Marketing Mondays: The Studio Visit

View of my cleaned-up studio, 2006, in preparation for a solo at the Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta (The "studio visit" here was photographed for a postcard to announce the show; this is the image that didn't get selected)
The studio visit is its own special event. It’s business. It’s social. It’s intimate. It’s work. It might be a fishing expedition for one dealer, a deal-sealer for another. Here’s curator Mary Birmingham, who has been so generous with her comments in previous posts. Substitute curator for dealer, critic, or art blogger, and the advice is the same:

“Curators visit artists for all kinds of reasons. Maybe I'm planning a show and am considering your work; maybe I'm curious about work I've seen in an exhibition and want to see more; maybe I'm doing someone a favor or accompanying another curator on her rounds; maybe I'm actually interested in possibly offering you a solo show; or maybe none of the above. The important thing is to not read too much into it. I sometimes sense an impatience on the part of artists I've visited when nothing immediately comes of it. Curators have lots of other factors that influence whether or not they will work with a particular artist--often out of their control. Remember that if a curator visits you there's a good likelihood he/she liked your work to begin with. That may be all you get--at least for the moment.”

So take the visit seriously and be prepared for whatever does, or doesn't, happen.

. Directions: Provide them if you’re in a hard-to-find location. Be prepared to take the elevator down to meet the visitor if you’re in a building with a rickety lift (it’s reassuring to the vistor) or if the hallways seem foreboding (s/he doesn’t know the building the way you do). If you’re way out of the way, offer to pick up the visitor at the train station. A few across-the-river artists I know have even picked up dealers at their Chelsea galleries and driven them back after the visit
. Food: Some years ago Ivan Karp came to my studio on Saturday morning on his way to the gallery. I’d put out a small spread with coffee, juice and some breakfast nosh: bagels and cream cheese, croissants, fruit. He looked at it and said, “So you don’t think I had breakfast before I left for work?” OK, too much. (I had a full breakfast every day for a week.) On the other hand, water is always appropriate. And on a hot day, a cool drink is appreciated. I think that chocolate or fruit is nice, too. Make sure it’s set out on a clean space. Provide napkins
. Bathroom: If the dealer has traveled expect that s/he will want to use it. If it’s a shared bathroom, make sure it’s clean. Put in a roll of paper towel and toilet paper
. Heat or A/C: You may be willing to work in a barely heated studio in the winter or in 90 degrees in summer, but provide some kind of comfort for the person who makes the special trip to see your work: a space heater, a window fan—even a hand held fan, which most people don’t usually carry with them
. To clean or not to clean: You don’t have to overhaul the space—it’s a working studio, after all—but the visitor should be able to negotiate the space without stumbling.
“I went into one artist’s space and felt as if I needed a miner’s hat,” recounted a dealer friend, describing a space claustrophobically full of stuff. If you’re using toxic materials, close them and ventilate. (You should be ventilating anyway.) If paintings are still wet, keep them away from a traveled pathway. Visitors who leave with paint on their good clothes—and most are working, so they’re dressed for work—will not be happy if your paint has ruined their clothing. Clean the chairs!

Now, On to the Work
There are a few ways to set up. Personally I like to ask the visitor ahead of time, “How do you like to see the work: all at once, a bit at a time, or do you like to be surprised? If you don’t ask, consider these options:
. Make it like a gallery visit. Don’t cram the walls. Show the work in a way that allows the dealer to see how your work would hold a gallery wall
. Create a salon show. There’s more work here, but it’s still an opportunity to “show” the work. Leave one wall empty (or provide an easel) so that you can move specific works there for closer viewing
. Show work in progress with a few finished pieces. For curators who are interested in process, it’s a change to talk about the how as well as the why
. Bring out the work in a way that allows you to control the presentation—one work at a time, which you place on a viewing wall. I’ve never done this, and I’m guessing it would be a shock to the visitor to walk in to empty walls, but you’d get her attention right quick. You need a sense of the dramatic to pull this off. Think of it as the overture, Acts 1 and 2, possibly an intermission (see Food, above), and then the Denouement
. By the way, don't leave out anything you don't want the visitor to see. It once happened that a painting I'd rejected was the only painting a dealer wanted. I let him take it and hated myself for months afterward

. Show your work in the best possible light. Literally

Pick a Chair
I make sure there’s a comfortable chair as well as a straightback chair for the visitor. Call me an armchair psychologist, but the person who goes for comfy is at ease in the studio visit process and likely to stay a while.
. I also make sure there’s a notebook and pen. Visitors like to take notes
. And did I mention to make sure the chair is clean?

