My Disastrous 1st Lesson as Painting Instructor

In previous post I warmed up the story of my painting classes in China, a role that would lead to my interview by one of China’s largest newspapers. Just as I had arrived to my first lesson, I had discovered that the small class I had joined as a student was nothing like that I was about to teach. What was meant to be an easy job turned into a disaster, but also had an unexpected reward.

Organizers moving painting class out into the mall's hallways in preparation for the many students who made a last minute booking

Nervously arriving to my first class I was surprised it had moved out of the cafe into the mall’s hallways. Turns out they were preparing for the huge group-booking on the way!

For my first teaching job I was hoping for a small class but received the opposite. Apparently there had been a last-minute group booking by ‘Hot Moms’, an app that organizes group activities for housewives.

Nervous about the number of students I would be teaching, even the organizers started worrying when many housewives had brought along their children, further doubling the size of the class!

As a beginner in acrylic painting, I had already questioned my ability to teach the few students I were expecting. But with the recent explosion in attendance I had a feeling this would turn into a disaster. My gut was not wrong, but there was also a positive surprise.

The Noise-Level of Nightmares

Realizing we wouldn’t fit in the cafe, we got permission to hold the class in the mall itself. Although this solved the issue of space I secretly shook my head in worry. I knew speaking loudly in a mall would result in unbearably high levels of reverb.

Niber attempts to speak to his class who cannot hear a word he's saying

Speaking to a large group of people in a echo-y hallways with playing children proved to be a great challenge.

Rightfully guessed, as I started my speech not a person beyond first row could hear me. The organizers connected me to a microphone, but as I’d tried to warn, increasing the volume only made things worse.

Furthermore, every time I spoke my voice was drowned in a sea of children’s play. I managed to get the children to calm down after a long shush. The resulting silence allowed me to cover a few basics, but it was a matter of time before the children’s playfulness re-ignited. I decided there was no point a fighting a losing battle against noise & reverb so I skipped the explanations and began my painting.

Giving Help and Feedback One-on-One Instead

Niber walking around giving art feedback

Unable to communicate with the group I decided to run around giving personal instructions and feedback, but covering a large class my attention was shamefully rushed.

In the class I had attended as a student, the teacher mostly stayed focused on his own painting. But as people can find endless painting instructions on Youtube I wanted to give any advantage I could of having a teacher in person. So I rushed through the stages of my own painting so I could focus on helping my students one-on-one.

Tho this personal teaching style received high praise in the survey cards, there were just too many students in need of help. As I had just finished helping my first student, I looked up towards the class to see at least a dozen more waiting for similar instructions before they would even begin. I would do my best to help everyone, but I feared my students would be unsatisfied with my rushed attention.

The Students Review of My Teaching

Apart from stress levels that would take weeks to smooth out, the event turned out moderately well. The students were understanding that I didn’t have time to help as much as I would have wanted to. Tho neither they or me had the chance to make a great painting, they enjoyed the activity itself.

Niber attempts to give feedback on a student's painting clearly better than his own

It’s not easy to come up with rushed feedback in Chinese, especially when your student’s painting is better than your own!

I suspect some even enjoyed it as a chance to try out their English, especially the children who kept asking me “Hello. How are you?”. Others however were less easily satisfied.

A few students came to partake in a serious art-lesson, they were perhaps less excited to find an overwhelmed teacher pointing with brief comments.

One student told me she needed a painting for her new house, but that what I taught her wasn’t worthy of hanging on her wall. All in all however the class turned out surprisingly successful according to the customers evaluation survey.

Would There be a Next Lesson?

Sneaky student takes picture of Niber wearing a Micheal Jackson hat

When I saw someone brought a Micheal Jackson hat to the Micheal Jackson class I said “No way I’m posing with that hat!”, but the sneaky student was able to out-smart me!

I must have been doing something right, as many students asked for the date of my next lecture. Tho we hadn’t scheduled the next event I was starting to question whether there would even be one. Tho I enjoyed trying something new and interacting with the students, I was beginning to have second thoughts.

Despite the hourly salary being decent it was only applicable to the 2.5 hours of scheduled teaching. When you calculate the time it took to make the preparation painting (which I foolishly spent all day on), the traffic jams to and from the venue, and the before & after activities, the amount of un-billable hours far outnumbered my 2.5 hours of teaching.

I reckoned I could make future classes more efficient by spending less time preparing. Regardless, I felt a bit disappointed having worked and prepared from early morning to late night for such a small sum, but then my luck turned.

The Curious Art Gallery Owner

Expensive paintings hanging on hallway's wall dangerously close to our class

As the art galleries paintings on the wall averaged 5000$ each I was worried they wouldn’t appreciate us waving paint around.

Having moved our class out into the hallways of the mall, I was worried about the art gallery next-doors. Noticing the huge price-tags on their paintings on the wall I would completely understand if they didn’t want us splashing paint around next to them.

Quite the opposite however, the art-gallery owner were excited about the class and often came over to snap pictures of me painting. But unlike the attention foreigners are used to in China, she seemed more interested in the painting than in me. At the end of the class she revealed why, as she handed me her phone with a potential buyer on the line.

Introducing the Art Collector

Niber's finished painting of Micheal Jackson that was sold to an art collector

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to have my finished painting purchased by a serious art collector.

I was plenty embarrassed that such a serious art collector had seen my painting. As my students couldn’t hear my instructions, I had rushed through the painting stage so that I could focus my time on giving them personal feedback. Tho my priorities had been appreciated by the students, the quality of my painting had clearly suffered.

Still the collector insisted. He said he believed I had a potential to become a famous artist one day so it would be a good investment to buy this early painting for a low price. I wanted to tell him “I’m not actually a beginner, I’m just really bad”, but I decided to take the compliment instead. He offered 30 dollars which I thought was very generous for such a quick painting, and just enough to even out my previous financial concern.

So what started out as a challenge turned into a great day! More importantly, the job turned later turned into a great series of classes. As the classes gained popularity on social media it even lead to a newspaper interview by Sichuan Daily. But why would one of China’s largest newspapers care about my classes? Find out at the third and final part: My Chinese Newspaper Interview!

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