Today I’m Toast Talking my take-aways from this past weekend. Mainly because I had the pleasure of being the co-intern for Blogshop while the well-known duo Angela Kohler and Bri Emery were here in Dallas. For those of you unfamiliar, Blogshop is a two-day course specifically designed to teach the ins and outs of Photoshop for bloggers… Two days has never felt so full of learning or so rewarding.
Teaching is not easy – especially teaching something as complex and vast as Photoshop. Which is why I so admire Bri and Angela for taking on Blogshop with such gusto. I won’t lie, when several people in our class nervously raised their hand when asked who had never opened Photoshop before coming to the class, my stomach dropped… I have spent the past six years working the program and still don’t consider myself an expert (at all). There is SO much to cover, so many steps, tricks and tips, and instructions that can make your head practically explode when you are first learning or get stuck trying to make an idea transpire into reality – how the heck were these two girls even going to start this class. I didn’t doubt their curriculum, but I was worried about everyone “getting it.” To say that they are natural teachers is an understatement. Instead of coddling they empower, instead of dumming down the material they have you using the tricks and tips right from the beginning. Demonstrations are not the lame “1, 2, 3″ steps you find when Googling Photoshop techniques but examples that taught the elements and then allowed students to explore using them on their own layouts and images… Obviously they had a guide book for the course, but students were never asked to open it – they followed along and watched and learned and repeated steps while Anglea and Bri walked them though tons many exercises. What really struck me is how seriously Bri and Angela took on their role as teachers. They wanted every single class student to “get it” and walk away feeling like they could execute everything they learned over two days on their own (maybe without ever having to look back at that guide book).
As an intern, I got a small dose of what teaching feels like. I’ve always felt that sister Sally was incredibly patient for being a teacher and now I only bow down to her patience and soothing, instructional ways even more. Teaching and helping is HARD. Articulating complicated steps and explaining how to get from A to B when you really just have to fight the urge to hit the right keys and drive the mouse yourself makes it even more of a challenge. I was constantly reminding myself to put myself in the students’ shoes – how annoyed would I be if I was trying to learn a program and demonstration and when I asked for help someone just did it for me instead of explaining what I needed to do? I worried that I came across as patronizing when gently saying, “Now remember this tool? Remember what letter it starts with and what keys you need to use?” or that students secretly wanted to murder me when I walked the room behind them and whispered suggestions or “helped” those who looked like they were stuck even when they hadn’t asked for said help. It’s hard! But I walked away Saturday and Sunday night feeling exhausted from standing and talking all day and feeling sort of awesome. It feels so good to teach, to help, to explain, to show that it’s not as hard as it seems. Seeing “ah-ha” moments when those complicated steps click and someone has to shoo you away because they “got this now” is, for lack of a better word, so cool. And being genuinely thanked by the lovely people I got to assist was so humbling and rewarding…
I totally understand how people can look at Bri and Angela like they are celebrities. Talented people are sometimes a public facination – you see them as creative gods and forget that they are also real people with dogs and laundry that have to shave their legs just like us. Angela and Bri are both beyond talented… How many talented and successful artists do you know that take the time to teach and not just teach the basics, but teach their insider secrets and steps towards getting the results that have made them well-known and revered? I can’t think of anyone. And honestly, I can’t say that if I was in their positions I would be selfless enough to think, “I want to show everyone how do to the things I do and achieve the results I do.” I would probably think, “I worked my ass off to learn what I do and spent years toiling to perfect my result.” But they hold nothing back in Blogshop – they literally pull up their own sites to show that what they just taught is exactly how they get to their end products. I find that incredible. Teaching and sharing secrets is impressive. At the same time they both stress to students how important it is to take the tools and steps they give in Blogshop in a way that is not copying or replicating but unique to each person and blog. In other words, you have the knowledge to do things you own way, now you should stay true to your own visual aesthetics and always align with your personal brand.
Let’s be honest, Blogshop is not exactly cheap. I was interested to see if at the end of the weekend I could see the value and I’m very happy to say that I believe it to be worth every penny. Francesca of Le Kiss Kiss said it best when she explained her take on blogging, “Blogging has to be done at 100% to get 100% out of it. If you only put half the work into it you are only going to get half the rewards and results out of it.” No, I don’t think that it’s impossible to learn Photoshop tomorrow by taking courses through Lynda.com and I also don’t think that you have to know the program to be a great blogger. But I do believe that investing in your skill set can be invaluable and that knowing a program like Photoshop can help you take your content to the next level. I think that the way Bri and Angela teach, the techniques they cover, and concepts they explain in Blogshop makes their class the success that it is.
It was a tiring but inspiring weekend and I got to meet so many wonderful people… I’m especially glad that my partner in crime helping for the two days was so great – Maggie Voss (graphic designer based in Austin) and I proved to be a good team and I love that we became such fast friends! Can’t wait to see what all the students come up with now that they have the Dallas Blogshop weekend under their belts…
(Image via Refinery 29)