How Do You Learn?

Y’all already know how I feel about art retreats: they’re fabulous, and every mixed media artist—heck: every even-the-tiniest-bit-interested-in-creative-things person—should attend at least one. I’ve attended a bunch of them, and I have loved them and had a blast and met many, many fabulous people, but in all that time, I have taken only one—ONE—workshop. All the other workshops I’ve been in, I’ve been working and taking notes. I have been invited to sit in, and I have seen lots of fabulous offerings, but here’s the deal: I know how I learn, and being in a classroom setting is not it. Oh, sure: it is if I’m trying to learn Spanish or geography or philosophy. If it’s about taking notes and then going home and making approximately 20,000 tedious little color-coded flash cards, sure. But for learning how to do something, like soldering or drilling or encaustic or free-motion embroidery? It just doesn’t work for me. To learn stuff like that, I need 1) a good book, with good photos, 2) the necessary tools/supplies, and 3) lots of totally quiet time to practice on my own. I have found and bookmarked a site that has excellent tutorials for embroidery stitches, which works really well for me. There are excellent tutorials and YouTube videos for almost anything you can think of. Want to learn to knit? There are tutorials for that. Sculpt? Yep, for that, as well, and for just about anything else you can think of.


But maybe that’s not how you learn, and therein lies the key: first, you have to know how you learn and know whether you learn one thing (sculpting) one way (hands-on) and something else (French) another way (with audio lessons). So pull out your notebook and make some lists. First, list the things you’ve learned in your life. You might want to list just The Big Things, like algebra and riveting, and leave out the things like “don’t poke hairpins into light sockets” and “it’s best not to eat after the dog.” Then go through your list and remember how you learned each thing: did someone show you, one-on-one? Things like riding a bicycle, swimming. My dad sat down with me and showed me how to solder when I was in my 40s; I couldn’t get the hang of making everything nice and smooth until I watched him doing it. I’ve dropped in on Thomas Mann’s sawing workshops, and seeing him hold a jewelry saw made sense: oh, so that’s what they mean! What I learned from that was that when it comes to learning how to use tools, it’s best for me to have someone else show me how they work, one-on-one. For me, it’s good to have an expert show me how not to cut off my fingers or set stuff on fire.


Which things did you learn on your own, by trial and error? Sometimes, by the way, that’s the very best way to learn something: once you figure it out and work through the bugs on your own, it’s pretty much yours for life. Which ones did you learn by watching videos? By taking a class? By reading a book?  Then go back through your list and make notes about your confidence level for each skill or technique. Do you feel like you really know how to do it, or do you wish you had a little more skill? What would be the best way for you to get there? Then you can decide which workshops and classes you want to take for the things you learn best that way, and which books you need to order for other kinds of learning, allowing you to spend your time and money on the learning method that work best for you for each thing you want to learn to do better.

Learn to Use Jewelers SawIf you’d like to learn to use a jeweler’s saw by watching video tutorials, check out Tom’s Metal Artist’s Workbench, Learn to Use the Jeweler’s Saw DVD.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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