2. ART COURSES – TAKING ‘EM AND TEACHING ‘EM!
If you’re an artist who makes a living from their work (or at least has a fair stab at it!), the chances are you’ve undertaken some form of art training in the past. Many artists who study art in higher education are busy enough afterwards trying to sell their work, get established and earn enough to pay the rent to give studying art any further much consideration. The path that an artist has to take in terms of marketing themselves, exhibiting, getting their work into galleries, making a name for themselves and being creative enough to keep producing work they’re satisfied with is certainly an education in itself. But assuming that studying art is in your past (once you’ve got your qualifications and are on the career path) might be a missed opportunity in your career. My latest ‘Spotlight’ interview with Rosalyn Mina (have a look on our Blog!) made me think of this point. Rosalyn had started off her training in illustration at University; whilst she was doing this course she saw some work in stained glass which fascinated her. She begged her tutors to allow her to do her final project with a focus on stained glass as illustration; they agreed and her new passion for stained glass was ignited – you only have to look at some examples of her work on her site to get an idea of the training she had to undergo and skill she had to acquire in order to make it a success! She returned to her love of painting further down the road and now produces lovely work in both paint and stained glass. So you may think that you’re happy with your chosen artistic skill; whether it’s painting, sculpture, installations etc. But you’re creative; you’re an artist – who knows what other skills you may have lurking under your palette?
This is where the good ole’ art course comes into focus. Luckily, there are literally thousands of courses in all art mediums being run pretty much all the time all over the country! You’d find it difficult NOT to find something that might take your interest. So why should you maybe consider taking an art course (leisure or qualification-based) when you’re already an artist?
Well, you could ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you happy with the amount of income you’re making from your chosen art medium right
- Is there an area in art that’s always appealed to you but for one reason or another you’ve
neglected to explore it further?
- Have you thought about other areas that your current artistic talents could be put to
beneficial use? For example, if you paint landscapes in oils, have you ever considered
illustration? You’re a painter; you can create beautiful pictures – if you could learn to
base your art to required themes, illutrations could open new doors of opportunity – and
income – for you!
- Is there another area in art that could earn you far more money per artwork than the
medium you currently specialise in?
I know some of you may be recoiling in horror at the thought of even wanting to deviate away from your passion, but in Rosalyn’s case, as mentioned above, she thought she’d found her passion in illustration; before she considered stained glass, that is! And once she’d delved in, a new and highly successful passion was born. So if you fancy exploring other possibilities, you might want to start to consider the factors that will affect you as you travel down your new artistic path.
Here’s some points to consider:
- Fitting it in – if you decide you’d like to explore another art medium, your current schedule is going to have to shift around a little bit! Choose a course in your chosen medium which will still allow you the time to continue with your current specialist area of art. At this stage, just one hour a week will be enough to spend on your new interest, to gain an insight into what’s really involved, if it really grabs your interest enough to inspire you to pursue it, the materials involved (cost!) and above all, the satisfaction it brings you – or not!
- Worth your while? Check the finances! – so you’re seriously considering – for argument’s sake – a course in sculpture (you currently specialise in ceramics – so you’re good with your hands!). Have a good look at what adding sculpture to your artistic repetoire could do for your career. Is it a good money earner once you’re accomplished? Could you really benefit financially from producing works in both sculpture AND ceramics? Are the costs to produce the works horrendous? Do you have any equipment already that you use for ceramics that you can also utilise for working in sculpture? Can you effectively split your time between the two mediums to enable to produce enough work to make enough money? And – of course – can you afford it? If money is tight, could you factor the cost of the course into your current annual expenditure? Can you make cutbacks in other areas to allow for the extra cost? Or maybe do a push with your current art and try to produce/sell more works to limit the financial impact. Treat this as a career investment; passion and love of art of course come into it – but at the end of the day, this is your job and finances must be a fundamemtal part of any choices you make within it.
- Space – where will you practice your new subject? Do you have enough studio space to incorporate two art mediums? Are you going to have to find a new place to hire out in order to develop your second skill? If so, you need to factor the costs into your budget.
- Enjoyment – you love what you do now, but could you love another?! Think about the long-term; maybe having a second area of work will keep your current one fresh over the years. You won’t tire of it because you’ll have variety. Do you enjoy a challenge? Could you view the changes as positive rather than a stressful upheaval? Do you feel confident enough to ‘go back’ to being a student? This is quite an important point to consider! You may feel accomplished and confident (most of the time!) in what you do now, but do bear in mind that doing a course will mean returning to the learning/making mistakes side of art that you thought you’d left behind you at art college! Try to envisage the end goal; a job as an artist with two (or multi!) mediums that you’re skilled in and which provide you with financial reward, stimulation, challenge and enjoyment.
