How to start teaching art

The first and most important rule is… Ask how to get started at the places where you’d like to teach.

It’s that simple. Just visit, call or email the people who might hire you to teach.

Other than that, anything that I say reflects only my experiences and opinions. The one and only opinion that matters is that of the person who’ll write your paycheque.

That said, here’s what I’d recommend:

1. Develop your skills as an artist, and think of projects that beginners can tackle–and complete–in a two-hour workshop. And, put your art online at your own banner-free website. (This means being hosted by a service that you pay for.) Learn to use the search engines to attract visitors. (That’s an entire course in itself, btw.)

2. Approach local shops–even Michael’s–with an offer to teach. Also check with Adult Ed, town Recreation Departments, etc. They’ll generally tell you what they pay, or what you should charge.

Let them know whether you’re more interested in making money, or getting lots of exposure; that affects how much you’ll charge. Short, inexpensive classes will generally draw more students.

3. Teach. Teach a LOT. Make sure that every handout has a way for students to reach you… your website URL, your email, and offline ways for people to contact you.

Every time you teach, add that to your resume. At this point, I hardly ever use a resume, but sometimes it comes in handy. I relied on one often when I was a new teacher.

Also remember: It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a degree in art… or if you don’t have any degree. (I have an honorary doctorate, and that’s all.)

Your enthusiasm is what sells you as a teacher, most of all.

4. Keep expanding where you teach. Bigger shops, more students, and so on… that’s not only good PR, but it’s lucrative as well. Also, let TV shows know that you’re available. Many of them–such as HGTV’s “That’s Clever!“–are often looking for new artists to feature.

5. Apply at art events. Watch the websites of art events, to see if/when they say that they’re looking for teachers’ proposals.

A proposal generally includes:

    -Class description, sometimes a short blurb plus a longer version-Photos and sometimes actual samples sent to the event organizers-Supply list (what your students should bring)-Your bio, including your website URL

    -Your photo (either in a class, or your shoulders & face, aka a “head shot”)

    -How much you want to be paid, per student (if you set the fees) and how many minimum/maximum students in each class

    -How many days you can teach

    -Whether the class is for beginners, intermediate, advanced

    -Whether the class is process-oriented (you focus on materials and/or techniques) or designed to complete a project in class (product-oriented)

    -How long the class is (sometimes events specify only full-day classes)

    -The application form (often available online)

6. Send your art (or photos of it) and maybe articles to every place that you can find, for PR. This includes magazines such as Somerset Studio, of course, but also zines relating to art, as well as to the subject matter of your art if you’re working in a popular/themed genre.

7. Read as much as you can about your kind of art, as well as books about PR, about running a business, and specifically the business of art. Take courses–especially online courses–relating to this.

Keep doing all of this, steadily. If you let up, even for a few months, people assume that you’ve quit or something. The rule in PR is: If you don’t give them something to talk about, they’ll make it up, and it’ll usually be unflattering. So, keep the PR going.

Then, it’s mostly a case of waiting for things to open up for you. And, they will.

When to make changes

If your teaching career goes flat, you MUST make changes. Either start teaching something new in your field, or look for new places to teach. Every time you reinvent yourself, you are faced with the prospect of teaching at a loss, while you build up again.

If you teach a particular style of widget-making, consider how those widgets can be used in other fields. If you can’t get classes at the widget store, consider questions like these:

– Can you add widgets to a fiber project, to teach at a yarn or weaving store, or a quilting shop?

– Would a paper/stationery shop feature your handmade (or hand embellished) journals with widgets on the cover or the pages?

– Can your widgets be added to jewelry?

And so on. There are always new ways to look at your work, at your markets, and the places where students might be eager to learn what you can teach.

Your students come first, always

Put your focus on your students and ignore the paycheck as best you can. If you’re giving your students far more than they paid for, you’ll get word-of-mouth PR that’s invaluable. And frankly, that’s where the teaching gigs come from, most often.

It’s not far removed from saying, “Do what you love, the money will follow.” And, that is the sequence… do what you love first. If you love teaching, please teach.

(If you’re trying to teach just to make money, don’t even start. Really. The students can tell, and the experience will only make you bitter.)

Students pick up on how enthusiastic a teacher is, and how much he/she cares about them as individuals. That’s the most important part of teaching. If you get that right, everything else will fall into place.

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