I've been going to Art of the Carolinas since it first started. Get this straight: I NEVER just drive around, but one day way back when, I was "just driving around" Durham because it was a nice day and I had gas in the car and the radio began to do a location report from this artsy something going on out in Research Triangle Park.
They talked about a trade show that had the latest art supplies, and of workshops being put on. I said what the hey, it's only 10 minutes away, and cruised over.
What I found kind of blew me away. It was the very first AotC, and from that point on I was hooked.
AotC is put on by Jerry's Artarama, which is like Heaven for artists. Well, artists who have money and who aren't bothered that the brand selection isn't as wide as it once was. Jerry's makes deals with certain brands and as a result, stops carrying other ones. Even so, whenever I go through Jerry's doors, I have to pause and let my heart pound for a few moments. Cue that heavenly choir!
AotC has settled to be housed at the Raleigh North Hilton, which is about three blocks north of Jerry's Raleigh superstore. There's always a van or stretch limo that runs between the two during the run of the show. Some of the workshops are now held at Jerry's, since the Hilton tends to run out of workshop space.
A schedule of workshops runs four days and the trade show runs the final three of those days. Big-name artists run a lot of the workshops, and others you see there year after year. Some big-name artists are there year after year as well.
I recall one of the first workshops I took, taught by the fabulous Tom Lynch. In it we learned how to paint windows and doors that had some soul to them: the top of the door didn't look like the bottom did. The window wasn't uniform. That kind of thing. It taught us to be aware of varying even the minor parts of our painting, to make the entire thing as entertaining as possible. Wow!
The second Tom Lynch workshop I took turned me off him. This was the kind where he had the entire class take their paper, mix up some yellowish-green, and then make a brushstroke across it. Whereupon he'd check that everyone had made that brushstroke. Then you'd put a square of blue wash underneath it. And so on, paint by numbers without the numbers and without learning anything.
So the quality of the workshops vary a lot, even with the same teacher presiding.
I once told my dad that I learned more at two years' of AotC—6-ish days total—than I had from four years in UNC's art department.
But AotC has changed through the years. There are fewer different vendors, though still quite a few, and familiar Jerry's inventory has taken over the majority of the trade floor, albeit with extremely good sale prices. One makes a shopping list before hitting the trade floor, and one checks one's bank balance before doing same, as well as confirming the cubic footage inside one's car. A few times I've come awful close to buying more than what my Civic will hold! This is the Big Art Shopping Trip of the Year with the best bargains as well.
Starting last year (or was it the year before?) I stopped taking so many of the workshops. This year I only took one: travel sketching in watercolor. I figure I'm traveling a lot more these days, and I'd love to do some sketching. In grabbing a sketchbook for the class, I was surprised to discover in it some work I'd done during my second trip to Montreal back in '05 or so. Not bad stuff, either.
It was odd not having to use my regular rolly-cart to bring in all my supplies; they fit in a single cloth bag, and even then I'd overpacked for the class. I claimed a section of work table. Even though Jerry's knew how many people had signed up, they still didn't have enough tables set up, and we had to wait a few minutes for two more to be brought in, with enough chairs.
AGES ago I'd taken a course in psychic/holistic healing in Durham. One of the students who also lasted through all three years was a woman I'll call Sandi (because I can't remember what her real name is). She can stick her hand in fire and have it remain unscathed. No, really. I've seen her do it. She has problems when someone screams (ahem), but otherwise, she's quite friendly with the fire element.
I've seen her at almost every AotC event. We'd never been in the same class until now (she's into more crafty stuff than I am), and we just happened (right, universe, I get it) to sit down opposite each other at the table before we both looked up and realized what we'd done! We had a lovely catch-up chat that likely confused our neighbors.
The older gentleman to my left had arrived without reference photos, as had MANY others in the class. I will never understand why people do this. AotC gives materials lists for every class, but there's always a huge amount of people who arrive lacking something important. Once I sat next to a woman who'd brought NOTHING, and wound up giving her an extra canvas, letting her use my paint, brushes, extra easel, etc, etc. Good golly! And of course, I've been in two classes where the instructor gave out completely incorrect equipment lists. Helloo?
The class began and our instructor showed us what kind of sketching she does, how she doesn't use store-bought sketchbooks but makes her own, etc. She showed examples of others' sketchbooks and how they used them not only to sketch in but to write or make notes, or gather little items that reminded them of—
"Excuse me!" a woman in the back protested loudly. "This class is only three hours long. Can we please get to the workshop part?" Her buddy added a similar complaint.
