For many artists and arts organisations, summer is Open Studio season. Opening your studio is a fantastic experience that enables you to make new contacts, reacquaint yourself with existing customers and see first hand how viewers interact with your work. Today I’m sharing ten suggestions to add to your To Do list before you put that welcome sign on the door.
- Read the rules. I’m assuming here that you’re part of a larger group of artists who are all opening their studios at the same time. Someone (or a team) will be doing the coordinating and they’re bound to be sending out information with instructions and asking for information for publicity purposes. Be their perfect artist and respond promptly with the information required in the format they’ve specified. They’ll love you for it.
- Tell everyone. Obviously you’ll tell your existing buyers, potential buyers, friends, and family, but there are a few others to liaise with too. Firstly, the neighbours. It’s only courteous to warn them you’ll have extra visitors and traffic in the area. If you do get on with them they may like to visit and may even offer to help with the preparations. If you don’t get on with them an invitation to your studio may be a chance to mend fences. At the very least don’t give them any more ammunition. Secondly, talk to other artists in the locality and perhaps publicise a trail from one studio to another. People are much more likely to visit if they can see several studios in one trip.
- Publicity material for distribution is likely to have been produced by the Open Studios organiser(s), but you can add to the reach in advance by sending details to local art and community groups. Remember to display your own forthcoming events brochures within the studio itself. If you teach art classes for any other venues you might display their brochures too. Do you give talks? Then display your talks leaflet and encourage visitors to pass them on to groups they belong to. People like to take information away, and good publicity materials will help them to remember and talk about your work.
- Tidy Up. Of course. Obvious. But don’t neglect the outside of your studio either. First impressions count, and “kerb appeal” is not just for those selling property. A weed-free driveway, clean paintwork, perhaps flowers or a dramatic plant near the entrance conveys that the artist cares about their environment and is willing to make an effort to give a welcoming first impression. Who is more likely to buy a painting, the person who feels relaxed and welcome or the one who’s already feeling unimpressed when they enter your studio? Exactly.
- Utilise your space. Obviously how you display your work depends on the space you have available. If you’re using several rooms, can you theme each according to subject, medium or chronology? In a single room several small groups of paintings arranged according to a theme may be more successful than unrelated pictures equidistantly spaced. Avoid placing glazed works opposite a window if possible, as the reflections will make it difficult to see the work. Don’t forget to hang work in the hallway or entrance area too so visitors will see your art as soon as they step over the threshold. This may be your visitors’ first ever sight of your art so make sure it’s a good impression. Strong paintings give a tantalising hint of gold that encourages your visitors to discover the motherload within the studio itself.
- Do a Risk Assessment. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that it should be ten pages long, in triplicate and signed off by the local health & safety executive. Just think about your visitors moving through your space. You know where that sharp corner or low beam is, don’t you? They don’t. Ouch! Simple measures like Mind Your Head signs, hazzard tape, a line of masking tape at the front of each tread on the stairs will help to give your visitors a comfortable experience.
- Get those signs out there. The rule is: you can’t make things too obvious. There’s no point in having a wonderful open studio if no one can find it, so make sure you use plenty of signs. Don’t put your signs on road sign poles as the highways authorities will remove them. Check your signs periodically as they may be (re)moved, graffiti-ed, or otherwise sabotaged. That’s depressing but true, so be prepared to put up replacements as necessary. Does your studio have a window facing the road? Put a sign in it. Add an image: not only do you show viewers what type of art to expect but signs with images give considerably greater recall than those without.
- Label your artwork, clearly but discreetly. Make sure labels are legible, neat and show title, medium and price of the work. If the label doesn’t show the size of the work make sure you keep that information to hand in case a buyer asks.
- Offer Refreshments. Not essential, but offering drinks and finger food lends a “private view” feel to the proceedings. Wine and juice are standard refreshments but you could offer Pimms or a non-alcoholic fruit punch as a summer alternative or mulled wine in winter to be a little different. If you’re providing food make sure you provide plenty of napkins too. Greasy fingerprints never enhance artwork.
- Expand your art display by including merchandise, a press book, artist’s statement, portfolio, sketchbooks, travel diaries – anything that helps visitors to connect with your work. A visitors’ book allows you to collect contact details for next time’s invitation list (be clear that you might use addresses for this purpose).
Opening your studio takes a lot of planning and work but certainly repays the effort. It’s not just about this year’s event: a good experience for your visitors will lead to repeat visits in future years.
What are your top tips for Open Studios?