It’s true that traveling to take a class to learn a special technique can be costly, but I encourage everyone who can to do so once in a while. Meeting other artists and taking part in a class led by an instructor with whom you haven’t studied before will help you step outside your comfort zone and encourage you to try new things. I have traveled long distances to attend classes several times, and I’ve learned a lot about how to make the most of these experiences.
The most important lesson I’ve learned is to travel light. I found out the hard way that I didn’t need to have my entire toolbox (including every file, stamp and widget from my studio) with me on my trip. Now I pack just the essentials that will fit into a large Ziploc® bag. Traveling light has been good for my back, and my little traveling toolkit contains everything I’ve needed to complete the class projects. This is especially important if you are going to fly. After returning from the last class I attended, I was relieved that I hadn’t brought my whole toolkit on the trip, because when I got home I discovered that airport security had decided to confiscate my entire bag of goodies! Unfortunately, the bag contained my completed class project as well as with my tools and supplies, so the piece I created will be only a memory. Another lesson learned: Don’t pack your completed projects in the same bag as your tools and supplies, and don’t travel with anything you can’t bear to lose!
Tips for Traveling Teachers:
Teaching from my own studio is convenient, because I know where everything is, and anything extra can be brought out as needed. Trying to anticipate the “what if” situations is much harder when you’re traveling to teach, and I used to pack way too much so that I could be prepared for any ad hoc needs in class. Eventually my back informed me that I’d better cut down on how much I was lugging with me, so I had to figure out what I really needed to bring for long-distance classes. During my home-based classes I started to put the tools and supplies I used during the classes in a particular cupboard. After a few classes, some things from my personal studio had migrated to this cupboard, but amazingly three-quarters of my stash did not! So now I can pack everything I need to teach a long-distance class in just one suitcase (plus my kiln and my personal tool stash, of course!).
Following are some tips from our readers and Facebook page fans who teach metal clay classes.
- Organize and Plan Ahead.Holly Ginsberg Gage puts tools and supplies for specific tasks (e.g., cutting tools, texturing supplies) in separate, portable, stacking bins/drawers that can be shipped easily, so it’s easy to grab just the ones you need for the class you will be teaching. She also suggests making a checklist for yourself and for your contact at the teaching venue of the supplies you will need for each lesson, so that you both will be organized and prepared. Also scope out the power and firing scenarios. Paula Kroft recommends checking in advance with the venue to confirm whether the power you will need for your equipment will be available. She always is prepared to use alternate methods for firing, including “butane torches, the Speedfire Super Mini or the Speedfire Cone and my SC2 kiln. Sometimes I’ll have to fire outside, away from sprinkler systems or to follow the fire code.” Lorrene Baum-Davis also advises teachers to ask the host venue whether firing equipment will be provided.
- Expect the Unexpected. That’s the advice of nearly everyone who shared their tips with us. Holly Gage recommends “packing extras just in case something is not available that you thought would be in the classroom…power cords, laptop, extra clay, whatever.” Tracey Spurgin says, “I load up my car with as much as I can cram in it…I am always prepared for the unexpected and the curve balls people throw at you. Nothing has beaten me yet, and I have no regrets for packing or taking too much. The students always appreciate it.”Deb Munroe agrees: “I pack everything I can when we drive.”
- Be Creative About Classroom Tools and Supplies. Tammy Atwood Honoman recommends that teachers “connect with a local supplier to see if they would be willing to share kilns, torches, etc., or provide tools for sale (e.g., blades, art supplies) to make it easier for those traveling to the class…[ it’s a] good marketing [opportunity] for them!”
- Don’t Bring Valuables, Especially on a Plane. When you’re flying to your teaching destination, be prepared for some things to go missing be confiscated by the airline, or take some abuse from students. Deb Munroe’s advice: “Don’t pack your best tools; pack [only] what you are willing to lose.”
- Use Checked Baggage and Mark Everything Clearly. Holly Gage recommends always put tools in your checked baggage vs bringing them on the plane as carry-on luggage. “When packing your bags, put notes and brochures explaining what various things are/how they are used. For instance metal clay might look like a plastic explosive, so put the brochure with it in a visible spot.”
- Don’t Fly with Fuel. Holly Gage and Patrik Kusek warn never to bring butane or other flammables with you when traveling by plane because TSA rules prohibit them in both carry-on and checked bags, and even if they are empty, and they will be confiscated if found. Gage suggests either buying butane fuel when you arrive at your destination or arranging for it to be provided. Paula Kroft, who teaches in the southeast United States, says “I always keep the metal clay and anything flammable like butane in the car, not the trunk. And I always bring [them] inside with me so as not to expose them to the extreme temperatures here.” Kusek advises that whenever you travel with a butane torch, “be sure to empty the butane completely. Sometime butane will remain even if it sounds like [the torch] is empty. Turn the knob completely off and let it sit for a few minutes, and then try to light it again. [If it does] light again…burn off the rest of the butane.”
- Be Shipping-Savvy. Sometimes it’s easiest to ship materials and supplies ahead of time. Holly Gage suggests packing items to be shipped in a reusable, TSA-approved container that is suitable for mailing rather than in cardboard boxes, to save both money and the environment. Patrik Kusek recommends always making a copy of the shipping label and putting it inside the box. That way if the label comes off UPS will have your information. “I had a kiln go missing for a couple of weeks because the label got ripped off the box! UPS had no idea what the kiln was let alone who it belonged to.”