Once you’ve decided to go for it, get searching! Word-of-mouth is a good way to find out about courses run in the medium which interests you; get talking to your fellow artists! Check out the library, local listings in papers, community centre notice-boards and of course your local colleges/adult education centres/art schools. Go and see some exhibitions specialising in the medium that’s grabbed your interest. Maybe talk to other artists who specialise already in that medium about the pros and cons.
Is there a teacher in you bursting to get out?
So what about the ‘other side’? No, I don’t mind supernatural goings on. I mean teaching an art course. That idea may fill you with instant fear but you could surprise yourself! I made that transition myself (not in art, but in singing). Having been a singer for most of my life, I’d had more lessons and done more courses than you could shake a microphone at. But then one day a music studio owner suggested to me that I teach the subject – to which I laughed heartily and at the same time shuddered with horror at the thought; too scary! The following week, he called again and asked me to come down and give him a singing lesson. I saw it as a challenge and did so. The next day, he’d booked me a paying student – cue absolute panic, night sweats and what-the-heck-did-I-agree-for rants at myself. Ten years on, I’m a happy singing teacher (when I’m not writing about doing art courses!) with hundreds of satisfied singing students under my belt, a number of amazing achievements made by some of them which make one feel partially responsible and therefore very happy and a huge passion for teaching and seeing people’s journeys as they learn, develop and gain in confidence that I would never have guessed I had in me. I was thrown in at the deep end with hardly any time to think about the change from student to teacher and it was a real case of learning on the job. Sometimes I think I would have preferred to take a course as it would there would have been less panic attacks at night! But at the same time, I know that I wouldn’t have taken a course – because I simply wouldn’t have got around to it. Teaching would have remained on my ‘to-do’ list because I thought it might be an option when I was much older.
To teach a subject you love is fantastic; you never have to worry about conveying your own enthusiasm for the subject to your students because it naturally oozes from you! If you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll have the enthusiasm to pass that passion onto others. Here’s some more bullet-pointed things to consider if you’re now sitting there with your tea thinking ‘hmmmm….teaching! I wonder!’. We love our bullet-points.
- Scared witless by the thought of standing up in front of a class and – well, teaching? Change your viewpoint on it. See it less as a public speech and more as explaining to a friend how they could start to paint a picture. If you’re terrified about teaching a class of 20 – don’t! Start with a class of 6 or 7. Stage it as a drop-in for people to come and see your work, have a look, have a feel of your sculptures, have a cup of tea and a chat…and then they can have a go themselves after you’ve shown them the basics.Keep it small and friendly. You may be a fully accomplished artist, even if you’re not so sure in your less-confident moments. But bear in mind you’ll be teaching BEGINNERS…it’s back to the basics which you know like the back of you hand, but which they don’t.
- Do just one trial lesson with a friend/acquaintance. That was my first experience of teaching a subject I adored and, although scary, was enough to give me a real taster of what it would involve. I hadn’t thought about the repetitions they’d need to do as a beginner before they felt confident to move onto the next point. There was I worrying that they’d get bored/feel they weren’t getting their money’s-worth and all they were concentrating on was breathing from the diaphragm correctly as it was all so new to them! I hadn’t realised how much fun it would be. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the feeling of elation when, at the end of the session, they told me how much fun they’d had and how they’d enjoyed it. As new teachers, it’s so easy for us all to get bogged down and concerned about OUR abilities; but the student’s concerns and concentration will be focused on THEIR abilities to get it right. A trial lesson will show you all this and give you a taste of whether you might love it or decide that it’s not for you.
- Hone your basic skills – after all, these are (likely) what you’ll start off teaching. For a one-hour lesson, you may THINK that you can cover quite a lot. But it’ll be a lot less than you realise! The basic skills of the art you’re teaching you’ll have acquired long ago and quite likely do them now without thinking about them. Revisit them. Look at your most basic techniques and the most basic starter exercises. Make sure you know them inside out. Can you answer questions thrown at you on them? The exercises may take you ten minutes to do but the chances are they’ll take up the whole of a first lesson for a beginner. And no, they won’t be bored! Learning the basics is essential, still a big challenge for a novice and will be enjoyable for them too – so don’t feel you need to overload them with knowledge the first ten or so sessions; that will just be confusing. Keep the exercises basic, make sure you know your stuff and don’t worry about it not being enough; when you’re learning something new, you don’t want to be overwhelmed with information.
- Where could you teach from? Home? A community centre? Look at possibilities. Don’t necessarily worry about not having great expanses of land with stunning views if you’re teaching painting; your students want to master technique and skill and they can achieve this without being in a field.
