Getting ready for Open Studios

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This week’s blog is mainly aimed at those of you who will be exhibiting in some form of Open Studio event in the next few months. In addition, I hope that those of you who love attending these exhibitions will gain a better understanding of what we put ourselves through to make them worth visiting.

So, as I prepare in the coming weeks for my own event which starts on 3rd June, as one of 173 studios taking part in Surrey Artists Open Studios, I want to discuss here what you need to do to prepare for this type of event.


You will probably have marketing materials supplied by the organisers and you will have paid for this as part of the fee you pay for opening, through an organised event, so don’t leave it in the box – give it all out. If you don’t like asking people face-to-face if they will have your leaflets, brochures or posters in their shops etc., phone them first or email them. That way they don’t know who you are, and it will feel less intimidating to you. Once they have said yes, make a note of their name and when delivering the marketing materials, you can simply say that [insert name here] is expecting the delivery. If you really can’t face it, send someone else on  your behalf.

Get the word out to your friends and family and ask them to share the details of the event with their wider circle. Consider doing a leaflet drop to all the houses near to you. You would be surprised how many people don’t see huge signs advertising an event down the street, but they will look at a leaflet that comes through their letterbox. Add a 10%-off incentive to that leaflet and more people might visit. People do love a bargain.

Whichever area you designate to display your work and however messy your process is, clean it up. If your exhibition space is dirty, messy and uncared for, you will be sending out the message that you don’t value your work so why would anyone else value it and, ultimately, want to buy it? If you are using your actual studio you must make sure that there is nothing left out which could potentially hurt someone. So get out the dusters, vacuum cleaners and light a scented candle if needs be. Make your space inviting to potential customers.

 Make sure your showing area is well lit. People need to be able to see it easily as they scan the room. A decision about your work will be made in milliseconds, so make it easy for people.

Ensure that all your frames are in good condition, the fixings on the back are all attached properly and all work hung on walls is secure. You don’t want something to fall off and hurt your visitors or, indeed, yourself.

Have appropriate wrapping for items your customers may buy: bubble wrap, bags, cardboard, tape, scissors etc. Get it ready and have it there for when your first customer walks through the door. Whilst people won’t necessarily be upset by you running off to find what you need, you are missing an opportunity to engage further with your customers, which could be a loss for both of you. Just be prepared.

Payment. There are lots of hand-held devices out there these days: Sum-Up, Square or better still PayPal. Have everything powered up and make sure it is working by testing it all in advance. I lost a sale one year because I couldn’t make my machine work and the customer didn’t have the cash to buy. They said they would come back but didn’t, so I learnt an important lesson the hard way! If you are selling inexpensive items, such as greetings cards, you will need to have cash so a secure box with some change in is essential.

Consider getting a miniature CCTV camera. A few years ago a friend of mine had a number of pieces stolen from her open studio. It was her first time opening and as a result of the theft it will probably be her last. She was so upset by the incident.

She is pretty sure she knew who had taken the work, but she had no evidence, so was stuck. Be vigilant, have someone else staff your studio with you if you can or get that “nanny cam”. If you are using CCTV, you will need to put up a sign warning people that they are being recorded, but if you are hit by thieves at least you will have evidence to take to the police.

It is always worth having someone else with you whilst you are open. My family used to make sure that one of them was at home when my studio was open and I was showing on my own. It gave me the security of knowing that if someone tried to steal, became abusive or was taken ill, I had backup to help me deal with it. This year there will be nine of us showing together at my home with my husband home most days and at least one other artist with me.

Have a method by which people can leave their details, write a comment and can be contacted about future exhibitions. I use a visitor’s book and have some wonderful comments left by some lovely people. I also have had some small cards printed where they can leave their contact details and then place the card in a box so that no one else sees their information. There is also a QR code on the card for people who don’t want to carry anything.

In the past I put up a small item of my work as a free gift which could be won by filling in a form, with all the General Data Protection Regulation blurb about not sharing information etc. on it, but to enter people needed to provide their contact details. The winners were so delighted, and I now have them on my list of people to invite to this year’s Open Studio.

If you offer classes, make sure you have an information sheet available to give out to people with all the information about what you offer, the cost and your contact details. People sit on this kind of information for years sometimes, but if they don’t have it in the first place, you may well lose them to another, better organised artist.

Consider offering people an area to sit and have a drink. A small table and a few chairs; a pot of tea; some shop bought, individually wrapped cake or biscuits is the safest option when you consider all the allergies people have these days, and the fear Covid-19 has left many of us with. It also provides a great opportunity to chat to your visitors. Providing this kind of hospitality is always welcomed.

Make the entrance area to your home or studio look good. I have a number of planters which I have planted up. I am no gardener: I have a wonderful friend who does them for me. She does an amazing job and it all looks well-maintained and inviting. Giving the best impression of your studio and your home will give potential customers the feel-good factor before they ever see your work.

It is hard work; you will be exhausted at the end of each day and it is worth having your evening meals planned ahead. I am incredibly fortunate that my husband loves to cook and will produce all the meals every evening for us. If you are not so fortunate, plan your meals ahead of time, make them and stick them in the fridge/freezer so you don’t to spend time cooking when you could be getting ready for the next open day or relaxing!

Finally, enjoy it. Hopefully you will have lots of people come to see what you are up to, and lots of opportunities to engage and share with people. The vast majority of people are wonderful, interested and will engage with you. There are always the few socially awkward, but see if you can find a way to talk to them, and there are also those who are just plain difficult. Remember, they are the problem, not you. Kill them with kindness and move on to the next person.


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