Marketing Mondays: Open Studios

Back in late May, Nancy Natale suggested I do a post on the topic of Open Studios. I decided to wait until fall, when many of these artist-run events coincide with the new art season. For unrepresented artists, Open Studios are an opportunity to show work and build a collector base. Even for represented artists, they're an opportunity to participate in a community event.
Logo and map for the TOAST Art Walk (Tribeca Open Artists Studios) in lower Manhattan. Not a current notice; images from the Internet

I have done exactly one open studio in my life (hated it; too much set up, too many boring questions, too few sales to make the experience financially worthwhile), but I have occasionally attended them and enjoyed the experience. .
What I Like About Open Studios
Speaking as a visitor, then, I can say that the Open Studios I've found most enjoyable are the ones in which at least one wall is set up to show the work in a gallery-like setting, which means a white wall and good lighting. Mind you, I like seeing the studios--the tools and materials of each artist, how the setups differ from artist to artist, medium to medium, and whether the studio is a work space or a live/work space--but in terms of viewing the work, the experience is best for me when the work is easily viewable. This might mean, for instance, repainting your painting wall, since that's usually the best vertical surface in the studio.
I also appreciate when the artist acknowledges my entry. I don't necessarily want to engage in conversation with every artist in every studio (and from my one Open Studio experience, I know she doesn't necessarily want to chat with me), but when the artist is totally involved with her friends or reading a book and doesn't look up, it feels like a closed studio. I see a ton of art every month in galleries and museums. What makes an Open Studio unique for me is the peek into the inner sanctum and the opportunity to talk with the artist about her work if I am drawn to it. The artist who can speak clearly and succinctly about her work is the one who will make an impression. And it has happened that hearing an artist speak about her work, to me or to others, has sent me back for a second look even if I was not bowled over initially.
I personally know one New York artist who ended up with a solo show and gallery representation in Berlin as a result of the exposure, and a Boston artist who's now with a Boston gallery, which then resulted in a commission for a major New England museum, so sometimes the dots do connect. And I know or know of many artists who do well enough saleswise to keep doing Open Studios on a regular basis. (Many dealers won't tell you this, but they do pop into the occasional event to see who/what looks new.)
Business basics
. Provide information: a price list for the work on view, an artist's statement, a resume
. Give your visitors something to take away with them: a postcard, business card or (best of all) a sheet with a few images along with a statement and contact information. They may decide in a couple of weeks that they want to come back to re-view a work, and you want them to be able to contact you easily. In that same vein, have some printed images of specific works to give to someone who shows serious interest in the work during the event--4x6" photo paper is inexpensive yet provides a sufficiently large image for a collector to ponder
. Accept credit cards. Considering how many people pay with plastic, it's to your advantage to set yourself up to take them
. If you're taking cash, a sales slip is a sufficient receipt for the collector, but follow up with a PDF or a hard-copy receipt so that you have data for your mailing list
. Promote the event. Don't depend on the Open Studio promoters do it all. Put the information on your website, your blog. Send an e-mail to your list. Send a postcard. Include all the pertinent information: who, what, where, when (sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at what gets left off the announcements). Include a phone number and e-mail address, and directions or a map if you think it would be helpful
. Price the work reasonably. While you don't want to give the work away, one of the draws for collectors--and artists also collect--is that the prices are lower than at a commercial gallery because there is no commission to share
. If your work is large and your prices aren't low, consider special projects at a lower price: works on paper, a print edition
. Factor in the discount. You're going to be asked, so set your prices accordingly
. Have a raffle. Hey, why not? Open Studios are a fun event. Make it fun! Make the raffle part of your advertising strategy
Follow Up
. Consider a newsletter to stay in touch with your Open Studio visitors. Let them know when you have new work, let them know of a professional success. People who follow an artist like to know that artist's progress

. Definitely consider a wine and cheese event for collectors when you have new work to show
. Or invite your best collectors to a private studio visit when you have that new work. This is harder work for you-- it's the kind of thing a gallery does all the time: inviting collectors to the gallery to see new work--but as long as you are unrepresented, you want to represent yourself in the best possible, most professional way. When you do find representation, you want your collectors to follow you to the gallery
Over to You
. Who has had good results with the Open Studio, whether in terms of sales or attention from dealers or curators?
. Any advice, trade secrets, caveats?
. If you've got an Open Studio coming up, please post it in the Comments section


Donna Dodson said...

