Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Always Be..... Learning

Some of you may know that I went to an art college for 4 years, graduating in 2011.  Since then I have been lucky enough to be a full-time artist - part of my income coming from selling paintings and partly from teaching. I was offered to start teaching small classes right away at local art associations, etc.  At first, I saw it as one link in the chain between me and working a "real" job.  I was incredibly nervous about doing it and had these fantastical nightmarish thoughts of people walking out of the classroom (which has happened on occasion-ouch).  Anyways,  I soon realized that teaching.....was, well, teaching me.  I learned so much immediately and it improved my own paintings.  I value teaching immensely.  It is a way to keep me growing and a way to keep art alive and help others grow artistically.

Besides watching art DVDs and reading art books religiously, for  the last 3 years, I've been the teacher and not the student.  Finally, this year  I have been able to once again be a student in the classroom! 

I tell you, when you wait 3 years to have that opportunity- you soak up every bit you can get....and oddly enough it was more freeing and less pressure than being the teacher. Of course, there was a time where this was not the case. I've had many a burial ceremony for terrible paintings, broken brushes and canvases and drawing boards have doubled as Frisbees accompanied by obscenities.

I see time and time again, artists who are considered professional artists- meaning they are showing and selling their work,  teaching and even winning awards -  settle in.  They could still use some stretching, some learning and would benefit greatly from investing in their continued education....but they stop taking classes or workshops.  I mean, how can you be the teacher if you are the student?  The identities don't seem to mesh.

Personally, I find there is a freedom to leaving your "identity" at home when you go to take a class. 

 I recently was able to take a workshop with an artist, David Leffel, whose work I have admired for the last 7 years.  I realized I was going to be learning from someone who has been teaching and painting for probably 50 years!  Wow, that is impressive.  I have the greatest respect for his life, his artistic ideals and the intensity of which he teaches at an age of 80!  I was astounded by his respect for each and every student, his joy in painting and love of sharing with others.  He exuded generosity.

I learned so much at this workshop.  It really blew my mind actually, how I could have heard all of the words before and thought that I understood them, but didn't.  Somehow, just watching him mix paint, load his brush and paint the painting - up close and personal - things clicked in beyond my understanding.  When I went to paint, the simplicity which is revealed by understanding was there.  Bizarre.  This is the magic of learning! 

Honestly,  I really was not expecting much from the workshop.  Not that I was being pessimistic, but I thought to myself : "you know, he's really old now....he may not have much energy to teach.....I may not get very much help....who knows how many people will be in the class....who knows how many groupies will be clamoring for his attention", etc.  Mostly, I just wanted to have had the experience of studying with him at least one time. 

I think this is also a key to learning- NO EXPECTATIONS- which allows you just to be open, to experience in the moment without the need for control.  This is prime psychological ground for development.  Who knew!  Also, this is a state of mind I think that David tries to encourage his students to be in.  You have a plan, but you let go. You forget about your past successes and failures and just "be" with each brushstroke at a time.

Some David Leffel Mantra's that he told me while at the workshop (which I love):

  • Paint like you're standing on the edge of a cliff.
  • Change one word in your vocabulary,, and you change your whole personality.
  • Work forwards, don't work sideways.
  • Don't be aggressive.  You have to allow good things to just come TO you.

No matter which artists you like, I hope you will continue to find joy in learning.  If you feel stuck, one sure way to get unstuck is to go take a class....get someone elses point of view on the world.

Consider a different way of looking at things.  Just question, just explore, just enjoy the whole process.

Here are some photos from the workshop:
Happy Artist.
Day 1 of 2 days of Still life painting.
I just loved watching this come to life!  Out of nothingness into somethingness.
 His mantra: Start the Finish, very apparent here.
I loved the tension between the large dark jar and the little blue and white vase. It was like the north pole and south pole, like an invisible force between them. Interesting.
The end shot of David's still life demonstration.  2.5 hours.  Just gorgeous.
David critiquing a student. Skeletons are photo bombing again....come on you guys!
Day 1 of portrait painting.  There is a little short demo he did on next to the modelling stand to help us get started.  This is a students painting he is working on here.....although she was not even in the room. I was wondering if she would notice when she came back. 
Towards the end of the evening demonstration.  This was after his 3rd day in a row teaching.
He pulled a 12 hour day and without dinner. I don't know how he was standing at the end. 

Not the best photo, but this one had some of the little pearls he did at the end and his signature.
Talking about "air".  Some people had to take a break after that conversation! Ha Ha.
Yet another demo, one last one, on Sunday morning. Probably 1 hour total.
He generously gave this to the student whose panel he used.
David's Palette: Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Venetian Red, Cad Yellow Deep, Cad Yellow Light, Cad Red Light, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Ivory Black, Alizarin Crimson, Flake White; Maroger.


  1. This is a great note of encouragement. Thank you for sharing your experience. Since I am changing mediums in my own art journey I feel I am always a student, as well as a teacher. Can you ever really learn enough? Never. Different perspectives help us grow not only as artists but as people. I love his "mantra's" and insight. I appreciate that you share what you learn.

  2. It is a treat to watch a modern day master like David. We (Linda, Charlotte and I) had such a great time in Scottsdale watching him create. It truly changed our thinking, technique, and how we look at stuff. Glad you had such a great experience like we did. Quite amazing!

  3. Fabulous post, Kelli! Thank you for sharing this inspiring information.

  4. Great blog , really nicely written i enjoyed reading it :-) there is one thing that i could not beleive happening though..... the tutor touching a students painting while they were not in the room .... that would not go down well here no matter who the teacher.
    Cant wait for your next blog :-)

  5. Great blog , really nicely written i enjoyed reading it :-) there is one thing that i could not beleive happening though..... the tutor touching a students painting while they were not in the room .... that would not go down well here no matter who the teacher.
    Cant wait for your next blog :-)


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