This article was written by my friend and potter Caroline Warwick who I exhibited with, along with ceramicist Sarah Hillman, as part of the new Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) event that proved to be more successful than any of us imagined and now likely to become an annual fixture. Written for London Potters magazine, Caroline talks about our practical experience of being part of this event and some lessons we learned along the way …
It started in October 2016, a text from Kathryn asking whether I would be interested in joining a group of Carshalton artists in planning an Open Studios event for Summer 2017.
Since we’d already done a few local craft fairs and the Carshalton Frost Fair together, it was worth going to a meeting to find out more about this Open Studio.
By the first meeting we attended in December a lot of the initial planning had been done, bank account set up, dedicated CAOS (Carshalton Artists Open Studios) website up and running, grants applied for (Sutton Neighbourhood grant and Arts Network Sutton).
It was surprising to both of us to learn how many artists were in our local area – both Kathryn and I had artists living in our roads!
The priority for that meeting was marketing the event – an approach to local estate agents to sponsor signboards at each of the Open studio venues was discussed – this proved successful. The boards were very prominent and supplied and erected by Goodfellows estate agents at no cost. They were put up about a month or so before the event and in themselves, started to generate a buzz around Carshalton and interest in the event.
Next for discussion was a publicity leaflet, this eventually turned into an A3 fold out pamphlet, showing map of venues, including a list of other locations worth a visit while in the area and the artists taking part represented by a picture of their work Having artists with graphics and marketing backgrounds certainly helped in the production of this leaflet. All the marketing material used the same colour purple, this included the signboards, maps, leaflets and even balloons. A local printer, who produced cards and prints for many of the local artists was also used to produce all the publicity material for CAOS.
Since Kathryn had a side entrance to her garden studio, it made sense for her to offer her house as the venue for our Open Studio (mine being in the loft of my house!) This meant persuading her lovely husband to vacate his office space in the garden studio to give us the space to show our pots. He packed up all his books and decanted to the house for the duration. Kathryn’s cunning plan is to take over the whole studio for her pottery and not allow him to return!
We all did leaflet drops in our local roads, posters were put up all over, maps were distributed through libraries, galleries etc and banners erected. Social media, Facebook and Instagram were also used with all artists being urged to send pics of preparations for the event for regular postings. These generated a lot of interest in the event.
Kathryn and Al researched and purchased a card reader for the event so we could accept debit/credit card sales (definitely worth doing as about 50% of our sales were card payments).
In the meetings running up to the event we met more local artists and it was lovely to network and share ideas/recommendations for good card printers etc. In the two weeks running up to the event some of us opened our studios so that other CAOS participants could see our work. Though we weren’t all able or ready to do this, it was hugely beneficial for us to be able to see other set ups, learn from what they were doing, discuss pricing (generally we felt people were under-pricing their work and it was really helpful to get opinion on what was a realistic price). A bonus to these previews was that we were able to heartily recommend other venues to visit, having seen the work first hand
We got together before the event to run through a checklist of do’s and don’ts (again provided by our wonderful organisers) including accessibility, identifying potential risks/hazards, were we offering toilet facilities? Making sure public liability insurance was in place. Letting the neighbours know – Kathryn posted special invites to them and many turned up during the event. Pricing up our stock, ensuring we had packaging etc.
We spent a day putting up signs, hazard tape on steps, an information board about us and our work and setting out our work in the studio, as well as optimistically designating the dining table as the sales/packaging area.
Following the record 35o temperatures the week before we were relieved that the weather for the first weekend had cooled somewhat. It remained dry, and a pleasant temperature but not too sunny to tempt people to stay in their gardens or go to the seaside. In fact perfect weather for visiting Open Studios!
Along with all the other venues, our opening time was 11am and shortly after putting out the easel with balloons and more signs to show we were open, our first visitors arrived and they kept coming all through the day. We kept a tally of numbers, along with a visitors’ comments sheet and were amazed to tally 140 visitors on the first Saturday.
Visitors enjoyed Kathryn’s garden as well as seeing her immaculate studio set up. Though we both produce functional tableware, our styles are very different and we also had another local ceramicist showing her decorative sculptural pieces. Having 3 makers in one location showing a variety of work was a definite plus point in attracting visitors.
We both did a few throwing demonstrations, which the children particularly enjoyed, especially when pushing the pots to their limits so they wobbled and collapsed. Note for future, instead of doing these off the cuff when we had a moment to think about it or when there seemed a few children looking bored and needing some entertainment, for next year we plan to schedule demonstrations at certain times and publicise when we will be demonstrating.
Many of our visitors expressed the wish to try out pottery and we signposted many to our local Sutton College which runs day and evening pottery courses and has excellent facilities.
We ensured we were around all the time we were open so we could explain our work and answer questions – it was hugely rewarding to chat to people about our work and to have our work admired and appreciated. It made me return to my wheel with renewed vigour this week.
Kathryn had large boxes of samples/rejects which she put out for sale. These were snapped up by visitors at very much reduced prices (not really seconds at all) Though Kathryn was happy to see them all go, sales of her good pieces suffered during the first day but picked up once the samples had gone. A lesson learned for next time.
I had some old Raku pots which I brought along to show, more for interest than with a view to selling. I’d prepared a laminated sheet illustrating the Raku process and this proved very popular – much to my surprise I ended up selling all the Raku pots!
After the two weekends we had totalled over 520 visitors – far exceeding our expectations. Luckily, we had plenty of family support to ensure we had enough manpower to tally visitor numbers and encourage them to leave contact details for future events, handle sales and wrapping and allow to talk to visitors and do demonstrations. Reports from the other venues had similar numbers, especially the venues with more than one artist present. Only those venues slightly out on a limb had fewer numbers but everyone reported sales, interest and commissions generated from the event. Through one of the other artist’s regular Instagram postings about the event, a gallery has already been in contact with Kathryn.
We all got together in the local Hope pub, where the conversation about Open Studios had started, for a celebratory drink the week after. We all agreed that CAOS had been a huge success, all artists had been really supportive of each other, new friendships forged and we will certainly all be planning for an even better event for next year.