I didn’t go to uni or college and get a Degree or any form of formal qualification. But I have never been out of ‘education’ since I started school at 5 years old. I have an insatiable curiosity for learning. I consider myself an eternal student and as a result I am always on the look-out for wonderful workshops lead by passionate people.
A workshop is more than a chance to learn a new skill. It’s a way of connecting to another human being’s internal world- and what is more interesting than that? I go out of my way to find people so passionate about what they do, that they want to share it with complete strangers.
I tried toting up how many workshops I had attended in my time a few years ago, and when it was over 100 I stopped counting! I have done workshops in all forms from mail correspondence, online, even by telephone but my favourite is the in-person.
I seem to have developed an annual tradition. Each year I try and jet off to an international Workshop. Something major that I research, save up for and anticipate. My first one was a trip to The Fine Arts Academy in Paris to study advanced fashion Illustration when I was 19 – it was my first time away from family and friends and sowed the seeds for an adventurous life crammed full of travel.
Since then I’ve been to workshops as far flung as London, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Sante Fe, Florence and Teesha Moore’s amazing workshop in Lisbon. Each time as I fly off I forget about all the hard work it took to make each experience come to fruition.
This year was Mexico with Flora Bowley. Flora is an experienced painter with a career spanning 18 years. ( The image above is one of her paintings completed at the workshop). She started teaching workshops about 2 years ago. Her classes are extremely hard to get into because they sell out immediately.
It happened quite suddenly. I was looking for something amazing for the last few days of my trip to the USA, and then an email floated into my inbox from Flora saying there were a two spaces in her workshop in San Miguele de Allende. Well the timing was uncannily perfect, and within minutes of finding out there was a space open, I was signed in. I obey serendipity!
One of the big elements of any workshop are the other participants. Every other aspect is itinerised, documented and profiled. You can see photos of where your going, what you’ll be doing, eating and who is going to be teaching and caring for you. But your fellow classmates? Surprise!
The wonderful thing is that everyone is usually on best behavior, fellow seekers with common interests, so the chances of making meaningful connections is exceptionally high. In a few days you can’t befriend everyone, but some lasting friendships definitely blossomed in Mexico! ( One of my Super Powers is attracting awesome people into my life. It’s just a skill I have. Flora has it too!)
Ok, so on to the Workshop!
The day unfolds in getting to know each other fashion, with excursions, great food and laughter. There is no painting, as we get to explore the treasure of San Miguel de Allende and the creative anticipation is allowed to build.
We laugh, we relax, we eat, we relish in being tourists.
On Monday we paint. Flora greets us in the ‘Heart Circle’ she has created for us. Everyone’s a little nervous. I’m trying not to pierce Flora with the beams of hero-worship emanating from my eye-balls… But she’s so fricken COOL with her relaxed-yet-perfectly-postured-yoga-body, rockstar hair and an effortlessly stylish trilby hat that has a slight sheen of gold.
Hummingbirds watch us as we dance, set our intentions and get our paint ready.
We create in the courtyard of a 300 year old building. Raw canvas drop cloths protect the flagstones and fountains. Rainbow pennants flutter overhead. There’s the murmur of 14 artists trying to find their way on the canvas. Most of us will complete 3 paintings by the end of the week.
Flora has a wonderful e- course called ‘Bloom True’ that goes through her intuitive painting process, step by step. I did it last year, so a lot of the process wasn’t really new to me. In fact, the process isn’t the important part. It’s the person. It’s the living artist showing you their way with paint that I’ve come to see. To be a part of.
To watch someone go through all the miraculous stages of creativity, to paint over and eradicate and emphasize. To find a way in all the choices that a canvas and colour puts in front of us. It’s magic. It’s demystifies and shrouds the process in miracle at the same time. Inspiration.
On day 3 to 6
At some point here I lose track of time… There is painting, and sunsets, shananigans, yummy food and a night of salsa dancing… but it’s a blur… like a dream. I don’t want to pick at the memories and unravel them quite yet. These were the days my paintings were being born and formed and my feet weren’t connected to the ground.
I feel detached as I travel through stages of indifference, interest, and exultation on the canvas. Painting is always the same for me… its an emotive, energetic roller-coaster ride.
I just need to keep the motion going, the momentum of painterly movement while I wait for the quick moments that certain parts of the canvas smile out at me. I see a friendly space in there. An area peeping out that wants to be better known. I rush to greet those parts of the canvas and make them welcome. Painting is a strange dance!
It’s not until some of us go to the Hot Springs and float in mystical waters that I have a crystal clear moment. For the first time my hands are wiped clean of paint and that night i dreamed of my paintings, they spoke to me and I was filled with hope and fresh energy for them.
I spent my final full day of painting in a creative typhoon. All three canvases are finished with a live-current of creative energy that pulses through my body all day…. I know this ecstatic, inspired feeling well. The reason I am an artist is to experience this feeling.
When a creative project comes together, I feel like I’m growing feathers. I am flying! I’m joyous! There’s a wild cacophony going on inside my head and heart, but from the outside I look quiet, determined and laser focused. I feel more like myself than at any other time.
The beautiful part of creating in a workshop is that I am not on my own. I have others around me to offer support. And I have Flora to ponder elements of my paintings with. Pulling ideas from chaos.
Workshops throw me into a high creative gear… I’m intent on what I came to do. If I need to, I put in some headphones so I can disappear into my own headspace without distraction.
And on our final day together, I have time to look at the intense week. The fun, the friends, the artwork. Its also time to preparing myself to step out of the bubble and re-enter the real world.
A live workshop gets you right into the thick of things. Not just meeting your heroes but dancing with them, seeing that they are human, and fully dimensioned. And although there were 14 participants, there were times when I felt like I was being mentored… One on one.
On the last day, Flora asked our group what was our ‘take away’. We each had to answer. Mine was witnessing a painting come together. To feel genius in the air. To know what that looks like when I am doing it. To live that wonder.
I’ve thought about this question since, and would add that I will also be a better teacher because of this experience, because I have joyfully been refreshed of the benefits a great workshop and workshop leader can deliver.
In private moments Flora and I discuss a few of the business elements of being creative entrepreneurs and online workshop leaders. I see the pride in the way she holds her book ‘Brave Intuitive Painting’ and I know, when my turn comes ( and it will – stay tuned!), that I want nothing less for my own efforts.
That’s the magic of a live workshop. Inspiration on so many levels. The expense, the travel, the time… All worth it!
So if you have the opportunity to work alongside someone you admire, please do it. Don’t hesitate. Take the risk, be brave. It could just be one of the highlights of your life.
Flora Bowley: www.florasbowley.com
My next workshops:
‘The Nest’ Byron Bay: click March 9 & 10; April 13 & 14
Perth: click May 18 & 19
Bali: click Sept 8th to 14th
Paris: click 24 to 30 June