My Ten Top Tips for Open Studios
July for me is always about Open Studios. I have participated in Cambridge Open Studios since 2005, missing only a couple of years. It is a large well organised event that takes place every July throughout the county of Cambridgeshire. Similar events take place all around the UK, often during the summer months and vary from the large county wide events like Cambridge to small village Art Trails or even individuals holding their own event. For the visitor they provide a wonderful opportunity to see a wide range of original art including painting, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery, glass and textiles and to be able to buy directly from the artist, often seeing where and how the art was made.
I think I might be a bit blasé about participating nowadays, hence I’m writing this rather than getting into my studio and doing the essential last minute tasks that need to be done before this coming weekend. But if you are participating for the first time, holding an Open Studios event can feel very daunting, so I thought it might be helpful to share my own top tips for holding an open studio. They are not hard and fast rules but just things I have learned and found useful over the years.
1. Be Prepared
Back in 2005 I started planning months in advance whereas now I am a little more relaxed. However, it’s still a good idea to be prepared and plan well ahead because these things have a habit of creeping up on you. Plan what work you will have to show and where and how you will display it. It’s probably worth having a trial run setting things up and moving them around until you are happy with how it all looks. The last thing you want to be doing is running around at the last minute trying to decide where to hang or display work and finding you don’t have enough space or possibly not enough work! Being prepared also means having enough hooks, picture cord, labels etc. as well as ensuring your space is clean, nicely decorated, safe etc. You don’t want to be making a last minute dash to the DIY store. I speak with voice of experience there... two weeks ago I decided the best point of access to my studio would be through our back gate. Except that involved crossing an area of rubble. Two weekends of hard labour and several visits to the garden centre later, we now have a pebble path and a rock garden. But with a bit of preparation and fore thought it could have been done weeks ago
2. Remove as much clutter as possible
Whether you have a purpose built studio or you are holding an event around your kitchen table it is worth removing as much excess clutter as possible. You want visitors to look at your artwork not your collection of Rebus novels. Excess stuff is just a distraction and can even be confusing. I have had a visitor pick up an unopened packet of handbag sized tissues – admittedly they were beautifully printed with images of cockerels that I had planned to use in some collage – and asked me how much they were as she couldn’t see a price. I think I ended up giving them to her! And last year someone bought the mosaic hook that I hang my painting apron on. If it’s not relevant to your event hide it away! And of course keep valuables out of sight. I have never had anyone take anything but it makes sense to keep wallets, handbags, laptops etc out of the way.
3. Make a comprehensive list of what you have for sale with prices etc.
It’s easy to think you will remember what you have got for sale but believe me, you won’t. Having a comprehensive inventory helps you plan and organise your event, as well as helping keep track of sales. It’s also helpful when planning next year. It sort of follows on from this that you should also keep a comprehensive list of your sales.
4. Price everything
Some people favour having a separate list of prices for visitors to pick up but I think it is much easier to price and label every single item. Having a list can be tricky as you have to keep referring back to items and then look them up, but pricing individual items means there is no confusion. It also means visitors don’t have to ask. I have been in a situation where I like a painting but don’t want to ask how much it is in case I can’t afford it or think it is too expensive. If I could see the price I would know. Instead, I don’t ask, I don’t get a new painting and the artist misses out on a potential sale. Having things clearly priced saves embarrassment all round.
5. Have items in a variety of price ranges
It follows on that it is a good idea to have a range of prices from original artwork in a variety of sizes, possibly prints of your work which are a cheaper option or unframed work in a browser, right down to greetings cards or postcards. Not everyone who visits can afford or even wants a painting, a bowl or a piece of jewellery but they might want a card or two to remind themselves about your work.
6. Enlist the help of a partner or friend
If possible don’t hold an open studios event on your own. An enthusiastic friend can be a great asset for promoting your work but even if your partner, friend or relative isn’t really interested in chatting or engaging with the public you will at least have someone to cover for you when you pop to the toilet or grab a bite to eat.
7. Personal Safety
If you can’t enlist some help, keep your phone with you and be particularly vigilant. In all the years I have done Open Studios I have never felt threatened or in any sort of danger. Most visitors are friendly and engaged but just occasionally you get someone who makes you feel a little uncomfortable. And occasionally there is someone who wants to monopolise you, getting a little over enthusiastic telling you tales about themselves and it is useful to be able to excuse yourself... possibly to make a call.
This one should probably be up there with top tip number one really, but you cannot tell people enough that you are holding an open studio. You might feel like a worn out record at times but people don’t listen, they forget, they don’t notice so tell them again and again… put up posters, contact the local press (especially if you have an interesting story), tell your friends, email everyone you know, put it in your newsletter, post on social media… several times a week. You get the picture! And just when you think you have told them enough… tell them again!
9. Be able to take card payments
This is a minor tip but these days it is essential. People do not carry cash and cheque books are a thing of the past. Up until last year I had always managed with cash payments for small amounts or bank transfer or Paypal for larger amounts. But it is your job to make it easy for people to buy from you and it is so much easier if you have a card reader. They are inexpensive and easy to set up. If I can do it, anyone can.
10. Keep in touch
Have a visitors’ book or an email sign up list or both. You want to be able to keep in touch with people who are interested in your art. They may not be in a position to buy your art or attend a workshop now, but you never know about the future. Remember these people are your people, they are your art community. One of my most successful years followed a year when I collected physical addresses. I followed up by posting out handmade thank you cards to everyone who left me their address. It was a lot of effort, but it really did make a difference. It’s all about nurturing connections. And remember the person who buys a 50p postcard is just as important as the person who buys a £300 painting. Smile at everyone, engage with everyone, talk to everyone because that person who is ‘just looking’ might come back and buy something in a couple of years or they might tell a friend about your wonderful work. And remember it is not always about selling. It is about making new connections, new contacts and sometimes even new friends.
For the artist Open Studios are hard work, both in the weeks preparing and especially during the actual event. A seven hour stint of smiling and chatting to visitors is exhausting! But it is always great fun and can be very rewarding too.
This year I am opening up my garden studio again, the gazebo is going up, the weather looks like it will be fine and it will be an 'Art in the Garden" event. You can find all the details on The Cambridge Open Studios website or on the poster below and I really look forward to meeting you. Now I must stop procrastinating and go and put up some labels.