How I Started Teaching Workshops

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How to Start Teaching Workshops

by Tina Garrett

In 2011 when the publishing house that was my mainstay client filed for bankruptcy, I was in the pits of despair. Everything I had trained for as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, was evaporating. I could have never guessed that in just a few short years I would reinvent myself as a fine artist working in a new medium and create a new career for myself that would not only allow me to paint in a way I had only dared to dream of, but would also take me around the world teaching oil painting workshops and sharing my process and views on art with other artists.

As a freelancer, I was for many years the breadwinner in my family. My hardworking husband Adam, a full-time Firefighter, and I, built our lives together with our two children in our quaint neighborhood of Lee's Summit's downtown historic district in Missouri. It was, and is Rockwellesque . We walked our kids to school, karate lessons and the ice cream shop. My work as a freelancer, by nature, was feast or famine, but we had feasted fairly well for 10 years. Whenever a windfall project landed in my lap we'd frugally pay off a car debt or take the kids to California to visit my family. When the work was less, Adam would pick up a few shifts at the hospital Emergency room as an E.R. Nurse. I felt proud that I could introduce myself as an artist and I loved working for myself.

The work I did was simple and fun for many years. At times, I'd have 9 or 10 projects scheduled to ship worldwide going at once. I created children's curriculum for ages preschool through 12th grade. One day, I might create a book of stories and mazes and paper dolls and the next week I'd design a packet of quizzes with hidden pictures and descriptive illustrations. Then children began to put down crayons, scissors and glue and pick up iPods and interactive games. Even if I had been a fortune teller, as a freelancer, I was not in control of the decisions that should have been made to segue the children's publishing house into the digital age and I didn't see the impact the transformation would have on the work I did until it was already hitting me in the face. I floundered for nearly a year with no freelance work and Adam added Home Health Nursing to his repertoire of income generating skills.

Alla Prima II by Richard Schmid

With absolutely no other skills to market myself to anyone, at the suggestion of a friend, I started making portraiture, but my attempts at wet media were so miserable that after just two acrylic/watercolor/gouache/ink/glitter/disaster paintings, I quickly shifted to pastels and began to be able to create something of the vision I was aiming for. By March of 2012 those pastels had earned me a scholarship to the Scottsdale Artists' School and I was given a workshop to learn oil painting with Romel de la Torre. This one moment opened the floodgates for me. Because Romel was a student of Schmid, I learned who Richard Schmid was and immediately purchased his book Alla Prima (Alla Prima II had not yet been published). With the intensity of any person who has children to feed, I studied that book cover to cover, again and again. I painted the color charts, practiced the starting methods and the first chance I got, I took another workshop in Scottsdale, this time with Casey Baugh, another student of Schmid. If you look, you'll see a pattern beginning to emerge. Since that week in 2012, I have studied intently and taken either workshops or private lessons from anyone who was available who had been either a direct student of, or heavily influenced by, Richard Schmid.

My firsts posts on social media were about my own journey as an art student. By 2013 a small group of women from rural Missouri who followed me on Facebook were asking me to teach them what I had learned during the two workshops I had taken at the Scottsdale Artists' School. My darling husband, who was working 3 full-time jobs at that time, half jokingly said, "If you do that for free, I'll wring your neck." There was truth in his joke. I couldn't keep asking him to work three jobs while I spent all my time and any money I made learning how to paint. At the same time, my only teaching experience comprised of one embarrassingly miserable day substituting for the 2nd Grade in 2001. How on earth could I teach a legitimate workshop — in a medium I barely knew myself.

This brings me to my very first point of advice for anyone who is thinking of teaching an oil painting workshop: Know what you know and teach that. I clung to Richard's book Alla Prima, and told every student they had to buy the book if they wanted me to teach them and by email I let Richard and Nancy know I was teaching from Richard's phenomenal book. I demonstrated showing my color charts, painting from life in the methods found in Alla Prima and to make the classroom environment appropriate for my students, I drew on the only workshop learning experiences I had and tried to create a workshop space as close as possible to the one I had experienced in Scottsdale. I invested $3000 in lighting, easels, side tables and a model stand. To me, these things were key to feeling like I was offering my students an experience worth paying for.


