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Lessons From the Open Studio: Donít Say No

by Luann Udell on 7/17/2014 7:25:03 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft.  She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry).  Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.  She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art.  She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. 



When you and your studio say “NO”, your customers will say “NO” right back.


Before we moved to this more rural area of New Hampshire, we lived near Boston, MA.  It was (and still is) a haven for artists: Boston and its suburbs are filled with old industrial buildings, thanks to its booming textile industry in past centuries.  Many of these buildings were loosely renovated into artist spaces. It was not unusual for such a building to house a hundred artists.  An open studio event guaranteed you an intensive exposure to all kinds of creative types.


When you can visit upwards of 80-plus artists in a single day, you quickly get a feel for what works and what doesn’t in an open studio. 


Some artists greeted us whole-heartedly. Others, not so much.  We stayed longer in the studios that made us feel comfortable, as opposed to those that didn’t - even if the work in the latter was markedly more interesting to us. When we’re not really welcome in a space, we can tell.  And we move on.


At least in the mill building events, we could quickly move on to another space. On a tour spread across an entire town or region, a bad experience may cost a visitor hours better spent elsewhere.


I believe this is one reason tours can be off-putting to new visitors.  And it’s why grouping artists, either in one location or hosting several within a relatively small area, increases the number of visitors.


Once people get to know - and love - us and our work, then we become a destination.  This is why it can take time to grow a following.  It helps if you have a devoted customer base, of course. But if you don’t, it’s vital to create a warm, inviting and interesting space so people will want to return again and again.


This is why it’s so important not to say “no” in our space.


We once visited a space full of “no”. It was a studio off the beaten path. It was hard to find. When we entered, we realized we were trapped in a small “retail” area immediately.  The artist had roped off 90% of the space, including her working area. 


The artist came out immediately. She listed all the no’s for us: No, visitors were not allowed in the enormous work space.  No touching. No, most of the items in the case weren’t actually for sale. No, she was not demonstrating.  No, the items displayed outdoors were not for sale, either.  She used to sell things like that, but she didn’t anymore.


She hovered over us, obviously hoping we would buy something (in the event we could figure out what was actually for sale.)  Her work was quite interesting, especially the “not for sale” work, but when I asked her about it, she sniffed that it was “old” or “personal” or “no, she couldn’t sell it, she was still working on that theme.”


We felt uncomfortable, as if we had intruded on her personal space. Worse, because of her hovering, it felt psychologically hard to leave.   When another carload of visitors arrived, we took advantage of the momentary hustle and bustle to beat a fast retreat.  On the way to the car, my husband remarked, “I’m not ever going THERE again!”


When you and your studio say “NO”, your visitors will say “NO” right back.


There are many ways of saying “no” to your visitors/customers.  Let’s turn some of them around!


We offer refreshments during an open studio because of the message it sends to visitors: “Welcome! We’re glad you’re here! Would you like something to drink? May we offer you something to eat?”  You don’t have to feed the masses. Even a hot cup of tea on a cold day says “yes”.


Let people touch something.  If your items are truly that delicate, yes, use cases. But have samples or sturdier examples people can touch.  Nobody wants to feel like a bull in a china shop.  Make everyone feel that way is a connection-killer.


You can keep people safe without yelling “No!”  I have some equipment in my studio that’s dangerous. Most are small enough to simply move out of the way (butane torches, sharp tools.) Or I just unplug them.  If you have something too big to move, perhaps covering it would help.


Make it clear which items are actually for sale, and which are not. Avoid mixing the two. (I almost said, “Don’t mix the two”, but I changed it!)


Signage is your friend, and a very useful friend at that.


Use labels or signage.  I’ve made up dozens of very small signs that say, “For display only”. And yes, I still get asked of those items are for sale.  I apologize and either redirect the person’s attention, or tell them where they can get one of their own.


I use signage a lot, actually. I use them to tell the story of older work that may not be for sale. I use them to give information about my supplies, my process, my fabrics, or my tools. I use signs to fill in for me, in all the places I can’t be at once - for example, a display of books and magazines that feature my work. Signage also helps people who like a quieter experience in my workspace. While I’m talking to someone else, they can listen or read as much as they like.


And of course, the most important sign is the one on the entrance to your workspace that says, “Welcome! Come on in!”


The worst “no” to eliminate is overall negativity.


I try not to complain during my open studio. And anyone who assists me gets the same caveat - No gritching allowed!  (In fact, “No gritching” is the only “no” allowed.)  I want my workspace to reflect creativity and the healing power of art.


Bruce Baker, noted speaker on selling skills for artists, told this story: Two artists were talking in a booth at a show. They complained bitterly about the lack of sales, the show’s low attendance, the lack of signs and marketing, etc. On and on it went, until finally, a customer who had been browsing turned to them and said, “It’s not my fault!”—and walked out.


That story has stuck with me.


Negativity is a reflection of our worst fears about the world, ourselves and our art.  Recognize negativity for what it really is: A way to blame others for everything going wrong for us.


It makes us feel small and powerless - and blameless. (Hence its massive appeal.)  It makes everyone around us feel small and powerless, too. 


