Studio Visits & Open Studios
Studio visits can be arranged with gallery dealers, art consultants, other artists, non profits, and curators, or anyone who has the time to look at your work and talk about it with you. Studio visits can be as formal as meeting with a dealer booking artists for an exhibition, or as informal as inviting a friend over to discuss your newest body of work.
Studio visits are a useful tool for making new connections with other people in the art world. When you start to develop a professional relationship with another artist or curator, consider asking her/him over for a studio visit. Inviting fellow artists over for studio visits can also prove an invaluable opportunity to rehearse talking about your work and to hash out new ideas. Having a studio visit can also help you overcome the nervousness that accompanies presenting new work to a public audience. The more you meet with people you know and respect, the better prepared you will be to talk about your art practice with strangers.
There are many different types of studio visits, so think about what you are going to show before you invite people over. You might simply want to introduce someone to your work. For this kind of studio visit you don’t necessarily have to have new work to show. You can show her/him older work you still have in your inventory, or you can show work in a portfolio or a computer screen.
You might schedule a studio visit to talk about a new body of work. If so, you will want to have your new work ready to show in a clean, well-lit environment. Don’t clutter your space with older work, or you might confuse your guest. However, have a portfolio of older work available just in case your guest would like a historical context to your current body of work.
Prepare for a studio visit by having a few questions about your work ready to ask your guest. Clearly state your intentions with the work and ask your guest if your intentions are present. Ask about framing, lighting, and ideal exhibition environments. Ask if the work makes your guest think of work by other artists. This will provide you with conversation starters during awkward silences. Take notes.
Give detailed directions to your studio, and how to get inside. Remember to give your contact information so your guest can get in touch with you should she/he get lost.
Remember that studio visits can be as short as ten minutes or last longer than an hour. Curators, critics, and dealers often go on several studio visits a day, so when you schedule your studio visit agree on the duration of the visit ahead of time. If your guest is doing several studio visits that day, it is in your best interest to request an earlier time slot than a later one. Similar to reading for hours or watching too many movies in a row, curators can easily get art fatigue. You don’t want to be the last person they visit after hours and hours of art viewing.
Remember to always provide something to drink (water, at the least), and a clean place to sit. Let your guest know where she/he can sit so she/he doesn’t end up sitting on your art!
If your work is particularly messy to make or requires strong-oder materials, think about removing these elements from your studio for the purpose of the visit. You don’t want to distract your guest with an overpowering and potentially harmful aroma of epoxy resin or worse, slip on a puddle of oil paint.
Have your artist statement and résumé available, even if you have sent one to your guest already. Additionally, a description of current work and past projects, and reviews and announcements from exhibitions or other printed materials can help your guest understand the work.
During the Visit
Remember that you represent your work. No matter how great your work is, if you appear uninformed, arrogant, or rude you may put your guest off and miss exhibition, funding, or representation opportunities. Always have basic tact, humility, and politeness. Do not brag, or you will appear entitled and pretentious. Do not be dramatic or demanding, or you run the risk of distancing or alienating your guest.
Start with a tour of your work. Explain what you are currently working on, and sit back and wait for a response. Focus on your work—this is not the time to go off on tangents or dominate the conversation. Be calm and mirror your guest’s attitude. If she/he talks a lot, try to keep pace. If she/he is prone to being quiet, try to slowly ease her/him into a new conversation.
Your guest may ask you many questions about your work. Don’t answer with bullsh*t. Most people, especially art professionals, can smell it a mile away. If you don’t know the answer, simply state that fact, affirm that you will look for the answer, and respond in a timely manner.
Although it may sound obvious, don’t get drunk or do drugs during your studio visit. Remember that even too much caffeine can make you jittery and nervous. There is a time and a place for partying. Formal or informal, a studio visit is still business.
Meeting With Dealers
If you are meeting with a gallery director about possible representation or special exhibition, be prepared with the right attitude and questions. Do not bring your prejudicial attitudes toward the art business, art dealers, art galleries, or the system of the art world into a studio visit. It is best to work through these issues in therapy or with friends, or better yet, keep them to yourself. Remember a gallery is not interested in working with new artists who bring that type of baggage to its roster. Galleries are in the business of selling work, and the last thing they need is more drama. Do not give the dealer or curator a hard time. It is always easier to get along with an artist who is pleasant to work with. It is recommended to research your visiting dealer. Find out how the dealer works professionally from the artists she/he represents. Is she/he tough but fair? Casual and friendly? Militant yet very professional? Similar to everything in your art career, know your audience!
