Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Nature journal workshops

I recently discovered Irene Brady's blog "Irene Brady's Nature Drawing Workshops". It provides an excellent insight into what is involved in both a drawing workshop abroad (in Costa Rica) and one delivered at a more local level.

As Irene says in her profile "You wouldn't want to take a trip with a stranger, so I'm hoping you will get to know me here in this blog".

So very true! When I was starting to book painting holidays I often struggled to find out more about an art tutor and their work before making a booking. In general, the principle I adopted was that if I couldn't find what I wanted to know then I 'passed' on that holiday no matter how tempting the location. The same holds true for the people organising the accommodation and venues. The one time I took something on trust from the organiser (not tutor) I was well and truly let down and found myself with rank amateurs with very little experience who only excelled at 'spin'.

However, everybody has to start somewhere! Irene and I had an e-mail discussion and I found it interesting that she is somebody who had been teaching biological illustration for years but had only just started running workshops in different locations. She wanted to find a way of helping people get to know her and about her workshops - and chose a blog as one way in which she could record the workshop experience for herself and workshop participants and give her prospective students an insight into what they are like.

Notwithstanding that she is also new to blogging and, after reviewing her blog, in my opinion I think she's done very well in providing a good sense of what her workshops are about and what they are like.

Here's what she had to say when I talked to her.
I discovered that my workshop participants love being featured on my webpages, and I really enjoy showing their progress off. I featured almost an entire class and some of their results on this page, much to their delight.

So it occurred to me that a blog would be an excellent place to not only delight my students but to show prospective workshop participants what happens in my workshops.

There is a natural tendency to be wary of the unknown, and people are really shy about revealing their artistic capabilities for fear of being laughed at. So if a person can visit one of my workshops vicariously online and see how much fun it is for other people, it takes all the scary mystery out of it for them.

As for blogging, I love to write and draw nature subjects. I already have several nature books and a sketching workbook on the market, and sell them through my site, regular distributors, and on Amazon. But to be honest, I also love the simplicity, speed and casual approach of "publishing" a written and illustrated "book" through the blog, even though it doesn't bring me any income. Additionally, transferring my journal/sketchbook to the blog is just like reliving the vacation -- so I get two for the price of one .

I plan to add to the workshop blog as I develop my journal / sketching workshop this summer, posting about the process and its progress. I suspect quite a few people are interested in the anatomy of workshop creation. And there will be entries about what happens in future workshops. Two workshops I am about to post are a raptor sketching workshop and a wildflower sketching hike, both held within the last few weeks.

Now obviously I can't recommend Irene's workshops per se as I've not participated in one. However what I can say - as somebody who has been on very many painting holidays and who has experienced a lot of different approaches to the provision of information for prospective participants - is that Irene's blog is really excellent in terms of providing an insight into the 'nature' of the holiday. Her main website also helpfully provides further details. She would definitely be a serious contender if I wanted to book a holiday of this sort.

Wouldn't it be great if more tutors did this!
5:14pm I sat on my little sitting pad watching and sketching for about forty minutes. The sloth began the session in one position (see the drawing with leaves) and ended in the other position (looking over its shoulder) which it held for fifteen minutes with occasional head movements. I finally left with a numb bum, tired but elated with my good fortune.

[Note: all images used with Irene's permission - please do not copy. Click on an image to see a larger image. Images ( in order) come from the following posts - click on the link to see the whole post. The dates relate to the date within that workshop:

April22nd 2007: Irene Brady sketching a crab
April 22nd 2007: the crab!
April22nd 2007: 1st day's class
April 27th 2007: katydid
April 28th 2007: Irene's sketch of a sleeping sloth]



  1. Hi Katherine,
    Thank you for the terrific review.
    I am glad that you think my workshop blog is a good marketing tool -- introducing people to their own hidden skills and talents is a totally rewarding passion with me, but marketing is one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do.
    I am positively delighted with the great people the blog has already attracted, who are now interested in the workshops and want to know more. I feel like a whole new world of potential friends and colleagues has just opened its doors to me.
    Thanks again for your very kinds words.

  2. Thank you for highlighting what you were doing Irene. It's certainly been giving me food for thought with a sketching workshop which I have at the design stage.

    Although a fair few people use a blog for announcements of various types (eg exhibitions, workshops, art holidays), I tend to think of that as being akin to placing an advert in a journal.

    However I think that the very informative content of your blog (re day to day 'happenings', the way you teach, types of travel and accommodation/food) are much more likely to make a significant difference to whether or not people sign up.

  3. I second your sentiments Katherine. Irene's is a great idea, and you've given me yet another fascinating blog to tune into in my growing list. Like others, I've blogged on workshops I've taken, and blogged about workshops I've given, but not quite in the way that Irene has done so well and in such detail.

    I'll need to bone up on my techie skills when it comes to blogging and traveling as I never seem to have the proper setup to quickly download/upload images using the laptop. Okay I know it's not rocket science but I never seem to think of it until the day before my trips!

  4. Thanks Jennifer. I think you'll find that Irene did as I do with my Travels with a Sketchbook blog - and posted when she got home - but did it on a day by day basis.

    Glad you found it interesting

    If we get a fair few people posting about their experiences of workshops as well we should be able to build up a good resource for the future.

  5. I was interested to read this post, seeing as I'm an art tutor who runs painting holidays.

    Irene : how true about marketing! Bonne chance.

    It's true to say that it's difficult to evaluate whether or not the tutor will suit your learning needs. A blog can give insight here. What would support this is to know whether the tutor has any formal teaching qualifications (like Irene) & for how long the painting holiday has been run (most undertakings are bumpy for the first few years). When was it estabilshed? Another good indice is what rate of students return.


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