Hosting a Successful Open Studio

Several weeks ago I asked for your ideas for blog posts. I received a plethora of great suggestions and have begun working on turning those ideas into posts that will appear on RedDotBlog in the coming days, weeks and months.

Today’s post comes from the very first suggestion I received. Martha Retallick wrote:

I’m planning an open studio. And, yes, I did buy the Open Your Studio book from the Xanadu store. Would like to see an article on how to make such an event into a success.

With more and more open studio events appearing around the country, this is a great topic. An open studio tour can be a great way to get your feet wet if you’re new to the art market, and for established artists it can be a great way to build connections directly with art buyers.

StudioTourMapFor those of you unfamiliar with the concept, an open studio tour is typically put on by a local art organization. Over the course of several days, artists open their studios to the public. Visitors typically receive a map of the area that shows each of the participating studios. Visitors travel from one studio to the next to meet the artists, see their work and (hopefully!) purchase. With many of these events, artists will share studio space in order to concentrate the event into fewer studio spaces so that visitors aren’t spread too thin.

For some artists, open studio events can be an incredibly powerful engine to drive sales. I know of artists who generate most of their annual sales in one or two studio events.

I’m not an artist myself, and I’ve never participated directly in an open studio beyond visiting one as an observer. Any perspective I give you will be that of a gallery owner who sees great parallels between what happens in an open studio tour and what we do in the gallery to promote and sell and artist’s work.

The open studio tour has a lot going for it. It does several things that I consider to be vital in terms of creating sales.

Open Studios Create Experiences

First, the whole idea is to create an experience for potential buyers. While the ultimate goal is to get people to pull out their credit cards, I’ve found that art buyers are interested in having an experience with their purchase. This explains why buyers will travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles to visit our gallery – after all, they could just as easily buy art from us online. This also explains why people love open studios.

If you think about it, it’s almost like a treasure hunt. Participants are provided with a map and then get to plot their course from studio to studio looking for art that grabs them.

Participants also get to meet the artist. Art buyers love this! While it’s certainly possible to fall in love with a piece of art for its own sake (this happens all the time in the gallery), it adds a whole new dimension for clients when they can meet the artist.

How to Take Advantage of the Experience Factor When you Participate in an Open Studio

wine_cheeseSince experience is such an important element of an open studio, you can take advantage of this by enhancing the experience you create for visitors. Welcome your visitors with wine and cheese or hors d’oeuvres. Find music that fits with your work and play it over a stereo during the event – or even better, have a live musician on hand.

Be prepared to share stories about your art. I’ve long recommended that artists put real effort into crafting their biographies, artist statements and artwork statements. The beauty of writing these statements is that putting them in writing gives you a clear idea of what you will talk about when showing your work to a client. Written materials are also a great resource you can use in your follow up (more on that below). You will find it tremendously helpful to have worked out which experiences and stories to tell about yourself and your artwork before the tour begins.

What should you include in your statements? Talk about your background – how you came to art. Talk about the process you’ve developed to create your artwork – an open studio even gives you the opportunity to go a step further and demonstrate how the process works. Talk about where your inspiration comes from.

If you think about it, it sounds like I’m encouraging you to be a performer. Your studio is your stage, and your bio and artwork statements will serve as a kind of ad-lib script that you’ll use throughout the event. You should think of the event as exactly this, a performance. Your job is going to be to keep people engaged and entertained throughout the event. It’s not enough to hang up some art and open the doors.

Open Studios Give you the Opportunity to Create Relationships

In addition to the experiences you can create, an open studio provides you with an amazing opportunity to create relationships with potential collectors. All of your efforts to create experiences should lead to opportunities to create relationships. The goal is not only to give visitors an experience to remember, it’s to give you long-standing relationships with buyers and potential buyers.

How to Take Advantage of the Opportunity to Create Relationships When you Participate in an Open Studio

An open studio will give you the opportunity to shake hands with and get to know your buyers on your home turf. This is an amazing opportunity! You will already know that everyone who walks through your door is interested in art – they wouldn’t have gone to all the effort to take the tour if they weren’t. Take time to get to know your visitors. Your visitors are going to be an interesting lot, and you’ll do well to ask many questions and get them talking about themselves.

