Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sunday with Seth by Judi Kauffman for The Queen’s Ink

I’ve known Seth Apter for several years. We’ve had lunch together at trade shows, exchanged email, and chatted on the phone, but January 8, 2017, was the first time I’ve been a student in one of his unforgettable classes! Let me repeat that: Unforgettable! It’s no wonder that his workshops and retreats sell out as soon as they’re announced. The man is an incredible teacher and I don’t say that lightly.

Seth spent all three days at The Queen’s Ink that weekend. I was lucky to get a spot in his super popular "52 Card Pickup" workshop, an all-day session that ran on Sunday from 10 – 5:30. It’s a class he loves to teach, one he says he’s considered "retiring" from his schedule. But just when he thinks he might actually stop, he brings it back because it’s so unique and because people simply won’t let him give it up. (This is my way of saying that if you missed it, we should start pestering and lobbying so he’ll bring it to The Queen’s Ink again in the future…)

As you can see from the "people" photo it was a large group, but the classroom was set up so each person had plenty of space to spread out. And spread out, we did!


This is going to be long. Rather than interrupt my description of the class (something of a fan letter…), I’m going to keep all of the rest of the photos together as a gallery at the end of this post.

Keep reading if you want words first; scroll down and look at the pictures first if you’d prefer.

We laughed, we got covered with paint, we worked fast and with focus, but just as Seth expected (and just as he told us to do) we turned off the "thinking" side of our brain and let the judgment-less side take over. In other words, we put ourselves into his hands, trusted that he’d get us where we needed to go, and let things happen. OMG, it was heaven.

We had been instructed to bring a deck of 52 playing cards painted with black gesso on both sides; our supply list also included acrylic paints, brushes, stencils, and a few other items, but Seth had plenty of everything for us to share as well. This meant we could use his stamps and stencils and try the paints and inks he uses in his own projects. And he gave each of us two pre-cut boards to use as covers for our stacked books. (Not bound, but with the cards tied between the covers.)

I don’t want to give away the methods he taught because they are uniquely his own to share, but I do want to describe HOW he teaches so you know why I was so impressed and happy – and why I recommend that you book a spot with Seth Apter whenever you want to have an exceptional learning experience.

The class is structured so you can’t goof up or fail. You just can’t! It doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant or a Pilates instructor or nurse or music teacher or professional designer. At the end of the day, if our projects were put side by side you’d fall in love with all of them – and you wouldn’t be able to tell which was done by the beginner and which by someone with years of experience. And it’s because of how Seth teaches.

First, we introduced ourselves with our name and a descriptive word. (I identified myself as Judi, Type A, which got a good laugh from all, especially the other Type A’s in the group.) It broke the ice; we weren’t strangers.

Then Seth talked a bit about mixed media and how important it is to work in layers. He said that Layers along the way don’t have to look good because you’re going to continually add and alter them, and he advised that you should never entirely cover the previous layer so that evidence of prior colors and textures remains visible.

"You’re only one layer away from MAGIC," he said, followed by, "You’re also only one layer away from C---!" (a four-letter word that rhymes with wrap…) And he reminded us that the things that we might want to toss in the trash can always be die cut, torn into pieces, or more layers can be added. He keeps a box filled with these rejects, painted papers ready for their next incarnation.

He showed his collages and his art journal at various intervals, reminding us that the techniques we were learning would work well at a larger scale and for other kinds of projects.


For each step in the process (six main steps and a few smaller ones) Seth told us WHAT we were going to do, WHY and HOW we were going to do it, and how long we’d have for the task. He really should train teachers as a sideline. It doesn’t get any better!

We worked out our own pace, and even though we were all working on the same step some of the time, at other points we were working more quickly or more slowly – and no one was ever left behind or left feeling that they had to wait for others to catch up.

The man is a genius. That’s all there is to it.

We worked fast because every step had to be done to both sides of 52 cards – a LOT of surfaces to paint, stamp, stencil, edge, paint some more, and otherwise alter.

Just when I thought I was going to topple and fade, it was lunchtime. Later in the afternoon when energy waned, in came the coffee cart and another break. Even the pacing of the class was carefully planned.

Seth showed the last steps, including how to assemble the covers and collage the individual cards, at around 4:00. He made it clear that we weren’t going to finish the collages during the session – it was something to continue at home. The class didn’t fizzle. We were engaged until the very last minute.

Exhausted? Yes. Like a Victorian lady I "took to my bed" the next day and wondered how those with a day job were able to get up and head to work!

Thank you, Seth! I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun and felt so free. I just might not be such a Type A after all.


Below are some of my finished cards, shown front and back, with the ‘back’ side less busy so it can be used for journaling:

Here are close-ups of four of my cards that have collage elements. Not sure whether they’re done or if I’ll do more:

Here’s my finished book, showing front and back covers and the suede wrap-style closure with a charm at the end:

I needed a place to keep my book so I painted a little wooden storage container, used one of my favorite cards to accent the front and more suede to echo the closure on the book. The container may need more collage elements; I’m not sure I like the suede pieces... What do you think?


  1. What a fun day it looks like everyone had! The finished project looks great!

  2. Man, does that look like FUN. Great write-up. I sure wish I was there or that Seth would teach this here in San Francisco (hint hint). It looks really fun and the cards are wonderful. I like Seth on the chair too.

  3. Wow - how cool is that!! Love what you created!

  4. Is this class not the greatest! I took it a few years back. I love your little box to hold it all. I never did use them as a journal, they ended up being prompt cards. I'd shuffle and used what ever one ended on top for the day. I love how different they come out. You can take a peek at mine: https://betweenassignments.blogspot.com/2014/11/seth-apter-workshops-at-small-studio.html I also made scans of each card and send the artwork to www.moo.com and had a deck of cards made out of them. So fun! But I do prefer the originals with all the nummy textures to feel. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I may have to repeat this class:)

  5. Wow absolutely beautiful pics and I'm so envious!! ❤❤❤