Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Week in Lac du Flambeau

My husband and I just returned home to an extremely welcoming cat last night after a week spent four hours north in Vilas County.  Back in March when I was dreaming about which art workshop I might take this year, I discovered that Dillmans Resort was hosting acrylic painter Robert Burridge at the end of September.  I had taken a watercolor workshop there back in 1997, right after my best friend died of a brain tumor at the age of forty-seven. She had been a good painter and a fine potter, and I decided after her death that I would not wait until I retired to start making my own art.  So, I signed up for a week long class, and went on my own.  While the instructor was compassionate and skillful, the facilities wonderful, I was lonely and overwhelmed by everything I didn't know.  I cried alone in my cabin at night in frustration at my lack of painting skill and grief at the loss of my friend, but knew that some day I wanted to come back.

This time was different. I have more painting skills, know what to pack and what to leave home, know that my best work will come after the workshop, not during it.  This time my husband came along.  I convinced him that the colors would be at their peak, that he could bicycle all day while I was in class, that we could go out on Sand Lake, listen to loons, watch for eagles, and eat out at the "up north" supper clubs at night. And I was excited about learning more about painting with acrylics from Robert Burridge.  I can't remember how I discovered his web site about three years ago, but I had been reading his newsletter, taking notes, and I liked his energy and style.
We rarely had the opportunity to gravel north during peak colors when I was teaching.  Usually we couldn't get away until late October, and by then the leaves had fallen from the trees.   This time the colors were good at the beginning of the week and magnificent by the time we left on Friday.  The area is pretty quiet now that the weather is cooler and children are in school.  Most of the week was cool and there was some rain every day but one, but we could still hear the loons calling in the morning and at dusk, and my husband still rode his bike part of each day.
A couple of times we made coffee early, and went down to one of the piers for some quiet time.
We could hear the loons, and saw them a couple times.  I took this photo when the painting group went out for a pontoon ride on the Sand Lake.
Wednesday was the clearest day, so we made a point of watching the sunset over the lake just outside our lodging.
But of course the point of the week for me was to learn from a painter I admire, to acquire and polish my painting skills, to be energized and inspired, and to have a good time.  That last point is important, and is one reason I chose to spend my time and cash on this particular instructor.  More than once I have regretted setting aside time and money to take a class from a person whose work I did not end up admiring, or whose planned activities were not what I had expected based on the class description.  Once or twice I have taken workshops from instructors who had obvious disdain for the students, who appeared bored themselves, or who spent the entire time painting art that was not so much a demonstration as simply time spent to produce a painting the artist hoped to sell to someone in class.  There needs to be a balance between lecture/observation, and student work time and critique. From what I had read on his website and newsletter over time, from what I had seen on YouTube, and from the recommendations of other art bloggers whose opinions I respect, I thought Burridge's Loosen Up With Aquamedia class would be worth my investment.

In Bob Burridge's August Artsy Fartsy newsletter he has a checklist of things people who teach and mentor young people should strive for in their instruction, and I'm borrowing from that newsletter here, because these are the things that I look for in a teacher for myself.

Discard everything that is unnecessary.
Aim to be simple.
Relax, abandon yourself. Fear nothing.
Compress time. Aim at succeeding, don't waste an instant.
Don't take yourself seriously.
Don't hurry, don't rest.
Use self-humor.
Don't be afraid to be a little foolish.
Have endless patience.
If faced with overwhelming odds, occupy time with something else.
Have endless capacity to improvise.
Bring abstract ideas to concrete form.
Assume that students enjoy learning.
Believe that children (any learners - my word choice) are perfect, and we're just building on their strengths.
Support everything with a visual aid.
Insure no possible way to fail.
A teacher must be upbeat and positive.
If the goal is only to learn facts, then we lose the chance to know that learning is very exciting.

Bob Burridge is certainly an entertainer and self-promoter, but under jokes and a light approach, he has real skill and passion as a painter, and a temperament that allows for and embraces a wide variety of personalities and skill levels in his workshop participants.  He is organized, patient, and comes with many examples of painting approaches and printed handouts for students to take home and read after the class has finished.  

All that, and he plays good music too.

I hope I can internalize some of his philosophy, move ahead with my artwork, and take another class from him in the future.

I would love to hear from other people who take art workshops. Who are some instructors who have made a powerful positive impression on you?  What qualities do you look for in an art teacher for yourself?


Ann's Art said...

Hi Sherry, this is such a lovely post item...and so glad you have enjoyed your workshop. (sad about your friend a few years ago though) - I too did a workshop back in February with Wendy Jelbert and it was brilliant...Wendy is helpful, yet let's you create without hindering and critiques kindly. I've put a link to her site so you can see who I am on about:

Teri C said...

Thanks for the memories Sherry. I have been to Dillman's but only as a visitor but it was wonderful. And it still sounds wonderful. I'm happy your class was good. I have only taken online classes but maybe someday I can take one from Carlyn Holman near Ashland.