Teaching my first workshop — a brief recap

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All week-long, I had been running through the things that could go wrong.  Rain was foremost on my mind. I imagined 45 of us sitting in a humid wooden dining hall, drawing each others’ feet, like a bunch of overgrown summer campers, praying for this blighted weekend to end. Then I worried about cicadas, crawling out from their 17-year hibernation to drown out my lectures with their screeching. Oh, and may flies are supposedly virulent this time of year in Northern Massachusetts. Them too.

I worried about my ‘students’ too, of course. When I set up a special Facebook group for us and invited them to start drawing in the weeks before the workshop, they began uploading amazingly good sketches which made me sure I had nothing left to teach them. I had been hoping for people who didn’t know how to uncap a pen and instead I had graphic designers and architects and art teachers and people who had been in the EDM community for a decade or more. Gulp.

JJ and I drove up from New York on Friday morning. The weather was perfect and the air smelled of freshly mown grass and late Spring.  We parked, unpacked, and headed up to the large wooden building that was to be our HQ for the weekend.  Then I discovered an obstacle I hadn’t been imaginative enough to dread — the projector didn’t work. I had several hundred Powerpoint slides and videos I’d made and now I might be reduced to just tap dancing and making stuff up. By dinner time, fortunately, a new projector was in place.

Before dinner we had a little mocktail party and I got to meet the folks who traveled in from all over, some from neighboring spots in Massachusetts, others from far way — Baltimore, Chicago, New Mexico, British Columbia and England.

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We had dinner and then trooped up the hill to our classroom. We had arranged rows of chairs and cushions and fans (it was damnably humid and hot) and introduced ourselves.  Everyone took a turn talking about their creative wishes and then I lit into my presentation, explaining what I hoped we’d accomplish this weekend, my view of art, my life story, the magic and power of illustrated journaling and more.

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After breakfast on Saturday, we started to draw. I explained some basics, we did some exercises and people started to unwind.  There were loads of great questions and I managed to choke out some sort of answer to most of them. Our group was wonderful—  open minded and enthusiastic— and we struggled long together through contours drawings, negative space, measurements, plumb lines and the like.

L1010320We took a break after lunch and I collapsed under a tree.  It was exhausting! Meanwhile everyone else seemed full of energy. They drew their sandwiches then hiked into the woods to draw frogs and trees and things.IMG_5987Mid afternoon, we headed into the town center where the fire department and hauled out their fire engines so we could draw and paint them.

IMG_5924During a brief sunshower, some of us retreated into the fire station.The attic was full of old fire suits and extinguishers and musical instruments and piles of chairs from the local school — an endless treasure trove of stuff to draw.

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Others drew the church, the gazebo, the hills and trees, or strolled back up to draw in the barn.

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After dinner, I talked about composition and calligraphy and then hauled out my trunks of journals. I brought about fifty different books and we spend the rest of the evening talking and sharing our work.

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On Sunday morning, I described what steps people could take next to further develop their creativity and then we shared what we had learned over the weekend.  I was amazed and touched at what a profound effect it had on literally everyone as people shared emotional stories about the discoveries that they had made in these short few days.

It was a wonderful experience for me and I realized yet again what a profound effect drawing can have on one’s life, and how developing a creative habit is so important and rewarding.

This is just a brief description of what we experienced.  I hope those who were there with me will leave their comments below to round it out further.  Also, JJ and I are working on a little film about the weekend that we’ll share with you soon.

19 thoughts on “Teaching my first workshop — a brief recap

  1. oh my. it looks and sounds simply wonderful! Congrats Danny on your first weekend teaching gig and I soooooo look forward to more! I’ll be there, where ever there is, if I can manage it.
    Can’t wait to see the film and I want to see more pics of the weekend.
    xoxo

  2. Danny, I want to thank you again for the wonderful experience. The lessons learn and friendships born were invaluable. It was clear through your heart felt presentations that drawing has made a profound impact on your life. I am certain that I will be making it a consistent part of mine now too. Although I had drawn on and off over the years, this weekend instilled in me that self-expression is time well spent and therapeutic. Also, thanks to everyone who attended the workshop. The sharing of personal experiences and words of encouragement were truly appreciated. I look forward to that continuing through the Facebook group.

  3. Im excited to hear the voices of your students, so many already very talented, and what they GOT from being there and from YOU! How exciting for all of you, what an exchange! Love what I see here.

  4. I’m curious, Danny. Why do you think workshops like this always seem to have so many more women than men attending them?

