Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Swindon Open Studios experience

A major advantage of an Open Studios event compared to a normal exhibition is the opportunity to meet the public and have direct interaction as well as feedback.

The question I was asked the most over the week-end was: “what is your favourite medium?” My answer is along the line that, when I see something interesting to paint, I feel immediately whether it would make a good oil painting, watercolour or pastel. I also go through cycles when I favour one medium over others. I also find interesting to treat the same subject in different media and see how they come to life in different ways.

The easel set-up close to the window to get good light and not be on the way

When I wanted to take the discussion further with one of the visitors, I would ask: “Are you an artist?”

I was attentive to people’s reaction. Some visitors just wanted to look at the paintings, other were pleased to discuss and willing to learn more about my subjects, my inspirations and my technique. I tried to make myself available while not being all over the visitors (I try to learn for the best shop assistants I am coming across). One way to do that was to signal to them that I was the artist, which I did in different ways:
  • I painted during both days of the event. If they see you painting, it makes the visitors interested and curious and also says clearly: “here is the artist”.

  • I put on the wall my bio and artist statement with a photograph of myself, so that people reading it could identify me.

  • I would tell people looking at the pictures: “Let me know if you have any question.”

The feedback I get was invaluable. My small pastels (that both sold) were frequently commented on. This reinforced my conviction that I should work more with pastels. Many people also liked how I paint the reflections in water.

I managed to give a copy of my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" to a good number of people. I found that some visitors were reluctant to take it themselves, even if I had prepared a big sign that read “Free newsletter – Please take me home”.
I also met some wondeful artists who were sharing the same space at the Central Library.

Some points that worked very well and that I will use again:
  • A long piece of cloth on the table: It looked good, professional and created a storage area under the table where I could hide all my bags, bubble wrap, etc., leaving the space uncluttered.
  • A small easel on the table with a work: it made the table interesting and allowed me to showcase a particular work (which sold quickly).

  • A plate of sweets: Enormous return on investment. Visitors felt welcome and it was an excellent way to bring families with children towards my paintings. The children went first and the parents followed. In addition, while the children ate their sweet, they let their parents watch the painting in peace.

  • Painting on the day: The public really enjoys watching artists at work and you become the centre of attention in the room. I don’t mind talking while I paint or painting with people around. If there was a quieter moment during the day, time just flew as I painted.

Table with a blue table cloth, plate of sweets, business card, newsletter, visitors' book and two paintings

I need to improve in a number of areas:
  • Visitors’ book: I did not get any comment in my visitors’ book. The main reason for this is that I did not ask (I was focused on distributing my newsletter and it was difficult to push the visitors’ book at the same time). I am also wondering if it was also because people were afraid of the blank page. I had a look at other artists’ visitors book who received comments and they had the page prepared with a table and marked space for the information they wanted to collect (name, email address, comment). I need to try this next time.

  • Sending out invitations ahead of time: because I was so busy with my work as part of the Open studios organising team, I neglected my own marketing. In particular, I sent my invitations late and did not reach everyone I should have.

  • I should have brought with me a small notebook: I ended-up writing on scraps of papers, which is the best way to misplace your notes. With a notebook, I could have noted some comments on the fly and recorded actions and items that needed some follow-up.


Anita Stoll said...

Good and worth while information. Thank you.

Kelley Carey MacDonald said...

OMG I can't believe I stumbled on this post today. I'm having an Open Studio in 3 weeks, and even though I had TWO this summer, your post gave me great ideas (PAINT for them... BIO on wall w/pic)! Thanks for being so generous.

E. Bancroft said...

Benoit, I stumbled upon your blog last month and am really enjoying reading your archives and following your posts. I also appreciate your tweets!

What I admire is your willingness to share your techniques, reflections, knowledge, experiences, and discoveries -- you are so generous and you perhaps do not appreciate the impact you have on a novice like me.

I have always wanted to paint -- I used to watch my father dabble with his oils in the kitchen when I was a lttle girl -- but life as a highschool teacher with two sons has kept me from the easel. Until now, in my mid 50s.... Better late than never, non?

I am used to reading education blogs and have a few blogs myself for my family overseas (en France) as well as for my classes. However your blog truly encompasses the full realm of blogging: teaching, reflecting and sharing. Et en anglais en plus -- bravo.

So from a novice on the shores of the Pacific, un très grand merci... Et puis bonne expo à Swindon!