Cultural Immersion – Disruption That Breeds Creativity

Immersion Learning ExperiencePreviously, I wrote about how to create your comfort zone by taking yourself out of your daily routine to find the place where you can focus on your passion. A great way to disrupt the norm is to immerse yourself completely in something. There is no better way to push your creativity to the limit than by painting for days in a new environment. They tell us if you want to learn a foreign language, try immersion in the culture with people who speak the language 24 x 7.

The immersion learning experience is much the same; eat, sleep, and paint all day surrounded by people speaking the language of painting. What a fantastic experience! Typically, a breakthrough occurs a few days into the intense daily painting workshop. After sequential long days of painting the same genre, such as figures or plain air landscapes, you push past some of your fears and blocking beliefs. You loosen up your brush strokes. You experiment a bit more or become more expressive.

I attended my fourth 5-day painting workshop this January. Class was five days long at Brookhaven College in Dallas, TX with a studio painting group led by Chong Chu. We spent the 8-hour day painting in one room with regular breaks for the model and then an hour break at lunch.

Immersion Learning Experience

The Brookhaven Winter Workshop was a wonderful setting to practice among good painters. However, it was intense and I was very tired at the end of five days painting from 9am-5pm alla prima, (wet-on-wet paint) while staring at and concentrating on a model all day. I learned a lot from my peers. The thrill of seeing a small group of painters illustrate the same image in so many individual and creative ways is one of the best take-aways. Like different language dialects and accents, each artist has their own visual vocabulary. You see before you all the possibilities to express a given image realistically and abstractly. The second major lesson learned is the value of drawing as preparation for painting, focusing on composition, relative scale of objects and value (lights and darks) and to use drawing during your painting to solve problems you encounter. Drawing and painting are sisters!

Also, there are the group dynamic benefits. Talking over lunch about your shared experiences, discussing master artists who have influenced you, catching up with artists you know in the workshop or more informal beneficial remarks from your instructor makes the experience special.

What I Learned About Myself: The Benefits of Total Immersion

  • Psychologically, I felt a lot of time pressure to keep painting while the model was present.
  • I would have benefited from drawing more to solve my problems.
  • My paint became chalky white. I had technical problems mixing up my lights and darks. I received some good tips on making “color trees” on the palette and light-dark separation on the palette from peers.
  • That I needed to move around and choose locations in the room where I can view the model in profile at least once during the workshop; I ended up with frontal views and challenged with foreshortening.
  • How to deal with the self-doubt. I have not focused on figure painting much before this intense week of painting studio models and it showed in my proportion, stiffness of the subject and resulted in self-doubt.
  • To be fearless; just practice. The good news is: I painted faster and more fearlessly. I also painted realistic figures on my 30 x 40 inch canvases and then, painted over with abstraction of the forms. My original goal for the workshop was to paint abstractly. I perceived the forms more concretely in abstraction when I ‘knew’ there was a realistic painting of a human underneath.

Try a workshop experience and like a destination vacation, you’ll remember the richness of it the rest of your life.


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