- Money! It’ll cost you to run a course, there’s no doubt about that…but the financial benefits can be great. If you teach privately, you’re getting all the money once you’ve paid the expenses….and if you’re good at budgeting and can manage ways to keep costs down, you could be pleasantly surprised at how much you can earn after just a couple of hours! Ring around other private art teachers in your area to find out what the going rate is (you can pretend to be an interested student!). Start to work out a budget. You need to factor in:
- Materials. Think about the less obvious things such as pots for water, cloths to clean
up any spillages and so on, as well as the more obvious materials.
- Preparation time. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of your time! You’ll need to make lesson plans, do paperwork, prepare the room etc. This should all be factored into your hourly/two-hourly rate. You don’t just work for the duration of the session you’re teaching! You could be looking at hours of extra work just in the preparation; this all needs to be taken into account when it comes to pricing your lessons.
- Don’t undercharge! This is common with new teachers; they simply don’t feel confident as teachers yet because they’re just starting out, so they charge less than they could or indeed, should. If you price yourself too low, propective students may ask themselves why that is. Is he/she not very good? Are the materials going to be poor quality? Does the teacher even know his/her craft? Be competitive, but then again don’t price yourself out of the water! Find out the going rate, work out an average and price yourself there. You may worry about teaching but the students simply want to know how to paint/sculpt/make a mosaic – and you KNOW all this and can show them. They’ll be happy to pay you the going rate for it. Trust me on this one.
- Practice your teaching skills! There’s plenty of books/Youtube clips/advice on the internet on how to teach. But what I learnt was that it’s actually pretty simple; you just need to do the following:
- Work out the content of your classes/courses. If you’re running a four-week art course, work out exactly which points/skills you’d like your students to reach by the end of it. Don’t overload them and keep it realistic. Think back to when you were learning; how long did it take you to fully get a grasp on the skills you want to teach?
- Ensure that the methods you’re teaching are solid. Don’t teach short-cuts! That may be something YOU do with time and confidence on your side but don’t pass that on to beginners! Keep the methods tried, tested and make sure you’re covering all the essentials.
- Plan your lessons. Crucial at first! Work out a time sheet for the duration of your lesson and try to (realistically) work out what you’re going to teach at which point. Factor in demos. Factor in tea break! Factor in setting up and saying goodbye! All these take up the class time and are often forgotten when it comes to planning the lesson! So you may find yourself pushed to get everything fitted in because you didn’t realise it would take 5-10 minutes of that hour-long class just to say the hello’s, get everyone sat down and be ready to start!
- Practice speaking slowly. Not in a wierd, slow-motion, slurry manner but at a speed which doesn’t scream ‘I’m a new teacher and by jove I’m nervous!’. It’s so easy to speak nine-to-the-dozen if you’re nervous. You may lose your students and make it hard for them to keep up and remember everything. Take your time, speak slowly and once you’ve explained – stop talking! Don’t feel you need to fill the hour with explanations; your students need to be told and then spend most of the time working on it themselves before you come back with appraisals and suggestions.
- Support, support, support and encourage, encourage, encourage! You know yourself how your confidence can get the better of you sometimes when it comes to art..well, for your nervous-but excited students, it’s going to be at times, all-consuming.
Always encourage them and practice ways of offering advice that sounds positive and
not too critical. Start with a positive before you address the mistakes; their
attempts will always be the best they can do so celebrate those attempts and make them WANT to get improve, not be afraid of doing another clanger. A bit of carefully-chosen language and they’ll feel fantastic, supported and motivated and you’ll feel all mother-hen-like.
- Keep content varied. You want your lessons to be consistent and well-taught but having the same old format week after week won’t motivate your students. Throw in different exercises; bring in different themes each week even if the skills they’re practicing are the same; don’t be afraid to uses dvd clips of skills/artists you’re studying. Keep thinking up new ideas to get your points across and your students will remain motivated and excited about what next week’s session will bring.
- Set an end-of-course goal. Staging a small exhibition of your students’ achievements is a great way to steer the course to an exciting and rewarding conclusion. It will also motivate them no end if they realise their work is going to be on show to the public in a few weeks! It doesn’t need to be fancy; you can do it in your home! Invite their friends and family to the event, lay on wine and nibbles and present their work in a proper (if small-scale) exhibition style. It’s a great focus for your students and you’ll see their progress in it’s entirety which is great for you! Most important of all…it’s fun!
- Materials. Think about the less obvious things such as pots for water, cloths to clean
Hopefully all the above won’t have scared the living daylights of you and will have shown you what teaching can be – which is a lot of hard work but great fun, rewarding, confidence-building and financially a good bet! I can totally recommend it; making the transition from singer to singing teacher was one of the best moves of my life. Give it a go!