Monday, August 5, 2013

Teaching Workshops: Simplifying, Focusing and Setting Limits

Lines of Desire 1368  8x8"  Oil/cold wax on panel © 2013 Janice Mason Steeves 

July was a busy month of teaching Abstract Painting with cold wax and oil workshops:  a 5-day workshop at Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts on Vancouver Island, a 3-day workshop in Vancouver and then another 5-day workshop at the Haliburton School of the Arts in Ontario.

While I teach the technique of working with cold wax with oil,  my workshops are about painting. 

I try to make the structure of my workshops very simple and clear.  It's a step-by-step process, each day building toward the next day.  Five-day workshops add a slowness to the pace that is difficult to create in a 3-day workshop.  It takes a couple of days for students to settle into the process-learning a new technique and then letting go of expectations that a painting should be produced in the first two days.  I think that one of the most important messages I was trying to get across was that of simplifying, focusing and setting limits.

Limit your choices, limit your colours, limit your shapes and even the words you use to describe your work.  I wrote a post about limitations after I had been to Inish Maan off the west coast of Ireland.

Creativity comes from limits, not freedom.

Stephen Nachmanovitch, in his book, "Free Play, Improvisation in Life and Art", says, "Sometimes we damn limits, but without them art is not possible. They provide us with something to work with and against.  In practising our craft we surrender, to a great extent, to letting the materials dictate the design. Limits yield intensity.  Working within the limits of the medium forces us to change our own limits.  Improvisation is not breaking with forms and limitations just to be 'free', but using them as the very means of transcending ourselves."


  1. Hi Janice! Thoughtful post. I've been enjoying mixed media for many years. There is great satifaction in experimentation. I had reached a point of paralysis not only with too many choices of medium, but what to do with them. Endless possibilities! Simplifying my art practice meant narrowing my focus and purging. Even with what I kept, I feel the pull to limit my palette. Discovering what the limited palette will do opens another door. A number of years ago, I worked for a small company in the hobby industry. The woman I worked for would give me a half dozen things to "make something". It always amazed me how many things I could come up with just using a few items. There seemed to be unlimted within the limits. I really like your "Lines of Desire" series.

  2. HI Chris,
    That would have been a super way to limit yourself. I have to limit myself too, otherwise I can obsess on shapes or colour. Always trying to pull myself back.
    Thanks for your words!

    Very best