I went with T5 sized, 6500 Kelvin fluorescent tubes purchased at The Home Depot. Color temperature refers to the assigned value of the color light a light bulb produces. Fluorescent tubes, which start at 2700 Kelvin, a yellow color typically found in your home go all the way up to 6500 Kelvin which is considered as close to full spectrum daylight as possible by a man-made bulb.


I started with just 6, but now I have enough easeles and side tables in my teaching studio to accommodate 14 students. I purchased Studio Design, Inc. 13188 Deluxe Easels. They are about $80 each and have held up pretty well. I did eventually buy one extra easel, just to scavenge from for replacement parts, but for the money, they've worked well.

Side Tables

This is where I spent too much money. I went to a restaurant supply website and customized side tables that were 32" high x 14" wide x 30" long, some with two shelves and some with one and half of them have casters so they can roll around the workshop space. Looking back, it would have been a smarter investment to purchase small, retractable folding tables, otherwise known as TV trays, as they are very inexpensive, lightweight and easily stored.

Model Stand

My handy husband, who in his younger years built houses, knows his way around a saw and screw gun. So it was easy for him to make me two model stands, each 16" high x 4' deep x 5' wide using 2x4's, plywood and 4x4's for the legs. We stapled a hardy, neutral colored carpet to each of them and they look neat and are very sturdy. When I'm out and about teaching, a rickety model stand is one of my pet peeves. It is unfair to ask a model to teater on a poorly rigged stack of milk crates. It takes so little to do it safely and correctly, so please do.

Model Lighting

Here's where my own sources of invention have served me well. When I first started lighting live models and also taking photos of models to paint from later, I really was on borrowed money and time. I purchased very inexpensive dish lamps and construction-type work lamps at The Home Depot which were able to either clamp or secure to pipes my husband screwed to the ceiling of my studio space. This allowed me specific and very adjustable, spot lighting. Adding a dimmer cord and colored fabrics and I was able to emulate the adjustability in brightness and temperature that I now have in my professional lighting kit, and at a fraction of the cost. (Wife of a firefighter safety tip: Use only LED bulbs, halogen are hot to the touch and can catch fabrics on fire.) However, these pieced-together lights, though fully functional and easy to use, were not as professional looking as the lighting kit I now use, and so, I did, eventually invest in an LED lighting kit complete with remote dim and temperature adjustments complete with light stands and beautiful carrying cases. I figured that a client may be more likely to accept that I charge $10,000.00 for a painting if when I show up to take their reference photos, I don't drag out my hardware store hodge-podge lights, but instead, set up my high performance and fully-digital, by-remote, LED lighting kit. I was right.

When I teach a workshop, I design it very much like all the workshops I've taken at the Scottsdale Artists' School. They've been doing it right for more than 30 years, so why reinvent the wheel. They were so helpful, in fact, when I contacted them, asking what lights they used, they not only told me, they emailed me the link to the exact kind they have at the school. For your convenience there is a link to them on my website.


I always demonstrate for the first half of each day of my workshops. This means I need comfortable chairs for my students to sit in while they watch and take notes. I found some CostCo. Brand, black, fabric covered folding chairs on Craigslist for $25 each. I later added several more that I purchased directly from CostCo. I also added grippers to each of the chair legs since the teaching studio at my home has concrete floors. Keeping everyone safe is my first priority.