Ask where they are from. Ask them how they became interested in art. Ask what kind of work they do.

Don’t be afraid to spend time with your buyers. While you don’t want to keep someone in your studio if they are clearly ready to move on, don’t be afraid to monopolize the time of those who take a real interest in you and your work. Your job is not to make sure visitors have time to get to all of the other studios, your job is to make sure they stay in your studio long enough to buy!

Open Studios Create a Sense of Urgency

An open studio event creates a sense of urgency in buyers. Participants know that they only have the duration of the event to be able to make their purchase directly from the artist. Typically, an open studio event is just a couple of days. Having this kind of deadline encourages potential buyers to act, and this is tremendously helpful in terms of transforming lookers into buyers.

Open studios create urgency in another way as well. Participants will see that hundreds of other buyers are moving from studio to studio. They will quickly realize that if they find a piece they love, they better purchase it right away or else someone else may beat them to it. After you’ve participated in an open studio event for several years, you’ll find that certain buyers will show up at your studio the moment the tour opens because they love your work and want to be first in line to see your latest work

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How to Take Advantage of the Urgency Factor When you Participate in an Open Studio

Don’t be shy about letting buyers know they better act now. If you have someone early in the tour expressing interest in a piece, let her know that she would do well to act now. “I’ll have over a thousand buyers through my studio this weekend,” you might say, “I would hate for someone else to buy this piece when I can tell you love it so much!”

I would also discourage you from offering to hold pieces for clients during the event. Holds can be an effective way to move clients toward a purchase, and we do use them in the gallery if we’ve got a client that we can’t get to commit on the spot. However, during shows and big events, we won’t place holds. It’s not fair to other clients or to our artists to have a piece taken out of the market during a time of high activity. If a client isn’t willing to make a commitment to purchase now, she needs to know that there is a very real risk that she will lose the piece.

Refusing to take holds may be particularly hard if a good client is asking for the hold, and I’m not saying there can’t be exceptions to this rule for your best buyers who have a proven track record of purchasing. If you do place a hold, however, I would encourage you to make it a limited hold – for several hours at the most; you don’t want to take a piece off the market during the height of the event. Be sure and get your client’s mobile number so that you can call her at the end of the hold time if she hasn’t contacted you to complete the sale.

 

Open Studios Give you Great Impetus to Produce

Long-haired woman paints with oil colorsIf you’ve been following my blog, you know I regularly encourage artists to be more productive. Inventory is the key to long-term success in the art business. There’s nothing like an event to encourage you to get into gear and get into the studio.

You want to have your best work on display at an open studio event. Give buyers something to be excited about when they see your work by providing fresh, exciting imagery. If you are participating in an event on a repeated basis, you want to make sure that buyers aren’t seeing the same work over and over. While it’s okay to have some pieces in the show that haven’t sold in previous years if they are great pieces (sometimes you just don’t find the right buyer), you should limit repeats to no more than 15-20% of your total show. The rest of the work should be new.

I know that sometimes your best work takes several years to sell – there’s a lot of serendipity involved in the art business – you wouldn’t want to disregard a great piece just because it didn’t sell during a particular event. On the other hand, there’s real energy that comes in having a body of new work at an event. We definitely see this at gallery openings, and you will see the same thing at an open studio tour.

How to Take Advantage of the Impetus to Produce When you Participate in an Open Studio

Most open studio tours let participating artists know dates and details well in advance of the actual event. Don’t wait until the last minute to throw together work for the studio tour. I would encourage you to set goals for production as soon as you find out you will be participating in the event. Spread your production out over the time you have available so that you can avoid the mad rush at the end (at least as much as possible – there’s always a little bit of chaos right before an event).

 

Open Studios Give you a Chance to Display and Share your Work

In a sense, an open studio is an opportunity to turn your studio into a gallery. As you do this, you’ll want to keep several things in mind as you ready the display of your work.

