“Making art makes you more aware,” he said, as we sat watching the sun set over Lake Michigan while listening to the waves and the aspen’s rustle. I had just spent a fabulous week teaching a class he participated in at Bjorklunden, in Door County, Wisconsin. Bjorklunden belongs to Lawrence University (where I was on the faculty for ten years) and offers seminars in the liberal arts all summer at their beautiful lodge outside Bailey’s Harbor. In the winter it serves as a northern campus to Lawrence students on weekends.
Watching the light fade and enjoying the cool breeze I was observing the path through the cedar woods darken while reflecting on the watercolor seminar I had just taught. It had been a particularly special workshop with participants ranging from beginners to experienced and exhibiting artists. I was also thinking about what I might improve for a week-long workshop for absolute beginners and those in need of a refresher that I will be teaching there again in the fall (September 17-24th, “Watercolor: A Fresh Start”).
We had gathered together for a week of unadulterated fun and experimentation with the goal of leaving competition and self-doubt behind and immersing ourselves in the creative process. In addition to novices, about two thirds of the participants were repeat attendees who return to capture the special magic we find there.
The week started with exercises aimed at remembering back before ‘Art’ had a capital ‘A,’ back to a time when creative play was timeless and the process of making was a goal in itself. Comparison with others was discouraged in favor of an attitude of “what happens if I do this?” Students learned as much from each other as from me as we crafted a community of teachers and learners enjoying our own and each others creative discoveries. We all learn to trust that joy and play would move our creative work forward. Mistakes were turned into opportunities and each student came away from the workshop with a sheet of techniques and a list of potential exercises designed to keep the creative work going when they got home.
Teaching feeds my art and helps me remember what I have learned. I teach art for all kinds of reasons, including the desire to give the participants in my workshops a taste of what art making can be like when we get out of out own way and trust the process. Its wonderful to see students new to art learn that “creating art makes you more aware” of all there is to see and to come to understand that one of the major jobs an artist does is to notice and document this amazing world so others can see it too.
The week was over all to quickly. While it was hard to say ‘goodbye’ to all my companions in art, I’m delighted to have the September workshop to look forward to. In the meantime I’m reorganizing my studio in anticipation of getting back to my own creative process and art making, full of all the new things I’ve seen and experienced over this last month of travel, teaching and learning. Thank you to all of those who shared your art and awareness with me.