As many of you will know, we held an Open Studio event over the weekend of 11th and 12th June in our garden and studio spaces. This was part of Open Studios Notts, a regional county-wide art event which aims to bring more artists into view of the general public. As well as artists opening their own studios to the public, local art trails and collaborations there has also been a series of exhibitions in local libraries across the county which I was lucky enough to take part in (and subsequently sold one of the pieces I exhibited).
I’ve taken part in Open Studios before, in 2015 and 2016. During this time I was only making my black and white illustration work which I had been developing over the previous five years. As well as originals I also had developed a range of prints, household textiles, cards and ceramics. The event this year was the first time I have shown my collection of abstract landscape work to anyone in a face-to-face event and it’s the first time my husband has shown any of his ceramics. We were both excited but also a little apprehensive as you never know how new work is going to be received. He bagged the first sale of the weekend, sold many of the beautiful pieces he had made and also gained several orders. A great (and well-deserved) first sales event for him.
I’m really happy to report that the whole weekend was a success, with four times the amount of sales compared to last time. We had a steady stream of visitors over the course of the weekend and it was great to see so many friends and acquaintances showing their support as well as meeting new customers. Whilst I love my online community I really think you can’t beat the face to face interaction with people when you are in the same room. There’s a different energy and I think it’s maybe a more genuine experience. For someone who likes to identify as an introvert I was surprised at how much I enjoyed myself but it did take my about a week to recover.
I think the process of viewing art is also very different in real life. You can get up close and observe the small details you might not see from afar and look from your own perspective rather than the ‘served-up-on-a-plate’ images that we all share on our socials. I had several comments from visitors who said that my work looked good online but so much better ‘in the flesh’. I think that is something I hadn’t really appreciated until now. When you are the creator of the work you see if every day, how it grows and changes but you hold your own perspective of what it is so you naturally see that when you post it online.
Having taken time after Open Studios to reflect on the whole experience I thought I would put together a summary of what worked well and what I would do differently in the hope this might help others who are thinking of holding an Open Studio event themselves.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare as it always takes longer than you think. I really took this to the extreme this year and redecorated my whole studio when I took a closer look and realised how shabby it was looking. It hadn’t seen a lick of paint since it was first installed 14 years ago and the brilliant white certainly did brighten it up and gave my a clean white canvas on which to display my work.
Decluttering is also a good idea – Studios can get so cluttered. Redecorating gave me the perfect opportunity to do this as everything had to be moved out into the garden to make space. This gave me the chance to sort through my whole studio and consider what it was I needed to keep and discard. As a result I off-loaded old supplies, materials and work.
Plan your space – it’s a good idea to have a vague idea of how you will exhibit your work. Whilst I did hang a lot of my work on the walls I planned it chronologically with my black and white work all together then moving seamlessly into my colourful landscapes which I grouped in colour themes. This little touch was also noted by my customers who commented on how well it flowed.
Tell your story to people – hanging my work in this way gave me the perfect opportunity to tell my story of how I got to where I am now in my creative life. People generally love a good story and if they like you and your work they will be genuinely interested. I talked about how my work changed as I made the transition from my medical job as a pharmacist through my training to become an Art Psychotherapist. I describe this is a great example of art mirroring life as I journeyed from a job where my thinking was very black and white, specific and precise, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment (usually with medication) towards a profession where there was more of a mind-body, holistic approach without definitive answers, an attitude of curiosity and wondering, sitting with uncertainty, working and thinking more metaphorically.
Have a variety of price points for your work. Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of pounds on an original piece of artwork. I did have a variety of sizes of original landscapes but they were priced as originals would be. I did however make some mini-landscape cards which I sold for less than £5 so that there was something for everyone. I had also vastly reduced the prices of my black and white illustration prints, ceramics and cards as I felt like I needed to sell this work through as it no longer reflects who I am. BUT, it was clear that it’s still very popular, with many of the prints and ceramics selling out. The plan was everything that was left after the event would be recycled to make space but this has left me wondering, after several conversations with visitors, about the multiple aspects of our selves and also how we are formed by what has gone before. Maybe this needs to be honoured?
Don’t be shy!! You want people to know about your event so you’re going to have to tell them. No one else will. Publicise your event well in advance, and don’t feel guilty about ‘going on about it too much’. Send ‘save the date’ invitations. Invite friends, family and neighbours. We had some great conversations with neighbours we haven’t really met properly before. Make an email invite to send. Post, post, post on social media. Post in your local Facebook Groups. Drum up some interest, tell people about what you’re up to, generate interest, tell the story. Distribute your leaflets in a variety of local outlets, and if you are part of a group, divide this up between you all. Repost about other people taking part in the event. Send out a countdown email to your subscriber list and keep your event alive in their minds.
Make sure you have a variety of payment methods and ensure you have a card facility. 80% of our sales were paid for on card. I bought a little sumup machine a few weeks before. Just make sure you try it out the morning of opening to make sure you’re familiar with how it works.
Prepare your packing area and put your packing materials in the same place. Make sure you have everything you need – bags a variety of sizes, bubble wrap or packing materials, stickers, Sellotape, string etc within easy reach and a designated packing and payment area. I would do this slightly differently next time by giving myself more space to pack. I have some postcards, business cards and art therapy leaflets which I added to bags. For large purchases I would also add in a mini-landscape card.
Track visitor numbers if you can or designate this to someone else who’s willing to help. This can be a really good comparator for previous events and can be useful to event organisers.
This is an ideal opportunity to grow your email list. I didn’t do this as well as I would have liked only managing to collect about 10 new signups. Next time I will incorporate this into my sales spiel and will ask them during payment processing if they would like to sign up. I might even get a QR code that can help people to sign up directly.
I hope that was useful to anyone else thinking of taking part in Open Studio events. If you have any top tips to add please leave a comment below.