Paint Schoodic

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The perfect size painting class

Bigger art classes are easier for the instructor, but not necessarily good for the students. Neither are very small classes.

A delightful day at Owls Head.
“Do you ever offer private lessons and if so, what advice can you offer me on what I should charge?” a painting instructor asked.

There are very few things I won’t do for money, but private painting instruction heads that list. Learning to paint is all about repetition. I show you a technique, and you repeat it until you’ve got it. The best balance for plein air painting, I’ve found, is a class of 6-9 people. Fewer, and I am crowding my students with too much information. More, and I can’t pay enough attention to their needs.

The wilder the terrain, the fewer students I can teach. That’s why I often use a monitor at my Acadia National Park workshop. He or she handles problems of logistics, freeing me to concentrate on painting questions.

The rockier the terrain, the fewer students you can teach.
“How many people are in the class?” a person wrote me this summer. That was one smart cookie. We’ve all taken workshops where the instructor tries to manage a group that’s much too large. Teachers cope by doing long demos, but that’s unfair to the students. They might as well watch a video.

Rushing around on rocks can lead to injury, as we discovered a few years ago.
It’s easier indoors. Classes at the Art Students League were very large, but I wasn’t neglected. I benefitted from the instruction happening around me as much as from what my teachers told me.

A big group is easier to teach than one or two people. Teachers are only human, and humans are essentially proprietary. The longer we spend at a students’ easel, the more we want to take over.

Demos have their place, but they're no substitute for one-on-one attention.
When I’m first looking at a student’s work, my mind is fresh. One or two things immediately jump out at me for correction or praise. I can articulate them and move on without meddling. That keeps the focus clear and directed.

Give me a enough time there, however, and I start deconstructing the painter’s vision. Students tell horror stories of teachers who have repainted whole sections of their work. That’s hard to avoid when you’re spending too much time with a single painting. You get proprietary.

The right size class makes for lots of attention but no hovering.
Handicapping conditions don't necessarily require private lessons. They can often be accommodated surprisingly well in a class. Several years ago, I taught a mobility-impaired student in an outdoor workshop. We made sure there was a safe, flat, level site available at every painting location. She brought an assistant with her.

If you choose to teach private lessons, you should charge based on your hourly earnings for teaching a class. Tot up the number of students you usually teach, multiply by the class fee, and divide by the number of hours you spend on that session. Add travel time if you’re expected to go to the students. $50-75 an hour is not an unreasonable fee for your undivided attention.

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