I’m having a blast gearing up for this year’s 2013 Waltham Mills Open Studios event. Many years ago, I used to participate in Jamaica Plain Open Studios, which was always a great experience. Back then I didn’t have my own studio space so I always showed at one of the group venues and had to schlep my work there every time. This time will be different since I have my own space that I can present in.
I was thinking that it might be helpful to other artists to have a list of recommendations for how to prepare for open studios events. Below are some practical suggestions based on my past experience:
1)Have small, inexpensive works available for purchase. Most visitors at open studios purchase small artworks (ballpark 9″ x 12″) in the $10-$50 range, with most purchases averaging about $20 each. This strategy can work well, as you can make money on volume. The most expensive piece I ever sold at open studios was a $90 drawing. I typically show 3-5 very large pieces (for example, drawings that each measure 7′ x 4′) and then supplement with small, inexpensive works that can be impulse buys. The vast majority of visitors who attend open studios are not intent on spontaneously dropping hundreds or thousands of dollars on a gigantic painting that measures 4′ x 6′.
2)Have a diverse and large quantity of art. Aim to get visitors to linger in your studio. The more you have for visitors to look at, the longer they will stay. Variety is important as well. If all of your artwork looks the same, visitors will get bored quickly. If you work in several media, try to emphasize this in your display.
3)Play an ongoing slideshow on your laptop. I have so much artwork that there’s no chance I can put it all on display. A slideshow is an effective way to represent the scope of one’s work.
4)Have free postcards. Don’t charge for postcards, this is basically a guarantee that no one will buy one. Even postcards that are priced very cheaply are a big turnoff. You will miss out on a huge opportunity to get your work seen and retained by a lot of people. Visitors love free stuff, and they enjoy collecting postcards as they wander through the studios. If your postcards are free, people will pick them up without giving it a second thought. Also, visitors will frequently take the postcard home with them and look you up online later. I’ve had many people contact me afterwards and buy work on my online shop because they retained my information through the postcard.
5)Clearly mark prices. Most visitors don’t like needing to ask the artist what the price is. This can become just one more reason to convince the visitor that they don’t need to purchase your work. Mark the prices in a tasteful way to make this information quickly accessible to your visitors.
6)Display a binder with articles, your resume, and artist statement. This can increase your credibility, and also allows visitors to get quick information about your experience. A binder with plastic sleeves looks professional and neatly displays your accomplishments. Visitors generally enjoy reading about artists and their background, and there’s no way you can verbally communicate this information to everyone who visits.
7)Have a guestbook. I’ve had people write lovely comments to me in guestbooks, it’s another way to invite further interaction. Some people are very shy and won’t want to speak to you in person, so this provides another way for them to communicate.
8)Have an email list. Provide a clipboard with a pen attached with a string where people can write their email addresses so you can add them to your mailing list. I don’t bother with mailing hard copy postcards anymore. Occasionally I will do print mailings for art dealers and curators, but usually that’s only when I publish a catalog. Nowadays, I only send out digital announcements through email and social media.
9)Package your art neatly. Invest the money in professional plastic sleeves to place your artwork into. This achieves three things: visitors feel comfortable handling your artwork, the work won’t get damaged, and the presentation will look clean and professional.
10)Have music and minimal food. Music provides a fun and relaxed atmosphere, and can help fill in awkward silence when there are just a few people in the studio. Keep the food very minimal; in the past I’ve seen large food spreads with drinks, bowls of popcorn, chips and dip, etc. in artist studios. These kinds of snacks always get really messy, drinks can spill, none of which is appealing. Wrapped candy is neat, and visitors with kids will appreciate it.
11)Wear a name tag. Yes, you will feel dorky, but it will help visitors identify who you are, especially when your studio gets crowded.
12)Sign all of your work. People who buy art really want the work signed. Many people who have bought my work in the past specifically inquired in advance whether the work is signed. Signing my artwork is frequently the last thing on my mind, so I always have to remind myself to sign my work before I make it available for purchase.