Visiting An Artist Studio: A How-To

Paint brushes in my studio.

One of the things I love to promote here on artist-at-large are open studio events.

Have you never thought of visiting, or wanted to visit, an actual artist’s studio while you are traveling?

Open studio events take place throughout the year, with things gearing up for summer because it seems to be the perfect season to open up the doors to the studio and invite everyone and their friends in for a visit.

Open studios happen all over the world. You only have to look at the Open Studios Listings to see that. But wherever the events are happening, visiting a studio is a fairly universal affair.

You say you’ve never visited any artists’ studio before?

Why is that? Because you are intimidated? Afraid you will have to buy something? Or at the very least say nice things about the work? And what if you get there and don’t like the work after all?

Different artists open their studios for different reasons.

Some set an annual deadline of getting a body of work finished and cleaning the studio before the event. Others look at open studio events for the sole reason of making sales. Others just want to show their work, gather names and addresses of potential collectors for their mailing lists. Even though putting just the open studio event together is weeks of very hard work – its not just throwing open the doors – its also nice to use it as a way to celebrate another year of getting to be creative, of being an artist.

If you are intimidated by the very thought of visiting an artist’s studio, don’t be. Artists want you to be there, whether you are buying or not.

Here are a few tips to enjoy the journey:

When you visit a studio during an open studio event, an artist will usually be doing one of two things, working on a piece of art or be busy doing something that looks like work, or, playing the part of the perfect host. It really depends on the personality of the artist.

The one that looks like they are working is giving you the space to see their work on your own terms. Most of the time they aren’t ignoring you and are very open to answering questions about their work. On open studio days there are no stupid questions, so don’t hesitate to use a studio visit to ask questions about the work, the process (some artists wont reveal this, but they’ll just say as much), the inspiration for the work, anything that might interest you. But don’t ask questions just to be polite, or just because you feel you have to. If you don’t have any questions, that’s ok too. In this case, its ok to look at the work, sign the guest book, and move on to the next studio.

The artist that is playing the part of being a host, wants you to feel welcome in their studio. There might be a little food, a little wine, or drinks of some sort. This is a person who will ask you how your day is going, or whether or not you have seen any other great work that day. This artist, while paying attention to the people who are truly interested in their work, is also giving themselves the space to enjoy the day. Feel free to have a conversation, and socialize with other people who may be gathered in the studio.

There are definitely things not to do when making open studio visits.

If a space in the studio is blocked off, its blocked off for a reason. You aren’t there to snoop. Don’t look behind curtains or open closed doors. A studio, while many think it is just a workspace, is really a highly personal creative space. What the artist wants you to see, and what you are here to see, is clearly on display.

In that same vein, if you are actually going around to open studios expressly looking for an empty studio for yourself to rent, its best not to mention that. Nobody wants to answer questions about landlords, neighbors, or rent while trying to pay attention to their guests.

If you have children with you, remember that art studios are not child proofed and can contain a lot of sharp tools and toxic chemicals. Hold your toddler, or make sure you are holding your child’s hand the entire time you are in the studio.

This next topic is a sensitive one, but it needs to be pointed out.

Only ask about pricing if you are truly interested in making a purchase. Often times an artist will have a price sheet handy and you won’t have to ask at all. It would be a good idea, if you really like an artist’s work and want to own a piece of it, not to haggle over pricing during open studios. Either love the work enough to honor the artist by paying the asking price, or take note of it and contact the artist after the event is over. In general, it’s not a good thing to ask for a discount, even if you know the artist well. If the artist can afford to do so, or if the piece you liked didn’t happen to sell and they need to make room in their studio, or if he sees you hesitating about the price, he may offer a discount, but never go into the studio expecting one. And definitely don’t haggle.

As you are leaving, don’t forget to sign the guestbook as most artists are collecting names and email addresses these days. This will get you invited back to future events put on by that artist, events that may not be publicized.

Do you have any tips for people who are novice open studio event attendees?

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