Advice on holding your own Open Studios
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…” If this copy is a fraction late it is because I have not been able to open my computer, answer the telephone or pop to the shops. I have had to send out for supplies from my besieged headquarters which look uncharacteristically tidy this week....but it’s all worth it….
Fig 1. Artist in Residence, cartoon with apologies to Van Gogh.
Open Studios - or Artweeks (Oxfordshire Visual Arts Festival) is here again - ‘Amazing art in Amazing places’ as the catch phrase goes. An opportunity for potters, painters, woodcarvers, jewellers and creative people of all disciplines to throw open the doors of their studios for an annual celebration of …ART.
Established in 1981 the original concept was for a festival of open studios and pop-up exhibitions in which artists can take part if they have so much as a back shed at their disposal. There is no selection process which means that anyone can have a go and build up some confidence at home before branching out at a bigger venue? It is a good community initiative and for the seasoned ‘artweeker’ a fantastic excuse to re-discover parts of your own county and see some original art. However, I do think that there are advantages of being in a larger village or town . My own studio is a bit isolated and in spite of the fact that I was on a trail map this year, I didn’t attract nearly so many people as friends in nearby Charlbury where there were 48 exhibiting artists. A group opening is a very good way of reaching a bigger audience and it is well worth investigating the larger spaces of local churches and halls.
Here are a few suggestions if you are thinking of taking part.
Fig 2. Photo. AJC on DIY signage.
1. You don’t have to have a big posh studio; the whole idea is for people to take you as they find you – although it helps if you have reasonable access. Here is some work outside in the garden – these were all pictures of the fauna and flora which actually inhabited that space!
2 Opening times. If you are anything like me, you can have a rather idealised view of your availability six months in advance! So do make sure that you are specific and give the online application forms due consideration. We opened from 11 – 5 but I sometimes wonder if it would be much easier to make it either morning OR afternoon, particularly if the show lasts for ten days.
3 Photographic Images. Now is the time to get a really good online file of images together. You will find them invaluable for advertising on social media, local newspaper coverage and card/ invitation printing. Ensure that you have at least one star quality photograph that displays your work at its best. (Incidentally, it is worth noting that if you are at all worried about copyright then a really good digital photograph of your work is proof of ownership)
4. Banners and Signs: These do make a huge difference, so worth investing. Make sure that you get your local signs up in time and be careful not to obstruct important road signs and junctions. The council has the right to remove them.
Fig 3. Road Sign
Fig 3a) Charlbury poster
5. Presentation and Framing. “Framing is the artist’s pleasure…” I don’t know who said that but try to get the best that your budget allows. It is worth noting that your local framer will be fully booked if there is an imminent Open Studios in your area, so don’t leave it too late. Alternatively, there are some good online framing websites but you must be confident about measurements. Never make your mounts too stingy for the painting and allow an extra 1” or 3cm for the bottom of the mount. If you don’t want to look too 1973 then DO stick to cream/off white mount card, particularly for watercolours .
DO Include a Browser for mounted work - available on many an online outlet!
6. Postcards and Merchandise. Despite the financial outlay it is well worth having some cards done – not forgetting your own business card. Here is my check list for the front desk: A comprehensive lists of works, invoice book, and cash tin. Hire a card machine if necessary.
7. In the meantime, do take this opportunity to spring clean and discard some old work that you were never going to finish. Always a cathartic thing to do.
8. Teas and Coffees are always popular if you can summon up the manpower.
9. Private Views and Invitations. This year we held our Private view over Saturday and Sunday lunchtime because almost every other Artweek PV was on Friday night. For the first time ever, I did not send out a hardcopy invitation but relied instead upon the internet. Bad idea! It is impossible to gauge how many people are coming and the invitation has a strange tendency to slip off the inbox. As a result we had comparatively poor attendance in my view. Your costly entry in the county booklet is not proof of a large turnout so you need to rely on your own powers of persuasion and online design skills. I now understand why commercial galleries charge fifty percent!
My conclusion is that you have to fully buy into the Open Studios concept and not expect too much. It is a great deal of commitment but the outcome - although sometimes not immediately apparent- can have many long term benefits such as future commissions and connections which materialise over time. As a group we definitely covered all our costs and more. We have met some very interesting people and emerged the other side as slightly different human beings! As an artist it is all too easy to lose sight of the main goal which is to keep making new work. I don’t think an exhibition should ever contain too much old work, unless you are very famous! Part of the point having a show is that you move forward as an artist, regardless of genre, whether you are aware of it or not at the time.
Fig 6. Dutch Barns: 79cm x 54cm . Sepia Ink and wash by AJC 2017
On Entering Open Exhibitions
I was once encouraged to enter the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy ( I wish I didn’t know now, what I didn’t know then…) where there was great camaraderie in the queue of artists waiting to collect their rejects in 1984! It is all done online now which completely removes the joy of personal interaction although it does avoid at least one struggle into Piccadilly. A lady next to me in the queue saw my drawing and commented… “That is a beautiful work and I wish you luck in your life”…Nice for a fellow artist to say that - not everyone is that generous!
However upbeat and relaxed you feel about submitting work, rejection comes with an unnerving capital ‘R’. But don’t let that put you off as you really have got to be ‘in it to win it’. But one word of advice: If you are considering submitting something, don’t just rummage around your studio for a piece that might ‘do’ just a week before the deadline. This never works. It is much better to just paint without the pressure of thinking that you are doing it for an exhibition and see what develops over time.
Apart from the RA Summer show- there are many open exhibitions to choose from and it is worth going onto the Mall Galleries website under ‘Call for Entries’ to see what might suit you - there are several categories. A certain amount of resilience and stamina is required but if you are a lone artist quietly working from home, acceptance or not, is one of the few indications of how you are progressing. The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol is another good Open Exhibition. If you are worried about transport, there are excellent couriers who can take the pain out of long distance delivery. All the exhibition websites have them in particular this one: http://www.mallgalleries.org.u...
Finally , we can all get a bit bogged down in the advertising, communications and social media. Remember it is the work that matters most of all. You are only as good as your last piece. So let me finish with the words of Andy Warhol
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Fig 7 Andy Warhol image?(if allowed?)
OR Insert Fig 7 of Dutch Barns by AJC