Takeaway Material
. A small package with resume, statement, a CD with images, and a printout of the images on the CD; couple of reviews or articles
. A card with your contact info

How Long the Visit Lasts
I’ve had art professionals literally “stop in”—say hello, give a once over, and then leave. It’s a disappointment, but they don’t want to waste their time on a visit that will go nowhere. It happens. On the other hand, I've had studio visits last the afternoon. I once had a studio visit from a prospective dealer who spent five hours looking at everything, and then we went to dinner. I’ve been with her gallery for over a decade and had three solo shows there. If someone travels a long way, expect a reasonably long visit (see Food and Bathroom, above)

Studio Visit with Another Artist
Most of this same stuff applies when another artist comes to visit, though they understand—probably in a way a dealer or curator does not—just how much it takes to get a space presentable, so you don’t have to set up in quite the same way. But studio visits can and do lead to connections and opportunity, so take it seriously.
. Don’t have just anyone over. Your studio is as close to the inside of your mind as a physical space can get. I think about this when I blog about my studio visits. I want to give my readers a look into the artist's space, but I always ask, "May I photograph your bulletin board? Your in-progress work? Ideas and unusual techniques could, and do, get ripped off

. Beware the impromptu studio visits from your building neighbors. Visitors come knocking when they're on break but you're not; that can be a huge timesuck. (I used to put up a sign that said, "No Visitors Right Now. Thanks." )
. Then there's the more devious issue. “Every time [artist's name] visited my studio, I ended up seeing work just like mine in her studio,” complained F, an artist friend. “I finally stopped opening the door.”
. Some artists "hide the silverware," so to speak, to keep expensive expensive brushes or tubes of paint from disappearing. My feeling is that if you can't trust a visitor with your supplies, that's not a visitor you want in the studio. (Open Studios are, of course different because you are opening your space to the public. But the same caveats apply.)
Apropos of artists visiting studios, here's artist Lisa Pressman talking about her visits to other artists' studios for a talk she's giving in June.
Over to you: Readers, your comments and stories are welcome.


Caio Fern said...

this is a delight .
really good and useful post .

Joanne . i have posted last night about a specific view of art market .
could you one time go there , read and tel me what you think . i am quite curious about . is a post with one work of mine , that tlaks about art book , curatory and market .
thank you .

Jackie said...

Hi Joanne,

I read this column every Monday, and as an art student hoping to pursue a career doing what I love, it's indispensable knowledge that I'm not learning from anyone else.

My studio mates and I are doing an open studio (much more low profile than the kind you are talking about here). I'm wondering what you think can come of it, and if you have any suggestions for how to make the most of the night.

Thanks for writing!


Jackie said...


I should also mention that our open studios are at our school. We are a very mixed group because this is so, and don't necessarily share life goals, ideologies, or styles/methods of working. We're all still figuring it out.

Chris Rywalt said...

You could give out CDs or you could go the newer, cooler, and -- I think -- easier route and have credit-card-sized USB drives made up with your own image on them. I got one of them from Serena Bocchino and it was memorable and easier to use than a CD. (More and more computers are shipping without optical drives.)

The drives still seem kind of expensive (especially compared to CDs which are really cheap now) but they strike me as more professional than a CD-R labeled in Sharpie. Just Google on "credit card usb promotional" and see what pops.

Joanne Mattera said...

I love the idea of galleries making up those USB cards for their clients, or to give out at art fairs, but it seems like too big an expense for the average artist. Until it becomes a standard I don't see myself doing it. Also, if your computer is not the latest model, or equipped with up-to-date programs, you won't be able to access the info.

What does everyone else think?

If you're not getting this information at your school,the school is not doing its job. Advocate for a course, for more visiting artists who come specifically to address career issues. I do one one or two visiting artist gigs a year.

P.S. Re the studio visit: Where is it located? What kind of PR are you doing? Are you sending announcement or invitations to the dealers and curators in your area? It's not enough to open your doors, you have a lot of promotional work to do.

Nancy Natale said...

Great info, Joanne, and I love the richness of that photo of your studio.

I like all the detail you included about food, water, comfy chair, etc. These are all decisions that need to be made in addition to the most important aspect of the studio visit - presenting your work. Reading some options for that, too, was very useful.

Thanks for your usual great info!

Nancy Ewart said...

I love these Monday Marketing posts. While I'm not currently active in marketing my art work, I may return to that some day and they are extremely useful and informative. I wish that we had been taught this when I went to the SFAI back in the 60's but at that time, it was art for art's sake. It's no wonder I didn't think I could make any money from art. Of course, that was the 60's and it was a different time. But you are really providing a valuable service here to those young enough and energetic enough to get out and hussle.

Anonymous said...

It's also a good idea to be sure you have all the contact information of the person making the visit when you give them your info kit. And be sure to send a quick thank you note, by email is fine. It's not necessary, the visitor for the most part is doing his/her job, but if you initiate the visit, its polite, will be remembered, and a good way to continue to keep in touch.

