Early in April, I left glorious blue skies in Northumberland to teach two workshops in Seattle and Portland. This was my very first time over to the West Coast of the USA and my first workshops organised by Kathie of Bellissima Art Escapes, although we have spent wonderful times together before in Scotland and Spain.

I have many photos to share so this post recreates the Seattle workshop and I will write about the Portland workshop in the next post.

The studio before we set up for the workshop

The first week was spent in Seattle at the wonderful studio of Leslie West who is an encaustic artist and stages houses for sale. Leslie has two studios based in the Bemis Building and was so generous to allow us the use of these incredible spaces for this gathering of artists.

Everywhere we looked there were beautiful vignettes to inspire us

Whilst Kathie had described the space for me, I could not really appreciate how perfect it was for this workshop until I saw it with my own eyes! Spacious, beautifully set out and full of the incredible furniture and interior decor that Leslie has collected over many years and uses to stage the houses she works in.

After setting up the studio and before the students arrived, we had some time for Kathie to show me Seattle. We made the most of it, visiting the Pike Street Market, which was a riot of colour, noise and people – we just don’t have markets like that where I live! We weren’t able to go up the Space Needle due to the queues but we did visit the Chihuly Museum and Garden, which was incredible. Usually more drawn to natural materials such as wood and ceramic, I was absolutely astounded by the organic forms and exciting combination of shape and colour. I really recommend visiting if you are ever in Seattle.

Inspiring colours and textures at the Pike Street market and Chihuly Museum

Onto the workshop and with the original intention of spending the day near the docks to sketch and gather inspiration, we changed our plans as the weather had been somewhat unpredictable with lots of rain forecast. With a theme of creating expressive, narrative compositions and working with figures in our drawings and paintings, there was enough inspiration to be had in the more immediate surroundings of the building and studios.

Expressive and abstract drawings that explored mark-making, shape and composition. These are just a few of the drawings created on the first day.

We spent the first day working on mark-making exercises, which also explored composition, shape and line. We then went on to many exercises that encouraged various ways of rendering the figure, from gestural drawings, to dynamic ways of working with shadow and light and also placing the figure in a composition. There was lots of time for sketching our surroundings too and this was key in imagining how a figure could be placed in time and space to bring more of a narrative feel to our work.

I only managed to capture a fraction of the figure drawings that were created over the course of the first few days but there were many, many more! These walls were ever-changing and it was exciting to see all the work each day.

Each day the vast corridor outside the studio was filled with new work – layer upon layer and the aim was quick drawings that encouraged an expressive way of working without getting bogged down in expectations. The quantity was huge the quality was also astounding – expressive drawings that were challenging but made for rapid leaps in understanding some of the ways we can explore the figure in our work.

The second half of the week was dedicated to developing the figure drawings into more finished work by placing them in a setting and adding an implied narrative. My demos were brief and to the point. I always explain that paintings for me can happen over many days or even weeks. It is not my goal to stand in front of a group creating a painting from start to finish (as much as they might want me to!). I know for myself that when attending workshops I want to be creating art – not sitting watching someone else do it!

The class in work mode, sharing and delighting in each other’s progress and a visit by Daniel, an artist working in Leslie’s other studio who was working on some commission and kindly shared his progress with us.

My aim in a workshop is to work with each student individually to enable them to create work that is unique to them, to chat about ideas and encourage deeper thought about what is happening on the easel in front of them. To explore new possibilities for each individual person, to encourage them to express what is inside and to face the challenges of putting that into their artwork. These conversations are thought-provoking and exciting. This is where the magic happens, I think, but it also involves a lot of problem solving – working through the challenges each individual faces in their own work.

A valuable tool for checking the values in your work and helping you to see if it is ‘finished’ – placing a white border around the work enhances the values and makes the colours pop. Adding a frame also helped the artists view their work in a new way!

Artwork by Kj Allison and Deb Weiers

More in progress pieces checked with a frame around them.

Artwork by Katie O’Sullivan and JenEve Slater

With each workshop I grow as an artist and in my ability to work with those who attend these retreats. When I am working in my studio at the easel, that is where I am discovering my own voice as an artist. When I am leading a workshop, my focus is on helping artists to do the same – it comes with practice, diligence, problem solving and working through the many stages of a drawing and painting. Doing the work over and over again until you create something out of nothing and it reflects who you are as a unique human being and artist.

Artwork by Jen Lake, Cheryl McCloud, Nora Suarez, Judy Byer, Kathie Vezzani

I feel a great sense of joy and satisfaction when at the end of the week, each person has created something that is so unique and different to anyone else – that reflects their own experience and their interpretation of all that has inspired them in that particular time in that particular place.

Artwork by Jeanne Mcluaghlin, Jackie Cate, Kj Allison

These collages show a good selection of the work that was created in the latter half of the workshop. Whilst they are cropped, I feel they do give a sense of the unique way that each artist was inspired by the idea of creating a narrative by placing faces and figures in a particular setting, whether inspired by our workshops space or a real or imagined place.

Artwork by Deb Weiers, Katie O’Sullivan, JenEve Slater, Laura Herrera

It really was the most incredible week with a group of hard-working, expressive artists who embraced the challenges of working with the figure. For some, it was their very first time drawing and painting the figure but they were open to exploration and working in a new way.

I can’t wait to see what they do next!

It was such an honour to work with Kathie of Bellissima Art Escapes. Kathie works with an incredible range of artists and there are a wonderful selection of trips for the coming months and next year. We are currently planning some trips for 2018 and I am excited to announce news of those soon. Make sure you are signed up to my mailing list for updates in the near future.