Business License

I took the time to walk three blocks through my historic district to visit my City Hall and ask them if I needed a business license to teach art classes in my home. It was so easy to register with the city and having a business license on display in my studio gives another layer of credibility to my workshops and connects my business to the city I love. If you take this important step, you may receive resistance, just be sure to share with the city employee who is working on your license paperwork that what you do is similar to teaching piano lessons in your home and that you are happy to get written letters of recommendation from your neighbors and that you promise everyone will park in appropriate and designated parking areas. All these assurances should get you the go ahead. You'll pay your $100 fee annually and receive a shiny new business license.

Insurance and Waivers of Liability

I also visited with my homeowners insurance and made sure that my home is covered if anyone were to be injured while on my property. They made it easy to make sure I, and my students, are protected and, as an added safety measure, I require all participants in my workshops here at my home and abroad to sign a waiver of liability. This simple document makes sure that my students understand the inherent dangers associated with oil painting, especially using toxic materials such as solvents and cadmiums, and requires them to agree, in writing, that they will not hold me liable if they are injured when learning to paint. It is so important that if you are going to teach workshops that you take the responsibility of being very thorough and very clear with your students and provide them with a safe and valuable experience. By reading this Workshop Article, you agree to the following TERMS OF NON-REFUNDABLE PURCHASE and WAIVER OF LIABILITY.

Tina Garrett (, c.1974-c.)
Oil , 2015
91.4 x 61 cms | 36 x 24 ins
Tina Garrett (, c.1974-c.)
Oil , 2016
76.2 x 50.8 x 0.5 cms | 30 x 20 x 0 ins

All the steps that I've taken to cover each of these aspects gives me the room to feel confident and professional as a teacher. The only thing that was missing were the credentials that I felt I lacked. I had taken workshops with some of the very best painters working today, but my degree was only an associates — in visual communication. I still felt that I wasn't totally qualified to teach, even though I was receiving really encouraging feedback from all my students. I decided it was important to seek recognition from some of the various art organizations. I began entering my works into competitions in 2013 and was really excited when my works were recognized. By 2016 I'd earned a Master Artist designation from the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society and an Associate Living Master designation from The Art Renewal Center (ARC). In 2018, I became a Cecilia Beaux Forum Mentor for the Portrait Society of America. I don't think earning this level of honors is required in order to teach, but I have noted in my student surveys, that artists who were not familiar with my work were in fact choosing to learn from me because of these professional designations. Affiliation with the major art groups of the day is valuable in even more respects. When my works win prizes from Oil Painters Of America and the ARC Salon, I receive invaluable press coverage and what's more, I really enjoy networking with my fellow member artists that belong to these groups. The Portrait Society and FACE Conferences are two of my very favorite trips I take each year, and at both of these venues it is fun and easy and appropriate to share my workshop schedule with the artists I meet. In 2018 I taught 14 workshops across the United States and in Europe, many of them at sold out capacity.

I was surprised more than anyone, at how exhilarated I felt after teaching that very first workshop in 2013. I spent days ahead of time working on a simple itinerary based off of what I had learned from Romel de la Torre, Casey Baugh and Richard Schmid. I took immense notes when I was in both of those workshops and when reading Richard's book, Alla Prima (which I kept close beside me for reference) and I even went so far as to craft my own way of getting an accurate drawing, mixing color and consolidating values, because I had discovered that some of the approaches I had learned from these three great masters were actually a little confusing for me, namely the line and value block-in. I was excited to read about Selective Start in Alla Prima because I had devised a similar approach in the handful of pastel portraits I had painted in 2011. I was already painting from one focal point out, methodically moving one inch to the next, mainly out of a need to keep my hand from resting in an area where I had already applied pastel. I figured that if Richard could offer 5 ways to start a painting in his book, then it was okay for me to approach my paintings in as many ways — if I wanted to. Offering the students the approaches that I like and work best for me really put me at ease. People know if you're faking it, so be authentic and you'll be able to give your students the best experience. It is okay to say, "Well, I don't know...let's look that up and find out." Everyone is learning, some of us are just further down the road than others. And I'm learning from my students too. They are teaching me how they want to be treated, what they want me to offer and how to express myself in new ways so that anyone can learn how to make the best painting they've ever made. I always encourage my mentees to start teaching as soon as they can. There is always a retired person who wishes they could have followed their dream of being an artist or a young person who is still dreaming about it, and they would love to spend time with you learning what you know. And researching methods, reiterating and practicing the fundamentals with them will set those skills in your mind and will benefit your own painting practice. And if you're like me, it will also feed your soul to know you are sharing and passing a love of beauty and art on to others.