When we fully embrace our art, we show the universe we believe in something—something that celebrates beauty, power, poignancy, love and hope and change for the better. 


That is what I want my studio space to say.


Make the world a better place by finding ways to say “YES!” in your open studio.


Do you have a “NO” in your studio you need help with? Have you found a great way to say “YES”?  Share it with us! 


Because when we know better, we can choose to do better.





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Related Posts:

Lessons From the Open Studio: People Around Here Don't Buy Art!

Lessons From the Open Studio: Send me a postcard!

Lessons From the Open Studio: For Heaven's Sake, Accept Credit Cards!

Lessons From the Open Studio: Timely Time Payment Plan

Lessons From the Open Studio: My Customer Base Isn't Local

Topics: advice for artists | art and psychology | exposure tips | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | sell art | support local art 

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Walter Paul Bebirian
well - everything you have said about your personal experience and how you felt is of course valid and some of what you have said about lot's of artists in a single location can also be applied to the online art sites where many artists have galleries of either part or all of their collections of work -and where each artist's visitors can catch a glimpse of or indulge in the entire collection of one or many of the different artists besides the one or two that they originally came to visit so it does say a great deal for these sites and being on them -


Karen Burnette Garner
Luann, you are always so keen in your perception of what is going on in the hustle and bustle of show life. What great comments! Sometimes it just takes observations like these to help us see our plus/minus attitudes, and proceed accordingly. I have learned a lot about show protocol from you! Thanks for sharing.

James Bullard
When I do an open studio I remove all NFS pieces from the studio before hand. Since my work is all done outside I can't really demonstrate but I do make a point to engage with the guests by talking about the work and encouraging questions. Inviting people in and then giving them the cold shoulder is a contradiction.

Sherri Lujan
Good tip for anyone - who is trying to grow a successful business. Hospitality should always be a priority. A simple hello immediately makes the person entering someone's space feel more at ease - it starts the process. I like all the good tips given. Thank you.

SG Holland
It is a refreshing thing for people visiting your studio to be introduced to a "please touch" area. I love to have an item of interest (a banksia pod, for instance) on the table with my wood carvings. Always fascinated, they hover over it wondering, and I cheerfully invite them to pick it up. Hands on is so wonderful. It opens a dialog with the customer that can go anywhere they customer is willing to go.

An inert demo of process is interesting to people too. Like a little display of work at stage 1, 2, and 3 of development that they can examine and yes, touch. It will involve them in your work, and spark questions and understanding.

Marilyn Rose
I learned a nice "Yes" from another artist years ago. It works best for 2D artists if reproductions can be made, but a creative jeweler or sculptor might adapt it. I print ballots with space for a person's name, email address, phone number and favorite painting. When they are greeted by me or my assistant they are invited to choose their favorite piece, fill out the ballot (and are advised that if they add their email address they may be put on my email newsletter list, so they can opt out of giving me that info if desired). I tell them of the drawing that will be held at 4:00 on the last day and the winner, present or not, will win an 8x10 print of their favorite painting. My blindfolded husband does the drawing and a happy customer is notified that their print will be ready in a few days. This gets everyone to really look at the work and think about owning their favorite - more than once it has led to the sale of a print or an original. It also adds to my email newsletter list. And most visitors really enjoy the process of choosing their favorite - makes them stay a little longer.

Ann Vaillencourt
A clean and welcoming message for home open studio's is delivered with careful sign on the restroom door and entrances and exits clearly marked. Thanks for all the great insight and ideas.

John Patrick Weiss
Great observations and words of advice, Luann. I've been to both-the welcoming open studio where the artist is engaging, helpful, communicative. And then the other, where the artist seems self absorbed, aloof, unhelpful. Whether artists like it or not, it pays to have or develop decent people skills. There will also be buyers who know little about art and are simply out having a good time. A wise artist will help them enjoy their experience. Thanks again for a great post.

Donald Fox
Poor communication skills are at the heart of every misunderstanding. Artists may be good at expressing themselves through their art, but this does not automatically translate to connecting with others on that most basic level of person to person. Your advice is right on target.

Brian Sherwin
Luann -- You said, "You can keep people safe without yelling -No!”Ě" -- This is a big one... and it can apply to exhibiting as well.

Several years ago I was involved with an art fair in Miami. One of the galleries exhibited a delicate sculpture near their booth. They had a staff member stationed by the piece -- he was basically guarding it in order to prevent people from bumping into it -- which is understandable... but his tone drove people away. He came off 'snappy'.

Let's just say that the gallery did not have to worry about people potentially bumping into the piece after the staff member annoyed visitors. Word travels fast at an art fair.... "Don't stop by that booth!"... ;)

Kerry Dexter
Thoughtful points, Luann. I'd add something that is implied in what you've said: people have many different ways of enjoying an open studio experience. Some want to interact with the artist, some want to see behind the scenes, some want an up close look at the work -- and some are along for an interesting experience not really knowing why or what to expect. With your ideas, it's easy to take these different aspects into consideration. Make someone welcome and they may well return, and spread the word about how much they enjoyed their visit, as well.

great tips ,thank you for sharing


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