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How to get the most out of a class

How do you make sure you don’t waste your time and money? Choose well, prepare correctly, take it seriously, have fun, and follow through.

Howto_Get_the_Most_out_of_a_class

Aspiring jewelry makers have a wealth of choices when it comes to education. Jewelry schools and university programs, art centers and museums, craft shows and seminars — there’s a ton of programs out there. And they all have one thing in common: They all cost money. In these days of financial belt-tightening, how do you make sure you get every drop of value out of your class? For advice, I sought out some highly experienced instructors. I also contacted some students who take multiple classes at each year’s Bead&Button Show, held in Milwaukee, Wis., for their best tips.

When choosing your class

Know what you want to achieve. Whether or not a class meets your expectations largely depends on your knowing what your expectations are. Is it your ambition to work with one particular artist, no matter what they’re teaching? Are you seeking to improve your overall skills, or to learn a specific technique? Are you interested in artistic theory and design principles, or are you after brass-tacks techniques? Answering these questions honestly from the outset will help you to choose your class wisely and to avoid disappointment later.

If your reason for taking a class is to make the piece of jewelry pictured in the class catalog, you may want to think again. The class will be your first time making that piece, and your end result will probably be a rough draft. Expect to do some tinkering after class is over to perfect the piece or make a second one. Learning a technique that you can then experiment with and apply to your own work makes a class much more valuable in the long run.

“If all you’re really interested in is the finished piece, contact the instructor. They will most likely sell you one much cheaper than the class and tools are going to cost you.”

—Kim St. Jean

Know what you’re getting. This is important: Read the class description. Then, believe it. You might know an instructor by their fabulous patinas, but if the class is all about riveting, don’t think that you’ll learn patination, or that you’ll coax that information out of the instructor during break. You’ll only frustrate yourself and annoy the teacher, and it’s unfair to be frustrated that they won’t teach you something that they never promised to.

When reading the class description, pay special attention to the time frame. It sounds simple, but whether a class lasts 3 hours or 3 days is a huge indicator of how much you can expect to accomplish during class time. Tailor your expectations accordingly.

Don’t over invest. A class is a great way to learn a technique that you might not otherwise try, and being adventuresome is definitely recommended. However, keep an eye on what you’re expected to bring to the table. If a class on forming is held at an art center or a school where you’ll have access to their ample selection of stakes, go for it; if the technique doesn’t engage you, you haven’t lost anything. However, if you’re expected to purchase a large number of your own tools, be sure the technique is one you’re going to continue to pursue. If you’re saddled with a drawer full of unused and expensive tools, you’ll likely end up resenting the time and money you spent.

Pay attention to the course requirements. If one piece of advice in this article could be printed in neon lights, this would be the one. Every last one of the teachers and students I contacted for this article included this in his or her list. You don’t have to be a master of the subject — the point, after all, is to pick something challenging and learn some- thing new — but if the course description has soldering knowledge as a prerequisite, and you’ve never even picked up a torch, look elsewhere. If you take the class anyway, you’ll be frustrated by being left behind before you even start. And if the instructor slows down to cover the basics so that you can catch up, the other students in the class will be frustrated and annoyed, and then you’ll have no one to sit with at the lunch break. 

“As instructors, we want everyone to have a successful experience. We are not fooling around when we say the class is an advanced class. And if you take a class that you are not ready for, you will not have fun and you will not succeed.” —Anne Mitchell

Research the teacher. Sometimes you’ll know the name right off, sometimes you won’t — either way, it’s a good idea to do some research. We’re not talking FBI-level background checks, of course, but you’ll want to get an idea of who this person is, where she’s taught, what his qualifications are. Ideally, you’ll be able to get input from someone who has taken a class with the same instructor. But be sure to ask for specifics — if they didn’t enjoy the class, what, exactly, didn’t they like? Teaching styles vary widely, so make sure your needs as a student mesh with an instructor’s particular style. If you welcome a no- holds-barred “There’s-no-crying-in- baseball!” approach, you may actively seek out a teacher that another student found to be a harsh taskmaster.

“Where has this person taught? Are they a professional or an amateur? What qualifies them to teach? Do they have a supporting body of work that illustrates expertise in the subject or technique? Are they published? Is their work recognized in the field?” —Michael David Sturlin

The Bead&Button Show, the biggest consumer bead show in the world, runs June 3-13, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis. Find out more about classes during the show at Bead&ButtonShow.com

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