Where do You Want to Go?

 
 

Has an art or craft instructor ever asked you where you want to go?

Why not?

You're giving them money and you are spending your valuable time in their classroom; there is a reason why you are sitting in class rather than mowing the lawn. Does your instructor know why you're there?

One of my students recently noted that she'd been coming to me for 3 years. Looking back, she's made a lot of progress but not in the usual obvious ways. When she started, she already had a solid grasp of advanced coloring techniques, so there hasn't been much change in the look of her projects over the years.

So what was the point of 3 years of classes?

Here's the subtle part that doesn't show up in her before and after shots:

She has improved her intangibles- her instinct and her eyes.

Now I've never secretly spied on her through her kitchen window as she colors at home, but I know the entire coloring process is much easier for her now.

She doesn't have to stop and wonder how to best color images anymore. A newly found instinct kicks in and she "feels" the decisions rather than stopping to consult a tutorial.

So if I'm not a creepy stalker, how do I know that she's coloring more efficiently at home?

Because in class, she always works several steps ahead of my instructions. Occasionally she gets in trouble, but for the most part she can draw on her new knowledge base to accurately intuit the nest step before I talk about it.

And here's the bonus: she not only knows what to do, she understands the reason why.

Remember, my classes are all about the Why.

It's been 3 years and she's grown a lot. But here's the rub, my class might not always be the right place for her. At some point, every student outperforms the curriculum. What then?

Think about the classes you are taking now, even if it's not a live class, maybe it's an internet workshop or you regularly read blogs with tutorials. Think about the skills you want to learn.

Are you in the right class?

To simplify matters for this post, I'm going to divide all marker coloring classes into two categories:

  • Busy Fingers
  • Busy Minds

A Busy Fingers class gives you something to do. It might be a Make & Take or an introductory level marker class. Most drop-in classes fit this category. You'll be handed a bag of prepared project components and given access to tools. You leave a Busy Fingers class with a completed (or nearly complete) project.

A Busy Minds class is the next level up. This isn't a drop-in or a one-and-done; there is always a next lesson that builds upon the previous session. You'll be given a general supply list that requires some shopping and investment. In this type of class you may work on small practice studies but you'll never leave the session with a project worth pinning to the fridge or giving as a gift.

You need to decide what kind of class is best for you. If all you want is to make fun things and enjoy the zen of crafting, Busy Fingers is where you need to be.

But here's my concern: there are a lot of students who want More. More skill, better instinct, sharper technique, greater range. And most of the world's More students are sitting in Busy Finger classes.

There's no wrong reason to take a class, But not all classes are right for you.

Think about your last trip to the grocery store. Once you got past the old-guy greeter, you were faced with an important decision: should you use a hand basket or shopping cart?

So you mentally ran through your shopping list and chose the storage device best suited to your needs. If all you needed was a loaf of bread and a carton of yogurt, you grabbed a hand basket.

But if you needed to get a gallon of milk, a ten pound bag of potatoes, and four 2 liters of pop, you grabbed a shopping cart.

What you DID NOT do was duct tape four hand baskets together to form a single super-sized hand basket capable of meeting all your advanced carrying needs.

A lot of people who are enrolled in multiple Busy Finger classes are using duct tape to make a super-class.

Smart students shop for good teachers who offer the lessons they need most.

Our reluctance to comparison shop for quality craft instruction has roots in the public school system.

I don't know about you, but I don't remember taking a pass/fail test to decide if I moved on to the third grade. Nope, the teacher made the decision about who would be promoted. All we did was report to the fourth grade when the new school year started.

Someone else made all the learning decisions for us.

But now you're an adult and there is no expert telling you when you've passed the class. Some of you are still sitting in the kindergarten wing, waiting for the command to report to the first grade. A command that will never come.

Adulting is hard.

So if you find yourself suddenly bored in a class that once fascinated you, CONGRATULATIONS!

Give yourself a pat on the back. You've grown! That's a great thing and it should be celebrated.

