Secrets of a Successful Open Studio

By Rosemary G. Conroy

I host my annual open studio in the fall to take advantage of the beautiful scenery. I’m always amazed at how willing people are to venture out to our backwoods road — but indeed they do. Each year I have more than 100 people show up!

 

Rosemary Conroy's studio

 

Like every artist just starting out, I showed my work wherever I could — bank lobbies, restaurants, co-op galleries. And yes, I tried art festivals too. But my one and only experience was so horrible — bad location, wrenched back, horrendous heat, no sales — that I took it as a sign to never do it again! The schlepping of artwork from place to place quickly became my least favorite part of being an artist. But then I discovered a beautiful thing – you could get people to come to you by hosting an open studio.

My first foray was part of a town-wide art studio tour that several local artists and I organized. It was fun, and also a lot of work. But I soon realized the limitations of my studio’s narrow, steep staircase and remote location far from the other artist’s spaces. When I moved to a new town, I decided to try going it alone. True, hosting my own singular open studio was still a lot of work, but it turned out to be a lot more profitable. This year I will host my 9th annual event, and it gets bigger — and more successful — every year.

So what are the “secrets of my success?” Some of them are obvious. I work with my local media to get as much coverage as I can. This includes sending out timely press releases, filling out all those online event calendars, and following up with any reporter I have ever met with offers of images, pre-written articles, cookies, etc. Following up is an often-overlooked task but it has paid off for me over and over again. I’ve had two-page, full color spreads in our daily newspapers’ weekend sections, magazine profiles, and last year, a six-minute TV spot.

Since my work is mostly about wildlife, I also like to partner with a local land trust as part of my annual event. I donate 10% of my open studio sales to them each year, and they in turn promote it to their membership. I’m not sure if people turn out because of that, but it seems to me like a mutually beneficial relationship with very little downside.

 

Open Studio Announcements

 

Of course, I also mail out a postcard to everyone on the mailing list that I have been building for years. And not just a wimpy 4 x 6” postcard — I go full color jumbo! I send out 600+ postcards each year, which is probably my biggest expense. But my collectors love them, and many people keep them on their refrigerator all year round.

Yes, it is expensive and yes, each one requires a first class stamp. But everyone notices when it arrives! Many people tell me that they collect my cards and look forward to them each year. Plus, I follow up (there’s that word again) with e-newsletter updates and lots of upbeat Facebook posts.

 

Open studio crowd at Rosemary Conroy's event

 

Probably the biggest reason for my steadily increasing sales each year is something that I learned from art marketing guru Alyson Stanfield. In one of her online classes, she talked about making your collectors feel special and appreciated. So with that in mind, I created a “VIP Brunch” before my open studio for anyone who has ever bought a print or original painting. I do a separate invitation to highlight the “exclusivity” of the event and to get as many RSVP’s as possible. This is important so we know how much food to prepare and how many Mimosas to mix!

I hold the open studio over a Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 pm each day. On Saturday morning, I host an invite-only VIP brunch for my collectors to preview the art before anyone else.

This part of my open studio has grown substantially, thanks in no small part (I think) to the cooking skills of my wonderful husband. He makes everything from scratch. The VIP’s love the homemade, locally sourced (our own hens’ eggs!) aspect of our offerings. My husband loves to bake, and so he does. Most of the food we serve at the brunch is homemade. He has become quite famous for his chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes I worry people like his creations more than mine!

 

Cookies at the Open Studio

 

Other family members have started pitching in as well to help out with the parking logistics (25+ cars at once!), sales, and wrapping. My beloved team allows me to do what I do best as the host artist – greet my guests, tell the stories behind my paintings, and in general, make sure everyone has a good time.

One of my best collectors tells me she looks forward to the brunch every year. She has great conversations with like-minded people, enjoys good food, and (oh yeah!) gets to preview my latest artwork. That makes me happy. I so want all of my collectors and supporters to feel appreciated. After all, I couldn’t be a successful artist without them.

 

RosemaryRosemary Conroy is a contemporary wildlife artist living and working in northern New England. Her artwork is a form of a prayer for the creatures she paints: a sincere offering of thanks for the inspiration and joy they give her; a humble invocation of their beauty and wildness; and most of all, an ardent plea that they continue to exist in this world.