Never argue a commission split. Learn why dealers deserve their percentages on your own time, not theirs. If you believe that the commission split is not fair, you should find another gallery. Beware of scamming dealers, but also respect those dealers who expect 50/50, as they usually earn their part of the commission through hard work.
Never tell a dealer or any person visiting your studio that she/he is missing the true meaning of your artwork. The work should speak for itself, as you will not have the opportunity to be a personal docent at your exhibition. If the visitor has trouble understanding your work or how it relates to your message, this is usually your problem, not hers/his. Curators, critics, and most people in the art world rely on art for their livelihood. They spend a lot of time looking at art and are usually pretty good at evaluating work and anticipating how others will perceive your work. Do not act desperate or offer them the challenge of selling your work if they are uncertain or disinterested. You want to partner with someone who really appreciates your work. It is a good idea to show work that is available to the dealer or curator, and to be clear about what work is unavailable and why.
Remember that dealers make a living off selling artwork, their products. It is important to them to know how your production of those products function on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis. Do you produce a lot of work in short amount of time? Do you work on large bodies of work over a span of many years, or do you work on many individual pieces or projects? During your studio visit, be prepared to answer questions about production times and costs. Even if you find this inappropriate, get over it. Throughout your art career, you will inevitably run across a studio visitor that will ask you the always irking question: “How much did it cost you to make this?”
Although the topic is rarely discussed before forming a working relationship, be ready if retail price questions come up in the conversation. If you are confident in your pricing, simply answer any questions the dealer may have for you. If the work is brand new or you are unfamiliar with how to price work in the first place, don’t hesitate to ask for the dealer’s opinion. Of course, this circumstance depends upon the conditions and mood of the studio visit. Many dealers feel comfortable talking about prices and suggestions for the art market. Another option would be to offer a follow-up with details. This way you can consult other artist friends and colleagues regarding appropriate pricing.
If the dealer begins to talk about a relationship with her/his gallery, ask about specific details, such as exhibition schedules and expectations in terms of shared and separate responsibilities. Find out what you can do next. You might be invited to participate in a group show, or the dealer may wait to think about the visit. Do not be impatient, and do not hound them. The studio visit is usually an indicator of who you are as a person, as well as an artist. If they do not give you something then and there (or request something of you), be sure to ask them if you can keep them posted about future work. This will give you a reason to add them to your mailing list or to contact them again in the future with a new or finished body of work.
Even if you think the studio visit couldn’t get any better, don’t expect a dealer to whip out a contract right on your workbench. Dealers view tons of artwork and visit even more artists. Just as you need time to make difficult decisions regarding your art career, they too need a moment to assess you as a potential artist to add to their well-respected roster. Rarely will you see a dealer or other art professional rushing into a professional relationship. If you do, this should raise a red flag anyway. Professional relationships take time and energy to forge. Be patient.
Having your studio open for either a special event or as part of an open studios weekend can be a great way to show off your work, make connections, and practice speaking about your work. These events usually occur once or twice a year. Any more than that can be tedious and superfluous. Similar to a studio visit, an open studio event is intended to familiarize an audience with your work. However, key differences between the two are usually public access and the mood of your environment. Typically an open studio event is open to the public where guests may come and go during a set of operating hours. Many of the encounters and conversations may be similar to a private studio visit but in a more communal environment. Most studio visits are structured by time restraints, topics discussed, and other relevant art business procedures. An open studio event can provide less pressure for you and your guests. This social platform can also yield future exhibitions, meetings, studio visits, and reviews.
Setup Before the Event
If you are doing your own publicity, make sure that you provide good directions to your studio. Don’t inconvenience your guest with parking restrictions either. If your guest has to spend hours looking for a spot, she/he will just become frustrated and leave. If your studio is in a populated/urban area where parking is limited, maybe negotiate with a local parking lot, get a valet attendant (or friend), or offer a shuttle service.
Put up signage that visually grabs passersby and attracts them into the space. The same goes for your online presence and social media campaign.
Install the work to its advantage with ample breathing room. A guest will have a difficult time understanding the work if it’s piled on top each other.
Be sure there is adequate lighting. Lighting is very important and often overlooked. It is understood that your studio may not have an engineered lighting system found in a museum. But if your guests can’t see your work, they didn’t “see” your work. Remember to adjust the mood to fit your intentions. Does your work need to be precision spot-lit or shown with daylight-balanced fluorescents? Invest in good lighting that will properly present your work.
If you are hosting a group open studios event, be sure to coordinate with your studio-mates on promotional materials, communal reception, or divide up the food and refreshments to be served in all the studios. These tactics provide a fair and balanced environment. Remember, this is not a competition, this is a community.
Open studio events can be exhausting, so be sure there are places to sit. Better that guests sit and rest in your studio than leave because they are tired of standing.