I've done open studios a few times in the past but I dont live in an artist's studio building so a few times I've just opened my door to the public and paid to be on the map which wasnt that great since I have live/work space in a coop building and the door had to be propped open [that angered my neighbors a bit] and it invites voyerism and tourism instead of collectors and curators. A few other times I've participated in group shows in my neighborhood during Open studios weekend and that was much more successful- I got picked up by 2 different galleries, made a few sales and even landed a teaching job or two. But in terms of selling my work, the most successful event(s) I've held at my studio were private open house[s]/ open studio event[s] at another time of year [6 months after open studios] similar to a collector's circle that Joanne suggested.

Quilt Works said...

Very interesting topic. I had a few customers express an interest in seeing my studio, but since it was at my home I was a bit relunctant to do it.

Have people had open studios that is at their home?

p.s. Have you ever done features on fiber artists? I'd love you to join in my upcoming giveaway... perhaps you will love it, and do a feature on fiber artists?
I am planning to run another giveaway. I thought it would be fun
for my followers to voite which of the artworks should be the giveaway.

Joanne Mattera said...

Ooh, Quilt Works, you have just pushed my button! I don't do features on "fiber artists" any more than I do features on "oil artists" or "encaustic artists" or "wood artists" or "paper artists." But I do look at, and write about, work made by artists in all mediums.

Indeed (and thank you for this), you have inspired me to do a Marketing Mondays post--an editorial, really--on "The Adjective." Give me a couple of weeks. In the meantime, in terms of fiber, I did a couple of reports:
. "Sew Me the Money" from the Armory fair in March of this year
Here's the link:
. A picture-heavy post on El Anatsui at Jack Shainman last year. Link:

Hylla Evans said...

If it's a high traffic event, having someone else to write up sales, get emails, take coats is very helpful. That leaves the artist always in the role of Artist, talking about her work, networking, and looking professional. Leave the drink pouring and administrative end to an assistant.

mikesorgatz said...

Having just gone through DUMBO this past weekend, let me say there is a huge difference between going to a studio where an artist has prepared for visitors and one that has not. I mean literally, just being prepared to have someone walk to your studio... it's so awkward to walk through an open door (that's clearly marked as being part of the art festival) and feeling like you're intruding on someone's personal space because they're not ready for visitors. I'd also recommend having a friend stay with you if the idea of people looking at your work is too scary. Personally I enjoy the experience (as an artist) because you can get some really good feedback and the opportunity to meet new people. I've never had anyone say something unkind. There's two more big tours coming up in Brooklyn - the AGAST tour on Oct 17/18 and the Red Hook tour Oct 24

Mike Sorgatz

Anonymous said...

Sorry for a somewhat crappy attitude, but I intensely hate open studio events. Here in the midwest (Mpls) the tiny gallery community and folks that dole out teaching gigs do not attend. Instead, people resembling the cast of Fargo gawk at your studio, as they drink your beer and nimble treats. While I like the idea of community, catching up with up lost drugis and meeting new artists, most of the people participating 'round here do work I do not want to be associated with, s.a. hobby-people and kids that did their best work in art school.

Anonymous said...

This is my 8th year doing Open Studios. While I agree it's a pain to set up (all that cleaning!), I've found the event to be hugely vauluable in that it's helped me get more comfortable answering questions and talking about my work and building confidence.

The first few years sales were okay (I always broke even, and then some), and then, suddenly there was a leap in both sales and contacts. I've had a couple of shows as a result of Open Studios and just got picked up by a gallery, who saw some publicity material I sent out. I also have made contact with some talented and interesting artists and art appreciators (remember, it's not all about sales). While it can be tiring, it seems to me that if you're unwilling to invest 1 or 2 weekends out of the year in your career, you're either beyond what O.S. has to offer, or else you maybe ask yourself what you ARE willing to do to promote your your work.