Our instructor assured them that we would begin immediately (even though what she was showing us WAS an important part of the workshop). Luckily for us, she has ADD or something and went on passing out samples that we all (except for the two biddies) studied.
The biddies went back to their tables and began to paint in their sketchbooks. The rest of us finished looking at everything, watched a couple demos, and then returned to try doing quick but bold sketches.
The teacher kept lecturing as we worked, and then she brought up using a pen. Good, I thought, we're going to incorporate pen-and-ink sketching as part of the watercolor, maybe learn what's best to note about a scene.
Instead the instructor outlined every change in color and/or value on her sketch. I asked Sandi why we were doing this. It had nothing to do with the scene we were sketching.
"It makes it look prettier," Sandi assured me.
But I didn't want 'prettier,' I wanted to make the best study I could so I could take it home and use it in conjunction with photographs I'd take on location.
This is the kind of thing you run into with these workshops, that the instructor's intentions are different from what you expected, but I was determined to learn what I could. Yes, the lines did make it look more finished, and people in the class assured everyone that they made the sketches more saleable. (But I didn't want saleable; I wanted reference.)
I managed two partially-finished sketches for the class. The first one we made a pencil sketch first (that's the Grand Tetons one), and the second we just dove in with paint first.
I like to think that these will help make more dynamic paintings when it comes to putting images on canvas. Certainly from the Gibbon Waterfall picture (below), I learned that the actual waterfall needs to be depicted much larger than I've done here.
The workshop ended, we packed up and left, and I strolled next door to enjoy my annual Bahama Breeze luncheon (mmm!) before returning for the trade show. I had my shopping list in hand and managed to find most of the stuff rather quickly.
But the show's checkout line looped clear around the three ballrooms that had been designated the trade floor. "Oh, the line's moving fast," one of the Jerry's employees assured me after I'd heard someone say they'd taken an hour to get through it. "You'll be finished in twenty minutes."
After 20 minutes I'd progressed ten feet. The massive line kept people from really perusing the stock in the crowded room, and it impeded traffic flow so that all the artists who were on the trade floor demonstrating various stock or techniques, weren't able to get a group to watch them because there was no place for the group to stand. I did have nice conversations with two of them as I stood waiting.
And the second-to-final stretch of the line did go by Jerry's "bits n pieces" displays. For example, I tossed a new kneaded eraser and gray scale into my cart. When we rounded the final corner, a woman a few people in front of me left the line to grab some paints. I told her that the Ultramarine she'd picked up was a very weak variety. I had the same jar, but only use it when it's pure, because the instant you mix it with something, it goes invisible. She frostily thanked me for the information but assured me that it was just fine with her, but about five minutes later I noticed her slipping out of line again to return it.
We stalled next to a table where a guy was demonstrating a new kind of organic brush cleaner made from lavender. Impressive! He'd gob up a brush with oil paint, scrub it around on a surface so the paint really dug into the brush, then dipped it quickly into the cleaner. When he brought the brush out, it was clean. Tried it out on a clean sheet of paper: no residue. "I don't care how much it is," I told him, "just give me a bottle."
It wasn't on sale yet; wouldn't be available for another two months. I got a little advertising card for it, as did just about everyone else in line, and eagerly look forward to trying it out in my own studio.
All in all, I was in line for an hour-plus. There were about eight? cash registers going as hard as they could, but even so, there were just so many people... They assigned a guy to help me load my car and after he'd gone, I wondered: should I have tipped him?
The folks at the show acted surprised when I asked if they'd do things differently next year so this kind of thing didn't happen again.
From there I toodled down the street to Jerry's. Jerry's doesn't ever put its alkyds on the trade floor and only stocks it in the store, so I grabbed new alkyds there. I asked one clerk where the acrylic gouache was, and she said it was all at the trade show. I assured her that I wasn't going back THERE again! I have an unopened tube of the stuff somewhere from a year or two ago; it's just a matter of finding it.
At the store there are three cash registers, but they only had two going. The line took about 25 minutes to go through, and people at the back were complaining loudly. The store manager was doing his best to keep people happy, cracking jokes about standing in line. Employees walked up and down the line asking us if we'd found everything we needed. They had a guy on steel drum playing stuff that got to be (sorry) annoying after a while.
All in all I was a good girl, spending-wise. Sure, the total was more than I'd estimated, but I got a lot of good stuff. (It helps that I know to stay away from the crap that's disguised by nice packaging.) I'd checked over the DVDs I'd bought last year but hadn't watched yet (good golly miss molly, how time passes quickly!) so I didn't buy any new ones.
With the new year I'll be painting again on a regular basis. Good to know I've got the supplies and know-how to do it!