Surrey Artists Open Studio summer 2022

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If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook (or have read my last Newsletter), you will know that for the past 16 days I have been taking part in the annual Surrey Artists Open Studios (SAOS) event. I haven’t taken part for a couple of years because of moving house, which took far longer than expected.

I didn’t have big expectations of visitor numbers this year as I am new to the area, and it takes time for people to even realise you are there. However, add in all the terrible problems in the world currently and the impending inflation crisis and people simply didn’t come out. I took part in a local trail and the other artists on the trail also reported low footfall and sales, so we are all in the same boat. Will I do it again? Absolutely.

Every time I have taken part in SAOS I have invited other artists to join me. Why? Because I know that when I look through the brochure and decide who to visit, apart from those people I know and want to visit simply to support them, I tend to pick venues with two or more artists’ work to see. I would love to be able to visit every artist’s studio, but it simply isn’t possible so picking a venue with lots of artists is the next best thing. I imagine most other people when deciding will think the same, too.

I also like to support artists who have never done Open Studios before. The very first time I did it, I showed with my life drawing teacher at his studio. Being there every day and listening to the conversations he had with visitors and hearing what they had to say was invaluable. If I can help others in the same way I will and whilst all the ladies who took part with me have previously exhibited their work in shows, none of them had done Open Studios before.

I hope that next year I will have even more artists showing with me so that we really do become a destination. However, it is not for the faint hearted. There is a huge amount of work, not just for me as the host but also for everyone taking part.

We held a kind of private view on the first Sunday. I say “kind of” because we were open to the public at the same time, but what that meant was that we were able to invite our friends, offer them a glass of Buck’s Fizz, tea, coffee, or juice and supply them with some yummy food. Basically, it was a way of making the people who support us all year round, feel special, because they are to us.

This year I opened every day for the full 16 days of the event. I did this mainly because I am new to this area, having moved here last August, and I wanted local people to know that I am here so that they would be able to drop in any day if they are passing. I am delighted to report that both the Chair of Surrey County Council and a candidate for local councillor both came to visit and had their photos taken with me for me to use on social media.

Such an honour to be visited by Helyn Clack, Chair of Surrey County Council and Corrina Osbourne-Patterson a local entrepreneur and local council candidate.

I might do the same thing next year and open every day as I am here working in my studio anyway so having a marquee all set up for people to wander in and take a look at is easy to deal with. As the weekdays are generally slow, being here on my own was fine. At the weekends though all the artists were in so that they could chat to anyone who was interested in finding out more about their work.

I know from experience, taking part in this event, that cards and unframed works in the browser sell best. Even though I know this, I didn’t have cards for sale, and I still can’t find my unframed works as I am still in the process of undoing all the moving boxes and finding homes for my art supplies. However, it was the small items which sold best, together with some people wanting to find out about taking classes and others wanting to know about commission works. You never know what will come of taking part in Open Studios down the line.

Something really good about taking part is seeing all of your artworks hanging together in an exhibition. Most of the time our pieces are wrapped up and put away for safe keeping. My favourite pieces are hung on my walls so that I get to enjoy them for as long as possible before someone ese decides they would like to take them home.

For those people sitting on the fence about taking part in such events I would say this. If you enjoy meeting people and talking about your work and inspirations then it is worth taking part. See if you too can find a group to join so that you have seasoned exhibitors there to show you the ropes. If you really don’t like talking to people or are shy, then this is probably not for you.

I will say though that I am shy, not that most of my friends would know it, so hiding in plain sight works really well for me. That said, I have been doing this for so long now that I know what to do and say. I have pretty much heard every question, criticism, and excuse possible. I do try to make people feel at ease and emphasise that they are not expected to buy from us; we just really appreciate people coming out to see what we have done and letting us talk about it.

I am fortunate in that we do own quite a large marquee and have enough space to be able to be able to erect it without this having an adverse impact on family life. I know that many artists have smaller spaces to work in and some open their houses to the public, which can feel a little uncomfortable too. Many artists I know simply would not entertain the idea of strangers coming into their homes. I get that, but if you have a garden studio which can be reached without going through your home, why not give it a try?

If you can team up with someone who does something very different, so for instance a painter with a potter or a photographer with a jeweller, or a situation where one person has their work hanging vertically, on the wall or suspended from the ceiling, and the other uses the horizontal spaces and/or the floor, it would be a perfect match. You can then keep each other company in between people visiting your studio.

Lots of ideas and knowledge were shared over the time we artists were sat alone. One result is that we are planning to produce sketch books which, once we have made our marks in them, will be sent on to the next person for them to add theirs and then onto the next person and so on, so that we finish up with pages of artworks which have become a collaboration between us.

These finished pieces will form part of an exhibition with the online gallery, Ginger Cactus Art, and will we hope will be warmly received.

All the above artwork was on show and for sale by Stephanie Thompson, Frances Jordan, Gwynne Penny and Alison G Saunders

NB Just for the record, I do not get paid to endorse any of the brands, e.g. websites etc., I have mentioned above. These are all products that I use and genuinely believe in.

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