Although it may seem trivial, temperature control is important. If your studio is a meat locker, your guests will not want to shiver while viewing the work. If your studio is a sauna, no one wants to talk about artwork with sweat dripping down their face. Provided with these extremes, your studio guests will leave quickly. Think like a Las Vegas casino: make the customer comfortable and happy to keep them engaged longer.
The same goes for food and drinks. If you do not offer your guests anything, they may get thirsty or hungry and leave your studio. If they have a cold drink in their hand and something to munch on, your guests might be inclined to stick around and chat with you about your work. These simple offerings can mean life or death for an open studio event. We are not saying you have to bribe your guests with an extravagant tablescape. Simply make your guests feel comfortable so they can focus on your work.
During the Event
Make your guests feel welcome. Greet them, offer to answer questions, be hospitable. If you have problems relating to people, talking about your art, or dealing with money issues, have a friend or acquaintance on hand to help you out.
Make sure your guests feel comfortable. Offer water or other refreshments, and let them know you are available to answer any questions they may have about the work.
You may find yourself busy talking with various guests, have a knowledgeable friend or colleague assist you when things get busy.
Written materials are always a good idea. Business cards, printed announcements, your artist statement, and résumé are good choices. If you are busy talking to someone else, they can at least read the materials at hand. Be sure to have extra copies of these materials in an easily accessible and visible location. Providing a paper trail will ensure that your guests have the option to research and contact you for potential opportunities.
Have a mailing list sign-up sheet handy so you can gather names, addresses, and emails of visitors who would like to keep up with your artwork and art world activities. They are your potential buyers, collaborators, curators, and reviewers.
If your work is for sale during the open studio event, it is recommended to have a price list available upon request. This ensures an opportunity to discuss the work in person with a potential buyer. If you have large price tags or price sheets posted everywhere, you might alienate your guests who think they are in a store. Ideally, prices should be discussed and negotiated in person. This way your explanation can justify the price, avoiding any misconceptions or sticker shock.
If a sale occurs during your open studio, consider all reasonable offers. Offer payment plans. Take initial payments and hold the art until paid-in-full. Offer discounts to loyal collectors, an eager buyer with word-of-mouth potential, or a museum. Free delivery is another sales incentive. If the potential buyer is given the option that you will deliver the work, she/he may feel more inclined to purchase it.
Showing a wide range of works in various price ranges will encourage buyers to look closely. A small sale may lead to a larger one later. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make a big sale.
Always thank guests for visiting your studio. Just as you want to make them feel welcome on their way in, the same goes for on the way out. No matter who the guest might be, leave a positive and polite impression. That guest who just left might not be the head curator at the Guggenheim but she/he might know that person.
Open Studio Don’ts
Don’t hide out in the back room or make yourself scarce. Be sure you speak to everyone, do not just hang out with your friends. After all, your friends are already invested in you. Acknowledge the presence of visitors and greet them as they come in the door. Be accessible.
Don’t hide modestly priced art and only show the most expensive pieces. That instantly eliminates a huge percentage of potential buyers.
Don’t avoid a guest because you think she/he isn’t a potential buyer or art career opportunity. This is naively presumptuous and potentially harmful to your career. The same goes for sexist, racist, or agist stereotypes of any person who visits your studio. Sales and art career opportunities come in all shapes and sizes.
Don’t appear opportunistic or pushy. Present your work with a sense of sincerity and humility. A patient and calm demeanor will yield a curious and ultimately generous studio guest.
Don’t increase your prices for the occasion, if anything, lower them. You might make a note on the price list that states your prices are reduced for the duration of the open studio. Most collectors do not expect to pay full retail at an open studio. It’s the same reason you get a discount for buying direct from any manufacturer. If you have a gallery, make sure it knows your retail price and that you are selling work with its permission.
Don’t overload your studio with too much work, or work you just want to liquidate. This comes across as tacky, and visitors may not take you seriously. Being carefully prolific can present you as an active member of the art world. While shoving everything you have made at your guests presents you as sloppy.
After the Event
Follow up with interested collectors or other art professionals by sending out all requested materials, including images.
Send thank you notes or emails to people who attended, especially the guests that spoke with you personally.
Update your contact list by adding new emails and mailing addresses to your database. Your contact list will continue to grow as you do more of these events.
Write down any notes that are fresh in your mind. These notes can be interesting viewpoints of your work mentioned by a guest. Sometimes the best descriptions of your work can come from a stranger who notices something right in front of your face. Other notes can include tactics and strategies that did or did not work for this particular event. Observations from the event and guest comments will help you to further develop your work, your studio, and your presentation.