Making Art with Others and Practicing What You Preach

In my recent painting workshop, “Abstract Painting: Working in a Series”, I painted and followed the same painting exercises and lessons that I assigned to my students. I’m not always able to do this depending on a workshop’s enrollment size, but I have tried to do this after one of my former students suggested it back in 2016.

And what I have found to become quite interesting, is that over time now, when I look back at the work that I started or painted while teaching, I have come to realize that the paintings that I paint while teaching hold a kind of vibrancy and energy to them that feels slightly unique from anything else that I make in my studio. They feel different. They look a little different. And many are some of my personal favorites and most compelling small works.  

Why is this? Perhaps its because I’m literally practicing what I preach in the classroom. I’m deliberate in my approach and I’m following a clear set of instructions and procedures that allow me to thrive and tap into my creativity. I’m simply following a clear path to play within.

But in addition to this, what I’ve come to fully recognize is that my painting practice also benefits and thrives when I am making things in the presence of others also making things. J Although painting alone in the privacy of my studio is essential to my art-making and my ability to fully express myself without restraint, I also realize that I also personally LIKE the differing feel of the work that I make when with others. And I like that it IS different. Every work we make tells a story, starting with the story of how and why it was made, the materials that were made and what influenced an artist while making it, including the people that he or she was surrounded by at the time.

When people gather together there is a shift, a change and a growth of energy. The feeling is palpable. As I reflect back on some of my most intensely felt moments that have fed me spiritually, it’s been moments like singing “Silent Night” at a candle-lit Christmas eve mass and feeling a kind of love and shared energy that is so powerful I’m compelled to weep. I’m not crying about Jesus Christ. I’m crying about the sheer felt energy from a room full of singing and harmonizing voices, making the most beautiful and exquisite vibration.

I believe it to be essential to spend time alone. Time alone for me allows me to process, think, reflect and then effectively express myself artistically and emotionally. Without time alone to reflect, I’m unable to properly make sense and make meaning out of my life. But on the flip side, I’ve come to fully respect and appreciate the power of community, and how creating things in the supportive space of others can also become integral to personal growth and development. Painting around others can initially make one feel self-conscious or vulnerable. But once we know we’re safe and the fear of judgment is no coloring our vision, it’s amazing how one’s creativity is fueled.  A student’s painting develops exponentially. I have witnessed it. And it’s amazing.  

On that note, I hope you’ll join me in one of my upcoming workshops.


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