Last weekend I hosted an artist open studio for the first time in probably a decade. It was something of a roller coaster experience, and I learned a lot from it, so I thought I’d share it with you!
First of all, in cast you’re wondering, what’s an artist open studio? It’s where an artist literally opens up their studio to the public, with their art on display and for sale.
(Though technically it doesn’t have to be in the artist’s actual studio; if their studio is too small or inconvenient for displaying art, the artist might use an alternate space, and several artists might also join together to display all of their work.)
Often communities will have city-wide or county-wide open studio events, and in my part of the world, Silicon Valley, there’s an open studio event that’s been going on for 30 years: Silicon Valley Open Studios (SVOS for short).
Over 350 artists participated this year, across multiple counties and municipalities, over the course of three weekends. Each artist pays a fee to SVOS, and in exchange we get a listing on the SVOS website, and another listing in free printed catalogs (with maps!) that are distributed all over Silicon Valley. Plus we get ten 18″x 24″ bright, yellow signs to post around our neighborhood.
All of this is background, to give you an idea of what I was up to this weekend.
Although in fact, the work involved stretched well beyond the weekend. Not even counting making the art!
I had to clean off the display panels that live in my parents’ bike shed (and accumulate rat poop and spiderwebs in between uses..)
Then transport the (heavy) panels to my townhouse…
And figure out how to set them up to display my 170 (yes, 170!) paintings in my little back yard…
And then move everything inside to the living/dining room, when it looked like rain.
Plus I did the following:
- Added hanging hardware to a bunch of paintings
- Made labels for all the art
- Made small signs leading from the street to my unit
- Had all the signs laminated — big and small
- Bought sign stakes to post the large ones around the neighborhood
- Bought snacks and drinks, plates, napkins and cups for my visitors
- Ordered balloons to pick up each morning to tie out front
- Got up early on Saturday to post the big signs around the neighborhood, and took them down after the show ended on Sunday
All of this took hours. And hours.
Then I spent 11:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday being “on,” welcoming visitors, engaging them in conversation, answering questions, and talking about my process.
It was a helluva lot of work, and though I got a lot of help from my husband (who had no idea what he was in for!) I was utterly wiped out afterwards! But I sold some paintings, and made some lovely connections — including with some people in the neighborhood who may be interested in coming to live workshops!
Honestly, given all the time that went into it, from a purely financial ROI (Return On Investment) perspective, it’s ridiculous. But I’m still really glad I did it, and I’m planning on doing it again next year. (And hoping my customer base grows over time.)
And the best part was noticing how I’ve changed in the past several years.
Particularly how unattached I felt to other people’s responses to my art.
My last visitor of the weekend commented, “Showing all your art like this must be incredibly vulnerable.”
She’s right, of course—it’s super vulnerable, but it actually didn’t feel scary to me.
THIS IS NEW!
When I’ve done open studios before (and I think it’s been at least ten years since the last one), I did feel very vulnerable! I think I felt very anxious about what people thought of my art.
Not a big surprise, because I was so critical of it, so why wouldn’t other people be as well?
Makes logical sense, right?
But I’ve come a long way since then. Creative Sandbox energy is strong in me now, after years of flexing those muscles.
Now, instead of desperately hoping my art will impress, working to make art that will impress, now I make art FOR ME, for the joy of it.
Whether it impresses anyone else is not the driving force, so when people walked in the door this weekend, took one look, and walked right out again, it didn’t hurt me.
I still hoped to sell as much art as possible, which of course requires that other people like it, but my sense of worth as an artist has become (thankfully!) pretty detached from whether it sells or not.
At the same time, I can tell you I got a big boost when the first person to visit on Saturday bought a painting.
And when a friend bought another painting within a few minutes of that first sale, my eyes were gleaming with optimism!
Then when nobody even showed up for the first two hours on Sunday, my mood got very blue.
(But the silver lining of having no visitors is having time to make art! ? I drew much of this piece during the down time.)
When two hours went by on Sunday, though, with no new visitors, I wondered if all this work to pay for and set up the show was a waste of time. At that point my sales hadn’t even covered my expenses to participate!
But then people started to show up, and someone bought some small paintings, and then an hour before the end someone else bought the largest painting I had on exhibit!
You can bet that lifted my mood right up!
Up, down, up, down, up.
It’s weird. On the one hand, I’m unattached to what anyone else thinks, because I make art FOR ME — and I’ve worked very hard for years in order to be in this place.
And on the other hand, putting work up for sale means that of course I DO care what other people think, because I want to have buyers!
It’s a tricky path to negotiate.
(Although no longer relying on my art to pay all my bills has taken a ton of pressure off.)
Here’s the thing: in order to make our richest, deepest, most authentic and creative work, we MUST let go of the outcome, and let go of the need to please or impress others.
And yet, if you want to sell, the imperative to create things that people want to buy is a constant force pushing on you, which must be reckoned with.
And when you’ve put money and time into an event, with the hope and expectation that you’ll recoup your expenses and make a profit, it is so deflating if it doesn’t pay off the way you’d hoped.
I had over 170 paintings on exhibit, and honestly I really hoped to sell a good chunk of them, as much to make room in my studio as to bring in cash!
I still have over 170 paintings to store.
But heck, some of them have new homes, and that’s progress. And lots of people walked in my door this past weekend and left with a smile, and that’s progress, too.
But the biggest progress is in myself.
Putting my Creative Sandbox principles into action, practicing imperfectionism and my Golden Formula (self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good) has made me feel more solid in my identity as an artist than any amount of money I’ve ever made from my art.
So I guess the upshot here is, whether you’re a writer, painter, musician, filmmaker, jeweler, cook, gardener, or anything else, if you want to own YOUR inner artist, a roller coaster ride is probably guaranteed, but if you keep coming back to the Creative Sandbox you’ll probably enjoy the ride a lot more.
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