Painting How To: How to Do Demonstrations and Workshops

I don’t think I had much help preparing for my first demo. It was like a baptism of fire! This can be quite a challenge for a plein-air watercolor artist, but fortunately for me, I’ve painted indoors, so I felt I could handle the task. Once underway, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.

Some artists will figure out the composition they wish to present and draw it up before the actual demo. But I try to do all this at the demo itself, because I think it’s important to communicate everything you do to the assembled audience, not just the watercolor painting effort itself.

You need to select a subject you can accomplish in the time allotted, generally no more than an hour and a half.  Then you need to figure out how to get everything done! The subject matter I chose to paint for my first demo was a floral composition, something I’d done before many times with success.

You need adequate time for your painting to dry during various stages of the process.  For plein-air painters, it’s good to do a practice run so you can get this matter under control. Studio painters have an advantage in this respect.

Another problem with doing demonstrations or… for that matter, any kind of “show and tell” event… is the distractions which can make it difficult for you to concentrate on your work. Like anything else, it takes practice to figure out how to keep your audience entertained without screwing up the artwork.

watercolor painting of a boatyard, tipped over boat, painting of beached boat

Click Picture to Purchase: "Boatyard, Matthews, VA #2"

One’s audience is usually interested in learning about a demonstrator’s background. They want to see examples of the demonstrator’s work. But again, if the demonstrator spends too much time talking about the paintings brought along for the audience to see, there might not be enough time remaining to complete the demo painting itself. For this reason, I have been known to bring along a video or CD that tells something about my background. I arrange to have this up and playing early on, perhaps off in a corner at the other end of the room from where I’ll be doing the actual demo. This eliminates some of the questions that might otherwise arise during the actual demo. The challenge is managing to get the proper video and sound equipment. Let the people who run these demos know in advance what equipment you need. Better still, bring along your own audiovisual equipment!

When doing a demo, I’ll bring along a few paintings, but also some prints and notecards.  I generally offer up the demo painting for the usual raffle, but other items as well. This depends on how much I’m being paid. If the fee is reasonable, I can afford to give away some things; if not, I don’t.

Some artists’ organizations allow you to offer paintings, prints or notecards for sale. If so, you’ll need someone to help you with your cash box, because you won’t have time to deal with the sales and money exchanges.

It’s good to circulate your brochures at a demo. This is another way people can learn more about you and eliminate some questions that might otherwise come up during the demo. If you conduct scheduled workshops or classes, information about these should be included in your brochure or made available to the participants as handouts.

people working on boats, painting of guy cleaning a boat

Click Picture to Purchase: "Boatyard, Matthews, VA #4"

The problem with demos is you have to plan and remember all the things you need to do… and stuff you need to bring along with you.  I’ve made up a list of things to bring along… and tasks that must be accomplished ahead of time. You might want to send a copy of your list to the artists’ association itself. They’re often willing to help out with some of these details.

Items you should bring:

  • 3 or 4 original paintings (framed or unframed
  • 3 reduced-size prints (framed or unframed) of paintings w/ acrylic stands
  • one dozen matted and shrink-wrapped prints
  • two dozen assorted notecards (multiples of 6) w/ rack
  • a couple of boxes of notecards
  • brochure of your work
  • two dozen business cards w/ holder
  • paint pail & water
  • paint brushes and tool box
  • palette
  • easel/board with various sizes of paper

Items your sponsor should furnish:

  • video equipment (or CD player) to show film about your work
  • one 8′ long table to display your work
  • additional table on which to put your equipment & do your demo
  • overhead mirror to enhance audience’s observation of your demo
  • audio equipment and microphone to project your voice during demo
Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.


Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors