When God Softly Speaks, watercolor, 23½ x 41½ (57 x 105 cm) As I gained confidence with my Plein air watercolors, I tried ever-larger paintings to try and express my experience with the vastness of the landscape. Here, a one-point perspective is framed by the rhythmic tree plantings. It beckons us to take a walk with my collie, Painter, along a familiar path toward our home along the Hudson River in Garrison, New York.
I have always believed that the ability to make a life as an artist is a rare privilege, and with that privilege comes a measure of responsibility. I have also noticed that the world works on the principle of a circle, call it karma, and to receive one must give. For many of us, the giving back process manifests in the form of teaching and sharing the knowledge we have been able to gather up and confirm through decades of doing what we love. Teaching is not for everyone, of course. Not every artist or painter possesses the temperament or interest in becoming an effective, if not inspiring teacher. Both my wife, Ann, and I had teachers in art school who probably should not have been in front of a group of impressionable young artists. However, those bad experiences were actually beneficial to us because they taught us a lot about what kind of teachers we would mold ourselves into later on.
Among the many benefits of a life, which includes teaching, is the opportunity to get to know people from many different backgrounds and walks of life. I started teaching Plein air watercolor workshops in about 1984 when we were living on the Hudson River just north of New York City. Back then, I never saw any other painters working outside on what is the most scenic, dramatic, and beautiful part of the river. I considered the area my personal bailiwick and used it as my laboratory to learn how to paint in watercolor outdoors. After a year, I started showing and selling my work, which brought attention from others who wanted to learn what I had learned. I decided to offer three-day Plein air watercolor workshops and I immediately had 10 students signed up. I had never taught anyone before, but since they were paying me, I was determined to make a professional job of it. I organized and printed out a curriculum that could structure the class experience. Remembering those unpleasant experiences from school, I adopted compassion and positivity as my teaching style. I made some dumb teaching mistakes that any novice does, of course. I accepted people of all ages and ability levels, and that created difficulties in moving everyone forward at the same pace. I tended to work for my classes too fast and had to adjust my expectations of what they could accomplish in a session. I didn’t think to consider that my elder students would have difficulties with some of the walking and hiking we did to favorite painting spots. Things like that. Easy to fix.
Over time, I kept offering workshops and I think that I improved as a teacher, gradually, and I relaxed a bit more into it. Along the way, I learned a lot about people, life, and painting watercolor. I always learn something valuable from my students, especially about painting.
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