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The Art of the Experience  – The Fantastic Workshop 

 
Sean Murray in his Gateway art booth at San Diego Comic Con.

Sean Murray in his Gateway art booth at San Diego Comic Con.

 

As an artist, entrepreneur, and educator, I am well aware of the wide spectrum of options available in the world of art education. College courses, ateliers, workshops, books, magazines, tutorial videos, local artist gatherings, conventions, discussion panels, online forums – there are so many different resources for finding your individual path to growth as an artist and creator that it can often be overwhelming to decide where to focus your energy. But I would argue that there is one important factor that can mean the difference between a positive and a negative outcome in any one of those categories: the experience.

The concept of “experiential” learning is not a new one – and it generally refers to learning by active engagement in relevant activities, rather than passive engagement like reading a textbook. Want to learn how to grow tomatoes? Go out into a garden and plant a tomato plant and tend to it every day until it yields fruit. Want to learn how to create an effective booth for a convention? Sign up for a local con and learn by seeing what works and what doesn’t. There is a certain amount of risk involved, but a wealth of potential reward. Personally, this has always been THE best way for me to learn just about anything - I have a hard time grokking lines and lines of written instructions or paying attention to a droning instructor. But put the tools in my hands and tell me to “go” and I will jump right in - stumbling at first, but eventually finding my footing. 

I made tons of mistakes at my first few conventions (frankly, I continue to make them at each one I attend – like wearing shorts at Gen-Con… it’s  freezing in that hall!), but its those mistakes that actively reinforce better choices at the next convention. It isn’t until I see how dark my booth is compared to other’s around me that I finally decide to buy a decent set of lights for my backdrop, even if experts had told me several times before-hand. There is something about the experience of seeing the good or bad results of a decision that makes the resulting lesson more effectively learned. 

But I also have another way of looking at this that I think can make any type of learning effective. Simply put: having an interesting or unique experience to go along with the information that you are learning is sometimes the best way to retain that knowledge. Let me give you some examples.

Sean Andrew Murray at the FIRST Fantastic Workshop

Sean Andrew Murray at the FIRST Fantastic Workshop

The most memorable books I have read are ones that I read in an interesting place: away from home on vacation or in a new house I had just moved into, a new coffee shop that just opened up down the block that plays cool music and has good cold brew coffee. 

The most interesting lectures talks or lectures that I remember are the ones that involved a unique experience: like the time Marshall Arisman visited my art school and pulled out a saxophone during his lecture and began playing along with a CD with a bad skip in it; or the time I watched as sweat dripped onto Scott Robertson’s paper as he struggled to give a perspective drawing demo in 100 degree at a workshop in a non-air conditioned building. 

Some of the most inspirational images in my “internal reference library” come from particular experiences in my life – watching trains thunder by on the nearby railroad tracks with my Dad; walking through the winding streets of Prague during a clash between protestors and riot police on my honeymoon; drinking Turkish coffee with the proprietors of a 350-year-old family-owned shop in Old Jerusalem during a business trip while I (very poorly) haggled over the price of an antique Bedouin dagger; watching revelers set off fireworks on the medieval steps of a cathedral in Spain during the Feast of St. John with my wife and son. 

Sean leading the attendees of the workshop on an art exploration walk!

Sean leading the attendees of the workshop on an art exploration walk!

The Fantastic Workshop is full of these potential opportunities - a chance to learn and grow as an artist, creator and entrepreneur while surrounded by some of the most fascinating people you will ever get to meet. Each artist in attendance has their own path they are trying to forge based on their unique lives and singular world-views. Sometimes, hearing in-person how someone else has dealt with the roadblocks in their own careers - seeing their expressions, hearing the inflection in their voice and connecting with the emotions that they dealt with in the moment - inspires the kind of self-reflection that you might need to discover your own pathway.

And the instructors are chosen not just for having relevant talent or skills, but for having lives and careers full of relatable experiences and the ability to share them in an engaging way. 

Sean and the attendees of The Fantastic Workshop go over their sketchbooks from the walk!

Sean and the attendees of The Fantastic Workshop go over their sketchbooks from the walk!

As an attendee, you will have so many opportunities to forge these kind of milestone experiences –  maybe you will sit with new people at every meal and listen to their stories, or maybe you will take a walk to a local coffee shop with your sketchbook and a head full of inspiration from the last lecture. Perhaps inspiration will strike while participating in a late-night, random-subject drawing challenge. 

Each time I have been a part of the workshop, I have tried to experience it both as an instructor AND as an attendee. What I have learned is that it is not enough to just attend the workshop, but you must also engage and participate in it to truly reap the benefits as others have. 

 
 

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Sean Andrew Murray is a freelance illustrator, concept artist, author and teacher who has worked in the entertainment industry for nearly fifteen years.

Recently he began working for visionary film director, producer and author Guillermo Del Toro on a television series called “Killing on Carnival Row” as well as an illustrated young-adult novel titled “Trollhunters”, which hit bookstore shelves on July 7, 2015.

The production of Sean’s illustrated fantasy book, “Gateway: The Book of Wizards,” was funded by a successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign. The book was a primer for a fantasy world centered on a vast city called “Gateway”, which Sean has been working on in his sketchbooks for over 15 years. Copies of these books, as well as several prints and other items are available for purchase at: http://www.cityofgateway.com

Lately, Sean has been spending more time exploring and expanding upon the world of Gateway in his sketchbooks and through his illustrations as well as an exciting new deck-building board game called “Gateway: Uprising,” which is available for purchase now! Check out https://cmon.com/product/gateway-uprising/gateway-uprising for more information! And for other Gateway related news or to sign up for updates go to (http://www.cityofgateway.com/about/) and scroll to the bottom of the page.

If you would like to follow along as Sean creates The Great City of Gateway one drawing and painting at a time, then consider becoming a pledger to his Patreon campaign: https://www.patreon.com/SeanAndrewMurray