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