Monday, November 21, 2022

A Gentle Reminder about Workshop Etiquette

Greetings! I am Kristin Williams, owner of Ephemera Paducah. I’ve hosted over 200 workshops, taught by traveling instructors or me, since opening my business in 2013. 

I’ve said to a lot of people that, since Covid, we’ve all changed a little bit (of course, Captain Obvious). Many of us haven’t been in groups of people in literally a couple of years. In light of that, a refresher on Workshop Etiquette is what I have for you today. Please take it in the spirit in which it is intended - helping to create a great experience in class for everyone! 

As teachers, we get it. 

You are very excited!!!

We really do get it. It’s a special time when an in-person workshop rolls around.

As teachers, we get excited, too!!!!  

And anxious, nervous, and hoping to do our very, very best so that all our students have a great experience in class. 

Excitement sometimes morphs into events or behaviors that disrupt the class, upset the flow of the experience, create stress for teachers and fellow students, or break trust within the group. Some events are beyond everyone’s control but, there are actions you can take to help create the environment we all crave when taking an in-person workshop.  

I posed three (3) questions to a number of popular teachers who are on our mixed media circuit. They all answered within 24 hours. Quotes are in italics; other answers I combined and added my own thoughts and experiences.

What behaviors from students do you appreciate the most when teaching in-person?
What behaviors do you appreciate the least when teaching in-person.
What advice would give someone getting ready to attend their first in-person workshop?

For the most part, answers to questions 1 & 2 mirrored each other at either ends of the spectrum. 

1. Punctuality Makes a Huge Difference.  
Starting late can throw the whole day off!

Showing up on time was identified by numerous respondents, which indicates this is an issue.

We all know stuff happens — traffic, sick kids, alarms, waking up in a strange city. Make sure to have contact information for the venue or someone else in class to call if you are going to be late. Calling or messaging the teacher is not helpful, at all. 

I appreciate those that respect and honor the starting and ending times of a workshop. Those that do not show up way early (which can be disruptive to the flow) and those that do not stay and linger afterward (which can be draining after a long day of teaching). 

2. Read & Follow the Communications About Class

When in doubt or seeking information, go back to the class description, first. Supply lists, class dates & times, address of the venue should all be there. 

Read the Emails. Unless your class is specifically tied to a social media platform, information will come via email. Please read them. Expect that important information about your class may be coming via email near class time. 

Please refrain from using one of a dozen other ways to ask questions about class like in a Facebook post or via Instagram Messenger (unless specified by the venue). Sometimes I spend 15 minutes looking for the question that flashed across my screen. Email, please. 

3. Supplies 
 Pack light for a better workshop experience!
I have literally groaned when I’ve seen Roller Bags come into the Studio when supplies that would fit in a toolbox are all that was required. It creates a space issue, cramps neighbors at tables, and instead of being in the moment and using what is provided, students waste valuable class time digging through stuff for the imagined “perfect” piece of somethingorother. 

Bring the supplies on the list. Don’t overpack, especially if that class takes place at a store where additional supplies are available. 

And, please be respectful of shared supplies. 

Don’t dispense paint you will never use. 
Don’t treat supplies that are shared in a wasteful or destructive manner.
Don’t hog the shared supplies. 

4. Listen, Be Curious & Go With the Flow

You paid for the class and made time to take it, let the teachers take you there. Do it their way and see what happens. Use the supplies they recommend and share. 

Listen with both ears. Take notes. 

I appreciate it when students are receptive and trust me to guide them through the process. The students who can grasp the concept that we are there to learn, and perfection is just not part of that equation are the best. 

I love it when students listen and ask relevant questions. 

I don’t appreciate it when students are on their phones and not listening when I am talking. 

I do not appreciate it when a demo is going on with the teacher instructing and an experienced student interrupts with their own experience unintentionally hijacking the demo.

I appreciate when people are engaged and ask questions but do not appreciate when they monopolize the conversation, try to show they know more than the teacher, or have unrealistic expectations of personal attention from the teacher for any number of reasons. 

Please don't be "A Creeper." 
Make sure not to spill into someone's space
5. Be Responsible for the Energy You Bring into the Space 

There are the basics like not talking during demos, cleaning up your mess, and not encroaching on someone else’s workspace that helps shape the workshop, but there are some less obvious things that can seriously impact the vibe in your workshop.

I do not appreciate it when someone is on their phone throughout the day and then suddenly verbally blasts out some kind of terrible "breaking news story" which can bum out the entire positive creative vibe. 

An individual’s anxiety and fear of not knowing what is coming next can impact the class as well as the students who are so paralyzed by perfectionism that they bring the whole room down with self-deprecating phrases like “oh, this is horrible” or “my work looks like garbage.”

