Open Studios

If you read the last blog you would have seen I mentioned visiting Open Studios, or if you follow my instagram you would have seen a LOT of posts about open studios from last weekend and this weekend and you may be thinking, “What the heck is open studios?” Weeeeellllll Let’s chat about that for a bit because I find it fascinating and I love it as a great grass roots movement that, when done well, really advances the community of artists in the area as well as demysitifies the process of art for a lot of people. Buckle up buddies, this is a bit of a long one…

The romantic ideal of the artist being a loner in a studio with their paintbrush feverishly churning out masterpieces from their tortured souls couldn’t be further from the truth for most of us. For a start, a lot of us have families and responsibilities outside of the studio. Quite a number of us have day jobs and other interests. I can’t speak for everyone, but my studio is not a quiet place. But I should also mention, that not all of us HAVE studios. Some of us make art wherever we can.

For me, my studio is my haven. You can often tell my state of mind or the progress of a series I am working on from the state of it. I am really lucky to have about 30sqm of studio in my own home and even though it is at the very front of my house where visitors enter, it is still, for the most part, a private space. I don’t often invite people into that space, not just because it is often crazy messy but also it’s quite personal.

I am always curious about other people’s studios though. I wonder where they do their creating and what that looks like and how they store their finished artworks and whether they display their work or not. I am insanely curious about other artists lives, so the idea of open studios and being able to satiate some of that curiosity is just too good an opportunity to miss for me. All that being said, not everyone is showing from their own studio, for a variety of reasons. Some artists are showing from other people’s studios and some were in community spaces that they could find.

Having visited 12 studios over the course of 2 weekends, I have to say, it has not just been the opportunity to see into the studios of other people, but also an opportunity to show work to the public. It was a great casual opportunity for artists to be able to both show and sell their work from their spaces.

Some studios very much followed the idea of open studios as being places where they worked on their pieces while chatting with members of the public. People could check out their work that was hanging around in purpose built home galleries or just around their spaces. This was very much the case in places that had purpose built studios, like Naracoopa Gallery and Studio (Studio 1) with Grace and David Cross, accompanied by Paul Kately, who had a beautiful studio and gallery. Theirs was the kind of studio I aspire to. It was clean and organised and so incredibly functional. Their work was displayed with care and thought to placement. Another really good example of this was Emily Street Shed (Studio 11) with Marie and Ross Smith accompanied by Linda Brandt. I covet the incredible storage unit for canvases they had and the beautiful natural light that falls into that shed. Marie and Ross are always working on pieces in there with Ross in his leather apron and Marie’s easel set up. Bayside Gallery (Studio 15), home of printmaker Owen Hutchison and textile artist, Jan Hutchison was another delightful example of a home studio gallery that was set up perfectly as both a working studio AND a gallery. Brenda Hall (Studio 3) also had a gorgeous home studio with her pieces hung on her walls as well as some pieces she was currently working on.

Mancini Art Gallery (Studio 8) which is the home of mixed media artist, Kim Mancini, Workshop It (Studio 7) that housed weaver, Kass Hall and Shorncliffe Potters (Studio 5) were all working studios also providing workshops and demonstrations while I was there. It was good to see these spaces being used to teach and pass on art skills as well as watch artists at work and see their pieces. Special mention has to go to Arthouse Studio (Studio 6), which is where, artist Leah Gay had her studio attached to her day job where she sells art supplies and has a framing service as well. Leah was also working on a piece that she specifically intended for the time of Open studios which was a fantastic idea and really interesting to see it develop over the time. If you followed the progress of it, you were able to gain good insight into artist process and the way a piece is developed over time.

Other places, like the ones set up in community spaces as in the case of Studio at Sandgate Uniting Church (Studio 4) with a large group of artists – Trevor Proud, Tania Geyer, Karen Roberts, Ramon Marrero and Judy Kearney, and spaces that had multiple people in it such as Rainbow Street Studio (Studio 12) with the delightful artists, Sandra Walshe, Helene Rawson and Suzanne Murcott, Esther Street Studio (Studio 9) that housed Ginger Harper and Liane Worth, and Ray’s Pop Up Gallery (Studio 2) featuring Raymond O’Brien and his grandson Jesse, were more…art fair like. Few people worked on their pieces, mostly people sold their work. Setup of these spaces was less like a studio and more like a a display of works to be sold. I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with this and in fact for reasons I will discuss below, this actually helps to generate a lot of momentum, interest and atmosphere to the whole event. I would also like to point out that it is difficult to set up a studio in a public space and work on pieces while being interrupted by people to talk about your work and sell it as well.

So now you have seen into the types of studios and artists, I would like to talk a little about my impressions of the event. I have not hidden the fact that I loved it. I loved the excitement and the atmosphere. I loved being able to talk to artists and share in their enthusiasm for their art. I loved seeing so many different styles of artwork in so many settings.

I think the art fair atmosphere of the public group studios really added to the momentum of the event. These places were exciting to visit. They made me WANT to buy pieces not only from these studios, but also from other studios. I think they are really valuable for breaking down the barriers between art to be sold and potential customers because in a lot of ways, it is less scary to buy from these places than it is to buy from the more formal studios, but it also gives people that example and an ease to buy from private gallery studios because members of the public know that this is acceptable and expected behaviour.

The more private gallery studios were places I wanted to take inspiration from. I loved seeing into people’s spaces because I am a nosy busybody. I liked seeing how people display their artworks at home and how they set up their work places. It was reassuring to see I am not the only hoarder of art materials and frames. Don’t get me wrong, I bought pieces from these places too, but I am not exactly a member of the public so I specifically LOOK for things to buy. I know the work these artists put into this and I want to support and encourage them in any way I can.

Every studio I visited had an excellent range of things to purchase. You could often buy prints or postcards, greeting cards or small art pieces. You could also buy larger framed pieces. Prices ranged from about $2.50 for hand made cards to a couple of thousand for some really large original pieces. I certainly would not discourage anyone from spending a larger amount in one place in order to get a unique piece as a present or for their own home or collection, and there were a couple of pieces that hurt my heart to leave behind but I knew that I had a budget and I HAD to stick to it or face my partner’s wrath when we couldn’t afford to buy groceries next month. Every thing I saw was fairly priced and for me, it was good to be able to buy smaller things here and there so I could buy from multiple places.

Lastly, I would like to say this…I was INCREDIBLY impressed with how this open studio event was run. It was a slick production with incredible media and marketing, team building, community support, sponsorship and communication. Their social media was on point at all times and as a commitment of the Sandgate Art Society, I must commend them on putting on an extremely complex and professional event. This is a prime example of what a good team of volunteers, community organisations and creatives can do when they are motivated and it should be held up as a model of good practice within the arts.

I hope all the team, artists and everyone that contributed are all having a good rest and spend the following year being proud of their achievements, inspired to make more art and excited for whatever may come next.

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