Now you need to start shopping around for a class that better meets your new needs.

Maybe it's with the same instructor but a different class. Maybe you'll have to travel to next town over. Maybe... just maybe... (I don't want to shock you here, so hold tight to your seat...) maybe you're ready to move from a craft class to a genuine art class. Don't sit and stagnate; find classes in your area that will challenge you at your new level!

But don't just look up "Copic class" on the internet

Ugh, there are a ton of marker classes out there right now and lots of people carrying around certifications. Please understand how little that certification means.

Copic certification means that someone sat through a product information seminar. No skill evaluation, no qualification exam. In my certification class, the woman next to me learned about the existence of the chisel tip. She and I both received the same exact certificate. 

So choosing a class based on an instructor's Copic Certification status is like dumpster diving for dinner.

Sure, you may find lobster alfredo amongst the fish bones and coffee grounds, but what are odds?

When you're looking for a new instructor, you need to look at HOW they teach. Look at HOW they color. It is entirely possible that you may have more skills than some of the instructors you encounter.

Also look at their class goals. Ask the instructor what specific skills they want their students to master. If they don't have a good answer, that means they don't have a plan. Without a plan, they can not take you very far.

Class size is important too! Fifteen students in a 2.5 hour class is my maximum. I know my limits and I do not have super-powers; with more than 15 students, I can not provide adequate individualized instruction. It's perfectly okay to leave a class that's over-crowded. You're paying for the experience, it's not unreasonable to require basic space and a modicum of attention.

But seriously, aren't all marker classes the same?

Whoa, Nellie! No, no, no, no, no.

In fact, I spend a great deal of my time warning prospective students that while I teach with Copics, I do not teach actual Copic classes. If you want to learn standard blending techniques, the kind that you see in free tutorials and in most YouTube videos, boy are you going to leave my class completely unfulfilled. It's simply not what I do.

Standard marker blending technique.

Wait, what's standard blending technique?

This is what you'll get in most marker classes. You'll be given a marker list that looks like the one I used on this balloon:

  • R29, R24, R22
  • BG18, BG15, BG13

Now maybe this is exactly the class you need right now. If you're starting out fresh you definitely need to learn gradiation, blending, and highlighting. But this is pretty basic stuff and darned if it's not boring the socks off of me. Yes, it looks better than Crayola coloring but it doesn't look realistic and... yawn...

Standard technique is usually found in a Busy Fingers class. Week after week you'll color lions, then penguins, and then dolly-girls in ruffled dresses, all using the very same technique... You may improve the smoothness of your blend and you'll get faster at coloring, but this kind of class will never get you promoted to the second grade. You can duct tape 10,000 of these classes together and never improve your art instincts.

Vanilla shading technique- VanillaArt.com

Here's that same image, colored for a Busy Mind class.

Different, eh? But it's not just that the image looks different, the class structure is different too.

In my classes, we'll hardly ever mention hot air balloons. Instead we talk about levels and planes, pushing and pulling, overlaps and creases, and we'll talk a lot about receding surfaces. It's a skeletal approach to coloring where we improve your bone structure knowing that the results of your practice will eventually show at skin level. I'm not the only Copic instructor who teaches this way. We're rare but with some searching, you can find instructors who worry less about the stamp and more about the skills you use to color it.

Here's a side by side. Can you see the difference between busy hands and busy minds?

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with busy hand classes!

In fact, busy hand classes are good for the soul. It feels really great to be in a room with like-minded crafters who share your love of stamps, markers, or card making. Because let's face it, most of our spouses do not get all giggly when Memory Keepers releases a new dual purpose score board and they're definitely not breathlessly waiting for Tim Holtz to announce next month's color. Busy Hands classes create a community experience that's usually well worth the price of admission.

But if you're looking for More, I want you to rethink your busy hands habit. More isn't going to find you, you have to track it down. More is waiting for you if you'll go out and grab it.

Seek out a balance between busy hands and busy minds. Find the class where you need to be.