It’s when I’ve been able to immerse myself in learning and practice for sustained periods of time that I’ve grown the most as an artist. Setting aside the demands of everyday life to explore and connect with new ideas helps me put those ideas into practice.
Over the years, when I found myself drawn to the work of particular artists, I started reaching out to connect. If they were teaching and the timing worked, I would book myself in to spend time learning from them directly.
Because I also love exploring and connecting with the world through travel, it’s no accident that some of my most memorable learning experiences took me to interesting locations. Over the years I studied with Charles Reid in Sedona AZ, Karlyn Holman in Bend OR, John Lovett in Calgary AB, Brenda Swenson in Boon NC, and Judi Whitton in the Cotswold region of the UK.
In each of these cases I opened myself to exploring their points of view. I tested out their techniques, polished up my skills, and figured out which approaches would find a home in my own practice.
When the pandemic descended, these avenues of learning shut down. So did the world of travel. It was a challenging time for the artists who travelled and taught – and it was a disappointing development for students like me.
However, artists being the resourceful folks they are, the pandemic didn’t close the door to connection or exploration. In fact, it opened new doors and avenues for teaching and learning.
Very quickly, many artists embraced technology to create online teaching opportunities. New platforms emerged that made sharing and managing classes and workshops possible.
And so, I began to explore online learning to continue connecting with artists from around the world. Most of these online sessions were brief and focused – an hour or a half day – zeroing in on a particular technique or approach. It’s been a terrific way to expand my toolbox of skills and have a ‘trial run’ experience with a wide range of techniques.
Here are a few examples of some of the work I created during my recent adventures in online learning.
I’ve been attracted to UK artist Ian Fennelly’s interesting use of line and intrigued by the choices he makes about where to use color and where to leave things white. Working on this study of a boat on the shore required patience, but the outcome was worth it.
I’m not really a portrait artist. Figures tend to be incidental in my urban sketches and rarely the focal point. It always feels like too much pressure to create an image that actually looks like the model. But American watercolor impressionist, Michael Holter, showed me how to build shapes with varied and sometimes surprising layers of color. That’s a skill I can use with all kinds of subject matter.
I love quirky buildings and have experimented with them from time to time in my own work. UK urban artist, Jeff Carter turns even the staidest looking edifices into buildings with a quirky character. It was fun learning how he distorts shapes and angles for a new view on a simple scene.
Under the tutelage of realist watercolorist, Laurin McCracken, I attempted a still life scene so detailed and complicated that I would have walked right by it in the past. I’m still not sure I’m willing to work in the degree of detail required to create these kinds of paintings, but I discovered I could do it if I wanted to.
I tend to work a lot with expressive lines and bright colors. So working along with Australian artist, Anastasia Mily, was a stretch for me. She uses a subdued palette and a delicate touch. Her soft washes take line out of the equation and focus instead on shapes and values to build the composition.
I’m a colorist at heart, so it was an interesting challenge to explore values using only black ink and washes in shades of gray in an online session with Heather Souliere. I find that even though it is lacking in color, the value changes really move my eye around the sketch.
In the years just before the pandemic shut things down, I had stepped out to deliver ink and watercolor workshops in person for small groups of artists. As a direct result of the pandemic, I too shifted my approach and started to deliver virtual classes through the University of Saskatchewan Community Arts program.
I was surprised at how it is possible to build connections and relationships even amongst the members of a distanced group. And, the upside of virtual delivery, is that every participant has a clear view of the instructor’s work area. There’s no jostling for the best view or trying to peek over someone’s shoulder.
No matter whether it’s online or in person, taking part in classes and workshops is a great way to expand horizons and explore connections in the world of art.