Flow Like Paint

Being flexible with my students is one of the reasons I feel I get so many compliments on my teaching. Yes, it is important to have a plan for the workshop but it is just as important to understand the best laid plans often have to be abandoned. For instance, if a student has to leave halfway through for some unforeseen reason, I offer to connect them with the other students who can share their photos and notes and I follow up with them after the workshop and offer a critique. This isn't only kind, it is smart business. I come from a place of assuming each person is as earnestly excited about the workshop as I am. I know if I were a student and couldn't attend for some reason, it would sure take the sting out of paying for a workshop I couldn't attend, if someone offered to share their notes with me. Basically, I simply try to put myself in my students shoes and if there is a hiccup in the plans, a miscommunication or any other unforeseen issue, I do all I can to make sure the students know that I value their hard-earned money and time. That doesn't mean I'm gullible. I require my students to purchase their space with me by cash or debit card. The first time you have to cover a $600 bounced check you will understand why.

I also communicate very clearly, and in writing whenever possible. I want artists to know exactly what I'm offering, how much it costs, what is included and what is not and what to expect so they are less nervous. For example, I do have a firm non-refundable policy. Anyone who works for a living understand the importance of having a steady income. I make my non-refundable policy a click agreement on my website. Before you can purchase a spot in any of my workshops, you have to agree to the waiver of liability and non-refundable policy. This helps me rest assured knowing the spots that are filled in my workshop are paid for and I can count on those funds in my household budget. If a student cannot attend, their only way of recovering those funds is to have another artist purchase their spot from them. I'll even help them find that student by posting about it on social media and sending out an e-blast on the canceling student's behalf, or offer that spot to an artist on the waiting list. I recommend you use a similar policy and you are welcome to visit my store and copy and paste my policy into your own document...just be sure to edit out my name for yours!

It really is important to me that I offer my students something of value and if I can improve my lesson plan, space or any aspect of my workshop, I want to know how. So I always give a survey to my students on the last day of the workshop that asked 5 questions whose answers could be rated from 1 at the least to 5 at the best:

  • Was the workshop time schedule appropriate?
  • Was the workshop space and equipment adequate?
  • Was the information of high quality and valuable?
  • Would you attend another Tina Garrett Workshop in the future?
  • Would you recommend this workshop to another artist?

(I also leave space for their written comments and a place to sign their initials if it is okay to share their comments and any images taken of them during the workshop online.) In that very first workshop, I got all 5s! More than that I received some of the most beautiful compliments I had ever been payed. Today I still use those same surveys and reading them after my workshops, usually sitting at the airport or beside my husband reading them out loud as he drives us across country back home. It is one of the first things I do after a workshop and still one of my very favorite parts about teaching oil painting. I've shared many of my favorite student testimonials on my website.

By 2014, I was getting invitations to teach at other people's private studios and at art centers. I had to develop a list of workshop requirements that I could provide to someone if they called and asked if I would come teach. I wanted to make sure that they were able to provide the same kind of environment I had created at my own workshop space. I send a PDF to every person who asks to host me for a workshop. In it, I list the three different workshop formats that I teach with their full descriptions. I ask for a clean, safe environment that can accommodate a minimum of 8 and up to 12 students, including a place to wash our brushes, restrooms, good ventilation, adequate lighting, painting and model stand equipment and if at all possible, handicap accessibility. I also state clearly the model arrangements I need, and that the venue is required to charge each student enough money to cover the venue rental fees and model fees. I ask for my rate, which is per student, per day and I can take that fee via my website shop directly from each student, or I can receive a bank check for the combined fees at the end of the workshop and provide the venue with a w9 form.

