Art studio tours can provide excellent opportunities to introduce yourself and your work to people who have a real appreciation for art and other handmade items.
Here's how to make the most of participating in a tour including:
Open studio events are generally organized by a local artists' association or guild. They are typically held in the spring or fall.
Participating in a spring open studio event can be nice because they generally occur in April or May, just before the main craft show season.
For many craft artists, sales opportunities are limited in the months of January to March, so participating in a local spring open studio can provide you with a welcome opportunity to connect with customers.
Likewise, fall art tours generally run in September or October when the late spring and summer craft shows have wound down for the year, and Christmas sales have not yet fully begun.
Open studio tours are normally juried, which means there's process in place for assessing applicants' work before they are accepted to the tour, and not everyone is accepted. The jurying process ensures the quality of the work represented on the tour is high and everything is handmade.
If you are not sure whether participating in an open studio event is right for you, try to attend a studio tour as a customer first so you get a feel for it.
Do keep in mind, though, that studio tour applications need to be submitted well in advance of the actual event date, so be sure to check the application deadline for any tour you are considering. That way you won't miss the deadline while you are making the decision.
To find out if there is an open studio tour in your area, simply check with your local artists' association.
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Once you've determined that your local art association does organize an open studios tour, check their website for details about the application process.
Alternatively, there may be a specific website dedicated to promoting the open studio tour, and you will often be able to find an application information there.
Keep in mind, if you are on a website dedicated to promoting the artists studio tour, the site's first job is to promote the event to potential customers. Therefore, the site will be written for customers, and the information for artists to apply will probably not be immediately obvious.
Check the site carefully for information; it may be found in a small, unobtrusive link near the top or bottom of the page.
Most studio tours will provide an application form and instructions for applying right on their site. If you can't find details about how to apply on their site, call the organizers or send an email.
CHECK THE APPLICATION DEADLINE
Sorry for shouting, but I can't stress this point enough.
If you are new to the jurying process, you might be surprised by how far in advance you need to apply to participate in a studio tour (the same is true for juried art and craft shows).
Normally, you will need to submit your application approximately 6 to 8 months before the art studio tour. And the application process can be fairly involved and require a lot of work, (they get easier once you've completed a few) so you don't want to wait until the last minute.
Eligibility requirements to participate in an open studios tour vary from one tour to another, but there are some requirements that are typical for most studio tours.
There will be a cost to participate in the tour. Again, this varies widely, but fees often fall in the range of $100 to $400.
You may need to live (or have your studio space) in the area represented by the open studio tour. Which makes sense, since visitors will be coming out to your home/studio on the day of the tour.
Some studio art tours allow guest artists from out of the area to participate. Normally a guest artist would share space with a local artist who is also participating in the art studio tour.
Your work must be original and made and designed by you. If some aspect of your work is not handmade by you, you may need to provide details about that aspect of your work.
Appropriate Studio Space
You'll need a space that is appropriate for the general public to visit and can accommodate a lot of visitors.
Not all artists show their work in their studio. Some clear a space in a front room of their homes to show their work on a studio tour.
It is wonderful to be able to give visitors a look at your work space, if it is possible. However, not everyone has a work space that is appropriate for the general public. If you don't have an appropriate studio space, displaying your work in a front room of your home is an option that is acceptable to many studio tour organizers.
Before you are accepted to the art studio tour, a member of the jury may visit your home and/or studio (where ever you will show your work on the day of the event) to ensure the space is appropriate.
Often this requirement only applies to artists who are new to the tour. Returning artists usually won't need a studio visit from a juror each year they participate in a tour.
Enough Work to Show
You'll need to ensure you have enough work to show to make your studio a worthwhile stop on the tour. Most shows don't specify the number of items you must have, simply because it varies depending on the type of items you make.
Depending upon the business laws in you location, you may be required to have and display a vendor's permit in order to participate in art and craft tours.
If you do need a vendor's permit, and you don't have one, visit your closest business development center or your Chamber of Commerce. They will be able to tell you how to get a vendor's permit in your area.
Many tour organizers require participating artists to sign a waiver stating the tour organizers have no liability for injury or property damage resulting from the studio tour.
Some organizers require you to provide proof that you have your own adequate business insurance.
Your insurance agent will be able to tell you whether your business insurance covers potential issues that may arise. Be particularly aware that having customers in your home/studio can cause issues with your insurance. If you do not usually have customers in your home/studio, you may not be covered for that event.
I am not an insurance specialist by any stretch of the imagination. You do need to talk to your own agent to assess your needs. A quick call to your insurance agent will help you to determine whether you have appropriate business coverage for this type of event and learn how to put it in place if necessary.
Again, requirements will vary, so you need to carefully read the application information for the specific tour you would like to participate in. There are some requirements that are common to most events.
Typically your application will include:
Your Completed Application Form
Application forms are normally quite straightforward. Organizers will ask for your basic contact information, the location of your studio, they may ask you to provide directions to your studio, and they may ask you to sign off on certain conditions of participating in the tour.
Be sure to read the application form carefully. It can help to read the form through once before you start answering questions, particularly if you are not clear about the meaning of a specific question.
Several Photos of Your Work
You will need to provide excellent images that show your work in the best possible light.
These photos will be used to determine whether the quality of your work meets that standards for the tour, so they must be exceptional. They may also be used in promotional materials, so you need photos that impress a jury and potential customers.
Read the application instructions carefully to determine exactly what type of photos you need to provide for the jury.
You will probably need to submit somewhere between 3 and 10 images. The jury may accept digital images, they may ask for a CD or they may accept traditional photos. If you are submitting digital images, there may be rules about the size and resolution of the photos, and there may be specific instructions for naming each photo.
If you aren't sure about photographing your work, you may consider hiring a professional photographer who can take excellent shots for you. If you're thinking about doing the photography yourself, the book Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles
Whatever option you choose, your photographs need to be done extremely well.
Artist's biography or artist's statement
Artist's statements or biographies are typically used in the studio tour's promotional materials, so you'll want to be thinking about what you want to say to potential customers when you write this.
You may be asked to provide a brief (approximately 100 words) statement that will be used in brochures (and can influence whether people choose to visit your studio on the day of the tour), or you may be asked to provide a more detailed description of your work that will appear on websites and other promotional material.
Writing an artist's statement can be challenging. You may need to give yourself a few days of working on this project in order to fully formulate your thoughts and determine the best way to express yourself.
I would suggest starting of by brainstorming what you want to say to your customers. Spend time writing and formulating those ideas. Then, once you have written your statement, look at other artists' statements (you'll often find them on artists' websites) for inspiration.
Do not read other artists' statements before you write your own, or you will have a hard time writing in your own words. Use inspiration from others only to polish up a statement that you have written on your own.
Proof of Insurance
You may need to provide proof that you have adequate business insurance to cover any issues that may arise related to the studio tour. Some organizers will specify a specific amount of liability insurance that you need to carry, while others just stipulate that you must carry your own insurance.
Again, if you have any questions about whether your insurance will cover your participation in the tour, call your insurance agent.
Check to Cover the Fee
You will likely be required to submit a check to cover the fee to participate in the event along with your application. Often organizers will allow you to post date the check.
If you do post date the check, be sure to keep track of the date when it will be cashed. Keeping track of post dated checks becomes particularly important if you have also applied to several juried art shows, and you have post dated checks to cover your booth fees in those shows.
You won't want any surprises in your bank account if you have a few post dated checks out there waiting to be cashed.
Self Addressed Stamped Envelope
Some organizers ask you to provide a self addressed stamped envelope so they can return your documents to you.
Once you are accepted, but before the day of the event, there are several things you can do to prepare.
Promote the Tour
Give promotional materials to existing customers, friends and business contacts, mention on your blog or website if you have one, and be sure to mention it in your newsletter if you keep an email mailing list.
Organizers may provide you with email ads that you can forward to your mailing list. Personalize it a bit for your specific customers with a note about what they can expect at your studio so it doesn't seem like just another ad in their inbox.
Help Organize the Event
You may be required to volunteer on a committee to help organize the studio tour, and you will probably be asked to attend at least a couple of meetings in the planning process.
Make the most of these opportunities to get to know other artists on the studio tour and do a little but of business networking.
Determine What You Will Show
Consider what items will create the best impression with customers and what your goals are for the tour.
You may want to make several sales on the day of the studio tour, and, in that case, you might consider creating some lower priced items (prints, or smaller versions of your primary work), in the $20 to $50 range (or whatever price range fits within the "impuls buy" category in your area) that people can pick up that day.
If that is not feasible based on the type of work you do, or if it is not in line with a higher end image you want to portray, then your primary goal may be to make a first contact with customers. If that is the case, then you will absolutely need to ensure that you give people a way to contact you in the future and provide options that encourage a second contact.
Create Some Great Displays
Displaying your work in your open art studio will usually be easier than working out displays for craft shows. You won't have to worry so much about wind, rain, and ability to transport your display items.
Don't forget about lighting when you are deciding how to display your work in your studio or home. The best displayed items on studio tours always have extra lighting designed to highlight the work.
Ensure Your Home or Studio is Free of Unpleasant Odors
We are not always aware of the odors in our living or work space. We spend so much time there, it's easy to stop noticing them.
Visitors will notice, though, and if your home has a strong odor (cigarette or animal odors, for example), it can be off-putting to some visitors. They may be too distracted to focus on your work, leave quickly, or avoid buying any of your work because they worry the smell will linger on whatever they buy.
If you think odors might be a problem, but you're not sure, ask a kind but honest friend (the kind of person who will tell you an awkward but important truth in a supportive way) to visit your home or studio several days before the event and ask whether odor is an issue.
