Over the course of three days, from August 15 - 17th, I instructed five very eager students in a workshop called Painting the Texture of Tea at Peters Valley Craft Center in Layton, NJ. Located in the Delaware Water Gap National Park, its isolated location nestled in the hills overlooking the Delaware River provides for a space to focus on work without distractions. All of the students ranged in experience from a complete beginner to some who have not painted in 25 years. What I saw throughout the weekend was a lot of risk-taking and courage to get oneself in front of the easel, and each day struggle through a new problem. All overcame their own challenges and ended the workshop with a renewed confidence.
All of the workshops held last week were tea-themed in honor of the opening reception of Peters Valley's current exhibit, Sweet Tea. Each morning, we started our practice at the easel with a tea meditation and tasting. We learned how to appropriately taste tea and a little bit about its history and cultivation. The first day we began with a demo and set to work on a monochromatic painting, forcing the students to see the values in the subjects in front of them. The second day we upped the ante by creating full color paintings of our tea subject matter. And the final day was spent considering how to create works involving the subject of tea beyond a typical still life. I was amazed with the ideas that the students came up with, considering the relative short amount of time.
A fringe benefit of the workshop was all of the technical information the students learned about brushes, paints, and painting without the use of solvents. All were surprised and amazed by the obvious differences when switching to higher quality materials. I was fortunate to receive some sample paints from M.Graham which I shared during the workshop. The students couldn't get over the lovely texture of the paints as well as the purity and brightness of the colors when compared to some other lesser quality oils they were using. Thank you M.Graham for sharing your paints with us! And, a special thank you to our studio assistant, Signe Ballew, who went above and beyond to make our studio run smoothly.
Take a peak at the works created by my students:
This student had not painted in 25 years! She was extraordinarily nervous in the beginning, but after many adjustments and changes, finally grew comfortable with her work. We focused greatly on the reflections and textures of the tea and cups, as well as the composition of her second piece. Her final work in progress depicts two cups from which she shared tea with her mom who passed away last year, hence the depiction of only one hand.
Allison, my sister, had not painted in about 15 years and I had no idea how receptive she would be to my criticism. It turned out to be awesome! Throughout many of her works, they completely evolved into different compositions and color schemes than when they began. Eventually she would find the painting, not without much frustration. She brought a dried out lemon to the workshop which at some point found its way into almost all of her paintings (even if it was then painted out). The last piece began with the lemon stamped with oil on the canvas paper and a suggestion of a tea leaf, but ended with evocations of lemons in the background and the suggestion of a hill or mountain form in the foreground of an entirely different color.
This student had never painted in her life until last weekend! Unfortunately she was unable to attend on Friday's session, so we got her started with a monochrome on Saturday. As we ended the workshop on Sunday, she had only just gotten started with her color piece. But, she started to get the idea of painting metal and also decided to mix actual tea leaves into her oil paints!
Emily is one of my students from my studio who enrolled in my workshop. While she's been working with me for about three years, these were only her 2nd and 3rd oil painting. She is developing work for entrance to art school next year so she aimed to complete a few strong works to add to her portfolio. I think she is in the process of achieving that goal, and though she didn't get to the third painting, we will revisit the topic later on back at TraillWorks.
This was another student who had not painted in over 15 years! She was very self-conscious of her work at the start of the workshop, but by the end was boasting about her achievements in the dining hall. Not only was it interesting to see her still life objects which were direct from England, but it was fascinating to see her shift into a comfort zone with the paint and subject matter. By the end she was having so much fun, as you can see in her final painting of a tea bag and tea cups.
I will leave you with a few comments from my students:
"I can't tell you how safe you have made me feel."
"I especially realize how much you gave me in this class when I hear myself tell my husband all about it. Thank you for all your preparation and making the tea theme come alive. Thanks also for all the paint, mixing, brush, palette knife knowledge. I will be hearing your advise about putting colors next to one another every time I pick up a paint brush. I've decided not to put the paint stuff away in a closet, but get a spot set up in the house somewhere.The class time just flew! A great experience!"
If this looks interesting to you, don't miss my upcoming workshop, Painting in the Burbs, set for September. There is still time to enroll!
There was an article published by the Huffington Post recently comparing the before and after drawings by students and artists. The article strove to depict what happens to art after devoted practice is put into the work. The results were compelling enough for me to share with you some of the before and afters of my own students. While I don't have exactly the same images to show the before and after, you can certainly see a growth in the work from a student's early pieces to their later pieces.
There is real value to artistic practice; devoting time in class and out of class to improving both technique and conceptual development. These two elements are what I've always strived to develop in my students. It is important that an artist understand and gain a technical ability in a variety of media, giving them a strong foundation from which to work, as well as creating focus, or a direction in terms of the subject matter.
What comes as a result of these lessons, beyond the technical ability is a confidence and ease that generally wasn't there before. Most students begin lacking confidence, comparing themselves to others, and skeptical of their own capabilities. They leave me, in most cases, with a sense of artistic self-awareness and eagerness to continue, whether in art school, as a hobby, or professionally.
If you'd like to gain any of these traits and are looking for a mentor to guide your artistic pursuits, my fall lessons and workshops are enrolling now in my Studio on the 3rd Floor. I have openings for small group and privates lessons, as well as a workshop, called Painting in the Burbs, for adults. Learn more at traillworks.com/art-lessons--workshops.html.
Adult student Pat completed the first painting at another studio, then repainted it with my guidance at TraillWorks. We worked on mixing colors, anatomical structure and mass in the redo. This painting was a study from a photo she took of a scene from Downton Abbey, on her TV screen - hence some of the distortion in the figures, which she greatly improved in the second version.
Teen student Emily's work, at the start of lessons in 2011, and then around 2013. The first piece was completed from observation and reference photos in my studio using colored pencils and watercolor. She has developed a much more sophisticated use of color and shadows, and range of values in the apron (drapery study) that she drew in pastel two years later.
Child student Noa's work in 2008 next to his work in 2011. He was around the age of 6 when he began and probably around 9 when he drew my dog. Of course, child development plays a role here, but consider also that as children near adolescence their art-making drops off if not supported and nurtured.
Jennie Traill Schaeffer
Sometimes called the Kitchen God's Artist, I'm balancing mothering two energetic sons, our new pup, Cider, while making and teaching art. TraillWorks is the apron under which I create and teach. My own art develops mostly in my home studio, but is often spurred through my teaching, and travels. I just relocated to Durham, NC, from West Orange, NJ, so my studio is in renovation right now.
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