Holding Open Studio events
I first came across open studio events when I lived in Dorset, some years before I started painting professionally. The Dorset Arts Weeks trail was a big county wide event. It struck me then as the perfect way to enjoy and perhaps to buy art. It was a surprise that there were so many people near to where I lived producing such a wide variety of lovely work... not only paintings, but sculptors, potters, and jewellers. Nothing mass produced, every piece unique, and at prices which generally seemed affordable and fair.
Now that I am lucky enough to be one of those artists, holding 'open studio' has become my favourite way to sell art too.
My very first open studio was part of the first Teesdale Open Studios in 2008. I had just started painting professionally and had taken part in my first exhibitions locally, so it was perfect timing for me.
With some trepidation I put out the signs, opened the front door and waited for my first customers.
I am happy to say that not only did the customers arrive, they stayed, they chatted, they engaged with my work, many of them bought cards and some bought paintings. And some of those customers who came then have been back many times since, sometimes to chat, to see what I have been doing and enjoy a cup of tea, and sometimes to buy another picture.
For myself, I enjoyed it so much that I now open my studio several times a year, usually at weekends or bank holidays, and at other times by arrangement.
When visitors come for the first time, sometimes they are very apologetic... they saw the sign or the advert in the local paper... they thought they would like to come and see but they are not intending to buy. I am aware that coming in to someone's home (my studio is in fact the front room of my house) feels very different to walking into a gallery or a shop. Although I say 'browsers welcome', people are not always very sure that I really mean it... I do!
The tricky part for me is to try to work out whether you want to chat, or to look around without me peering over your shoulders and hearing what you are saying! Either is fine with me. I am happy that you are sufficiently interested in my work to come and have a look.
Sometimes the visitors are other artists who are interested in seeing what I do. Occasionally one thing leads to another and they end up with a palette knife and a piece of scrap paper to try things out. Incidentally, children are welcome too, and it gives me particular pleasure when they are inspired to have a go!
Art is a personal thing and people react very differently to my paintings. The wonderful thing about contemporary art is that there is such a variety that there is something for everyone. On the occasions when someone really engages with my work - I may see them stealing glances back towards a painting when they are supposed to be having a conversation - it gives me a great buzz. I feel encouraged and inspired. If that person had been admiring my work in a gallery, unless they were to buy it, I would never know.
Over the years I have learned a few things... I keep a box of toys for small children, so that their parents and carers can look around in the knowledge that the children are welcome and so that it's a good experience for them too. Older children who want to can have a go with pencils, paints or other art materials which are always (of course) to hand.
I always have work available at a variety of prices, from cards at £2 each, to prints, and framed and unframed originals. I like to think that selling directly to the customer makes my work affordable and accessible, while still allowing me a reasonable return for my work.
I know that if the weather is fine and I have managed to prepare well with good publicity I may get many more people in... but that it is very unpredictable and sometimes it can be quiet... especially if it's snowing! Because I am in my workplace, I am able to simply get on with whatever I am doing at the time, and when the visitors arrive it is a bonus!
I would love it if you would share your experiences of open studios. Have you 'done' an art trail and did you enjoy it? Are you an artist who has taken part in one?
If you've never been to an open studio event, I hope that this will encourage you to go along to one. If you have, either as an artist or a visitor or both, you can comment below or through my twitter or facebook links.
And best of all... do come along and see me either this weekend, at August bank holiday, or get in touch and visit me another time. You will be most welcome!