Whether you are interested in trying something new or looking to take a hobby to the next level, taking a class is often the best way to jump-start your learning process. But finding creative classes can be a challenge and sometimes it feels like there is no one around that shares your interests. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve lived in both small towns and large cities and though it can feel like you are on your own in your pursuits, you may have more options than you realize. Since I know the struggle, I thought I’d share some of my tips for finding creative classes.
The first place I always like to start looking is at my local Parks & Rec programs or a nearby community college. Often times arts programs, especially things like watercolor and ceramics, are offered through these outlets as multi-week classes.
When I was living in the LA area, my local parks & rec program is what really helped me get started on my watercolor journey. I had so much fun joining a group of mostly retired ladies (they have the best hobbies) twice a week to learn as we all painted the same photo over the course of several weeks. But I didn’t make it happen on my first try.
I had actually been looking for a class for a while at that point. Before I moved to California I was living in southern Arizona. I had looked through the local parks & rec programs and found a watercolor class offered in the evenings after work. I was so excited that I signed up right away. It was a month out from the class when I signed up and my excitement lasted until two days before when the class was cancelled due to low enrollment. I was crushed because I didn’t know of another way to really get started in watercolor. I waited patiently for a new season to try again, and once again signed up only to have my class cancelled right before it started. Would I never find a class near me?
Not long after feeling completely discouraged, an awesome artist I was following on instagram was having a watercolor night in a city a couple hours drive from me. My boyfriend and I decided to make a night of it and ended up getting our first lesson under the stars eating homemade pizza and making new friends. I’ll talk more about why the internet is your friend in a bit!
Another great place to look locally is at shops in your area. Both indie shops and big box stores alike often offer one time classes to get you started or get you to the next level in your creative pursuits. Great places to look are craft stores, sewing/fabric stores, stationary shops, and calligraphy studios, but don’t feel limited to those!
Most shops I follow I found indirectly. In some cases, someone I follow hosted a class there (again, the internet is your friend!), but I kept following those shops because they offered up their space for many other classes of interest. Others I found by scrolling through Instagram. Here in Portland, I’ve taken classes at Work/Shop and Field Trip, but the more I look the more I find in this city of the arts. In the LA area, I had taken a calligraphy class at Smitten On Paper and had my eye on watercolor classes from Mon Voir before we moved.
It’s pretty easy, once you know where to look, to find classes in bigger cities like LA and Portland, but I also know the struggle of not having all those options, which is why you shouldn’t count out the classes offered by stores like Michaels and JoAnn. Now, you may say ‘but Cindy! they don’t offer what I want!’ and that is perfectly valid, but word of mouth is another local way to find classes. Maybe you’ll make a new friend at that wreath building workshop you’re only kinda interested in who is also interested in your true interest and happens to know of a class you can take.
And sometimes you have to expand your definition of local. If you, like I once did, live a couple hours outside of a big city, maybe expand your local search to the nearby metropolis for a day trip on the weekend. Or if your local parks & rec doesn’t offer a class you are interested in, look at the programs offered in nearby municipalities as well. You may pay a bit more as a non-resident but it may be worth it to find the instruction you’ve had your eye on. There are always options!
The Internet is your friend
What did we do before the internet? Seriously, it was a dark time before instagram, twitter, and facebook linked me directly to all my favorite creatives! But really, until I delved into the communities online I felt pretty singular in my creative interests. Social media changed all of that with the amazing communities that have sprung up around pretty much every creative interest you could have.
My calligraphy journey really blossomed because of the online community. One day I remembered how I tried to do calligraphy when I was a kid. I searched #calligraphy on instagram which led me to #moderncalligraphy which in turn led to looking at #pointedpen. Somehow in my hashtag journey I ended up at #copperplate and I saw something I wanted to try. Pointed pen calligraphy is something I picked up entirely from finding it on social media. But how did that lead to finding classes?
I mentioned that the community really helped me get my start in calligraphy, but what I failed to realize was that all those people are real and they live somewhere. Nina (@anintran) was one of my favorites to follow because her videos really helped me start to understand the shapes involved with copperplate. She also happened to live in my area and I was thrilled to learn she was starting to host workshops for beginners with her friend Grace (@bygraceabounds) under the title Calligraphy Companion. I thought I got really lucky, but the more I started looking the more people I found near-ish to me who were also learning or teaching.
When we were moving to Portland, I was quite sad to realize I wouldn’t be able to take next level workshops with Nina and Grace to step up my calligraphy game even more. But Portland has it’s own collection of calligraphers, and the online community helped me find some of them. Another penman I really learned a lot from through social media was David (@masgrimes) who happened to be based in Portland as well. Attending his class helped me overcome some new hurdles I was facing with my script.
The lesson here is people in the community you follow online may be closer than you think. If you keep your eyes open you can find local workshops and classes just through the community. This isn’t limited to calligraphy either. I’ve participated in craft nights and watercolor evenings because I found people near me through social media. And if you think this is limited to big cities, think again! I found these opportunities when I was living in smaller towns too.
Now, sometimes you won’t find a class that aligns perfectly with your needs in your area. The internet can help out here as well. Webinars are popping up everyday, some with live instruction and some to go at your own pace. Often times these classes include instructor feedback on your work. I’ve been interested in these types of courses in the past but I haven’t taken one myself. I just wanted to let you know they are out there. Again, I’ve found these by following the communities online.
Before you start looking
I do have a couple of things to keep in mind before you start looking for classes. Depending on the subject matter and your experience with it, you may want to learn the basics and familiarize yourself with the tools before you start thinking about taking a class. I went into the calligraphy classes I have taken with specific issues I was looking to fix. I practiced a lot before even considering a class and was lucky to have a workshop available right around the time I needed it. I was stuck in a place where I could see I was making mistakes but I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. Taking a class was the perfect opportunity to get me unstuck and progressing again.
On the flip side, when I was interested in starting watercolors I had no idea where to start. I had some of my grandmother’s supplies (she was amazing with watercolor and was my inspiration to start), but I didn’t know what I was missing or how to manipulate the pigments. In this case, it was better for me to start with a class and learn the basics that way. Once I had a better understanding of watercolor placement and technique I could move on to new projects of my own.
In both cases, I thought about what I wanted to get out of a class before signing up. It’s a good idea to have a plan before investing in a class, as they can cost quite a bit of money and you want to get as much value out of them as you can.
For smaller classes this isn’t as big of a worry. I’ve made a terrarium and I’ve needle-felted an owl without much planning. These are more for fun and won’t usually cost as much money. If I were really interested in pursuing one of these side projects I’d practice and go in with a plan, but fun and adventure are important too!
Summing it up
I hope my tips and experiences help you find a class or two in something you are interested in or want to learn more about. Since this has been a rather long post, I’ll sum up the main points for you here:
- try out classes at your local parks & rec or community college
- look for classes at local shops or big-box stores
- search for communities in your interest on social media and find others near you
- expand your search to nearby towns/cities
- look for webinars that are taught live or with instructor feedback
- it pays to familiarize yourself with the materials before taking a class
- have a goal in mind for your class so that you get a good value
- you may not find exactly what you are looking for right away, don’t get discouraged!
Sometimes, no matter how hard you look, the thing you are looking for will show up in the most unexpected place. I’ve learned about classes in random places like on a bulletin board at my favorite bookstore or on a flyer in the entry of my library. I’ve happened upon drop-in classes because I visited the right store at the right time. Keep your eyes open and take opportunities when they come up. You never know what you might find.
How have you found classes to further your creative pursuits? If you have a favorite place for classes in your area, please share it in the comments below (you may just help someone else find what they've been looking for)!