How Do I Organize a Studio Visit?

Joe Fig, A Visit to the Studio, 2013; oil on canvas; 48 by 60 inches. 
Joe Fig, A Visit to the Studio, 2013; oil on canvas; 48 by 60 inches.

Dear BURNAWAY,

I’ve been working in my new studio for about half a year, and I want to get some studio visits going to share what I’ve been doing with some actual people out there. This is a new thing for me, since I’ve never had a proper studio before. So, how do I get people in to do a studio visit? And what should the visit be like?

Sincerely,

Curious and Maybe a Little Awkward


Dear Curious and Maybe a Little Awkward,

Congrats on the new studio! Studio visits are the perfect next step, and we’re going to cover a few things that will help you get the most out of each visit. So let’s get started on our condensed course I’m calling Studio Host 101.

Willem de Kooning at the studio of Bruce Hoheb. New York City, January 1982. Photo © 2012 Tom Ferrara
Willem de Kooning at the studio of Bruce Hoheb. New York City, January 1982. (Photo: © 2012 Tom Ferrara)

Studio visits are a great way to invite people into your world while you’re in the process of putting together new work and submitting for shows. Sometimes, there can be a significant time gap between an artist’s exhibitions, yet they still crave the feedback and critical eye of a viewer, so studio visits can also be a fulfilling and important way to bridge that gap.

First, let’s talk about how to get people in. I’m a huge fan of formal invites, not like a snail mail card, but an email that clearly defines that parameters of a hangout. I like to receive an email, saying “I’d love for you to come over for a studio visit” as opposed to: “Hey, let’s get together at my place soon. We can have a look at my studio.” Announce it as a formal studio visit—a hangout with a purpose—and explain that you would appreciate their thoughts and views on what you are working on, then let them choose a date and time that works for them. Try to work around their schedule. Once you’ve set a date and time, be sure to send them an email the day before and make sure they are still on board. People are busy, they forget things. Reminders are always welcome.

Now to the question of who you should invite! You’re going to have a varied experience with your guests, but it will be in your best interest to host a range of people: fellow artists, students, arts administrators, and, of course, curators, collectors, and dealers. Most gallery folks are used to getting studio visit invites. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and invite people you admire or, if you’re feeling bold, people of whom you are a little terrified. Make these visits do some work for you internally. Don’t just invite the people who you are comfortable with or people who have already seen your work. Reach for those stars, Casanova!

Nick Cave in his Chicago atelier, where he will bring up to 50 visitors at a time.
Nick Cave in his Chicago atelier, where he will bring up to 50 visitors at a time.

On another note, consider inviting someone who is only casually acquainted with your work but seems like they could be a big fan of it. It’s always good to have encouraging souls in your work space. It can boost your confidence, give you some much-needed motivation, and cast out one or two of those creative demons.

Biggest tip I have to offer: be a host! When they arrive, offer them a beverage, have some snacks out, maybe even have some light music playing in the background. People immediately feel comforted when you play host. It’s a formality that always matters, so go above and beyond. It will make the experience much better for both of you. And if you’re worried about looking “cool” and “nonchalant” about having people see your work, drop the childish act. Being a good host isn’t about kissing anyone’s ass or pandering for their approval; it’s just a nice thing to do. Your visitors may be thirsty or hungry; don’t you want them to feel comfortable while looking at your work?

Secondly, don’t assume your guest has done their homework on you before this visit. Even if you’ve seen this person around town for a while and have had endless hours of small talk, it’s always surprising how little we actually know about one another. So explain a little bit about yourself and your background before you delve into talking about your work.

Which brings me to another point: be prepared to talk. They’re in your studio because they want to hear the story behind the work. Give them the goods. Think about what you’re going to say beforehand. Have ready the anecdotes and stories hiding behind works and objects in your studio.

Moreover, don’t say, “it’s on my website, you can go look at it.” Nothing is worse than going all the way out to a person’s studio only to be directed back to something online. Have your computer on hand if you want to show them something, otherwise, forget it.

Also, it’ll behoove the both of you if your conversation stays on track. Don’t talk too much about other people’s work or various newsy topics. Steer the conversation to you and your work. It’s easy for things to go off track, and then—poof!—the visit is over. Use the time wisely.

Speaking of time, don’t keep someone there for more than an hour. Be courteous and respectful of their time. No matter how into your work they appear to be, they’ve got things to do and places to be. Don’t wait for them to announce that they have to leave when your conversation starts to peter out after two hours. When it hits an hour, say something courteous and casual to break the conversation.

Finally, make sure you have a lot of work in the studio at the time of the visit. Hang as much of it as you can on the walls so your guest can get a decent look. Bring out any publications, show cards, booklets, and your writings, so if the conversation moves to that, you have it on hand. Your studio is like your own personal archive—everything should be there and accessible.

Last but not least, your follow-up. The day after the visit, send a follow-up email thanking them for taking the time to visit your studio. Mention a thing or two they said that stood out for you or helped you. The follow-up is a very important part of the studio visit, so don’t let it slide, little superstar.

All of this should get you off to a nice start. Perfection of the studio visit will come with time, but for now, I wish you the best of luck, my peach, and keep up the good work!

Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville. She is the lead visual art writer at The Tennessean and an editor at Number, an independent arts journal of the South. She also works with David Lusk Gallery and Cumberland Art Conservation, and is cofounder of the gallery Threesquared. Her writing has also been featured in The Bitter Southerner, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, ArtNow, and others. For more: saraestes.com.

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