Workshops! I bloody love workshops. They’re becoming an increasingly large part of my practice as a freelancer, so much so that I gave a talk about this very topic last week for Winchester School of Arts. This post is a less tipsy and sweary version of the talk I gave.
I sincerely think that if you’re a working creative (illustrator, artist, graphic designer, studio, collective etc.) you should consider making workshops a part of what you do. Why? I’ll tell ya why.
Workshops will make you feel like a god. Adults with far more important and far better paying jobs than you will admire your skill and look to you for advice. Sometimes that’s needed! It’s really easy to underestimate the talents you have - I under-sell myself constantly. I also used to be pretty shy (I was practically mute at school), but leading workshops has really boosted my self-esteem in terms of confidence in my skill and taking charge and telling people what to do.
People will pay to attend workshops! Companies will pay you a lot of money to give workshops to their employees! Creativity is a commodity that you can sell. (How you and I feel about that is another blog post for another time.) I don’t do a huge amount of editorial work these days, but I can do workshops fairly regularly until things pick up.
Of course, as with all things freelance, the chances are you won’t actually make a lot of money. I’ve worked for free, I’ve worked with just my expenses to be covered, for “exposure” and one time I even paid to give a workshop! I think it’s important to realise that there are more ways to supplement your income than financially. It’s up to you to decide your boundaries on that.
The majority of the time a workshop is essentially just a gathering of strangers. If you do enough you will experience the extremes of society. You speak to people, people who you’d never normally socialise with, and discover that the vast majority of people are kind and most importantly really eager to learn! Most of the time I work by myself, you can get a bit jaded. Seriously, stepping outside of your bubble can only be good for you.
It’s important to be humbled every now and then.
Adults who choose to go to workshops 99% of the time are there because they want to learn, make friends, and have fun! Children, on the other hand, children are there because someone else didn’t want to deal with them for an hour.
Kids will rip you apart. When you are tired they will tell you you look tired. When they’re bored and want to go home they will tell you. It’s brutal. I was told if I wanted to make it as an illustrator I’d need a thick skin. I thought I had one! You know if a client criticises my work I can go, ‘What do you know? Fuck off. Begone thot.’ You can’t say that to a four year old!
In all seriousness, delivering workshops develops some incredibly useful skills for your day to day practice. For example, a big skill needed for client work is the ability to clearly explain an idea or process. That’s a skill that you can practice in a workshop!
I started doing workshops during my final year of uni as a research method. My project was about love in the age of the internet, and as much as I love a Tinder date I needed to gather the opinions of a wider audience. I would get groups together to chat and make things and debate, and it worked!
If you’re planning say, a children’s book. Do some workshops with kids. Learn what they like, how they speak, how to communicate with them. Be resourceful and step away from Pinterest for ideas.
This is probably my main reason to give workshops, You can introduce ideas to the general public in an accessible and engaging way. Workshops about climate change. Workshops about minority rights. Workshops about mental health. Serious global issues but make them crafty.
I spend way too much time on ‘design twitter’ - which is basically the same 5 dudes giving their opinion. I don’t really interact with it because my twitter is basically just weird photos of my cat.
Then I saw this tweet from a certain designer-thinker (God, that term sucks.) about how if you wanted to have a tutorial with him it would cost $1000, whether there is one student or a hundred. Take it or leave it.
I'm bothered by the attitude that coaching someone is a one-way thing. I know I put 'ego' as my first point but that shouldn't be your only reason! If you're teaching with the impression that only one party gains something (the one paying $1000 for the privilege of being there), that you have nothing to gain from sharing what you know, you're going to be shit at it. I'm sorry, but it's true.
It’s a really strange power dynamic that I think is at the heart of a lot of issues in this industry. You have older more established guys looking down at people eager to learn (and pay a lot of money to do so) and not for a second do they think, what can THEY teach ME? Get over yourself, dude. The young will eventually replace us all, might as well make an impact.
Sharing your experience is a privilege, it’s a joy. You can learn so much from spending time with strangers. Workshops have made me a better communicator, more confident in my work - they have made me a better designer! This is why creatives should give workshops and that's that on that.