How to Take Advantage of the Chance to Display your Work When you Participate in an Open Studio

  • Don’t overcrowd your studio. I know it’s a huge temptation to display as much work as possible. The problem with packing the walls or pedestals with art is that it makes it difficult for a buyer to focus on any individual work. Give your art room to breathe. Try to space art 4-8 inches apart, and don’t stack it to the ceiling. Even though you will show less art, you’ll find that you actually make more sales. Keep other work on reserve to replace sold work.
  • Use a clamp-on light from the hardware store to add light if you are coming up short
    Use a clamp-on light from the hardware store to add light if you are coming up short

    Put good light on your work. This can be tough if you are in a shared studio space and don’t have control over the lighting situation. If possible though, it makes a huge difference to put halogen spotlights on your work. Try and find out what the lighting situation is in advance. It might be possible for you to add temporary spots if the lighting isn’t ideal.

  • Put up price tags. Giving buyers information about the medium, size, and, most importantly, the pricing of your work will facilitate sales. There will be times when you’ll have several people in your studio and won’t be able to get to everyone – price tags give those you can’t get to the knowledge they need to make buying decisions.

Open Studios Give you the Chance to Turn Potential Buyers and Buyers into Collectors

It would be a huge mistake to think that once the weekend is over, so are your sales. An open studio event is an opportunity for you to sell, but it’s also an opportunity for you to gather prospective buyers’ information so that you can follow up. Many of our sales in the gallery, and many artists’ sales at open studio events come after the fact for artists who are good at following up.

How to Take Advantage of the Chance to Follow Up When you Participate in an Open Studio

In order to follow up, you absolutely must be gathering contact information from your visitors. I would encourage you to proactively do so. It’s not enough to lay out a guest book and hope people will give you their email address. I would encourage you to actively ask buyers to provide their information. In the gallery, we no longer hand out brochures or postcards. Instead, we let clients know that we would be happy to provide additional information via email. We couch this as a way to save the environment (no more printing!) but it’s also a great way for us to be able to follow up.

After the weekend is over, begin contacting everyone who gave you their info with a thank you and images of the work they were interested in. I’ve written about the importance of multiple follow ups before. I encourage you to contact anyone who expressed interest in a specific piece at least 5-6 times after the event, or until they make a purchase, whichever comes first.

Your first email can be a thank you with an image of the artwork. The second email can be an image of the artwork with a statement about the inspiration behind the artwork. The third email can include an image of the artwork with a pdf copy of your biography. The fourth email can include an image of the work and an offer to show the client the work in her home. The fifth email should be an image of the artwork and a request for the client to let you know if there is any further information you might provide.

You literally can’t overdo it when it comes to follow-up. Allow several days between emails, but don’t be afraid you’re annoying your client; your client will let you know if she’s no longer interested.

We Have Two Great Books that Will Serve as Resources For Hosting a Successful Open Studio Tour

While I’ve tried to outline here some of the key advantages of participating in an open studio, there’s obviously much, much more that you can and should know going into an event. As Martha mentioned in her question, we’ve published a book that will teach you the specifics of creating a successful event. The author of Open Your Studio, Melinda Cootsona has hosted many open studio tours and routinely sells as much as $20,000 worth of art at her events. If you are planning to participate in an open studio event, this book is a must-have.

Click here to learn more about Open Your Studio by Melinda Cootsona

If I might, I would also humbly suggest my book, How to Sell Art. This book contains everything I’ve learned about the art of salesmanship over my 20+ years in the gallery business and will help you more effectively interact with the buyers you encounter at an open studio event.

'Starving' to Successful

Click here to learn more and order How to Sell Art

What Questions do You Have about Open Studio Events? What Have you Done to Succeed at Open Studio Events?

Do you have any questions about what it takes to succeed at an open studio event? Have you participated in an open studio? What worked? What didn’t? What would you share with someone participating for the first time? Share your questions, thoughts, feedback and experience in the comments below!

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

30 Comments

    1. Kim, don’t worry about your studio being in your home. My studio has always been at home and I have hosted several successful ‘open studios’ at my home. Your home becomes a great place to display the best pieces and the others can be displayed in your actual studio. You may need to tidy up your home, yet it’s worth it! My open studios were never a part of a community event- more so an even I created and promoted to my mailing list. I normally do these as a pre-holiday event (the weekend after Thanksgiving) when people begin their holiday shopping.
      Give it a go and best wishes!
      Danielle
      Thank you for this article above Jason- some great tips within!