If you live in a region that has a very unsophisticated public to attend the event, maybe it's a different story.

Joanne Mattera said...

Interesting posts, all--especially our dueling Anonymi, the last two commenters. Indeed it must make a difference where you show. Also, in an area with so many open studios, there must be a saturation factor.

I also like what Hylla and Mike has to say: have someone help you so that you can concentrate on being the artists, not the gofer.

Donna makes in interesting point about where the studio is. I've always wondered how artists working in their own home have fared. I'm not sure I would want a lot of strangers beng in my home; it's hard enough to have folks in my studio.

Jill Herrick-Lee said...

Hi Joanne,

I love Marketing Mondays.

I've never done an Open Studio. I work in the unfinished attic of a very old home. The space is small with poor lighting and doesn't show my art well. Over the years it has fallen off the list for renovation due to priority repairs. (Soon, I hope!)

I wanted to share though, not long ago, a gallery owner was interested in my work and wanted to schedule a "studio" visit. It terrified me but I realized the opportunity I was being given. She came and picked twenty-five pieces for a four women show earlier this year, sold some of my work and kept some at the gallery after that show and included new work in other group shows!
So, for any ambivalent artists out there who work out of their homes, I'd say, say Yes! You never know what taking a risk could bring.

Anonymous said...

I know many young artists look to this blog for great advice, so as a gallerist I'd like to add to your thoughts on pricing.

Not every artist needs or wants gallery representation. But if you are not a well established artist,(probably accounts for most participants in Open Studios), and you have or want a gallery, pricing low can be risky strategy. Never, ever undercut your gallery (we do find out, and it causes us pain). And don't assume that a gallery can double your prices in one fell swoop in the transition from self management to representation.

Three anecdotes from my own experience:

Ex.1 A young artist, no gallery, eager to stop doing Open Studios, artist fairs and the like. We priced the work for her first gallery show at a comparable level to her previous pricing (about 10% higher). Yes, she took home less per painting (although you do have to factor in entry fees, cost of setting up a booth or making the studio presentable, plus the hassle). As expected, her old fans attended the opening and were thrilled to at last see her work in a gallery. We sold to them (no sticker shock), but also to some serious patrons who were not familiar with her work. We'll raise her prices next time.

Ex.2 A young artist, wants to continue with the local open studio event but also work with me. She teaches and generously shows student work at her open studio. We scheduled her show to coincide with the open studio. The major works came to the gallery, but she produced inexpensive sketches for the Open Studio. We directed people back and forth between the gallery and her studio, with excellent results.

Ex.3 A very established artist who does not reside in my region. He does not do Open Studios per se, but does enjoy selling direct from his studio. He never, ever discounts his work compared to gallery pricing, but he gives key patrons a small sketch as gift when they purchase from him directly. It all works: I love having his work at my gallery, he imparts credibility to the emerging artists I represent, and he can still reward his patrons without undercutting my ability to sell his work at the gallery.

Thanks for your blog, Joanne.

LXV said...

Joanne, How timely! I am just about to do my very first Open Studio, next weekend. It's a city-wide (Jersey City) event which seems to me rather poorly organized and very slanted toward the big loft building/group show scenario. I have had a studio here for 25 years but because historically I was in such a marginal neighborhood, I couldn't even get on their map. However, things have changed so much and there are quite a few artists down here now, that I decided to give it a try. I am sending out my own publicity and providing a map upon request. I'm sharing it with my studio partner who has very different ideas about how we should be presenting to the public. So, we'll play it by ear and perhaps I'll blog about it later. I'm ready for anything.

