How to Host a 4-Figure Open Studio


If you’re like many artists, the thought of throwing an open studio and not bringing in enough of a crowd sounds terrifying. But factor in having to speak about your art and have your house open to strangers, and yikes! Thats like zombie apocalypse terrifying!

But maybe you’ve got stacks and stacks of art taking up too much space in your studio and not chipping in on the rent. Maybe you’re facing some unexpected expenses and you need some fast cash. Or maybe you just need an excuse to complete some unfinished pieces and clean up your studio.

My open studio.

Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. The fear of having an open studio is very real, even for me. Last weekend was my fourth year participating in the Sacramento Open Studio Tour. I worked all week getting things organized and spiffy until finally it was time to put out the signs and open up for business. And then what happened? Crickets chirped. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes in to the tour weekend and no one showed. All I was doing was sitting on my couch and looking at Facebook on my phone.

I could feel my optimism starting to fade. Then my ego’s negative self talk started up. Who do you think you are? No body cares about your art, it’s not even that good. Maybe your prices are too high. This is going to be a failure. And each time I’d remember to stop and remind myself that that’s just my fear talking. Have a little faith, girl! You can do this! And then finally a visitor showed up, then a big group, then finally a sale and the confidence boost that came along with it.

Over all it was a big success and I made a great profit. Since it’s all fresh in my mind, I thought I would share the exact same steps that I took to get everything ready, pull in a crowd, and make four figures in profits. So without further a do...

1. Join an organized studio tour or organize your own. Joining an organized tour will flat out get you more traffic than doing a open studio on your own. The folks who tour open studios are a great demographic of typically very safe, friendly, and respectful of people. Plus you’ll be listed on the tour’s guide. In Sacramento we have a printed guide and a website that has a map of the area and a list of the artists with a small image of their work, and their location and website. This way people can research who’s studios to visit and where to find them. I pay a small fee to join the tour and I’ve always made my money back. If there’s no organized tour in your area, you can do it on your own or team up with a small group of other artists and promote your own mini tour. There’s power in numbers if you can team up with other people. 35% of the sales that I made last weekend were from people who I had never met before who found me on the tour, so it’s still totally possible to make a good profit with just your personal invite list.

2. Create and share promotional materials. Every sale needs marketing. There are thousands of ways to do this but here are a few things I did that you can try, too:

  • I created a time lapse video of me painting. I did a voice over that explained a little bit of my process and that I was going to be on the studio tour. I also explained where people can find more information about the tour online.

  • I wrote a press release about me and my work and sent it to local online and print news publications. The press release also included a link to the video so that reporters could use it if they wanted to.

  • I created a facebook event invitation. In the event I included a link to the video, the time, place, contact info, special discounts, parking info, and links to the tour’s website so people could download the tour map. I invited all of my facebook friends and encouraged them to invite their friends.

  • I sent out a bulk email announcement. This email had links to the facebook invite, video, my website, and the tour’s website for the map and guide. Letting people know through several different avenues like facebook, instagram, and email is a great way to remind them, so don’t worry about being redundant.

  • I shared the video with Verge, the local organization who is in charge of putting the tour together. Then they had the option to share the video to their entire social media circle invited to the tour.

Time-lapse video for marketing.

3. Create art. A good open studio will showcase a few phases of your work. It gives people a chance to see old pieces that you want to get out of storage, but also new pieces that show what direction you’re going in. Finishing unfinished pieces is the best way to clear out stagnant supplies and make something new. It’s the nexus of what an open studio is all about. As you create, don’t forget to share your progress on social media so that people get excited about your sale.

4. Photograph or scan your art. It is so important to get good images of your art so that you can market it and have a record of your work once it sells. With great photography you can also make reproductions of your work which we will get to soon. There are so many tutorials online for taking quality pictures of your work. All you have to do is google it. The most important thing is getting the lighting right. If you’re not confident about your photography or your camera, have a friend or a professional help you.

5. Make Prints. By making reproductions of your work you accomplish a few things. You allow people who don’t have a lot of money to purchase your art and you also stretch the amount of money one painting can generate. I still sell prints of paintings that sold years ago. Great images and reproductions are the gifts to yourself that keep on giving. You’ll want to take your quality digital images to a professional printer, or have a print shop scan them. There are different qualities of prints, so a little research goes a long way. Then back the prints with acid free mat board and put them in acid free clear sleeves. I pick those up from my local art supply store. I typically order five prints of five different images so that I order twenty five prints at a time.

6. Clear out clutter. Having an open studio is the perfect excuse to declutter your space. Pick through every box, rack, and caddy and get rid of things that you don’t see yourself ever using again.

This year as I was decluttering I came up with a new idea for networking with other artists to trade materials. It’s called Creative Care Packages, which is a facebook group where you enter to win care packages with mixed media art supplies in them. Starting in September I’ll be sending out a monthly care package to a winner. Then they have 30 days to make something with what I send them. Plus, other people in the group can send their own creative care packages as well. It’s open to all, so definitely check out the group for more information on how to enter. It's a great way to give and receive art supplies.

Mixed media supply exchange for Creative Care Packages .

