Last week I told you WHY you should think about hosting a workshop now here are the brass tacks of how to FILL your workshop and make people say “it was worth every penny”.
1. Design your workshop
- What exactly are you going teach? Decide what you want to teach and plan your agenda ahead of time. Practice in order to make sure that you can accomplish what you want to within your chosen period of time.
- What are your goals of the workshop?
- Who do you want your workshop to reach? How will you get them there? How many people?
- Is this a beginner’s workshop? Would experienced artists benefit?
- Advertise that no experience is necessary in order to attend, but also make clear that even artists who sign up will be able to learn something new. That way you maximize the number of potential participants. A good workshop giver knows how to address a variety of skill levels and makes sure that everyone feels comfortable and accomplishes something.
- Most art workshops work best with small groups – typically 5 – 10 participants. This assures that you will have enough time to give each attendee personal time. It also is a good size for bonding and a relaxed environment.
- How long of a workshop do you want to conduct? Is it enough time to adequately teach? Most workshops are between 4 – 6 hours.
- Is there enough time for participants to complete a painting or item?
- Are you serving snacks? Lunch? Wine?
- What is your budget for the workshop?
- How about a name? Name your workshop in terms that your target participant will understand and be encouraged to sign up. No stuffy art terms that only experienced artists would recognize or understand.
- What will you charge? What will you include in your price?
- Fix the minimum number of participants and the date on which the event is cancelled if the minimum is not registered
- Will you supply all the materials or ask participants to purchase their own?
I have found that supplying the materials is the best way for encouraging non-artists to sign up. Years ago I would sign up for a class myself purchasing everything on the supply list, spending bookoo bucks and then never pick them up again. This dissuaded me from taking additional classes – not only from that artist but other workshops as well. But be sure to include the cost of supplies in your workshop fee. At the end of the workshop I hand out a supply list with the prices so they can see that I gave them a generous workshop experience. My supply list with prices from Dick Blick Art Supplies is almost $250.00!
You might consider having two separate prices for your workshop – one with supplies included and the other without, but be sure to communicate in your copy that to purchase all of the supplies on their own they expect to pay $X.
Once you have the answers to these key questions in place and a basic vision, it’s time to start reaching out and nailing down the details.
- Choose a venue
The primary factor in selecting a venue is likely going to be where you have affordable or free access with enough room to actually teach.
- If possible try to hold the workshop in your studio. You are familiar with where everything is and it most likely has running water, etc.
- If your studio cannot provide the space you will need look to local art centers to rent space. Think outside the box and consider teaching in large spaces in commercial spaces or a local college.
- Have plenty of your own work on display for reference and discussion.
- Try to make it as comfortable as possible. I make sure there are stools or chairs available since many people find it hard to stand on a concrete floor for hours at a time.
- If you’re organizing a multi-day workshop, I recommend trying to have people stay overnight in the same place together, as evening free time often becomes important bonding time. Reach out to local hotels and see if they can give a discount to your participants.
- Choose Your Dates
I have found that offering workshops in February, March or early April work well. People tend to have cabin fever and are looking for some creative relief. October and November are also good months. The only other major thing to consider is to choose dates that work for your target audience, to make sure you get the people there that you want to reach. I prefer to teach my workshops on Thursdays or Friday (all day) but I have found that participants prefer weekends (Saturdays). Give yourself approximately six weeks to prepare and promote.
I often begin my planning by asking contacts and facebook friends which times and days they prefer. This works to begin your marketing efforts and you will get great feedback. You might ask if potential participants would prefer evening classes for 6 -8 weeks or a 1,2 or 3 day workshop.
- Recruit Great Participants
People attend artist workshops for a variety of reasons and often choose according to how the events are portrayed and what’s being offered. Many of those who sign up have little or no previous experience with art and merely want to relax, have fun and explore their creative sides. Some are even uncomfortable or intimidated around art and want to become more familiar with it. Others want to take art up as a pastime but not invest large amounts of time or effort in ongoing programs of study. Trained artists usually attend them in order to acquire new skills or learn specialized techniques outside of their areas of expertise.
While you might think the more the merrier and anyone would be a good fit for your workshop this is often not the case. Keeping your class size small enough to give them ample room and personal attention will work in your favor, especially when offering your next workshop. Your participants will share their experience with friends, co-workers and family and you want to exceed their expectations.
Ensuring that you deliver beyond their expectations is crucial and this begins with the “copy” or workshop description. For example if you have someone who has never picked up a paint brush before in their life and you deliver instruction intended for a more experienced participant you will lose them within the first moments of the class.
Ensuring that you reach your target participant is crucial. Here are a few of my recommendations for making sure you get great participants:
- In my experience, anywhere from 5 – 10 participants can be a good size. It’s enough people to have a diversity of personalities, experience and quality discussions, but still small enough to have more intimate experiences and develop real, lasting relationships and bonds in the group.
- Encourage friends to take the workshop together. This is a huge motivator for many since they feel more comfortable bringing a friend, sister, co-worker. I offer a slight discount when two sign up together. They are happy and I can reach my participant goal quicker.
- Once you reach your participant quota, close registration. This is a great marketing move since it shows demand for your workshop. Ask people to sign up for studio updates and you will notify them of upcoming classes/workshops. This is also a great way to help build your mailing list. After all if they like your style and technique enough that they want to take a workshop from you, they could possibly become future buyers of your work.
- Advertise on the Internet and in places where artists and people who like art tend to congregate. Options include websites or newsletters of arts and artist organizations, your own collector and student email lists, word of mouth, recreation centers, arts centers, art schools, cafes, coffee shops, community galleries, performance spaces, and other online options like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Some experienced workshop givers even have their own brochures. And don’t forget senior or retirement centers. Many retirees have disposable income and are interested in exploring their creative sides.
