The Workshop Junkie: Tips for Choosing Workshops

I am a workshop junkie. I became addicted to all things clay rather late in life after getting a degree in textiles at CCAC and a 30-year career in the garment industry running a children’s clothing business. Though that pottery wheel scene with Demi and Patrick in the movie Ghost makes most potters roll their eyes when people bring it up, it inspired me and my husband, John Schnick, to take a class at the Richmond Art Center in ceramics. The perfect date night!! This class turned out to be my gateway drug to the world of pottery. My addiction has been fed by taking lots of workshops, some that filled my head to over-capacity with new ideas and skills, and some that were total bummers. With the founding of my studio fourth & clay (now sadly closed) I was able to host many great demo workshops. I have even on occasion, gotten my courage up and have taught a couple or workshops myself.

So You Want to Take a Workshop?

Hayne Bayles tea pot demo – Sierra Nevada College 2015

There are so many workshops available with The Greats in our field teaching them. I know of no better way to get inspired in my clay practice then being able to work for a week or two or to sit and watch a demo  with a clay superstar and suck in all their knowledge. I can’t recommend this experience enough…Go out and give it a try.

Here are a few tips based on my experiences on how to select the best workshop:

Choose an experienced teacher.  The gold standard of all the workshops I have taken was taught by Julia Galloway.  She is a master of keeping things professional, fun and informative. I spent a week making pots with a new technique thrown at me twice a day, had history class every day after lunch, she spent time individually critiquing each participant’s work during the week and she generously shared her glaze recipes. Teaching is like show business and she has her act DOWN. It was action packed.

On the flip side, I once took a workshop from a highly talented young woman who had just graduated from Alfred.  I loved her work but her teaching skills were nonexistent.  The LOOONG quiet afternoons watching her demo were painful. Worse was the fact that a know-it-all student (there always seems to be one in every workshop) filled in the long stretches of quiet with all his knowledge.  It was a disaster and I left the workshop early.

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Lisa Reinertson sculpts bas-relief head and bird – Sierra Nevada College 2015

Go to beautiful places.  A beautiful place to work and spend some time makes for a great experience. I figure I’m going to be there for 1 – 2 weeks so I might as well love where I’m going. I have taken tons of workshops at Sierra Nevada College (Incline Village, NV) as I live up there in the summer.  They have a great summer workshop program in a beautiful setting. Christa Assad and and her amazing partner, Kevin Wickham are teaching a mixed media sculpture class there this summer.  Perhaps the most beautiful place I have taken a workshop was two weeks in Tuscany at La Meridiana  – Clay and Chianti with Josh DeWeese.  I stayed in a beautiful ancient farm house with Josh and the other participants. We walked to the pottery every morning. When our pots were drying we toured the countryside drinking Chianti and eating the most amazing meals.  It was a once in a lifetime experience.  The fabulous figurative sculptor Lisa Reinertson is teaching a workshop there in the Fall.

Try something new and different.  I like to take workshops that are a bit out of my comfort zone.  I once took a workshop from Andy Ruble on big pot throwing.. I learned that I am not a big pot thrower. But it was great fun trying and he was full of other skills that I could apply to my small scale work.

I am a functional pot maker but I decided last summer to take a figurative sculpture class from Michelle Gregor and Lisa Reinertson. It was a wonderful experience and I learned tons.  I am now able to incorporate coil building in my forms and added Michelle’s underglazing techniques to my surface decorating.

Michelle Gregor demo-ing underglaze techniques – Sierra Nevada College 2015

Show up early.  My husband, John, calls this WORKSHOP POLITICS:  Get there early, get the best spot in the studio and don’t move ! As a beginner thrower he was given the last wheel available in a 2 week workshop…an ancient kick wheel.  He couldn’t make it work – he said it was because he was raised as a Baptist and never learned to dance.  The other participants in the workshop would periodically come by his wheel and say how they had learned on a kick wheel, loved using a kick wheel,  but none would trade with him.  By the end of the workshop he was one frustrated guy.  

Do the projects. As ridiculous as it sounds it’s a good idea to do the projects the being taught! I have been in workshops where a rude participant went off and made his signature work while the instructor was demo-ing.  One of the best workshops I have taken was given by Mary Law.  It was a week of lid making.  Every morning the students were required to have their completed vessels and lids on her desk by 9 am at which time she would critique every piece.  If you didn’t have your work up there she would ask you why…no one got out alive! This was a bit intimidating but I learned so much.

Listen.  So many times I have been in a workshop where a student feels like he/she knows a better way to do the technique the presenter is demo-ing.  I can’t tell you how annoying this is.  Even if you do know a better way…I don’t care! I paid the big bucks to hear what the instructor has to say so please…. SHUT UP!  Ha, there I said it!

Josie Jurczenia is a functional pot maker and a certified Workshop Junkie. Many of our ACGA members teach workshops, and you can check out the ACGA Workshops page to see what’s coming up. Are you an ACGA member teaching a workshop? Be sure to email our website admin so your workshop can be shared with the community.

 

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