Be kind. Art classes should be safe places. All artists are welcome whether new to the subject matter or advanced. We all need kind words. It’s often simple and kind reinforcement that drives artists to do better and try new things. I really like it when I see people encouraging and uplifting each other no matter the caliber or level of their work. 

I appreciate the students who pay attention, respect, and assist with the ADA accommodations in place for students with disability needs so that they can have an inclusive workshop experience. 

6. Understand this is your Teacher’s & Venue’s Livelihood.

The great ones make teaching look easy but please do not underestimate the time, energy, and financial resources that go into teaching on this circuit. Don't let the buzz of creative energy or the party atmosphere obscure the fact that they are working. 

Ask before taking photos and take them in moderation. Also, give credit where credit is due.

I don’t appreciate it when someone is at their table talking about great deals at Big Box stores while being in a small store. 

I’ve seen students take photos of everything a teacher brings, paging through journals, and it erodes trust wondering where they will end up. 

Every teacher has different ways they recharge for the next day. As an “Extroverted Introvert” my “charm factor” wears off by the end of the day. Please don’t hold it against me if I need to go back to my hotel room instead of a group dinner so that I can be my absolute best in class the next day. 

Many students are genuinely intrigued by how artist-instructors or venue owners have created their businesses. And, most venue owners and artists enjoy sharing their stories. But, not in the middle of teaching or running a class. Make a connection and follow up with a phone appointment if this information is something that will help you find your way. If you are looking for a critique of your portfolio or business plan, consider asking what they would charge for that service and make an appointment for that before assuming it comes with their presence in class. 

90% of the teachers have quit using handouts for class because of sharing after the fact. I have never allowed video in my class for the same reason. Please do not go home and “teach” your friends step-by-step instructions of what you learned in class. 

I’ve posed to a student or two, imagine if you had 20+ people watching you do your job. How much would you appreciate someone you just met sitting in the corner of your office and correcting you as you worked in front of an audience? Would you appreciate it if they second-guessed, out loud, what you were doing? Please let teachers do their job and save any constructive criticism for a private conversation or feedback survey. 

Finally, here are suggestions for first-timers (or those who are venturing back into in-person workshops).

Enjoy the moment. It’s a workshop where you are learning a new skill and not becoming a master in a couple of hours. Realize that the teacher, and possibly some fellow students, have spent years, sometimes decades, to attain their skills. 

Do it even though you are scared. 

Be open to going to the places the instructor brings you to, and be excited because the experience may change you as an artist. 

Relax. Release yourself from the need to have a perfect outcome. Go to classes to experiment and learn. You can take skills home and make something awesome but you may not make amazing art in class. (And that is OK.)

Come as a Kindergartener.

Look around you. You won’t be the only new person. Engage with the other students. 

Show up just are you are. You are already creative enough. As a first-timer, you may be sitting shoulder to should with those who have more wisdom or experience but all are uniquely connecting through creative camaraderie. Enjoy the workshop and give yourself permission to express your own creative voice. 

What I have found is students are most importantly seeking community. Wanting to spend time with like-hearted others to create together. Being in a safe space of welcome and belonging….This is where the experience transforms from perfunctory to a powerful gathering for all. 

Thank you for taking this in the spirit in which it was intended -- A gentle reminder of the role you can play in curating an incredible workshop experience for our mixed media community. If I've left something out or something really resonated with you, please comment, below. 


  1. This is well written, thoughtful, and spot on. I come from the perspective of a teacher, corporate trainer, and sometimes art workshop presenter. I also attend workshops so it is good to reflect on my own demeanor! Thank you!

  2. So we’ll written and a gloss reminder for us all!

  3. Very interesting and pertinent column, Kristin - thank you!

    1. Thank you! I had some great input.

  4. Beautifully written. I have morphed from a teacher at scrapbooking events to a teacher of small projects, lettering, and doodling. And I just taught my first retreat in several years. There were so many roller carts with so many products in them. All they needed was a few Ziploc bags full of supplies because I worked for six months to get all of the supplies they needed. That could be my only complaint. A group of 40 women was lovely. Everybody paid attention everybody quiet it down when I use the universal Girl Scout sign, and everybody was wonderful. But I do agree with everything that you wrote. It was very much words of wisdom.

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you had a great group!

  5. Thank you for the perspectives and suggestions that focuses on benefiting all for a memorable experience!

    1. You are welcome! Thank you!

  6. What a wonderful post that helps everyone benefit from taking classes!

    1. Thank you! I learned some tips while researching it, for sure!

  7. What a great column! Sometimes I don’t think students realize how their behavior comes across or affects the other students, teachers or shop owners. These are good reminders & insights that need to be shared (more than once 😎). Thank you!

    1. Thank you! Yes, we have to remember we are part of a community.

  8. Excellently written and well thoughtout. Thank you.

  9. Sincerely and honestly written. You would make a wonderful diplomat!!
    Christine Cetrulo


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