OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART

 

 

I miss my old studio in NH, but not the winters!

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART: Open Studios Help Me Be a Better Person in the World.

People visit our studios for many different reasons, and all of it is good!

(This article originally ran in Crafts Business magazine, Feb/Mar 2005. Still holds true today, with a few minor edits!)

You know what we hope for when we open our studio to the public, especially in December. We hope everyone in town decides our work will make the perfect Christmas/holiday present. We hope hordes of shoppers will descend upon us, buying up everything in sight.

It doesn’t quite work that way, though. In fact, this was my fourth open studio of the year, and true to form, there was no form. No rhyme nor reason, either. Like life itself, it was the usual mix of the predictable and unpredictable.

There was the unexpected spat with my teenage daughter. She used to beg me to let her help with these events. Now she wants to hang out with her boyfriend this weekend, instead. Her boyfriend! Heck, I gave her life! (Just kidding.) (NOT.) I won the battle this year, but I foresee humiliating defeat in the years ahead. Time to look for a new show assistant? (n.b., this turned out not to be true, and my daughter joined me for shows until she left for college, and beyond.)

Then, moments before we opened, I got a phone call. An eager customer asking for last-minute directions? Yay! Yes, she was asking for directions, but no, she was not an eager customer. She had a box of sewing goods she thought I might be interested in buying. (This is just one of my pet peeves as an artist: People trying to sell me something during an event where I’m trying to sell something, especially an event like the major shows I did that cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars to participate in. I can attract a Mary Kay consultant from 500 miles away just by setting up my booth.)

I felt a sharp retort bubbling up, but held it back. I offered them an appointment for the day after the open studio.

Saturday morning was brisk. One shopper spent quite a bit of time browsing. First they wanted to buy a rubberstamp I’d carved. (Nope, not for sale.) Then they wanted my handmade buttons. (Nope, not for sale.) “One of those people!” I thought to myself. But again, I told myself, “Be nice, be nice.” I’m glad I held my tongue, because eventually they bought several items that made up half my sales for the weekend!

There was the art teacher who wanted me to tell them exactly how I make my artifacts, so they could use it as a school art project. (I get that all the time, too.) My response is to either give them online resources for working with polymer clay, or point them to my book shelf and the comfy chair corner, and to let them sign up for notices when I offer classes on polymer work.

There was the couple who traveled for hours to visit my studio. There was the person who happened to be walking by, saw my sign, and came in. The person who showed up to ask if I could replace their lost earrings they’d purchased a few years ago. (Yes, I will replace the first lost earring free, but not the second!) There was the person who decided they couldn’t live without purchasing another necklace from me. (I LOVE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS!)

There was the person who couldn’t find anything of interest at all in my entire studio, except my private collection of turquoise nuggets. One person came by only to visit my guinea pig, who was part of my promotion to encourage families to visit. (They made me promise to come and visit their guinea pig someday.)Our new neighbors dropped by. The boy spent the entire time rubberstamping a card calling for a victory against a rival hockey team, while the mom and daughter oooh-ed and ahhhh-ed over every single piece of my jewelry. Something for everyone!

Finally, as the last hour of the last day of the event drew to a close, there was one woman who had stayed forever, looking at everything but buying nothing. She finally asked hesitantly if I would look at her artwork.

I was totally exhausted. Again, I could feel that sharp retort rising to the surface…

But I resisted.

The look on her face. I know that look. I remember it well. It’s on the face of the kid on the outside of the candy store window, looking in at all the wonderful sweets they can’t afford and can never have. I used to have it, too, when the idea of being a “real artist” seemed like an impossible dream. I remembered, too, all the kind and wonderful people who helped me along the way, offering encouragement, insights, and support. They were the ones who told me, “You come on in here! Step up!”

I did look at her artwork. It had promise. I told her that, what I liked, what could be better, made a few suggestions for better presentation, and told her to keep making her art. I was so tired, I don’t even remember most of what I told her. But I remember she was happy when she left, so I must have been kind.

The woman with the box of sewing goods? She showed up right on time the next day. It was a wonderful collection of vintage sewing goods, just the sort of thing I’m always on the look-out for, and the price was right, too. I bought it all, and we both were very happy.