I've been very trusting and have had, for the most part, really warm and generous hosts whom I now call dear friends. I usually stay with my hosts at their home and this gives me the chance to really enjoy the town I'm visiting from a local perspective. Only once was a workshop almost a no go; when I arrived off the plane to find the studio space was in essence a full-to-the-brim storage room. I rolled up my sleeves and we stayed up until 10 pm moving and cleaning and replacing light bulbs. By the next morning we had an adequate workshop space and the students were none the wiser. I've learned that if I arrive the day before a workshop is scheduled to attend, I'm more likely to have the time to take care of any unforeseen issues or even find another space in an emergency.

Two years ago I taught my first international workshop in Italy at the amazing private studio of Sara Calcagno in the hills of Tuscany. My husband and I traveled together, starting in Rome, and worked our way up through Siena to Venice and Florence where I gave a 3 hour demonstration at the Florence Studio. I now teach at The Florence Studio every year and am going back again in September. When I teach abroad I try to make the workshop at least 5 days long. The longer format not only helps cover the travel costs, but also is a better incentive for students traveling in for the workshop. Typically, I offer the same lesson format, 9am to 4pm, but unofficially we dine and go exploring with the students each evening. Most artists want the full and typical workshop experience, but when traveling abroad, they also want extra time to experience the food, culture and sites of the host country. I've really enjoyed letting the events blossom from the opportunities of the moment. We've visited some of the most interesting and beautiful, unexpected corners of Florence, by way of a last-minute recommendation or stumbling on a market or gilded church. The students get time with me they were not expecting and I don't risk disappointing anyone by not following through with a predetermined itinerary. In September, I'll be taking bit of a new approach in my first upcoming 12-day South African Portrait Of A Nation© Journey workshop. It has taken two years for my amazing guides, Laura C. Johnson and Arthur J. Dibden to craft the detailed and custom itinerary that our group will travel. I'll be straying from the comfort of my cozy studio into the wilds of South Africa to paint bushman and locals in the gardens and museums. Since no one would want to travel all the way to South Africa just to sit in an art studio, I'm crafting my workshop lesson plan to include taking photography, how to approach unsuspecting models while getting their permission with signed photo releases, editing the photos we take and also teaching lessons on how to paint from our photos during two studio days. Oh, that's not to say that we won't be painting outdoors, because we will! And we'll do it in places not available to other artists, like the remarkable Sculpture Garden of the acclaimed artist Dylan Lewis. This will be my first adventure workshop where I'll teach within a well planned travel itinerary and I'll be sure to blog about the experience to share what I learn so you too can take off into the world and spread art and joy near and far.

Tina Garrett is an ARC Associate Living Master and her paintings have recognized with multiple awards including two ARC Salon Purchase Awards, an Oil Painters of America Online Showcase 1st Prize, International Magazine People & Figures Grand Prize, Gateway International Best In Show, National Oil and Acrylic Painters' Society Best of America People's Choice, the Gateway International Best In Show and The BoldBrush Award. Tina is a proud Gamblin Dedicated Workshop Instructor and a Fine Art Studio Online (FASO) Sponsored Artist. Tina is a proud Cecilia Beaux Forum Mentor and the Kansas/Western Missouri State Ambassador for the Portrait Society of America. Rosemary & Co. Brushes offers the Tina Garrett Brush Set and Tina teaches workshops across the country at private studios and fine art centers such as the Scottsdale Artists' School, Village Arts of Putney, Crooked Tree Arts Center and the Oklahoma Academy of Classical Art, The Art Students League in Denver and in Europe at The Florence Studio in Florence, Italy. In 2019 Tina will teach her first workshops south of the equator in South Africa and Brazil.