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Like to Paint? Like to Travel? Combine the Two in an Art Workshop

Art workshops are a hybrid form of instruction somewhere between hands-on art schools and home-study video cassettes. They provide an intense art experience, but for a relatively short period of time that may be easier for busy people to schedule.
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Some people travel to see works of art, others to make them. And some travel to attend art workshops in locations rich in sites to paint or photograph.

Art workshops are a hybrid form of instruction somewhere between hands-on art schools and home-study video cassettes. They provide an intense art experience, but for a relatively short period of time -- three days or a week, maybe two -- that may be easier for busy people to schedule.

Their cost ranges widely, from $200 for a brief course close to home to $2,800 (and up), depending on the length of the workshop, the renown of the artist-teacher and whether accommodations, meals, supplies and transportation are included in the price. Workshops come in all varieties. Some are oriented toward beginners. Others are for people with some art-making experience, still others for longtime artists, even professionals. Many accept a mix of all three.

Some workshops focus on particular media -- such as pastels, watercolors, oil paints, acrylics, photography, printmaking or sculpture -- while others concentrate on specific subject matter, such as landscape, portraiture, seascape or the figure. They can be found year-round throughout the U.S. and Canada and abroad, held in artists' studios, universities, resorts and even on cruise ships. Here we'll try to sort through the bewildering array of choices; see accompanying box for more information. The first step in finding a workshop is to assess one's ability and look for artists teaching to that level.

Some workshop instructors don't take beginners at all, since beginners require so much time on basics that they cannot assist other students equally. Other artist-workshop teachers aim for beginners because, as one instructor claimed, "You don't have to unlearn them of bad habits."

Artists who arrange workshops themselves generally charge a certain amount for the course, which may include supplies and a midday snack. They often provide information on nearby lodging, which may offer workshop participants a special rate.

Inclusive workshops are found at resorts or through tour operators. Dillman's Sand Lake Lodge in Lac du Flambeau, WI., for instance, has hosted art workshops at its family-style resort since 1978. The one-week courses include accommodations and instruction with an artist working in oil paint, watercolors, pastels or photography.

Europe, of course, is a popular workshop destination, and some prices include air fare and connections on the ground. Companions are generally charged a little less than the art students. Hundreds of these art workshops are advertised in the classified sections of the Artist's Magazine as well as other art publications, and knowing how to choose the one that seems right can be daunting.

Actually, the volume of advertised workshops can be helpful. If you look over a variety of them in different locations and especially if you cull through back issues, you'll notice that many of the same instructor names appear. These artists are often invited back to the same workshop site year after year, and it is safe to assume that they have established a good reputation for their teaching, critiques, demonstrations and ability to get along with their students. Most workshop teachers or sponsors will answer questions by telephone and, perhaps more useful, mail a brochure that shows the artist's work. Seeing examples will help the more experienced prospective student determine the teacher's level of quality. Examples also help learners steer clear of styles they don't like.

Several of the same artists who lead workshops have also written art instruction books or created video cassettes of their methods that provide a sense of their approach to teaching. A small investment in a book or video may help one decide whether to make the larger investment in a weeklong workshop.

Prospective students shouldn't be shy about asking detailed questions about instruction: the amount of individual attention each student receives and how the work is critiqued, whether there are demonstrations and models, the level of ability of most workshop participants, the amount of studio space, the number of students in the group, the usual level of sociability during and after class and whether the week is more likely to feel like a vacation or an intense course of study.

The intensity of the workshop is frequently up to the participant to decide. Some students who have traveled a distance to an area they've never seen may paint in the morning and sightsee during the afternoon, rejoining the group in the evening for a meal and a critique by the instructor.

Interviews with workshop artists indicate that the majority of participants are women, middle-aged and older. One workshop organizer noted that "male artists attract more men to workshops." Some workshops demand full-time attention to the work. This may mean traveling to an attractive place but spending the entire time staring at a model or learning about color, composition, design and values.

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