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How to Host a Successful Open Studio

Even if you’re fortunate enough to be represented in a gallery that routinely sells your work, or even if people are buying a fair amount through your personal portfolio/e-commerce website, you may still be interested in holding a private sale in your studio every once in a while. Or maybe you’re part of a communal studio environment that routinely holds open studio events. Either way, if you’re going to invest time and effort into marketing your art through an open studio night or weekend, you want it to be as successful as possible, and I’m not just talking about sales.

In addition to being a great forum for selling your fine art, open studios are fantastic opportunities to practice talking about your work, to start building relationships with potential collectors, and to get objective, constructive feedback. As I mentioned last week, I used to share a studio in a building that was open to the public on the last weekend of every month. Over the years, I learned a few useful tips about holding open studio events:

  1. Promote the event. People lead busy lives so if you want them to show up at any event, you’ll need to remind them about it… and more than once. There are a number of free or inexpensive tools available for you to use, including your Facebook page and (assuming you’ve built up a good e-mail list) an e-invite or e-newsletter. Use these platforms to encourage your art-loving friends to bring their art-loving friends. Another great idea is to post the open studio event on your local community events online calendar, which you can find by going to any search engine and keying in “[your city’s or town’s name] events calendars.” Most news media websites include an events calendar that is free and open to the public for posting details about upcoming happenings. And of course, you can always promote your event the old school way, with a postcard invitation (assuming you’ve got a mailing list).
  2. Prepare to tell your stories. My last two blog posts have been all about the story—your own as an artist plus the individual stories behind each work of art. At several points during your open studio, you will probably see opportunities to tell one or more of them, so be prepared. Practice telling these stories out loud to yourself so you feel comfortable sharing them with others.
  3. Know your sales policies. And several weeks back, I wrote another post about knowing your sales policies when you’re selling directly to collectors. An open studio is just the kind of occasion that will require you to know whether you offer discounts, are willing to sell paintings unframed, how much you charge for commissions, and other important policies.
  4. Create some takeaways. In my experience, the people who visit an open studio are often not ready to purchase a high-ticket item on the spot, so it’s really smart to have something they can take away with them that reminds them of the work of art they are considering buying, especially if they’ll be visiting other open studios. If you have jpegs of all of your works (and you should), you could print out small images on heavy paper or card stock. They might be as small as a business card and just include your contact info and studio location, or they could be the size of a postcard and include some details about the work of art (like the title and price) as well as your contact info and studio location. At the very least, you’ll want to have a business card to hand out.
  5. Capture data about your visitors.With so many people moving through your studio, you’ll want to collect the names and e-mail (or mailing) addresses of as many people as possible. Keep a notebook handy and invite people to leave their details, or consider asking them to register for a free drawing of a small work of art or reproduction as a means of collecting their info.
  6. Encourage them to linger with a demo. If your studio is hopping with lots of visitors, it's obviously not a good time for a demo, but if it’s a slow day, get out your sketchbook or art materials and get to work. People love to see artists engaged in the creative process, and I promise you they will be delighted to stay and watch you in action.
  7. Think carefully about adding food and drinks. When my studio-mate and I first started participating in open studios each month, we sunk a lot of money into wine and snacks. It wasn’t unusual for us to see anywhere from 800 to 1,200 people on a Friday night, so you can imagine how quickly it added up. What we discovered is that our offerings did not result in sales—they just resulted in more repeat visitors who came to drink the wine and eat the food. Eventually we scaled back to iced tea and fewer snacks, and we made just as many sales from nearly as many visitors. Of course, if you’re holding a once-in-a-blue-moon event that’s really special, you absolutely should invest in turning it into a party! Just make sure that whatever you invest has the potential of a good payoff in the end.
  8. Change up your display.This last tip is just for the people who participate in monthly or quarterly open studios. When I was doing that with my friend, we often heard visitors complain that “it was all the same stuff every time they came,” which discouraged them from coming as often. We realized that it was due to the fact that most of the artists in the building—including us—didn’t sell that much and tended to leave the artworks in the same places month after month. We soon figured out that just rearranging the paintings or rotating some older pieces out to make way for newer items gave our studio an entirely new look each time. Repeat visitors would often notice things that had been in the studio for a while but that they were sure they hadn’t seen before simply because they were in a different location. Since it’s unlikely that you could offer a whole new set of artworks for your visitors each time, you can instead create the illusion of all new work by rearranging your selection between events.

I highly recommend holding an open studio event if it’s at all possible. Talking to people about your work face-to-face is an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience, so it’s well worth the effort. And who knows? You just might sell a piece or two.

So what else do you need to know to host your own open studio? Any other great tips out there? Let’s connect!


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