 

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Comments

  1. I’m bookmarking this post! As someone who also does not want to do the art festival circuit, and just starting to become known in my community, I am looking for interesting ways to promote and feature my art. I recently took part in a studio tour with almost 40 different artists, and although it was busy and exciting, I really like the idea of making it more exclusive. Thanks for all these great tips and ideas!

  2. I loved this article. I too, live out in the backwoods roads… about 15 minutes away from the nearest small town. It looks like this is working fabulously for you, congratulations! What a treat your attendants are getting!

    I do have a question though, you say you’ve been building up your list for years yet you’ve only done one art festival. I’ve found that art festivals (as much as I loathe the schlepping) are how I’m mainly finding buyers. How did you build your list enough to host these? Care to share any secrets? 🙂

    Lovely artwork by the way.

    • Thanks Jaime!

      Well that is the trade-off of not doing tent shows… I do a combination of independent exhibits, show in a few galleries, and I try to work the heck out of Facebook. And I give out my card wherever I go! Today I have out one at the hardware store and the pharmacy… I also encourage people to bring friends and get them to sign that all important mailing list sign up.

      I am also looking into doing house-parties where I do schlep my art to a friends house and they invite all their friends for cocktails… It helps to have some well-connected friends! If this route proves profitable, I’ll do another article if Carolyn will have me.

      Rosemary

  3. I loved this post and keeping it in the forefront of my mind. What do you think about doing this in an area that has a huge open studio tour of two counties in the central Sierra every fall? Sierra Art Trails?
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Moira,

      You never know until you try! I would talk to other artists who have done it and get their feedback. I find most artists are happy to give free advice (ha ha!)

      Good luck!

      Rosemary

  4. I’m participating in our local Sac Open Studios event this weekend so can’t implement many of these suggestion but you can be sure I will for next years event and my upcoming Holiday show! Thank you for sharing this great information.

  5. I am also going to bookmark this as it is a sensational idea!!

  6. As an artist and frequent attendee of Rosemary’s Open Studio I can confirm she serves the best cookies. 🙂 And that she provides an eye full of colorful energetic paintings that just makes you happy to be there to enjoy the experience. In other words she makes it well worth the trip. Xo

  7. What a great idea. Been considering it and think it will be on my calendar for 2016.

  8. I love this approach. I have been dying to do this but was holding back. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Great article, Rosemary, and wonderful to see you here! I know how hard you’ve worked for your success, and you deserve every bit of it. It helps that your work is stellar, too, of course. ;^)

    • Aw thanks Luann! You have always been one of my role models… Hope things are going well in CA! XO

      • Just like in NH, starting slowly but surely gaining passionate users. :^)
        Sonoma County Art Trails is our version of the LNHC, and just like living in Keene, my studio is a wee bit off the beaten track in the Santa Rosa arts district.
        And just like you, people are saying I have to do outdoor shows, and I’m dragging my feet. Although the weather is a little more predictable out here than NH, so…..
        NOOOOOO!! I’m with you, get ’em to the studio! :^D
        So it was really nice to be reminded of how you built your open studios. Thank you!!!!

  10. I loved this article (will definitely refer to it as reference). I am originally from Trinidad & Tobago and have been thinking about hosting an open studio for sometime now. Your article has motivated me to take the plunge.
    I will start planning my Westchester event for the new year! Thanks so much for sharing this amazing article.
    Good luck with everything!

  11. Thanks, Rosemary! I’m so happy that you had good results. It’s not just fruitful to treat your VIPs special, it’s fun!

    How lucky you are to have that dear husband. Maybe he’s available for other open studios. 🙂

  12. What a great article! I like the idea of the VIP brunch as part of your tour!
    Our area (Western Oregon) has an annual ‘Art Harvest Studio Tour’ the first two weekends in October. I’ve thought of participating at some point, the range of studios is always fascinating!
    I’m finishing an art teacher training, & have scheduled a mini workshop this Saturday (making affirmation cards) & when I posted it on MeetUp, mentioned that touring some of the local studios after the workshop is an option. Thanks for sharing your ideas! The in home shows is an interesting option, that would be a good article!

  13. Thank you Rosemary for an excellent article. I also, will bookmark it.

    Another benefit of having your own open studio is no competition with other art such as at a festival or art show. Buyers feel torn with too many choices. If they come, it is to see your work only without any other distractions.

    Also, Alyson’s VIP idea is awesome. Thanks Carolyn for including it in your newsletter.

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