by Rosemary G. Conroy
I host my annual open studio in the fall to take advantage of the beautiful scenery. I'm always amazed at how willing people are to venture out to our backwoods road — but indeed they do. Each year I have more than 100 people show up!
Like every artist just starting out, I showed my work wherever I could — bank lobbies, restaurants, co-op galleries. And yes, I tried art festivals too. But my one and only experience was so horrible — bad location, wrenched back, horrendous heat, no sales — that I took it as a sign to never do it again! The schlepping of artwork from place to place quickly became my least favorite part of being an artist. But then I discovered a beautiful thing – you could get people to come to you by hosting an open studio.
My first foray was part of a town-wide art studio tour that several local artists and I organized. It was fun, and also a lot of work. But I soon realized the limitations of my studio's narrow, steep staircase and remote location far from the other artist's spaces. When I moved to a new town, I decided to try going it alone. True, hosting my own singular open studio was still a lot of work, but it turned out to be a lot more profitable. This year I will host my 9th annual event, and it gets bigger — and more successful — every year.
So what are the "secrets of my success?" Some of them are obvious. I work with my local media to get as much coverage as I can. This includes sending out timely press releases, filling out all those online event calendars, and following up with any reporter I have ever met with offers of images, pre-written articles, cookies, etc. Following up is an often-overlooked task but it has paid off for me over and over again. I’ve had two-page, full color spreads in our daily newspapers' weekend sections, magazine profiles, and last year, a six-minute TV spot.
Since my work is mostly about wildlife, I also like to partner with a local land trust as part of my annual event. I donate 10% of my open studio sales to them each year, and they in turn promote it to their membership. I'm not sure if people turn out because of that, but it seems to me like a mutually beneficial relationship with very little downside.
Of course, I also mail out a postcard to everyone on the mailing list that I have been building for years. And not just a wimpy 4 x 6" postcard — I go full color jumbo! I send out 600+ postcards each year, which is probably my biggest expense. But my collectors love them, and many people keep them on their refrigerator all year round.
Yes, it is expensive and yes, each one requires a first class stamp. But everyone notices when it arrives! Many people tell me that they collect my cards and look forward to them each year. Plus, I follow up (there's that word again) with e-newsletter updates and lots of upbeat Facebook posts.
Probably the biggest reason for my steadily increasing sales each year is something that I learned from art marketing guru Alyson Stanfield. In one of her online classes, she talked about making your collectors feel special and appreciated. So with that in mind, I created a "VIP Brunch" before my open studio for anyone who has ever bought a print or original painting. I do a separate invitation to highlight the “exclusivity” of the event and to get as many RSVP's as possible. This is important so we know how much food to prepare and how many Mimosas to mix!
I hold the open studio over a Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 pm each day. On Saturday morning, I host an invite-only VIP brunch for my collectors to preview the art before anyone else.
This part of my open studio has grown substantially, thanks in no small part (I think) to the cooking skills of my wonderful husband. He makes everything from scratch. The VIP's love the homemade, locally sourced (our own hens' eggs!) aspect of our offerings. My husband loves to bake, and so he does. Most of the food we serve at the brunch is homemade. He has become quite famous for his chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes I worry people like his creations more than mine!
Other family members have started pitching in as well to help out with the parking logistics (25+ cars at once!), sales, and wrapping. My beloved team allows me to do what I do best as the host artist – greet my guests, tell the stories behind my paintings, and in general, make sure everyone has a good time.
One of my best collectors tells me she looks forward to the brunch every year. She has great conversations with like-minded people, enjoys good food, and (oh yeah!) gets to preview my latest artwork. That makes me happy. I so want all of my collectors and supporters to feel appreciated. After all, I couldn't be a successful artist without them.
Rosemary Conroy is a contemporary wildlife artist living and working in northern New England. Her artwork is a form of a prayer for the creatures she paints: a sincere offering of thanks for the inspiration and joy they give her; a humble invocation of their beauty and wildness; and most of all, an ardent plea that they continue to exist in this world.