What I Learnt From Teaching A Student

Although I have been painting and selling my work for many years, I also give workshops, and these have always run in a similar way, and usually with people who can already paint, so they know the bare essentials of design, composition and technique. These classes have always been fun and have generally resulted in inspiring and stimulating me in my own work, and I have enjoyed the delight of sharing what I know in assisting others in becoming better artists.

Recently, I received an enquiry from a young woman who wanted private lessons to prepare a portfolio of the required material for an application submission to university. Although she is applying for a course in architecture, she needed to submit a portrait and other drawings, as well as a poster design.

My heart sank on the first day she arrived when she told me she had never drawn or painted before, so I knew I had to start at the beginning – so much to teach in such a short time – and we still had to get the pieces ready for the portfolio by the deadline.

Little did I know that it was I who was perhaps going to learn the most!

Naturally, she was overwhelmed and like everyone who hasn’t tried before, she was assured she was not able to draw or paint. My first step was getting her to conquer the fears and dispel the notion she was useless and to urge her to delve right in with confidence – even if she made a few mistakes.

After simplifying the scary concept of the human face into elementary lines of placement, she was already more at ease and her first drawing was amazing!

Now that we are nearing the end of her classes, and her portfolio is almost ready, I realize that I am actually going to miss these lessons and the reason for that is because these sessions are fun! I have tried to instill being loose in her work, being lateral in her thinking, being free with her painting, to try new things fearlessly, to stop before she overworks something and to leave what she thinks is a mistake. I have taught her what I am not good at doing myself – namely to PLAY!

These classes have taught me – in fact having such an inexperienced student has taught me, to experiment more and to lose myself in pure creation – whatever the result. I had become too stuck in my method and style, and too concerned about selling the piece. The work I have been “playing” with since meeting her is fresh and different. It’s free and vibrant. It’s looser and generally more creative!

I now understand the saying “To be a student you need to become a teacher.” I thank her for coming into my life and bringing to the fore what I had forgotten.


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