- Designate an assistant
If possible ask a friend to help you out. While this is not crucial you find it much easier if you have an assistant. Some of things an assistant can help you with are:
- Keeping the coffee pot full
- Picking up cups and glasses
- Getting lunch out of the oven and ready to serve
- Filling water glasses
- Helping students washing brushes, getting supplies, etc.
- Most importantly – taking candid photos all day. These photos are then posted to social media for brand building and awareness. The participants love to go and see all the photos of the day.
- Organize the logistics
Making sure things run smoothly is an important part in setting participants up to focus on learning and creating with their fellow artists.
- Food: I always want to provide a meal during a one day workshop. Everyone needs a break after painting for a couple of hours and sharing a meal is a way to get to know each other and bond. By providing a wonderful hot meal with bread and olive oil and wine I am communicating to my participants that I care about them. I want them to have a wonderful day of sensual experiences. By serving wine it loosens up some people and they return to the studio more relaxed. I also serve expensive chocolates as another luxury for them.
- Travel:In your welcome letter to be sure to give good directions. While most use GPS now there are those who live locally or need a reference point (turn left at the big red barn). Speaking of travel be sure your drive and walkways are clear of any snow or ice.
- Lodging: Let participants know what lodging is available nearby. You might want to even ask a local hotel if they would give a discount for any registrant (if they are not full they are more inclined).
- Craft the agenda
This is an agenda of my typical one day workshops:
- Workshop runs from 10 a.m. until 4:30
- Participants are sent a welcome email as soon as they sign up. This correspondence also gives them directions and tells them to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Smocks and aprons will be provided. I tell them what I will be serving for lunch and if they prefer they can bring their own. I add that they should bring their curiosity and sense of adventure but leave their preconceptions, fear and self-doubts home.
- Arrival time is anytime between 9:30 – 9:45 a.m. with coffee served.
- We gather together in the living room and do introductions and a couple of abstract composition exercises.
- 10:15 We head to the studio
- 10:15- 12:30 instruction and painting
- 12:30 – 1:15 lunch with wine served
- 1:15 – 4:15 studio painting with individual attention and feedback provided.
- 4:15 Participants bring their completed paintings upstairs. Wine and coffee served while we gather. One by one they stand and show off their work to Uwwwwws and Awwwwws from the others. We take a group photo with all of our work
- 5:00 p.m. Hugs and goodbyes
Less is more: the more you pack in, the more you’ll need to rush and the less participants will actually learn or feel stressed. Cut back as much as you can so they can learn and still have plenty of time for creating, experimenting and socializing. Additional techniques can be taught in a follow up workshop.
Build in breaks: Free time, breaks, and informal socializing is key for bonding and to keep up motivation and focus.
Know that you’ll go overtime: It just happens – plan to be flexible. As you can see my workshop schedule is from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. but I plan for 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
- Prepare the materials
It goes without saying that you should have plenty of supplies (brushes, paint, canvas, etc) on hand but you need to also think about extraneous items that you will need. In my workshops this means:
- 10 easels
- 10 water cans/containers
- Foam plates (disposable palette)
- Paper towel
- Baby diapers cut in half (to soak up watery brushes)
- Spray bottles
- Smocks, aprons
- Music selection
- Written instruction which includes:
- Abstract composition
- Supply list with prices (totals over $250 if they had to bring their own)
- Article about the benefits of incorporating creativity into your life
- An exercise in composition that we complete together as a group.
- Run your workshop
Have a great time, remember to breathe, and spend time getting to know the people who come – they’re who you’re building this movement with! A few other reminders:
- Stay energized – make sure to remain encouraging
- Document – make sure to take photos and videos to remember the workshop.
- I ask participants to take out their smart phones and Facebook, Tweet and Instagram for an additional small canvas or other item. Let them help you market your next workshop
Another advantage of workshops as opposed to formal courses of study is that you can make them less structured and more fun and social. Attendees will still learn, of course, but they’ll be able to do so in the relaxed and casual setting of your studio or home. So if you’re thinking about conducting a workshop for the first time, don’t forget to make it fun. This is one of the great advantages you have over more traditional and structured forms of art education when it comes to attracting participants.
Two of the most important criteria for successful workshops are that a complete method or technique be advertised and taught, and that each student comes away with a finished work of art. This gives students a feeling of mastery and accomplishment. Not only have they learned something new, but they also have “diplomas” to show for it.
- Follow up
After the workshop, aside from providing time for people travel home, rest, and digest the material, it’s good to build off the positive energy and momentum created in the workshop experience to continue engaging everyone. This requires creating clear and efficient communications channels — email listserves, facebook groups, etc — and it requires modeling constructive use of those tools. When a workshop ends, no matter how tired you are, try not to disappear. Take a deserved rest, but capitalize on the moment to build momentum.
I create a video of our day spent creating (on Animoto) and send it to them via email the following day with a short thank you and appreciation for creating with them. This video then gets posted on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest, etc.
With 3 – 4 days of the workshop I then write handwritten thank you notes and offer them a 20% discount off their next workshop. I also tell them that I will schedule a private workshop if they can find a minimum of six attendees. This is a great approach to building your workshop schedule, your reputation and earn more income.
Throughout the experience, from start to finish of organizing a creative workshop, remain mindful of why we do this work. We are aiming to help others discover their creative nature or build upon their skills, so they may be transformed… just as we have been through our creativity. But…by no means does this mean that we give away our time, our talent, our art supplies or our income. Be savvy, be smart and have some moxy!