Maximize Your Workshop Experience

Mario Robinson shares four things he wants every student to think about before signing up for another watercolor painting class.

watercolor landscape
“The Inlet (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ)” (watercolor, 15 x 15 in.)

By Mario Robinson

When considering a workshop, it’s important to vigorously research the artist who will be teaching. There are a couple factors to consider, such as the working pace of the artist. Does he or she methodically use glazes to build a painting or employ a looser wet-in-wet application of color? Secondly, be mindful of the recommended level of the workshop in which you’re interested. If you’re a beginner, it may be daunting to attend a class with more experienced students. Feel free to discuss your level of experience with the artist or coordinator to ensure you would benefit from the workshop.

Due to the limited duration of a workshop, it’s imperative to set realistic goals. I suggest participating in a workshop that affirms your passion for a particular genre. While you may have aspirations to paint portraits, it’s difficult to glean any useful information in a condensed format without prior experience. A more tactical approach would be attending open life drawing sessions or comprehensive classes, in order to familiarize yourself with the human form. The same can be said for other disciplines. Practice painting en plein air with fellow artists or experiment with setting up still life compositions. While there is room for experimentation in a workshop setting, it should be done with a level of understanding.

watercolor landscape painting
“Cruiser” (watercolor, 22 1/4 x 18 in.)

The pressure many of us experience is self-inflicted. The inner voice that shouts, “Don’t do it, your going to ruin it!” at the moment when you’re preparing to lay down a large wash of color. Painting in a social setting can seem daunting, especially when the watercolor is not cooperating. Due to the transient nature of watercolor and the inability to easily correct mistakes, anxiety can quickly set in. It’s important to manage your expectations. Whether a workshop is three days or a week long, it’s time you’ve carved out for yourself, removed from the daily rigors of life. Enjoy the prospect of learning new techniques, interacting with fellow watercolorists, and remaining open to the possibility of experimentation. As one of my students recently said to me, “At the end of the day, it’s only paper.”

Once the inspiration and comraderie of the workshop atmosphere have worn off, it’s vital that you direct that energy toward remaining active creatively. Returning to the normalcy of everyday life can impede the flow of creativity. However, it’s incumbent upon you to practice the techniques you learned or implement that new color to which you were introduced in the workshop. The real work begins immediately following the class. I’m always heartened to receive images from artists who have taken my instruction and integrated it in their work, in order to improve their level of artistry.

“Scavenger” (watercolor, 16 x 23 in.)

Enjoy a workshop with Mario Robinson in the comfort of your own studio!


  1. When I was at a brunch the other day with my friends, we all decided to make a trip to a painting workshop. We have never gone before, so we thought we would look up helpful hints. It is nice to know that it helps to commit to a picture.

  2. So true! As an instructor I try to make sure students come equipped with realistic expectations and an attitude prepared to learn. I also believe that the more time you spend painting before the workshop, the more prepared you will be with questions and the teaching presented will feel more apt to your current learning.

  3. I have to say all of this is good advice and having had Mario facilitate two workshops at my Studios South in Mexico, Casa de los Artistas, (and a third next winter), he embodies what he teaches and what I look for in a great artist and teacher. Master of his craft, yet personal and relaxed, pursuing his own vision and always encouraging and working with and meeting various artist at their level, giving them the tools and insights to succeed at their intentions. I might add emphasis on 2 important aspects that Mario points out in the creative endeavor, especially in a workshop situation – have fun – relax, be willing to play like a child in a sand box, (this is serious play), which allows your mind to open and absorb new ways of seeing and being, which leads to the second point, be willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone, as Mario says, “remain open to the possibility of experimentation” Just attending a workshop automatically places you in a situation ideal for stretching if you surrender to it. Traveling to a place with the intention of growth and being somewhere that is unfamiliar, with new and different sensual stimulation and information, forces your mind to send out antenna’s of awareness that most of us don’t normally use in our day to day life, or even in our studio, (if it becomes routine). It is jumping into the “UnKnown”, (like facing a blank paper or canvas) – Anything is possible!

    • Such a good point about relaxing, having fun, and being willing to play, Robert! That’s when we let our guard down and allow new ideas in.

  4. Thanks Kelly – One of the last things my mentor, 20th Century Realist Master, Alton S. Tobey said to me, (he was close about 85 at the time), after looking over a portfolio of my recent work, instead of any usual critique or feedback, he simply closed the book, looked up and said, “Bob, it looks like you are having fun.” – I took that to be one of his greatest teachings. As I tell my students and visitors to the Casa, (not to the exclusion of hard “work”, discipline and even “struggle), as creative human beings I believe we are natural seekers of growth, connection, pleasure and beauty and if we are not having fun, then we are doing something wrong.


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