In September I had the unbelievable experience of taking a workshop with my absolute hero in watercolour, Joseph Zbukvic. He is an Australian and for me he is the best watercolourist in the world – an absolute master of the medium. The workshop was held at the Madeline Island School Of The Arts on Madeline Island which is an island in Lake Superior. It’s part of the Apostle Islands which are in the state of Wisconsin.
His workshops around the world always sell out 12 – 18 months in advance and by the time I found out about this workshop it was likewise full. I put my name on the waiting list and 1 year later, long after I’d forgotten about it I got a call that a space opened up and I jumped at it. It was an interesting experience because I didn’t take his workshop to learn his technique. I have all of his DVD’s and I have studied them extensively. In fact I’ve done about half of all the demos on them. I posted about this a few years ago and I still consider studying him and Alvaro Castagnet to be my university of watercolour. I learned so much from copying their demos. Since I wasn’t really looking for his technique I went to be inspired and challenged and to grow as a painter. I received far more than I expected.
One other factor about Joseph is that he is also a master teacher. As a retired school teacher I am a keen observer of the teaching techniques of various workshop instructors. I have discovered that many of the best painters are not necessarily the best teachers. By in large their approach is, watch me paint and get what you can from it. I don’t know if Joseph ever taught school but he is a master of teaching technique. Using humour and repetition and by having developed some wonderfully insightful concepts he made sure that everyone ‘got’ what he was teaching. Everyone left there knowing “Mr Bead” and “Tea, coffee, milk, cream and butter”. I use his ideas all the time in my own workshops and students just love them. I always make a point of saying that they are his ideas much as I wish I had thought of them.
Anyway, what I got from the workshop was a way of thinking about watercolour. Watching him do his sketches and see how he instinctively choose just the key elements of the subject was inspiring. To hear him verbalize his thought process as he approaches a subject gave me all sorts of insights. But most of all I was given the gift of inspiration. I left the workshop with my confidence brimming, ready to tackle anything.
As I said he is my #1 hero so I could go on at length but suffice it to say that this was the experience of a lifetime.
Joseph did 2 demos a day and here are my versions of them.
I also did a couple of plein air paintings the day before the workshop started. The first one is of the Indian Cemetery in La Pointe, the small town on the island. It’s a very old and run down but represents some of the early history of the island.
Even though Madeline Island is just a few miles off the main land it does have it’s own way of life. The people there are independent, friendly and very individualistic. This next painting is of a very popular local landmark, The Burnt Down Cafe. I think this is, in fact, it’s history. The first place burnt down and now it’s a very interesting mix of canvas and plywood.
Finally the location of the workshops, Madeline Island School Of The Arts. It’s a very nice place with all the buildings located right together. They run various workshops from painting to writing and crafts and they bring in a lot of top names. They also do a super job making you feel welcome. Great staff. There is accommodation and meals on the campus though there are also other places to stay and eat on the island. Madeline Island is the largest in a series of 22 islands collectively called the Apostle Islands. There are whole bunch of fascinating geological rock formations, great hiking and what I always find interesting, the rusting remains of early settlement on the islands. Today only Madeline is inhabited.
Here are a few shots of the Madeline Island School Of The Arts.
A memorable experience!