If it is, make a point of cleaning and/or airing out your space as much as you can.
Prepare Your Marketing Materials
Have plenty of business cards and brochures on hand for visitors so they will be able to find you again after the tour.
This tip is particularly important if you sell higher priced items that aren't really impulse buys. A studio tour can be about making a first contact with potential customers and letting people get to know your work.
You might not make the sale the day of the studio tour (particularly with higher priced items), but if someone loves your work, you have a better chance of making a future sale if you make it extremely easy for them to contact you after the show.
If you offer art-related classes, or other services, have brochures available describing what you offer. It's on thing tell an interested visitor, but if you want to increase the chances of them signing up for a class or other service, you need to make it extremely easy for them to find all of the information they need about the class.
Consider Partnering with Another Artist on the Tour to Support Each Other
If you've developed some rapport with another artist on the tour, consider working together to support each other the day of the tour. You might suggest that you both will recommend the other person's studio to visitors on the day(s) of the studio tour.
For example, when a visitor is about to leave your studio, you might ask them what other studios they've already visited, then suggest they visit your partner's studio. Something along the lines of, "Don't miss Jane Smith's studio, she has beautiful sweaters."
You won't distract customers from your work if you wait until they are about to leave to mention your partner's studio, and you don't have to feel obliged to mention your partner to every single visitor, as long as you do so when it feels natural and comfortable. If your partner does the same, you should both see increased traffic to your studio.
This strategy works best with two people who sell different, non-competing work. So, a painter and a clothing designer might be able to work together better than two painters (who are in more direct competition with each other).
Consider Having Some Type of Draw
Consider organizing a draw for a percentage off one of your pieces or a specific dollar amount off a purchase. A draw can be an effective way to bring back customers, particularly if you sell higher priced items and, possibly, to gather names for your mailing list.
Print up several squares of paper with a place for people to enter their name, phone number and email address and provide a pretty bowl or basket for people place their entries. At the end of the studio tour you can choose and contact the winner.
I once visited a painter's studio, and in addition to asking for contact information, she asked visitors to note which painting was their favorite. It was a great way to get feedback about what people enjoyed about her work.
Consider a Naming Contest
If you have a new item that needs a name, invite your customers to suggest names for you.
I've seen this done as a contest, where the person who came up with the best name for a new handmade soap fragrance won several bars of soap.
I've also seen it done just for fun where a painter invited visitors to suggest names for a very striking painting she had not yet named. She wrote everyone's suggestions on sticky notes and posted the ideas on the wall near the painting. It was a fun way to get people engaged and talking with the artist about her work.
Consider Your Child Visitors
Be aware that some of your customers may have young children with them.
Consider creating something of interest to young visitors to keep them occupied. You don't need to go all out and create whole play area. Just one small thing that will catch kids' attention can keep them occupied and help parents feel more welcome in your studio.
One open art studio I visited recently had a big, bright mobile made from non-breakable materials hanging at the front door. It helped draw attention to the studio, my three year old loved it when the artist showed him the little characters on the mobile, and it made me feel more comfortable that it was okay to bring a three year old into her studio.
Do try to display anything that is very fragile our of the normal reach of little kids if possible.
Ensure Your Studio or Home Entrance is Completely Inviting
It can feel a bit disconcerting to just walk into a stranger's home (which is what visitors do on a studio tour). So do ensure the entrance to your studio or home is well marked with plenty of signs welcoming guests.
Art studio tour organizers will provide you with official signs to mark your location, but you may also decide to add some signs of your own directing people to the correct entrance if it is not clear where people should enter, or telling people to come on in.
Consider Serving Refreshments
Serving refreshments is not always practical, but sometimes they can help set a mood and make visitors to your studio feel welcome.
You can use refreshments to set a homey, welcoming mood. Imagine, for example, customers walking into your home on a brisk fall day being greeted by the aroma of warm spiced apple cider.
Be sure to serve simple, easy to eat things that are not messy. A few things to avoid are:
Be Prepared to Talk About Your Work
Be ready to greet visitors. You can:
Once you get the conversation started, it will likely flow fairly naturally. Remember, your visitors made a specific trip to your studio because they were interested in your work, so they will be interested in hearing more about how you do what you do.
If you are in your studio it will probably be fairly natural to show your process in order to engage visitors.
If you are not in your studio, have samples out that show your process whenever possible. Maybe you could show a work in progress or some of the tools you use to create your work.
Find Ways to Encourage a Second Contact with Interested Visitors
Be sure to tell your visitors about a show you have coming up at an art gallery, or classes that you teach, or your website.
Consider providing a guest book that you encourage visitors to sign, which will allow you to grow a mailing list of people you can contact whenever you have an upcoming show.
Give customers a way to connect with you again.
Have an Assistant
If possible, have an assistant to help you out in case things get busy or you need a quick break. Do not take long or frequent breaks, though, because your visitors have come to see you (the artist) in your work space.