    2. Kim, Check your home owner’s or renter’s insurance before you open your home. My insurer (a large national company) specifically excludes any business event, including home studio events. Any injury, as a trip on the stairs or sidewalk will not be covered.

        1. My insurance agent recommended that we try https://www.theeventhelper.com for insuring our open studio show.
          We didn’t use them because we had the show at another studio. Their insurance company added a rider to cover the event. The cost was split between the participating artists and, although I can’t remember the amount, it was reasonable.
          Good luck!

    3. I have had an open studio from my house before. I had clearly defined art areas and no go areas. My studio is attached to the main living room so I took out some of the furniture and made it like a home gallery. printed flyers advertsid on social media. Made more money than an exhibition because there are less overheads.

  1. Thanks Jason for your serious efforts to help artists thrive! We live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. a penninsula connected to the mainland by a toll bridge of appr. 20 miles. To encourage visitors from the mainland to visit our open studio tour in the past, we offered to deduct the toll (close to $20 for round-trip ticket) from any artwork purchase! Customers loved this and it encouraged them to make the trip as well as purchase art. We thought it was a good way to turn a disadvantage into an advavtage for everyone! Carole

  2. Great information! I am the Chair of our city’s Cultural Commission and this year we hosted the first studio tour. We learned alot! We had a number of artists that worked out of their home and drew a map for visitors to visit all the studios, all around the city. It helped if there were a few artists in the same part of town as most visitors wouldn’t drive very far for just one studio. Also, we discovered that a number of artists didn’t know what to expect, nor what to do to encourage a successful tour and thus I appreciated your blog.

  3. Kim Jacobi….I have open studio shows and my studio is in my home, sometimes on the covered patio or inside, depending on the weather. I sell very well and also get commission request. I read “Open Your Studio” by Melinda Cootsona when it first came out and within 2 months I had my first open studio sale. It’s been good to me to create a mailing list and draw excellent income. Try it out , you may like it. 🙂
    Rhue mcDonough

  4. This post was very timely for me since I will be participating in an Open Studio in November. My studio is in a former warehouse and there are some 16 studios in the building. One of your best pieces of advice is to not overcrowd the work. Since I have been taking less to shows, more sells. Thank you so much for all the great advice.

  5. This sounds like an interesting idea for the future. And thank you all for your advice. My studio is in my house, but it is small. However, I guess I could use the whole house and I would check in to the insurance aspect.

  6. RE: Holding artwork.
    What I have done for someone who wants me to hold a piece of artwork is take their phone number and tell them I will give them a right of first refusal. If someone comes in and wants the piece, I will call the other patron. If they do not answer the call, or say they can’t decide, it goes to the patron standing before me.

    1. Like how you handle this for holding artwork. Otherwise I’d ask for a non-refundable deposit. In 2013 I made an exception when a woman I knew asked me to hold it until had enough ($500.00) to pay cash, rather than have to use credit card. Her desire was to give it as a gift to the New Pope Francis. I also gave up any copying and reproductions to sell, though not sign away copyright. Unusual circumstance , but did pay me in few weeks and wouldn’t have had a chance to otherwise have my work at the Vatican.

  7. Thank you for this post. I’m participating in an upcoming Open Studio in a few weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be able to build on the modest success that I had last year. Your tips on follow-up are greatly appreciated.

  8. Hi Jason,
    Great timing on this article. I am participating in our Open Studios Tour this December. It will be the 6th tour and the second time I participate. The organizers are a group of artists and we have two per year, one in spring and one the first weekend of December. It has definitely been a learning experience, and I will be ordering the book. Thanks for suggesting what to say in each follow-up email so that they are each a little bit different.
    We created a map with “clusters” of artist’s studios that has worked out great. Most of the studios are home based studios and we have a monthly planning meeting.
    Oh, and concerning insurance…We purchased an insurance policy that covers all of the participating studios.

  9. As I’m getting to know my neighbors I have realized that there are MANY artists. I was trying to think of ways to create more of an artist support system and then this blog popped up! A studio tour may be a wonderful way to get all us motivated to create AND sell. Thanks Jason!