Open studios are a miniature version of our own life. When we make what we love, we are restored to our highest, best self. When we share it with others, in any way (not just sales!), it brings joy to others. Encouraging everyone to make room to do the work they love is good for everyone.

And we always have the power of choices. We can choose to react with frustration, resentment, anger, fear, disappointment….

Or we can choose to believe we can be a force for good in the world. To believe we all have a right to be here. To believe we can all benefit in making the work that matters to us. To offer the same encouragement and recognition we needed so badly when we first started our own art journey

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #6: A New Social Media Opportunity!

Our in-person studio visits are a powerful way to connect with our audience and potential collectors. And now there’s a new platform to make that even easier!

 An artist has solved a huge dilemma around our quirky art studio hours…

 (4 minute read)

 In last week’s column about recognizing our “team”, I shared how we can connect and benefit from our contacts who have skills we lack—and need!

This week, I’m delighted to share a new website that resolves one of my greatest problems as a professional artist: It provides our audience and people who don’t know us yet with the means to visit our studio.

A long-time reader reached out to me a couple weeks ago. Bill Snider is an artist who’s created StudioDoorz, a website featuring a listing of participating artists’ studios across the country, and around the world.  His project was featured in the 12/03/2020 issue of Boulder, CO’s newspaper, Daily Camera.

It’s pretty small right now, with just under a couple hundred participants right now. But it’s a major accomplishment, with the potential for huge growth.

Because one of my biggest pet peeves with Yelp, Google Business listings, Google Maps, and most of the open studio events I’ve been in, is that their listings don’t accommodate “open by appointment” for our business hours.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. (When I was in a more public studio, I used, “Open by chance or by appointment”, but in my current situation, I have to know you’re coming in order to even let you into the building.)

And yet artist studios deserve this option.

We’re a small business, with just as much of a presence as a burger joint or a swanky restaurant.

But very few of us keep “regular business hours”.

I’ve asked orgs that publish catalogs for their open studio events to add something, a brief comment or a symbol, that lets people know if an artist can offer an appointment for a studio visit. (Maybe next year? I hope!)

Bill and I are on the same page with this. When people visit our studio, it can be the most powerful way for new visitors to experience, and connect with, our art.

They not only get to see so much of our artwork, they get to meet us. They get to see who we are. We get to have deep conversations about the why and the how of our work. They get to see our sacred creative space.

My work rarely sells at a one-off event. It’s different, it’s not cheap, and it can take people awhile to understand what they’re looking at. Literally! At my very first small art show in Keene NH, visitors who were intrigued would stare deeply at my work. After a bit, I would ask, “What do you think?” They always answered, “It’s beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

From the very beginning, that taught me something important:

Yes, there are plenty of people who couldn’t care less about my work. But there are also plenty of people who do, and even some who love it enough to buy it.

But it takes time. And as a friend told me last year, “Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Galleries help, of course, and social media marketing is an increasingly good way to get our work out into the world.

But a studio visit is the icing on the cakeIt creates the most personal, intimate way to engage a potential collector (or passionate admirer) with our work.

Bill has created a website that works like Yelp/Google for artists. Visitors who are traveling, tourists, etc. can use the site to find artists in a specific area or city, or even country.

They can read the artists’ statement/bio/resume. They can view the work.

And they can contact the artist through the website to make a studio appointment, either ahead of time or in the moment.

Now, this isn’t like using Facebook, where anyone and everyone can see our posts. It’s not like an open studio event, which can attract dozens, or even hundreds of visitors, but only take place once or twice a year. It’s not like “First Friday” or whatever, when all galleries and studios in a city are open, (which can quickly wear down the novelty of such events.)

Instead, if someone is traveling to “wine country” in Sonoma County, and they are also interested in art, they can search for that area on StudioDoorz, explore the artists that are compelling to them, and arrange for a studio visit.

I’m so excited about this new website, I joined in a heartbeat. The cost is a mere $5/month, or $50 for a year’s subscription.

It’s not a website host, like FASO. It’s not for buying artwork, though we can upload around two dozen images of our studio and our work.

