Sarafina Fiber Art

Sarafina Fiber Art

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching Workshops Series 1: The Nuts and Bolts

A workshop is an intense session of a small group of people to further their skills focused on a particular craft or activity.  It's not just a time to learn, but also a time to escape your world and enter a new one.  We can forget about our responsibilities and focus on one thing.  It's a time to gather with other like minded people.  Also, when we stretch ourselves mentally or physically by learning something new it keeps us young.  Yes, workshops are age defying.
 Lovely faces, clean table, and all the tools, all ready to go.  What are they all looking at me for?  Oh right, I am teaching.

Sharing a creative process in a workshop can be very rewarding for both instructor and participants.  It can also be a train wreck for one or all involved.  Over five years and countless workshops, I have fortunately experienced more of the former but sadly, both.  This series of blog posts about workshops is intended to share some of what I have learned, help instructors prepare, help participants understand what is involved, and hopefully entertain along the way.

You are reading "Teaching Workshops Series 1:  The Nuts and Bolts"

The success of a workshop can hinge on many contingents:  the complexity of the project, the time allowed, the number of people, the preparedness of the instructor, the attitudes of the participants, and, I swear, the alignment of the Planet Venus.

You can swing your chances of ending on a high note by being prepared, limiting your class numbers, having plenty of time, and understanding a few fundamentals about people (See "Teaching Workshop Series 3: The People.")

No matter your medium, whether you are teaching at home, in a rented space, online, or through a local shop, the following information may help you plan and execute, hopefully without a hitch.

Advertising and Collecting Payment

Hare Workshop

Aside from some private and group painting classes years ago, I began teaching needle felting workshops through a local yarn shop (shout out to Vulcan's Rest!), long before Sarafina existed.  The shop had the pool of participants, handled the sign up, money collection, and provided the space. If this is your situation, you are in luck!  You can show up as the teacher, set up, teach, and receive your check in the mail.

If you are teaching on your own, you will need a system.  How are you going to reach your market,  collect money, keep track of who is coming, handle cancellations, illness,  contact participants when needed?

Here is an example of our sign up sheet.  You may also want to record the class size minimum and maximum.

Very first workshop at Sarafina Art House was 5 days long!  July 2014.  We ended up calling it boot camp.  We were ambitious. 

Preparing the Project

This little fox oil took me an hour, but in the workshop it took us four.
When I teach a project, whether it be a workshop or online tutorial, I spend a lot of time preparing.  It is a matter of making the project several times.  First, I am taking a guess at the process, whether it be paint colors, armature length, materials needed, or whatever your craft might involve.  Then, once I have an idea of what I need to do, I make the project several times, taking and revising notes the whole way.

My understanding of the project is not only about how to make it myself, but how to convey each step to the class participants in a clear and step by step manner.  I have become good at this with needle felting.  I am now also teaching painting and realized that I need to hone my ability to convey the process.  What happens when I paint alone can emerge without thought or understanding - being able to explain it to a a group of people so that they might achieve a similar result is another story.

An important aspect of this preparation is gaining an understanding for the time needed.  In general, it takes me twice as long to teach a needle felting class as it does for me to make a project, fairly consistently no matter the size or complexity.  I am still figuring painting out, but I paint quickly.  I need to allow 3 times of class time to my work time for painting.   

I recently taught a painting class.  I adeptly and quickly "prepared," painting a fox in less than and hour.  It was a thrill and a success.  When I was teaching the four hour class, however, I realized that I had no words to explain the middle of the process.  I had a room full of people with very different paintings, waiting to be lead to the end of their masterpiece, and all I could say was, "You just make paint puddles to pull from and start building contrast."  That, clearly, is not a sufficient explanation!  I have since refined my painting teaching ability, but it just goes show that just like learning a new craft, teaching takes practice.

Once you have system and a plan for your project, it's time to organize your space.  Please check out the next blog in the series to see how a workshop unfolds.  Teaching Workshops Series 2: The Process
Three Day Advanced Gorilla Workshop


  1. Sara thank you so much for being you and sharing all that you do.

  2. it was very interesting and informative i love your work and your online tutorials ps omg i love those gorillas

  3. Wow! What a lovely gift you've given us. Thank you, again, for your time and shared talent.