Copyright Central Texas Pastel Society. All Rights Reserved.

An interview with Michael Chesley Johnson
Artist’s Magazine, October 2016, page 31

“There is no accomplishment so easy to acquire as politeness, and none more profitable.”
George Bernard Shaw

Workshop Manners

Q:I attend a lot of workshops and enjoy them immensely because I learn so much from the instructors and enjoy interacting with other participants. Often, though, there’s one participant who mars the experience with continual comments or even argumentative statements to the instructor.  Can you suggest a code of etiquette for workshop attendees?

A:  You pay a lot for a workshop, so you’ll want to get the most out of it.  Following a few simple guidelines will maximize the benefits:

  • Respect the instructor:  You paid him, so you must think he knows more than you.  If it turns out he doesn’t, then disagree politely and let it go.  Arguments waste time.
  • Read the supply list and bring the items listed.  Chances are you are going to learn a new technique and, without the proper materials, you won’t be able to participate fully.
  • Follow the curriculum.  You attend a workshop to learn from the instructor; going your own way is just treading over old ground.  If the instructor’s method doesn’t work for you, you can abandon it after the workshop.
  • Follow the rules.  Instructors will set ground rules such as start and end times, permissible plein air painting areas and so on.  Rules make a successful workshop.Turn off your cell phone.  No texting either.  No matter how surreptitious you may think you are, you’re not.
  • Keep your questions relevant.  Save off-topic questions for a coffee break (but also realize the instructor may need that coffee break as badly as you do!).


  • Don’t photograph or videotape the instructor, students or models without explicit permission.  There are legal reasons for this, but it’s also just polite.
  • Respect your fellow students.  If you’re more advanced, grit your teeth and bear it; you’ll still learn something.  If you’re behind the others, don’t be needy; the others paid as much for attention as you did.
  • Keep quiet while others are trying to concentrate during the painting session. Gabbing away is distracting.
  • Don’t ask to put on music.  No group can ever agree on a playlist.  If you must have music, bring a personal listening device with earbuds.  But make sure you don’t mistakenly send “I’m not available” signal to the instructor when he makes the rounds.
  • Avoid monopolizing the critique time.  Others want their work critiqued too.​ Don’t offer critiques unless invited by the instructor to do so.  Students are paying for the instructor’s feedback, not yours.
  • Don’t criticize the instructor behind his back.  Either talk to the instructor privately about your problem or keep it to yourself.These rules, based on common politeness, are all easy to follow.  Usually, bad manners are an accident resulting from the person at fault’s simply not paying attention.  Being aware of others is the best way to make sure everyone has a happy workshop experience.


MICHAEL CHESLEY JOHNSON, is a contributing editor for The Artist’s Magazine; he teaches plein air workshops throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Workshop Etiquette