Open Studio Tours

Midland, Texas, isn't exactly known for being a hotbed of mixed-media art. Or, really, much of any kind of art. Sure, there are artists here--some who do wonderful work. But, for the most part, they do what they do in relative isolation, working away in their studios and seldom having an opportunity to show their work unless they jury in and pay the amazing booth fees to show at one of the two annual art fairs. But there is one time every autumn when Midland hosts something so totally cool that I almost feel like I'm living in Santa Fe. Almost. If I use my imagination a *lot*. In November, the Arts Council of Midland hosted its fourth annual Artist Studio Tour. There were eight open studios with 40 artists, and it was wonderful. Just fabulous. Not only did you get to see and buy artwork, but you could talk to the artists and--best of all, as far as I'm concerned--see inside their home studios. The hosting artists offered food and drinks, including wine and beer and, at one studio, these amazing hand-painted (and incredibly delicious) cookies by Sugarface (no website, alas):

Sugarface cookies

While there was very little mixed-media art--it was mostly painting and pottery--one studio had a couple walls of art by print-maker and mixed media artist Sharon Navage, whose work I love:

artwork by Sharon Navage

artwork by Sharon Navage

The artists I talked to said they did quite well, selling work and getting to talk to people about what they do. If it works here in Midland, I'm guessing that it will work just about anywhere, and I would heartily recommend that artists consider organizing a studio tour in their town. Some things to consider: --Since most of the studios are in private homes, you'll want to think about how much of your house you want to open up to strangers. Some of the houses had only the studio area opened, and others had artwork for sale throughout most of the rooms, with only one or two doors closed off. These were my favorites, as you got to see not only the work for sale but how the artist displayed other work throughout their living space and--bonus!--how artists decorate the rooms where they live. --Food and drink are key. One studio hired a bartender, and other had buffet meals, complete with salad and bread. While the temptation may be to provide bottles of water and a plate of cookies from the local Wal-Mart, you might want to re-think this and go to the extra effort of making it special: the studios with the more generous spreads had the largest crowds, with people spending time visiting and looking at the art while they ate. While you do, of course, want to be careful about filling people with alcohol and sending them off to the next studio across town, a nice glass of wine often makes people want to buy art--which is why you'll usually find a bar at gallery openings. --Charge a small admission. While it might seem counter-intuitive if your goal is to get people to come out and look at and buy art, you know what can happen: someone finds out there's free food and tweets it to their friends, and the next thing you know you've got a houseful of people who couldn't care less about art but are really passionate about cheese dip and beer. Midland's tour was $15 a ticket, and once you paid at one location, you were given a wrist band to wear to the other studios. --Provide a map, even if it's just a printed sheet with street names. The map for our tour was a little confusing--it was nicely printed and full color, but a simpler line map would have been more useful. I had to use my iPhone to find some of the studios. --Talk to people! Even if you're normally shy and prefer making art to talking about it, this is your chance to connect with people in the community who are interested in what you do. Several of the artists set up their easels and worked during the tour, and they said people loved watching them paint and getting a chance to ask questions. Have a tiny glass of wine, put on some music, and relax: these are your peeps, and this is your chance to share what you love. PS: If you'd like to find out more about printmaking, check out Painterly Printmaking with Monotype, by Julia and Gail Ayres.         Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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