Belinda's Bash

by Belinda Naylor-Stables, MA Design

The time has come…

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings."

The Walrus and the Carpenter
by Lewis Carroll

All of these things might help you create impact at your Open Studio event. It may seem early to think about it – but if you want your exhibition and therefore your pieces to stand out from the crowd – then a bit of thinking and preparation now could pay dividends. This time round I’m sharing thoughts I’ve had about preparation. It’s up to you to decide whether sealing-wax, an array of shoes and cabbages, as well as hot salty water and flying pigs will do the trick…

There’s a place for us…

I’ve noticed at Art on the Common and Open Studios that visitors talk about “a place for that”. They say “I’ve got just the place for that” or “my friend’s got those exact colours in her kitchen – I need to check there’s a place for that.” “I’m trying to find a strong piece for the hall.” So I’ve realised when people stand and look at a piece they are not just seeing the work – they are trying to imagine it in a spot they already have in mind.

So what am I willing to do to help them choose? Passing thoughts…

  • Get some free colour cards from the diy store that buyers can hold next to the work – or that I can display nearby - in an arty way of course. (Easy – why didn’t I think of that before?)
  • Buy cheap wallpaper lining and paint it the ideal wall colour that would go with a collection of pieces. Hang artily with the rest of the roll curling at the bottom. (Do I have the space and time for this? Do I want to bother?)
  • Use some “plain” fabric (technically in interior terms that includes dots, spots, stripes, squares, diamonds) to place adjacent to works of similar colours. Avoid lace like the plague unless purposely going for the Victorian afternoon tea look. (Could be useful for all sorts of future shows.)
  • Borrow some interiors magazines or books on Feng Shui and place inspirational articles alongside my work. (Easy.)
  • Make a collage of cuttings from magazines showing things that would go. (Could be fun to do. Could be inspiring for visitors. On the other hand could be hard work and could put them off. “I don’t live in a house like that.”)
  • Show works alongside furnishings or clothing that enhances them. Sell lifestyle along with a work. (OK. Robert likes moving furniture.)
  • Say “Take it home and see how it looks – bring it back if you don’t like it, bring a cheque if you do.” (Could or should I trust people this far?)

Tell me a story…

Another reaction to works I hear time and again is: “What’s the story behind this one?” “What’s this about then?” “What’s the inspiration?“ “Can you talk me through it?” So I’ve learnt that part of the joy of buying and then owning a piece is being able to talk about it. Owners also want to talk about it for different reasons: “It’s a present.” “It’s an heirloom for the kids.” “Something for the whole family.” So it seems to sell art I need to give a magical, invisible gift along with it - a story. About three to five sentences – ‘short and sweet’ as they say.

So what can I do to fill the story gap? Passing thoughts… 

  • Name pieces in a way that evokes a story. (OK.)
  • Be ready to talk about the inspiration for each piece, or how it was created, or the place it depicts. (Yes, can do that off the top of my head.)
  • Play music or sound effects that support my subject. (Yes! I’ve got some great recordings I’ve made myself.)
  • Create a visitor experience they can talk about for years to come: sights, smells or activities – a chat, a demo, a hunt, a performance they can join. They can say “I did such and such with the artist.” (Yes, I can do that. Not sure how yet.)
  • Show the locations of the works or where I get materials from on a map. (Good for works inspired by or sourced from particular places.)
  • Type up some leaflets with a small thumbnail of each picture and a story beside each one. (OK. But is handwritten more personal?)
  • Write up stories about groups of work. Frame the stories – don’t frame the pictures. Write big and bold to be seen from at least two metres away. (An idea that looked fine I think at Art on the Common – might work for Open Studios too. Though I’d use this idea with care as I notice that often buyers want the complete piece ready to hang.)
  • Show my own story on an easel – a short artist biog – or how my life relates to my pictures. (Did that last time.)
  • Have a slide-show of previous exhibitions to give my story credibility. (Not sure. I’m a bit wary of baring my technology to the public.)
  • Show books, postcards, photos, sketchbooks that relate to my painting style, artists that have inspired me, scenes that have inspired the pictures and tell a story too. (Great - except I don’t sketch – and that’s another story!)
  • Ask “Which story do you like best…” (More interesting and less pushy than “Which piece do you like best?”)

Think memento…

For some visitors Open Studios is the thing they have bought into – it is the story. So they want something to remember the event, or the location or the artist by. So I’m also thinking about what small things they can take a way as a memory of the day, the place, or me – a greetings card, a postcard, a bookmark, something. I can’t guarantee to sell them – but I know that one small thing can trigger a happy memory – which can lead to a sale. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow – but last week I sold two works like this. The buyer wanted something for a sixtieth birthday party - last on show 2 years ago!

Also think marketing…

See previous articles!

Have fun!

Share your stories here. I’d love to hear from you!!!!!!


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