Be honest. You loved opening a fresh box of crayons on the first day of school. Have you had that feeling lately? We were thinking about pivotal classes that have informed our artistic journeys. About great classes and inspiring instructors who help students find their own voices rather than simply copying a technique.
With so many class offerings available, how do you decide which class is worth the investment of your time, energy and budget? Is the class content a good match for you? Is the instructor a good match for you? So where do you start?
There are three things you frequently hear in any discussion among creatives about workshops:
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- I have always wanted to take a class from (insert Dream Instructor here).
- I have always wanted to take a class at (insert Dream Venue here).
- And/or I have always wanted to learn how to (insert Dream Technique here).
The trifecta is finding an instructor you admire teaching a subject you want to learn at your bucket list destination. (Some of our favorite instructors teach great techniques at awesome venues, such as Quilt Seminars at Sea.) But let’s look at each element separately so you can look for classes that meet your creative needs.
Your Dream Instructor
Almost all national and international instructors have teaching pages on their websites with a schedule of where they will be and when. See if they have a gig coming up near you or at a location/event you want to visit. Newsletters are a great way to hear about new offerings, so sign up for those that interest you.
Are you a member of a guild or local art society? Then ask your group to host a workshop. Is your favorite instructor local to your area? They probably teach at local shops, and often are willing to provide private instruction for just you or a small group. They might say no, but they might say yes – then you get an awesome learning experience.
Your Dream Venue
Asilomar – Tuscany – Tokyo – Houston – Bali – Morocco – New York – London – Cruising the Caribbean. All of these and more are options for adventurous creatives who can afford them. If you love to travel while you learn, choose carefully to make sure you have the most enjoyable experience possible.
Do you like the excitement of big events? The Houston and Tokyo Quilt Festivals will give you that! Adventurous? Then maybe a fiber art tour in Bali or Morocco. Beach lover? Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar might renew your creativity. Foodie? Maybe workshops in Tuscany or New York. Like visiting ports of call but get bored while at sea? Try a quilting or beading cruise.
Know yourself and what you like – you can spend class time with the most wonderful instructor in the world, but if you have spent a lot of money to feel stuck in a place you hate, you will not gain as much as you would like from the experience.
Your Dream Technique
Well-known instructors often have developed techniques that are unique to them, so they are in high demand. But there are tons of topics to explore that do not require extensive travel or raiding your 401k.
Often overlooked: knowledgeable friends. So just ask someone how they do “that”. Offer to teach one of your specialties in return (or say thank you with a bottle of wine or coffee gift card). Local guilds and arts organizations offer classes to their members, so you might consider finding a compatible group to join for classes and other benefits of membership. If you are not a “joiner”, some organizations allow non-members to register for classes, but usually for a higher fee. Check out local galleries and art centers for their class offerings.
And don’t overlook your local brick-and-mortar shops. Art supply stores, quilt shops, fabric stores, yarn shops and bead stores bring in instructors, both local and national. They are a great source for reasonably-priced instruction and stock the supplies you will need for class – often at a discount for students.
A Few of Our Favorites
Many of Create Whimsy’s Spotlight artists generously share their knowledge with makers at every skill level. While we still have workshops with many instructors on our bucket lists, here are a dozen who have ignited sparks that we carry with us every time we grab a sketchbook or pick up a needle and thread.
Like a detective, Katie seeks out the creative spark in each student and finds a way to make it shine. Like her quilts, Katie’s books and workshops are meticulously planned and rooted in art principles. Within that structure are numerous opportunities for “a-ha” moments that students can embrace and build upon, so they can find a personal hook that takes creativity in a new direction.
Symmetry, angles, complexity – Paula breaks it all down to its component parts so that you can design, draft and construct your own masterpiece, savoring the successes and enjoying the happy accidents. After years of experimenting with the kaleidoscopic form, Paula stretches her own creative boundaries and encourages her students to do the same. “More is more!” Especially with the fabric she designs for Benartex.
Feel the need to cut loose? Laura Wasilowski may be your instructor! As the imaginary Dean of Corrections at the mythical Chicago School of Fusing (she might sing the school song), Laura creates fused art quilts without rulers and templates. For quilters who have always aspired to make patterns match, that first unencumbered swipe of the rotary cutter produces a classroom full of giggles. Then add improvisational embroidery for garnish. If you can’t make it to a class, Laura’s books can guide you.
Through her connection with Golden Artist Colors, Barbara literally has her hands in multiple media. Whether teaching about using oils, watercolors, acrylics, mediums or grounds, if you ask about it, she has probably tried it. I was the only fiber person in a mixed media class, and Barbara gave me a myriad of ideas for how to use different media in my fiber art. Her approach is very hands-on. So expect to get messy – in a good way.
Jane Sassaman found her artistic calling as an art quilter. Luckily for those of us who dabble in the craft, Jane’s teaching skills equal her creative credentials. With a nod to engineering, botanical forms become puzzles that are put together, taken apart, then put together again – a daunting task that Jane breaks down into component parts to make them understandable and doable. Teaching more than technique, Jane also shares her designology. (Is that a word?)
Known for years as a surface designer and author, as Jane’s teaching repertoire expanded, she recognized that talented artists sometimes struggled to find their own ways of speaking through their art. Still creating her own work and teaching surface design techniques in her studio, Jane now also herds creative cats through an almost-year-long online Creative Strength Training course. With readings, demos, assignments, sharing and feedback, we learn to open some of our own doors.
Try to frown in a Mary Lou Weidman class. I dare you. But I bet you can’t do it! Mary Lou’s teaching style is as colorful and exuberant as her whimsical quilts. Her quilts tell stories, and she encourages her students to tell their own stories with fabric and thread. So there’s no cookie cutter repetition here. Not to worry – Mary Lou will help you find your own path.
While I’ve never had an opportunity to take an in-person class from Susan Brubaker-Knapp, I have learned more tips than I can count when I watch her host Quilting Arts TV. My DVR is set so I never miss a lesson. She gathers talent from every corner of the fiber art world and guides them to get right to the point with the details of what makes their techniques work. She is an accomplished artist in her own right, so I hope to someday take one of Susan’s classes.
Gyleen makes scrappy quilts, but they are hardly haphazard. She engineers tools to make the cutting precise and the piecing easy. Quilts go together quickly in her classes because she has engineered out many of the mistakes quilters often make. It’s so gratifying to be able to start a quilt in class, then be able to finish it with confidence after getting home!
Award-winning applique artist Kathy McNeil holds nothing back when she teaches. She shares all the materials, tools and techniques that help her achieve perfect needle turn applique. The hands-on nature of her classes and her friendly style inspire a lot of productive give and take. Her designs are based on her experiences and travels, so there are always fun stories to share about the patterns students work on.
Another talented needle turn applique artist, Nancy teaches her “stress-free” method, which is very relaxing. Preparation is key. So Nancy walks you through the preliminary steps of marking and basting that ensure success without a lot of extra equipment. Once you get going, it’s just you, fabric, needle and thread. Even for an elaborate Hawaiian quilt. Nancy welcomes beginners to applique, and the students often return again and again.
Lorraine has inspired countless fiber artists and garment designers with her books and workshops that focus on design principles. With the right artistic tools and the ability to use them, her students have gone on to create enduring bodies of work. Lorraine’s instruction and encouragement have kept my creative fires burning and given them a needed spark when I barely had embers left. Her mantra is “make visual decisions visually”, and her students past and present call on it when we get stuck.
Browse through all of our Spotlight interviews on Create Whimsy.