Taking art classes as an adult can be tricky. An adult student doesn’t seem to need to be directed to the learning process. Adults choose to take a class. There is no grade to encourage you. The class or classes are for enrichment or professional development. We sometimes take classes in different disciplines of art to receive more knowledge and to learn specific techniques. This can be very rewarding but it can be frustrating when we discover that we can’t paint or draw like the instructor. We sometimes blame ourselves, the instructor, our tools, the people around us, or even that the weather was too cold or too warm. But we don’t need to put ourselves through all this when we want to take a class. We just need to follow a few steps before the class and keep reminding ourselves what this class is for.
1. Have an Intention
When I say what it’s for I don’t mean watercolor landscapes or acrylic abstracts, I mean what the class is for, for us. Each one of us takes classes as adults to hone our craft or learn a new technique and enrich our art in some way. Ask yourself why are you taking this class? How do you think this class will add value to you and your art practice? Is the class really something you think you will enjoy or can be of support to you and your art practice?
2. Keep Your Expectations Realistic
When we enroll in a class we hope it will be like no other or that we will become enlightened with the force like Luke Skywalker was with Yoda. But this rarely happens. So why are we so disappointed durning or at the end of the class that we can’t paint like the master teacher? We put so much expectation on the class and instructor and maybe we are taking the class with friends that we hope will be supportive, and also have some fun learning together. Right? But does it happen? Let me give you some assistance with this. I know it very well after living it oh — so — many — times. If anyone says that they are an expert and have the secrete to create paintings that will, “sell like hot cakes,” or be the answer to everyone’s dreams, run the other way. Why? Because 99% of the time there isn’t an art class that can do that. We hold ourselves to that idea that this will be the silver bullet, but it won’t happen. What does happen is we blame ourselves, instructor, people around us, and — yes — even the weather. But — the blaming ourselves is what does the most damage to ourselves and our art. I know this because I see it in my students. I have seen it in me, too. I shoot myself down and lose much ground in where I want to go as an artist. I lose the ability to paint for months after a long workshop. I will never get back the precious time I lose because I think I am not an artist and that I know nothing. I get so wrapped up in classes and hoping for the silver bullet that I don’t create any art.
3. Keep an Adventurous Spirit
How can we be adventurous and also keep our expectations in check? Adopt a child-like attitude. Children expect nothing when creating. They let everything be the tools to use, they go full-out, and what results is wonderful art. And they have a lot of fun. You can have an adventure in the class, just don’t bank on your every wish coming true. Be willing to move outside the box and try something new.
4. Quiet Your Inner Critic
Quiet that inner critic that is always telling you that “this” just isn’t good enough. It will go to sleep when you get wrapped up in the process. Remove the word “just” from any thoughts or talk about your work. Get messy with your work. Let your inner child come to play with only one rule: don’t hurt anyone.
5. Always Question
Question always. Remember what our parents and teachers used to say: “There are no dumb questions.” Get all your questions answered about techniques, style, your path, and ideas by the instructor. Make sure your questions are relevant! It’s a waste of time to ask an instructor about their personal preferences for paint colors and brush sizes.
6. Value Time and Effort
The instructor took a lot of time and effort to create a class. They work very hard to make sure that they have given you the best support materials, handouts, and suggested supply lists or videos. As a student, you need to take the time and effort to download and print out the supply list or handout. Read it. Ask questions of the instructor before the class starts. Don’t be the person that is so ill-prepared that they take time from the class. If there is a video to watch, do it. Sometimes, it’s good to watch or read a couple of times to make sure you’ve not missed something.
7. Take Notes
You can do this in your sketchbook or art journal. Taking notes is the best way to learn along with the class. Notes are good to go back to and the art of note taking can cement the information into your brain. It can sap time from the class if the instructor has to answer the same question more than once. Be respectful of the instructor and other students.
8. Use Inspirational Pictures and Sketches
These are not always needed, but I always refer to my sketchbook for ideas and applying what I’m learning in the class to my own subjects or compositions. This way, you don’t need to feel that you have to copy.
9. Keep Personal Preferences in Mind
Always know that you can substitute your favorite paint colors or brands. The instructor gives a list of their preferred supplies. If you want, you can order them. But, most instructors will tell you that their supplies are suggestions. Sometimes we do need to add supplies we don’t have to our art stash. These might be ones that the instructor will be using for a specific technique. But keep your own preferences in mind when preparing for class.
10. And Remember
When you take an art class as an adult, you get to call the shots. You can ask for things you need and avoid the things that you think you won’t like. Let your art freak fly and create.