October 19, 2010

Portrait of an Open Studio Weekend

     I spent this past weekend sitting at a table carving, surrounded by my wares, while I waited for my adoring public to purchase armloads of art and books for everyone they knew.  If the mini-trend of those two days is any indication, the economy is improving rapidly, because Saturday was a desolate consumer wasteland, while Sunday brought pretty good sales.  (I'm enough of a puritan not to blame people for deciding that my art is a luxury they can do without when they have to conserve their money.  But I certainly like it better when everyone's feeling flush!)
(All my racks of cards and matted prints are
out of the picture to my right.)
        So here's how a typical Open Studio experience goes for me:  First of all, I'm never actually in my studio.  I always choose to show in group space, because it's more interesting to be with other artists, more visitors come by, my studio is out of the way and nothing to look at anyway (consisting, as it does, of an ordinary room in my house), and my carving is portable enough that I can demonstrate it anywhere.  So, there are weeks of preparation, and days of packing, but things really begin when I set up on Friday.  That can take an hour or three, depending on what sort of hanging system I get to use, how far I have to haul each load from the car to my location, and so on.  (This weekend there was no hanging system at all, because I had no wall space to use - something I didn't discover until two days before.  Yikes!  A hastily devised combination of easels and peg board from the basement saved the day.)  On Saturday I pick up balloons on the way and arrive about half an hour early for last-minute set up.  Then I sit down and begin to carve the block I've prepared.  (This weekend I worked on "The Listeners," which I'll post on Friday.)
        Visitors begin to trickle in.  I smile and answer questions.  I show people how I carve and explain the block printing process.  I let people try a little carving themselves, on a scrap piece of rubber.  Kids especially love that, but so do all those adults who had to do linoleum printing once back in high school.  Sometimes, of course, people buy things, after which I resume my carving.  Whenever things are busy and I'm talking with a lot of people I get warm, and then whenever there's no one around and I sit back down quietly I get cold, and so it goes…
        At the end of the day I come home and spend the evening replacing whatever sold.  I mat up additional prints, package note cards, print, cut, and assemble more packets of book plates, and so on.  The beauty of this system is that if I have to work too hard that night, it's only because my sales were good.  And if sales were slow at least I have the consolation of getting a bit more time to relax in the evening.  If there's really a lot of work to do I finish it up on Sunday morning before Friends Meeting.  (I'm also not proud to admit that this weekend I spent a truly stupid amount of time Sunday morning trying to come up with something to wear that would balance looking nice with being able to take down and pack up a show, and being a bit autumnally chilly outside with being a bit overheated whenever I get talking to people.)
        Usually I either pack a lunch or D supportively brings me something around lunch time.  (This Sunday D thought the whole family could eat lunch together at a small restaurant near my show location.  Alas, it took so long before we were seated that I had to dash off to my post as soon as I'd placed my order.  But my loyal family came to visit me and bring me my lunch when they were finished.)  When P and T visit me, they inspect my display, inquire after sales, carve a few lines on my scrap rubber block, admire their favorite items, and are ready to move on.  Once they're gone I get back to work on the carving…  And so the second day goes much as the first (albeit with better sales on this particular weekend.)
        Around 3:30 I finished carving my block.  I used an ink pad to ink it up and print a rough impression on scrap paper, then I carved a bit more, adding more texture and detail in places, fixing up a few rough areas.  But soon I was about as finished as I could get before washing and inking it properly, and that's the point when I get bored.  Normally I try to have a second block in reserve so that I never run out of carving, but this time… well, I spent so much time getting dressed in the morning that I didn't have a chance to finish getting my second block ready.  I said I wasn't proud of it.
        At 5:00 the show closes.  All the artists start packing up.  (One of the others commented on how I must be an old hand because my set-up and take-down were so efficient.  Another of the artists really is a professional and will be on to her next show next weekend.)  I enjoy the camaraderie of the range of artists, new and old, all different media, even when we don't talk very much.  Usually we're all pretty tired.  I haul my loads out to the car (I think it took seven trips this time), drive home, and unload everything into the house.  Then D makes dinner magically appear (pizza.  I am a very lucky non-starving artist!)  I make my report to the family on sales and news, and leave the bookkeeping and all the other tasks for the next day.  And that's another show done for the year… except that this year I have my next show coming up in just three weeks, so I won't be resting on my shopworn laurels just yet.

[Pictures: me at the show, photo by DN;
carved block (The Listeners, stained with green stamp pad ink), photo by AEGN.]

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