- Help Your Students Arrive Prepared. Lorrene Baum-Davis recommends asking for the email addresses of the students who will be attending the class “so you can tell them exactly what you need them to bring. They HATE not knowing!”
MCAM staff members, readers, and fans of our Facebook page sent us the following tips for students who will be traveling to a class.
- Do Your Homework Before You Sign Up. Janet Jenkin recommends that prospective students “check the work and reputation of the teacher first and make sure that what’s being covered in the class is exactly what you want. That way it’s not a wasted trip.”
- Be Open, Enthusiastic, and Non-Judgmental. Patrik Kusek advises students to “approach the class with an open mind and be ready to work. Always be willing to explore the process without putting limiting thoughts on yourself. Cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake. Enjoy your time with others who love metal clay as much as you do!”
- Don’t Bring Excess Baggage (Physical, Mental or Emotional). MCAM’s senior editor Margaret Schindel recommends packing light to help you grow beyond your comfort zone. “Whenever I’ve dragged all my favorite tools, textures and supplies to a workshop, I’ve ended up regretting it afterwards. I find that the fewer familiar and comfortable tools and supplies I bring to a class, the more likely I am to try out new, unfamiliar tools, materials and techniques, which is the reason I signed up.” Tracey Spurgin, who has crossed the Atlantic to attend classes, also advises bringing just the necessities. “Traveling light has never been my forte, but I research the class before I go, [not only] so as not to overload my luggage, but also to be prepared with all the right bits of kit that I might need.”
- Know How to Get There. Ann Robinson Davis recommends printing and bringing along maps of your route. “I was in California for the first ever Bonny Doon press class, and I was there a week before I found out that there was the ocean and a huge resort town 5 minutes away in the other direction!” She also advises travelers to “take a GPS if you are driving. I know one friend (who shall remain nameless unless she fesses’ up!) who was going to meet me at a class in Vermont and ended up in Canada.”
- Consider Shipping Tools and Supplies. Paula Kroft learned the hard way to mail most of her tools and supplies to the store where the class will be held or to a nearby UPS store, etc. “I was flying to South Carolina for my certification class with Tim McCreight and had wrapped and packed my hand tools neatly in my suitcase. When I arrived I found a note in my bag that it had been searched, and most of my tools were missing.”
- Organize and Label Shipped Items. Ann Davis packs all her tools in giant baggies, a few per bag so they are easily visible, and labels each bag clearly in big letters (e.g., “wire cutters for silver”, “drill bits for copper”). “If [a tool] is sharp, [put tape on it] and write a warning in red [permanent marker]. Then put all the baggies in one or two plastic containers labeled ‘SUPPLIES for JEWELRY MAKING CLASS – SOME SHARP.’ I tape a couple of my post cards to the box tops and then scatter some loose business cards in the box. The agents who go through your stuff don’t really want to confiscate it, but if they don’t know what it is or if it looks scary, they will take it. I always find one those little inspection notices in my luggage when I get to class and again when I get home, but so far I never have had a tool taken or had anything really disturbed. But then I check my bags with my fingers crossed!!!”
- Ask Questions in Advance. Lorrene Baum-Davis suggests contacting your instructor if you are unsure about what to bring to the workshop, and asking questions to help you prepare for your stay. “Will lunch be provided? What about the environment, is it hot or cold? What is the best/most reasonable place to stay? What fun things [are there] to do after class?”
- Plan for Special Dietary Requirements. Laura Medeiros recommends researching local restaurants online before your trip to find ones that can accommodate your special eating needs. Editor’s note: Tell the host at your accommodations about your dietary restrictions, too, and also let your teacher know if lunch or snacks will be provided during the class. Make whatever eating arrangements you need to in advance.
- Consider Non-Traditional Accommodations. Sharon Sullivan advises students not to overlook or dismiss automatically some of the cheaper accommodation alternatives, such as camping. “It may not be to everyone’s taste, but can be a very peaceful, economical and inspirational alternative to hotels and guest houses. Spending evenings on your own without the normal day-to-day stimulus really helps the mind focus and explore.”
- Stay With a Colleague (and Make a New Friend). Janelle Delicata recommends contacting your teacher or local guild to see if there are metal clay people who live in the vicinity of the class who might be willing to host you. Wendy Abbing McManus suggests being ready for any opportunity to connect with people. “Last Spring I signed up for a workshop about 2 hours from home. I posted on the host guild’s forum asking if anyone would be willing to have me stay with them. I ended up spending a night at Sarah Triton’s home, meeting her husband and son, and really getting to know her. It made the whole learning experience so much more fun and memorable.
Contents of my traveling tool kit when flying internationally for a metal clay class:
- 3-4 Needle files (always be sure to bring a round file!)
- Clay keeper
- Wet/Dry sandpaper in assorted grits
- Rubber block
- Olive oil in a film canister (that gives away my age!)
- Graduated rolling slats
- Clay roller
- Non-stick sheets (Teflex®)
- Emery boards
- Silicone-tipped clay smoother (Colour Shaper™)
- Craft knife or scapel
- Small cutting board
- Agate burnisher
- A small, portable task light (Some fold and take up less room than a hair dryer! Try to find one with built-in magnification. And remember to bring an extension cord and plug adaptors if needed.)
Opening photo: http://petapixel.com/2013/08/16/the-lumiere-photobooth-a-fully-mobile-traveling-tintype-portrait-studio/ Mobile photography studio of Loren Doyen and Adrian Whipp.