It’s simply a way for someone to explore the area, find the artists there, reach our website, if they want to learn more, and to discover us in a way that would otherwise be almost impossible to do.

Remember that delightful quote from the animated movie Hercules, when Hades (the villain) visits the three Fates (who can see the future)? “Indoor plumbing. It’s gonna be BIG!!”

StudioDoorz.com. It’s gonna be BIG!

Your shares and comments are always appreciated, and often give me great ideas for future articles! If you know someone who would find this article useful, send it on. If someone sent this to you, and you liked it, either subscribe to my blog or my email newsletter at my website, LuannUdell.com!

 

THE THING ABOUT OPEN STUDIOS: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors
Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

 

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CATCHING YOU UP On My Fine Art Views Columns

Once again, I’ve neglected to post links to my columns at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog. So I’m putting all the links since April 24, 2014, here in one place.
David Letterman counts down from 10. Me? I have a lot of catching up to do.
Pace yourselves!

21) April 24, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It Gets Easier
Insights gained while preparing for a life-changing cross-country move.

20) May 8, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Send Me A Postcard!
Advice on how to build your mailing list.

19) May 22, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: My Customer Base Isn’t Local!
Dispelling some of the myths surrounding open studios.

18) June 5, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: People Around Here Don’t Buy Art
You know who says this? EVERYBODY says this!!! Hint: It’s not true.

17) June 19, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: For Heaven’s Sake, Accept Credit Cards!!
It’s easier than ever to take credit cards, and it WILL increase your sales. Here’s how.

16) July 3, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Timely Time Payment Plan
Trust me, this tip is worth its weight in gold.

15) July 17, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Don’t Say No!
When you and your studio say “NO”, your customers will say “NO” right back.

14) July 31, 2014
TEACHING 101
Tips for improving your teaching skills.

13) August 14, 2014
TEACHING 101: It Gets Better If You Try
You tell your students to practice, right? You should, too!

12) August 28, 2014
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 1
Encountering the difficult personalities in your class.

11) September 11, 2014 MY BIRTHDAY!!!
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 2
Managing the difficult personalities in your classs.

10) September 25, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Most of the things you’re afraid of, aren’t going to happen.

9) October 9, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Settling In, Getting Centered
Things I wish I’d thought of before the actual move….

8) October 23, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: You Can’t Get There From Here
We need a plan to help us get where we want to go. But as our needs change, the way we get there changes, too.

7) November 6, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: I am Blind (er….Lame) and My Dog is Dead
When the blues hit you, mix it with a little green to make turquoise!

6) November 20, 2014
WHEN THANK YOU ISN’T ENOUGH
When you get a compliment from a customer, don’t stop with “thank you.” Turn it into a conversation.

5) December 18, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: California Dreamin’
It turns out my heart knew we were California-bound before my head did.

4) January 1, 2015
YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT TO DO
Time for some tough love!

3) January 15, 2015
BIG EFFIN’ FENCES
What you make, how you make it, and why you make it, matters. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that.

2) January 29, 2015
300
Who’s missing from the history of art?? Everybody but dead European white guys. Let’s change that.

1) February 12, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Hard, Harder, Hardest
When you realize it’s not gonna really be over for a looooooong time…..

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE? Lessons From the Open Studio

Only in my studio can you see the largest collection of beaver-chewed-sticks in NH...maybe the world!!
Only in my studio can you see the largest collection of beaver-chewed-sticks in NH…maybe the world!! (This is just a small sample….)

I’ve heard every excuse in the book on why you don’t want to have an open studio. I’ve used a few of them myself!

But most of them aren’t very good excuses.

So here’s the first in a series of responses to your favorite excuse. Check out my response to “I don’t have a local audience!”, at my bi-weekly column at Fine Art Views.

And if you’re open to it, there will be plenty more to come! Enjoy.

Related posts:
“Be An Art Hero”
Open the Door to Your Studio & Your Heart for The Crafts Report.

More beautiful sticks in my studio. Aren't they amazing?!
More beautiful sticks in my studio. Aren’t they amazing?!