  10. I have organized and run an open studio event for the last five years. But ours is a true studio tour. There is no hosting of other artists and everyone is expected to be demonstrating their techniques and show their investment in tools, materials and education. How can we expect the public to understand what is involved in creating a piece of art if all we show them is finished product? If we ask them to drive from location to location to see multiple artists at one spot, is that a STUDIO tour? Or go to locations, such as galleries that they can visit anytime. Is that a STUDIO tour? Why would they spend the gas? They could drive to an art show or fair, park once and simply walk to the different booths. Don’t call it an open STUDIO tour unless you are inviting the guests to see the studio!

    1. Thank you for expressing what I have thought and thoroughly agree with you. I took part in a studio tour last year and had to compete with multiple groups. I was told the artists didnt have studios so banded together. What are your thoughts on this Jason. ?

  11. Perfect timing! Our EAST Austin Studio Tour is approaching and I’m participating for the first time and am carefully reading your recommendations. The advice about holds and how to handle them (or not) is particularly good, now I know what to anticipate on that end and act appropriately!

  12. Regarding the follow-ups, I am often hesitant to be too persistant in contacting the client multiple times for fear of being annoying, but will try your approach and see what happens. Have any of you tried this approach and if so, how did it work for you?

  13. Good and useful advice Jason. May I add to this? A local art store owner at a workshop suggested a number of things about setting up one’s studio for visitors. Think about the entry, make it welcoming. Leave space for transition into the main studio, maybe put cards, brochures, sign-up sheets and even snacks right there as the first thing encountered. As suggested above, don’t overcrowd with works. Determine a path visitors might follow and then make groups of related works along the path. Determine if there are hot spots, a particular place where works seem to show best and sell the best. And of course clean up and make your studio space easy to move around in and welcoming. Think of it at the moment as a sales shop and not as a studio.

    Having tried these ideas at several open houses I found it really helped the experience for both visitors and myself, and also did improve sales. It is a matter of one’s attitude, if you are preparing your studio for selling then it is likely to result in more positive experiences with visitors and more sales.

  14. And one more thing, you really have to like meeting visitors, taking with them. and selling to make the open studio successful and worthwhile. I find that the best part is the great discussions I have with visitors as well as making a sale to someone I believe will really appreciate my work up on their walls.

  15. I am part of a County wide studio Tour here in Ont. Canada, now preparing for its ninth year, held the first weekend of May. I am an oil painter, and have my studio in my home. I have a photographer, a potter and another visual artist set up in various other rooms of my home. Each has a following, and the variety of ‘artists’ draws more of a crowd to the event. Having several artists in one location is a real plus to draw visitors. I insure my home for the year, over and above my regular home insurance. It is costly, but I have to protect visitors and clients coming to view art all year, not just the Tour dates.
    I have found people come to see art- but also to view the house and garden! It means all the spring cleaning and garden cleanup has to be finished. That deadline does not hurt either!

  16. Recently I was looking this. Perfect timing! I’m organizing studio tour art and craft show for 10 local artists on November 14 and 15. This is my third show but this time I am doing from my house backyard. Studio Tour is approaching but I still I have some questions. How do you advertise if art show is from your home? Do you put your address on flyers? The only issue to worry about is only insurance? How do you attract visitors? Are street signs ok? I would appreciate any advice.

  17. Thanks for the great post and all the artist comments…so helpful. I will be doing my first open studio this May out of my house. It will be part of a county wide tour. I feel confident that I can use my whole house as a venue to show how contemporary art really looks amazing in a traditional home. The tour organizers provide maps and a catalog for marketing.

    My question is…do you have any suggestions for afordably advertising to local art buyers?

    I have a very small mailing list and I’m doing this event in hope of gaining exposure. It already costs $400 to be part of the tour so I’m limited with money to do my own marketing. I would love to hear about any creative marketing ideas that really bring buyers.
    Thank you!

  18. Hello,
    I’m the founding member of our local open studios organisation, Cyprus Open Studios. I found this post incredibly valuable and was wondering if I could re-blog onto our own blog? Would you allow that? It would be so helpful to all concerned. We are in our first year and are still learning lots!

  19. Very interesting and valid information and advice on hosting an open studio. I’ve done “house shows”, a version of open studio.. because I have my studio in the house. I use my garage as the main display area, have the extra spotlights installed and display the my art and that of fellow artists in the area….

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