Joanne Mattera said...

Yes, yes, a thank you. Of course! I was so focused on the visit itself that I neglected to mention the followup. In real life I always thank the person who has taken time with me or my work.

Here's what a critic/curator Andrea Kirsch said on the topic at a careers panel we were on together a couple of year ago in Dallas: "I remember every artist who ever sent me a thank you--all three of them."

Be one of those three.

mikesorgatz said...

Great pointers. I think the key is to create a welcoming environment for a visitor.

Philip Koch said...

Joanne, good post. I had the Print and Drawing Society of the Baltimore Museum of Art visit my studio in two 20 person shifts one Saturday last month.When they decided to focus their programming for this season on the medium of pastels, they knew I did a lot of work that way and asked for a studio demonstration. Reading over your thoughtful checklist I'm pleased I'd thought of most of your points.

It worked better than I could have hoped and know it will lead to gaining some new collectors (and friends) down the road. I'd urge anyone to start thinking about how to get more people to visit your studio. If the visitors are non-artists, remember they'll likely find even the most prosaic materials and processes you use in your work exotic and fascinating. I think we artists sometimes forget we do something most people think is extraordinary.

Joanne Mattera said...

Philip says:
I think we artists sometimes forget we do something most people think is extraordinary.

I paused for that thought. Thanks.

Eva said...

When I recently found out that I would have a solo show in June, I gathered up ideas about The Studio Visit. It's taken on a life of its own, especially because my last solo was during a December when so many people were in Miami. I learned that a body of work might need more than that one month to make an impact. This time I want to make sure some VIPs at least see the work, whether they write/curate/whatever about it. The conversation around the work, pre-exhibition, is important to me. Presenting it this way also makes it feel like some of the pressure is off. In this particular case, the works are all on paper and fit into portfolios. So I've seen a couple of people at their own offices/workspaces and not everything has taken place in my studio.

LXV said...

Depending on the circumstances, you might want to enlist he help of a reliable, trustworthy friend or partner to act as a quiet behind-the-scenes assistant. My partner once helped me handle some large drawings that would have been awkward to do alone; and I once ran the projector for him during an important visit, leaving him free to do the schmoozing.

During "open" studios, it's important to have someone to spell you if you need to step out for a minute, or to watch the door while you are doing business with another guest. Be sure your assistant is someone you trust to behave courteously and discreetly in your best interest and who will not attempt to upstage you with an important visitor.

Thank you Joanne. Another wonderful Marketing Monday. May we all have good studio visits this year!

Chris Rywalt said...

The USB cards are more expensive right now but the price is coming down. Most of it is the printing, so you could conceivably buy a white one (and they're cheap) and paint on it yourself. Little promotional art works.

As far as what's on it and the age of a viewer's PC, Serena's had a self-contained Flash slideshow. If your PC can surf the Web, it has enough horsepower to play a Flash movie, and it doesn't even matter what's installed locally. A PC would have to be really ancient at this point to be unable to use a USB drive.

Caio Fern said...

i posted a nice comment and you don't even answer or go to a qick visit as i asked ?
you're very rude .

Jhina Alvarado said...

Hi Joanne,
So what do you do when a gallery contacts you (sometimes more than once and wants to make a studio visit but then never follows through? This has happened to me three times and I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to become a pest and email them many times asking when they are coming. Suggestions?

Looking forward to seeing you at the conference this year!

Joanne Mattera said...

If a gallery has called to make a studio visit and then doesn't follow through, there could be any one of a number of extenuating circumstances. But if the same gallery does this more than once, that's a red flag in my opinion. Too scattered, too uncommitted, not really interested.

If different galleries have done this to you, I would ask: What has the communication been like? If a dealer expresses interest in a studio visit, you could follow up by suggesting several dates and times, and then e-mailing the day before (or just before you begin to prepare the studio) to confirm the visit.

Sometimes "I'd like to come by for a studio visit" is like "Let's have lunch." The intentions are good but the follow through is not there. You can channel that interest into a specific date and time.

Fulvia said...

Joanne, thank you for this photo. I find it most satisfying, like a mouthful of cappuccino and tiramisu! I believe I am still counting the wax skillets ...

Anonymous said...

With a studio like that I find it hard to believe you ever want to go home. Beutiful!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered doing a DVD as a companion piece to your book? I love your studio. Would be a perfect place to film an encaustic techniques video. You could tell us how you use all those skillets we see in the background.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thank for the kind words, but I'm not remotely interested in teaching encaustic. Fortunately there are many wonderful teachers out there who are skilled in teaching encaustic techniques.

(I do crits, teach professional practices, and lecture about my work. I'm particularly fond of visising artist gigs, where I get to work with seniors or grad students.)