It is the time of year when many artists are preparing for an Open Studios event. Here are tips and guidelines for a successful Open Studios experience.
I have participated in Open Studios in a number of locations with very different types of visitors. I have always been in a studio complex of some sort with a number of artists each in their own space, (whereas for some Open Studios events artists will be opening their individual home studios). I have participated in Open Studios that have been part of a large Art Trail, a smaller Art Trail or just the studio complex alone.
Every year I make a long checklist in the run up to the event to make sure I don’t forget anything and a few times I was on the organising committee so had an additional checklist to take care of as well. I have spoken to many artists about their experiences and seen how other people do it.
I have compiled all of this into some more lists.
Some things to keep in mind when preparing for your Open Studios
What you might gain from participating in an Open Studios event:
- Sales from your studio (for some events the sales are few and mostly of low-priced items).
- Contacts with artists and curators for future projects.
- Contacts with collectors for future sales.
- Feedback and discussion about your current work.
- A deadline to encourage you to finish work.
- Reflection on your work as you decide what to show from the past year.
- The benefit of a thorough tidy to your space.
- Catching up with the other artists in your studio building, between visitors.
- Time to visit with friends and collectors.
Things to consider when preparing for your Open Studios event:
- Start planning early and craft a good listing for the printed Art Trail guide, if you are doing that. Often your on-line listing for an art trail has room for much more information than the printed guide, be sure to craft a good profile there, too.
- If you have gallery representation don’t forget to let your gallery know you are participating in an Open Studios event and follow your contractual obligations regarding sales from your studio.
- If you are showing in your home it is safer to have a helper. They can also be of help if you have a sale or a rush of people to talk to and for lunch breaks.
- Remember that your Art Trail map will guide the visitor to your street but you may need to help them find your door with an A-board or banner.
For the art:
- Finish making work early. Leave time for oil paintings to dry, for instance. Pick a day to stop making so you can start on the rest of the stuff.
- Select the work you will show. Show only the best, old or new. Maybe get help choosing from someone whose opinion you trust. Have various price points. Show enough work to be full and interesting but not so much that it will be crowded.
- Attach hanging hardware if needed or if it is 3D work make or repaint plinths.
- Document the work in case it sells and you can’t later. Photograph your work, create titles, assign prices and add to your records.
- Clearly label the artwork and price it if it’s for sale – everyone recommends this.
- Think about your pricing.
Some artists sell at wholesale prices during their open studio but most artists do not sell cheaper at their open studios than they would anywhere else. Selling at the wholesale price undermines your retail prices and can confuse collectors and curators as to your price range. Also the expenses of the event will need to be covered and that is in the retail half of the price. (If you have a gallery, never undercut them.)
- Some artists cover their costs of the event by selling greetings cards or small prints of their work. The type of Open Studios event it is and the location will have an effect on how much people are willing to spend on impulse.
- Frame works on paper if appropriate.
- Maybe use a print browser and easels for display.
For the space:
- Remove old screws from walls and patch and paint. Scrub the floor. Tidy and pack away. It’s about making it welcoming and pleasant and making the art look good.
- Traffic flow: imagine your space with a lot of people in it. Is there room to move around? Is it dangerous for visitors or children?
- People love to see how things are made, but you can’t demonstrate making and still chat with your guests at the same time, so consider displaying in-progress work with an information card. If you choose a good example of a stage in your process it will also help you answer visitors questions, as you have something to point to.
- Consider putting out a sketchbook for people to look through or a portfolio of past work.
- Put out free postcards with an image of your work and contact details or business cards.
- Visitors book/mailing list sign-up.
- Artist Statement and CV – have a copy out for people to read and a few extras to give with purchases.
- If you are in a building with many artists a door sign with your name and contact details is useful for people to find you.
- Have bubble wrap and tape for packaging sold work. A receipt book and change.
- Wear a name tag (this is mentioned by so many artists), for your assistants also.
- Make sure the work is well lit and easy to see.
- Cordon off areas that are off limits (I use a few white sheets as drapery.)
- Chairs for resting or visiting. Water and snacks will be welcome if people are travelling around many spaces, but a banquet is distracting.
- Have Trail guides to give out to help people on their way to the next venue.
- Invite everyone! Use your mailing list. Tell people. I have participated in many exhibitions and events where a surprising number of people do not even tell anyone they are in the show. The biggest challenge for most events is getting visitors, so spend some time getting the word out. After you have done all the artwork and all the event organising it would be a shame to have few visitors.
- Send out a press release. Announce/post show everywhere.
- Create a Facebook event page. Tweet/post regularly. Put the full information on your website or blog. Photograph your space when it is all set up to use on social media for publicity.
- Be prepared to talk about your work and about the story behind each piece. Be prepared with answers to awkward questions like: “How long did it take to make?”, “Why does it cost so much?”, “What does it mean?”, “Can I pay in installments?”, “Can I get a discount?”, “Do you take special orders?”, “I don’t understand art/my child could make that”. Sometimes they are genuinely interested and don’t know how to get the conversation started. If you have thought about them in advance then you can give considered answers or direct the conversation the way you want it to go.
- Be friendly to everyone. Introduce yourself to strangers. Acknowledge new visitors if you’re busy. Avoid being monopolised.
- After you’ve made a sale get all your new collector’s contact info. A form to fill out with a few questions has been suggested.
- Update your website in advance as you should get many new visitors right after the Open Studios, if you have given out cards.
- Get contents/liability insurance sorted, if necessary.
- Debrief as soon as it is over and make notes for next year or you will forget something that you thought was such a revelation that you couldn’t forget it.
- Save signage if you can reuse it.
- Follow up on all commissions and obligations right away.
- Email your new mailing list sign-ups to welcome them.
Share your tips from experiences with your open studio events in the comments below.