New Zealand pastel workshop - feature image

My New Zealand Art Workshop Teaching Experience!

There’s nothing like immediate feedback is there? That’s what a live in-person workshop allows me to give. And that, along with seeing student painting responses to lessons taught, made my New Zealand pastel workshop so rewarding.

Invited to teach the workshop organized in Porirua, Wellington, New Zealand by Claire Johnstone and Bev Janes (a big thank you to you both!), I spent five days challenging a group of attentive and committed-to-change students, sharing with them my experience and knowledge.

Having the time (and five-days really provides that!) to give one-on-one feedback allows students to paint, then respond to my suggestions, then hear my thoughts again, and respond once more. This is an opportunity that really helps students dig deep, that gives them permission to struggle and be frustrated. This is often when breakthroughs are made, where growth can happen. We stand back at the end of the week and see the transformational journey they’ve taken. It’s a heart-warming experience every time! (If you’re a teacher, you know what I mean!)

Let me take you through a brief daily outline for the New Zealand pastel workshop.

Day One

Some students knew each other, many did not. After brief introductions to connect us all, we got straight into a warmup I like to do at the start of a workshop. That done, surprise, surprise, we jumped right into values, one of the three aspects of colour and one that seems to give us the most trouble. And no wonder! We don’t see the world in black and white! I reminded students why they are so important to understand and how to see them. Yup – squinting is the answer!

From there we divided our soft pastel sticks into three main values. And then yes, we tackled thumbnails!! Finally, at the end of the day, we touched on the importance of pressure.

New Zealand pastel workshop - Gail reviewing value studies values!

Day Two

To start the day, we made a list of aaaaall the problems these students have with colour. Over the following days, we ticked them off, one by one, as we discovered the solutions.!

Reviewing the thumbnails from the previous day, I then pushed students to create new ones of the same subject!

Following on from thumbnail work, we tried a couple of exercises that show how you can do soooooo much with a few pastels if you know how to control your pastel application!

And finally, using a thumbnail of their choosing, students experimented with different colour underpaintings. So great to hear the ahhhhhs and ohhhhhhhs in this session! 

New Zealand pastel workshop - thumbnails galore!

Day Three

I was happy to see returning students! Two days of intense and challenging work could have chased them off but they came back for more!

Taking one of their colour studies, they had time to build up a painting from it, using the same initial two layers they’d applied in the study.

After a review of their work (so cool to see!), I explained the different ways that I select colours for my first layer (the dry underpainting). We went outside so I could show them examples in the real world. A man from across the way came over, curious to know what was going on. Mightily chatty and very distracting from the task at hand, he acquiesced to my request to use him as a model to show my process of colour selection. Unexpected but it worked!

We ended the day by exploring colour temperature and creating a colour wheel with warm and cool of each of six hues (primaries and secondaries).

New Zealand pastel workshop - chatty man who stood in as a model!

Day Four

The start of the day was all about the relativity of everything we see – especially in values and hues – and how to use this knowledge in your painting. This is especially useful when using a limited palette.

We all moan about not having enough green-coloured sticks in our sets so also we did a super exercise that pushed students to use the magic of layering to create greens!

The afternoon was all about creating a new painting but first we examined the pitfalls of photos – eg skies are often too blue, and values are often too extreme  – shadows are too dark and light areas can be washed out.

New Zealand pastel workshop - Gail teaching

Day Five

And all of a sudden we were at the end of the New Zealand pastel workshop! A few students wanted to try their hand at working en plein air so that morning was spent outside sketching, simplifying the view, and creating something that reflected their vision. Meanwhile, others worked on yesterday’s painting. But we weren’t finished yet.

The workshop ended with one more challenge – to take what they’d been working on (or their plein air sketch) and recreate it using only TWO complementary colours. And I have to say, there were a lot of pretty wow-making results!!

We ended with a review of student work shown all together. So great to see, in many instances, the difference between where they’d started the workshop and the end results on Day Five!

AND, I was honoured with the gift of a beautiful hook-shaped pendant made of pounamu (or greenstone). This stone epitomizes everything prized by the Māori culture. Claire explained the hook or Hei Matau –  it is “steeped in Māori legend…it connects us to the ocean. It is said to bring strength, prosperity, and protection on your travels.” I’m delighted to take this meaningful symbol of New Zealand home with me. The group also sung Tutira Mai which speaks of strength in unity. I was moved and uplifted by this beautiful gesture of gratitude. 

New Zealand pastel workshop - students sketching outside
New Zealand pastel workshop - students work on final exercise
New Zealand pastel workshop - last day review of work
New Zealand pastel workshop - Gail with new necklace

What a terrific experience this five-day New Zealand art workshop was, certainly for me, and from what I heard, for many of the workshop students. (From Erica for example: “I can highly recommend Gail Sibley’s workshop. She is a great tutor, easy to understand, and takes you through everything pastel step by step.”) It was an intense five days with lots to absorb and time to be creative with new and sometimes challenging ideas.

And now I head off to Australia to teach in Gold Coast and Melbourne before heading to lead an Art Retreat in Tasmania. Can’t wait!

What recent feedback has been transformational for you in your art?? Let us know in the comments.

Until next time!


PS. I was incredibly spoiled by my New Zealand hosts Claire and Ash Johnstone! Thanks you two!

PPS. And since I was in New Zealand for the art retreat, a whole new country for me, here are a few photos.

Related Posts

Subscribe to the HowtoPastel Blog today!

Take a course

Like my Blogs?

Do you like the blog?

Support HowToPastel and help me to keep creating content to instruct, inspire, and motivate you with your pastel painting. Although I’ve been asked, “How much does it cost to subscribe?” HowToPastel will always be free. Your financial support is completely optional but does go a long way in helping with the cost of running this blog. Thank you!


8 thoughts on “My New Zealand Art Workshop Teaching Experience!”

  1. I attended this workshop and can confirm that it was 100% worth the 500 ml 3 day road trip with my caravan/ trailer in tow..(my accommodation for the workshop). I am also an online student of Alain Picard whose superb teaching I will be forever grateful for… but Gail is right about the face to face experience. I understood so much more about layering, limited palette and the most valuable to me… learnt how to be less heavy handed. Thankyou Gail for an amazing experience.

    1. Thank you Di!
      It was such a treat to have you in the workshop. You always made me smile 😁 Thank you for driving all that way to be part of it. I’m delighted to hear your main takeaways. Knowing how to vary your pastel application really is a game changer!

  2. Very pleased you enjoyed your trip here as much as your pupils seem to have loved your classes. I certainly hope some day in the very near future you are able to come back again and I will be able to make the classes.

    Regards, Patricia G

  3. Thank you Gail – you have inspired me! I got some pastels out and did a pastel painting of a wee dog a friend had posted on on facebook, and when I showed it to her she wanted to BUY it!!
    Look forward to linking up with you.
    Thank you
    Carol Bloomfield

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Other Related Posts

Headshot of Gail Sibley

Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

Join the mailing list today to receive exclusive tips, resources and inspiration directly from Gail:

Scroll to Top

Welcome Artists!

Online Courses

Pastels 101

Use this link if you bought the course AFTER Sept 2022

Use this link if you bought the course BEFORE Sept 2022

Pastel Painting En Plein Air

Art Membership

IGNITE! Art Making Members

Love soft pastels?? Then join 7000+ other subscribers and get my tips, reviews, and resources all about pastels... it's FREE! Just enter your name and email address below.

Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party. Privacy Policy