but in the next pic below, I worked on it for a few minutes at lunch during Day Two and a few more at the very end as folks packed up. It’s a half-sheet painting, again huge by my normal standards, and I’m relatively satisfied with it!

On Day Two we worked on studies again, this time fall trees. Learning when it’s “enough” and when a little more detail is going to help is a big help, but I have yet to know the difference sometimes!

By the time we worked on painting from photos on day two, I was DELIGHTED that students actually were able to tell me their “plan” for what they’d include in their three or more passes. Several dove in and accomplished their plan and, frankly, that was HUGE for me as a teacher to see people grasp it so readily and execute on it!

My primary demo for Day Two is below. I was super happy with some things, not so much with others, but it was an excellent teaching opportunity on dealing with a number of factors.

As always, the afternoon of Day Two saw some tuckered students. Two days of absorbing concepts that are new to you can be draining, and some packed up early, but stayed for demos. I had earlier promised to try to squeeze in a winter demo if there was time – and they held me to it! I had all of a half an hour to git ‘er done – and actually did. It’s not a stellar piece but very teachable in what I was doing and why – including the fun of flicking watercolor grounds all over to make snow! This still needs one more flicking of snow now that it’s dry; when it lands on wet pigment it melts in a bit, but one more quick flicking and it’ll brighten up the snowy effect quite nicely. And, I have to say, it wasn’t bad at all for half an hour, eh?

Two of the biggest joys that went beyond the success of the class will stay with me a while.

One, I finally got to see a bunch of my paintings laid out together in one place. There’s something about seeing it dispassionately laid out on a table – and noticing commonalities in my style. Some of the students even pointed out what they saw stylistically, and that was helpful. I’ve wondered if I’d ever develop my own style as a painter, and it seems to be developing as I paint a lot!

And two, I actually had a messaging chat with one of my mentors! Typically when reaching out to them I get little quick replies, sometimes ones that feel like a pat on the head. I know they’re busy. My usual feedback is when they’re in town, plus their help in critiquing my work is all free – so I don’t expect much. But when I told this particular artist that I was teaching my first workshop, we had a nice little DM chat about it, and I felt so encouraged! It was intimidating in some ways to be standing under the mirror that all these men and women I admire have stood under – but after hearing kudos from one, I stood up a little straighter!

Another workshop has been scheduled in January, but I may ask for a date change so I can have a 2 day workshop. Students in this class agreed one day wasn’t really enough; they had so much to absorb, and hearing some of it again in a different way the second day really helped. So I’ll let you know when something gets scheduled and when it’ll be!