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for posting on this topic, Joanne. It's interesting to read the comments as I'm sure artists have many different responses to OS depending on their studio, personality and experience. I only found it worth while when I was living/working in a large artists' building in the Boston area and hordes of visitors went through. Most of them only wanted to see the walled-off living area of my space, but I did have quite a few sales and found it usually worth all the prep work. I also made good contacts with collectors, consultants and galleries. It was also nice to see old friends who stopped by.

Now that I'm here in western Mass., it's a different story - no buyers, just gawkers and no rewards for all my work in doing OS or (the big thing out here) Art Walks. The AW is a bastardized version of OS that happens every month. I did it for three months and gave it up as a waste of time and a total annoyance.

I'm happy now that I don't have to clean and rearrange my work space to make it more like a gallery for people more interested in seeing the view out the window than the work on the wall.

Joanne Mattera said...

Jill: COngrats on your recent success in the studio

Lacy Xoc: Much luck with yout event

Nancy: Thanks for inspiring this post. You hit it when you complain about people being "more interested in seeing the view out th window than the work on the wall." Or the people more interested in how you make your art than the actual art itself.

Anonymous 12:31: Thanks for your comments on pricing. Last January, the week before I started Marketing Mondays,I did a post on pricing (related to the then-still-new crash.* I'll revisit the topic again in early 2010, and I'd like to repost your comments there. If you are so inclined, e-mail me so that we can discuss more:


Anonymous said...

A comment with regard to the assumption that prices at an artist’s studio will be lower than found in a gallery. I am not sure if you meant a particular artist that has gallery rep, or just prices in general…

In my case, and my partner’s, we do not undercut our galleries prices. Potential clients DO tend to assume that it is cheaper to purchase directly from the artist. We gently straighten them out. If the artist is doing the work that a gallery would do for them (advertising, meet & greet, hanging the art, buying and serving food and wine, clean-up, handling financial and shipping details), why should the artist do that work for free? We do offer discounts for multiple purchases, and occasionally, have given small studies as gifts to collectors. However, we do not want to provide ANY disincentive for a collector to purchase from our galleries. We value our gallery representation and appreciate the work they do – the commission is worth it.

We have held several open studios and have always made decent sales and added to our mailing list. I find that they are a great way to get comfortable talking about a new body of work. It also serves as an annual reset button on the condition of the studio, which is always more pleasant and organized after the event.

Anon gallerist at 12:31pm, thank you for your comments.

A question to you all: In your experience, what is the best time of year to hold and open studio? Late afternoon or evening? We have tended to hold these in early December, but wonder if there are better times…


Joanne Mattera said...


Thanks for requesting clarification.My assumption is that most artists who do Open Studios are not gallery represented. Prices are typically lower, then, because with no dealer, there is no dealer commission.

But if an artist is gallery represented and decides to do an OS, the prices absolutely should be the same.

LXV said...

Joanne,Thanks for your moral support and for this blog. As I vacuum and wipe down the grime and de-squirrel all the nests and wonder how the heck I'm going to fit all the new stuff on the wall, I ponder the various tidbits I've picked up here. Your checklist is invaluable.

Eliza said: "It also serves as an annual reset button on the condition of the studio... " Yes, it's a lot of work, but I really don't clean but once a year and it is quite cathartic, and celebratory, particularly as it signals the end of a year's work and serves to prepare for the new. I'm not actually intending to sell much because my prices are a bit high for this kind of traffic, but I like to see people react and it's a good way to engage in conversation about the work (inane as it sometimes is). I do have gallery representation and I view this as another way to create a little splash and maybe pave the way for some sales.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the clarification. Love this blog!

Lady Xoc -- Well said!


Carol Beth Icard said...

I have been spending a good bit of time reading your posts and their comments, and feel as though I have connected with an enormously rich resource. This topic of Open Studios is thought provoking on many levels. I especially appreciate hearing how artists with gallery representation handle the open studio sales. Sometimes I've felt alone in my stance of protecting my prices and keeping them the same as in the gallery where I'm represented. The concept of giving a small study or sketch as a bonus to a studio visitor is helpful. Since my studio falls in the region of my gallery contract, I am splitting the retail with my gallery.