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.