7. Display your art. Whether you have a home studio or a commercial studio you’re going to need to display what’s for sale. If you work is 2D, hang your art as close as you can to having the middle of your pieces at eye level. You might feel like you have to show all of your work at once, but if you have too much out you'll overwhelm some visitors. You don’t want to give people a bad case of indecision. What I like to do is hang my favorites and then make stacks of canvases leaning against a wall that people can flip through. Then if they see something they like they can pull it out to view it.

8. Make tags. As an artist I hope that you are keeping an up-to-date inventory list. I didn’t keep track of my inventory for a long time and once it came time to show my work I would have to physically go back and check my paintings and create a new list every time. What a time sucker! You’ll want to track titles, prices, mediums, sizes, and years that the paintings were finished. If you don’t have an inventory list, make one, and then from your inventory list, make your tags. Don’t leave it up to your visitors to ask about prices and titles. That’s a huge deterrent.

9. To Markdown to Not to Markdown? I like to put my paintings on sale for the studio tour weekend. This is controversial, but I don’t care what the industry norm is. I want people to feel that they are getting something special when they come out to my studio. It’s also a time sensitive reason to purchase that weekend. The point for me is to clear out space in my studio and make sales. The point for my visitors is to get a deal on original art. Every other industry has sales and I don’t see why artists can’t either. I do believe in consistency, especially when dealing through galleries, however, a clearance sale every now and then should be accepted and embraced. If you do mark things down, print your tags with the original prices and then take a red pen and fill in your sale prices. That way people see how much they’re saving and will realize what a good deal you're offering.

10. Clean. Show off you studio as a professional. Once you hang your work up you’ll notice dust bunnies and grime in places you haven’t thought about for a long time. Clean it up and hide anything that doesn’t have to do with displaying your work and showing off where you make it. You want people to focus on your pieces, not on your quirky, artistic mess.

11. Offer a contest or give away. This will help you grow your contact list, which is the holy grail of an artist’s business arsenal. It's crucial to collect emails. It also let’s people who dig your stuff sign up for your email list and keep in touch, even if they aren’t ready to buy something that day. I like to have a sign up sheet for the chance to win a print, but you could do any reward you want. Announce your winner the following week.

12. Will that be cash or charge? Be ready to take different forms of payments. I use The Square, which is a free smart phone app that comes with a free credit card swiper device that plugs into your headphone jack. Square takes 2.75% of each credit card transaction. You can also ring in cash or checks for your bookkeeping. It’s a great service. It took under a week for my swiper device to arrive in the mail and it’s really easy to use. Without it I would definitely have lost sales last weekend. It’s also important to have a bit of cash to make change for purchases with paper money.

13. Recruit a helper. Having someone else present at your studio is smart for a couple reasons. They can lend you a hand if it gets busy. They can watch the room if you have to run to the potty. Most of all, it's good to have a warm body there to protect you and your things should, heaven forbid, a creepazoid walks in. Luckily that wasn't an issue for me, but had it been I could have sent a secret text to my boyfriend who was in the back room watching football.

14. Put out signs. I’m lucky because Sacramento’s studio tour offers lawn signs which are included with my registration fee, They’re big red signs that have metal prongs that stick into the ground. You can order something like that or make your own. Make it bold and easy to read from a car. Then on your door, put a little sign or postit that reads “Come on in.” You want to make people feel as welcome as possible. Let them know that they can open your front door if thats the case. If not, say “please knock.”

Signage from an old show that I've hung on to.

15. Story telling with a smile. During the tour you want to be welcoming and conversational. Don’t try and be too salesy or closed off. Just get to know your visitors and offer stories about your work. Let them know right off the bat what kind of discounts you offer, if you allow payment plans or refunds, and that your’e doing a special contest for a prize. That’s your pitch in the beginning. Then let them explore. As they do, ask them about themselves with authentic curiosity. Do they live in the area? Are they looking at other artists studios that day? How did they hear about you? Let them tell stories and then it's your turn to your stories about your art. Stories help them relate to you and your work. The more they can relate the more they may want to own a piece

16. Post updates on social media. During any down time, be active on social media. Keep your audience live with videos and/or pictures of your set up, updates on hours, reminders about taking payment plans and credit cards, inspiring pictures of buyers with their new art, and a last call when there’s an hour or two until the end. I had two purchases in the last 20 minutes from a couple gals who may not have come if I hadn’t of posted a reminder to come on down for the last chance to get discounted art.

Happy Collectors

17. Do all of this with gratitude and love. The more positive energy you inject into the entire process, the more your audience will feel it. You're offering not only a product, but also a service. You're serving your viewers by offering creative expression, beauty, emotional connection, and a one-of-a-kind experience. If you value your process and your work, your audience will, too. The more value and service you can give, the more rewards you will take away. Not only financial rewards, but the feel-good kind, as well.

Expressing Gratitude

I hope this inspires you to host a bang-up open studio! Have you hosted an open studio in the past? How did it go? Have you attended an open studio? What was your favorite part? Leave a comment and tell me all about it. Thank you so much, and best wishes! XOXO - Jennifer

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© 2015 by Jennifer Laurel Keller