    • I was there and asked that question of a couple of women, and the only answer I received was “men do not like to attend workshops”. I can say they missed a terrific workshop!!

  5. This weekend was such a marvelous retreat. The venue was serene and the fellow artists were open and collaborative and genuine. I stretched myself in so many ways:

    1. whether it was camping – me? Really, I chose to do that? Yep!
    2. drawing complex scenes with lots of perspective challenges
    3. drawing a building
    4. coming up with ways to incorporate what I learned with how I like to work
    5. feeling immense gratitude that my life allows me such a wonderful opportunity

    I came home refreshed, both personally and artistically. I appreciate my life more and intend to make drawing a priority. I’ve already organized a to-go bag with some art supplies and two journals for when the mood strikes and opportunity presents itself.

    Life is good, Danny. Thanks for sharing your journey and expanding our horizons. We are the lucky ones!

    SL

    P.S. that’s me sitting under the tree in my big, floppy hat, drawing the church across the street. A picture truly is worth a thousand words! I think I’m going to draw that one… :)

  6. It was a wonderful weekend Danny. And although I didn’t get as much drawing done as I had hoped (the heat and humidity did me in) I am home inspired and ready to fill up my sketchbook. As I mentioned on the FB blog last night I was drawing the bathroom sink. Your work and your stories are compelling and thought provoking. All that and a group of lovely fellow artists who just soaked in all in.
    I Will be back for sure!

  7. What an incredible turn out for your first workshop. I would think this would all be old hat to you. Congratulations, and I would have loved to been sitting at your feet like the lucky participants in the front row. :)

  8. I’ll say it again Danny — your weekend was fantastic and scratched my itch to draw. It was so nice to talk, sketch and share meals and stories with so many nice people with similar interests. Thanks so much for sharing your own sketch books, your expertise, and for the time and effort you and J.J. put into the workshop. I finally opened a new Moleskine sketchbook this morning and drew.
    Hope you will continue to have workshops.

  9. Thank you. I enjoyed this tremendously. I know it was successful for me personally, as I am sketching today. I have enforced my own new rule. I will draw the same thing 3 times. I have found my eye is better trained by the third try.
    You are a natural born teacher.
    Please make a book about NYC. I lived there most of my life and still miss it. . You are able to conjure up the feeling of NYC. All the crazy characters and the places. In my neighborhood we had Dave the Commie, Crazy John Featherman (he had a million pigeon feathers stuck in his hair) and Circles just to name a few.

  10. it all sounds wonderful and I am looking forward to the film… I am also thinking I should pop down to the fire station and ask if I can do a bit of sketching… maybe they will all be hunky and gorgeous like in those calenders… which would just be an aside right … the main thing would be the drawing of course…xx

  11. Four years ago I decided I wanted to start drawing again, and I was going to keep all of my work in a sketchbook. “At least it was better than nothing,” I remember thinking. And I started my new adventure already doubting that I would be able to stay motivated. What a great way to start, huh? But within days I found “An Illustrated Life.” Thankfully. I instantly felt that I had become a member of an amazing support group. You, your books, your blog, and the incredible artists I’ve “met” through you have kept me motivated. For that, I will always be so grateful. This weekend’s workshop was something I never would have expected to be a part of. Going to a drawing workshop… hosted by Danny Gregory? Me?! Come on! But there I was, listening to your lessons, having dinner with you and Jenny, going through your actual sketchbooks, sharing MY drawings with YOU. Surreal. I had so much fun meeting you, Jenny, and 40+ other enthusiastic people who just want to draw! I think your workshop really convinced me that anyone can draw and journal. This is not for a select group of people. It is for anyone. Everyone. As long as you are willing to start, to get inspired, and to keep practicing. Thank you for this experience, and for always being willing to put yourself out there. You have influenced so many already, I can’t imagine what the future holds! May anyone who wants to learn to draw find you!
    Most sincerely,
    Amy Norkitis

  12. It sounds like you had a fantastic weekend, congratulations on a very successful first workshop! I’d love to get involved in something like this!

  13. Thank you for this delicious report and the pictures, which allowed me to be there just a little. Congratulations on making it a success. I hope this is the first workshop of a long series, and I hope to join you one day. (Is it me or did all your drawing students have great legs? ;-)

  14. This sounds like a wonderful experience for you and the participants of the workshop. Congrats on your first workshop! And I’m looking forward to your video of the weekend.

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