After a few years of working without showing my work beyond a small circle of artist friends, family and neighbors, I prepared to open my studio and show my art in the annual Port Townsend Studio Tour. This was exciting and a little bit unnerving; most of us want to be liked and want our work to be admired!
I spent nearly two months preparing for this two day weekend free tour. I organized and cleaned my studio, after almost eight years of use, and some months of neglect, it really needed a spring cleaning! I retrieved favorite work hung in my home, I mounted & framed more work, and I made my studio walls my gallery. I cleared and organized my work stations, shelves, and racks and set up some show of my process: the steps for making molds, the tools for carving stone, and “before and after” examples for digital transformations. I wanted to honor the true spirit of a “studio” tour. I created written descriptions of my processes, and I made copies of my short artist biography/statement, printed art cards and had lovely business cards to give away. I went all out, and it really was great! I loved the way my studio looked, I loved my work on display; I was so ready for the crowds! I even warned all my neighbors in my cul-de-sac, and arranged extra parking.
Well, the crowds did not arrive. Promotion was poorly handled this year, the brochures printed very late, and there was very little advertising. When I realized this a few weeks before the event, I started a Studio Tour FaceBook page, paid for a bit of online advertising myself, and distributed a few brochures at the last minute. With some sixty artists listed on the tour, studio visitors could hardly visit them all, and I am guessing most visited less than a dozen.
But many friends arrived, and few had spent time in my studio or seen much of my work. And a steady trickle of strangers arrived throughout both days, so I was never alone for long. I really had a fine time, and my husband and friends helped me take breaks and feel totally relaxed. My friends and most visitors were enthusiastic and engaged with me once I introduced myself. Several visitors really entered into the event, asking questions and looking at everything. And wonder of wonders, I had more sales than I ever expected. Part of the surprise was what sold: a few “big” pieces, and some small things I made that I considered experimental studio decorations, rather than finished artwork! Mind you, I started out with very low expectations, and I set very low Port Townsend prices, further discounted for friends!
I am so very glad that I don’t need to profit from my art in order to eat or keep a roof over my head. My years as a computer geek paid off, and I am pretty comfortable in retirement. I don’t need to have a new car or take expensive vacations. But real art sales could provide a special trip, or more likely more and better art materials for larger art projects!
The real lesson learned from Port Townsend Studio Tour 2019 has been the sheer pleasure of sharing my work with interested visitors, whether friends or strangers. I think I want more of this than I have had for the past few years. But I don’t really know what that looks like, or how to get it.
I don’t think I can get the same satisfaction from an annual open studio. Many friends have now seen what amounts to a retrospective, covering years of making art. They will hardly have the same level of interest every year, and also it took me two months to prepare the show I put on this year.
I do have more artwork, and with considerable effort and some expense, I might be able to display a new and different exhibit next year. But I can not do that every year; I won’t have enough new work. And it would be a huge disruption and distraction from actually making new art! I don’t produce finished work quickly, I don’t have help, and I can’t pay for professional framing or mounting; I do all the presentation work myself.
So maybe Studio Tour might work for me every other year, or even every three years, and probably on a bit smaller scale. I might work up a live demonstration for some additional interest.
That may give me a few sales every other year, to help with the stockpiling of work, and it will help me stay on top of actually finishing work and clearing out the chaff! But I would still like to have a few more sales, I think.
And I do crave more engagement: it was really lovely to have that. I wonder how to get this without trying to be an extrovert, which is not going to happen!
To be continued … in Making Art, the Journey #5