Studio visit ideas


Dear Artist,

We each have unique social styles and levels of tolerance for visitors to our creative sanctuaries, but after watching my dad do it for forty years, I’ve picked up a few techniques that I continue to use. Whether it’s a gallery, curator, collector, a sprawling group or a single soul, you can manage their impact on your creative happiness. A sensitive, well-planned visit can carry the potential for creative enrichment and could advance your practice, even your dreams. Here are a few ideas:

And They Still Say Fish is Expensive! 1894 oil on canvas 151.5 x 204 cm by Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923)

And They Still Say Fish is Expensive! 1894
oil on canvas
151.5 x 204 cm
by Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923)

Studio visits should be warm, intimate, professional affairs with a beginning, middle and end, focusing on connectivity and deeper understanding. In my mind, they should also be a bit special in their exclusivity. Begin welcoming your guests by being prepared and ensuring that everyone is comfortable.

The middle of the visit is showing your visitors around and sharing some of your inner and outer creative world — plus answering questions. You can allow your visitors to steer things a bit at this point. You’re also getting to know people in the context of your shared area of interest, which can lead to lifelong connectivity and friendship.

The end of the visit is as simple as being grateful for the opportunity to share what you do. Other endings, like offers of representation, selling, show-planning or other actions are up to you and your visitor. Remember that a little time to think after a visit is perfectly reasonable for both parties. Like a first date, try to be in the moment and not attach yourself to lofty outcomes.

The return from fishing, Valencia beach, 1908 oil on canvas 90 x 110 cm by Joaquin Sorolla

The return from fishing, Valencia beach, 1908
oil on canvas
90 x 110 cm
by Joaquin Sorolla

You can vet potential visitors and expect them to have done some research and have at least seen examples of your work online. This frees you to share, in person, a deeper dive into what’s happening on the easel.

Consider scheduling visits close to the end of the workday to reduce disruption of workflow. Schedule for when the light is good, but also when it’s most interesting.

Offer drinks but not food. In an effort to guard his time, my dad had a technique of putting books on the most comfortable chairs to keep his visitors from settling in for the evening. He would soon be keen to get on with his work.

Consider keeping your partner mysterious — your support system is totally vital but it’s important to streamline the visitor experience. Peter keeps the mystery alive by opening his personal spaces and collections — the studio is our house — but he eschews waiting on visitors or joining in on the presentation, an early tip he got from my mum.

The Pink Robe, 1916 oil on canvas 208 x 126.5 cm by Joaquin Sorolla

The Pink Robe, 1916
oil on canvas
208 x 126.5 cm
by Joaquin Sorolla

Clean up, but not too much.

Resist dwelling on your CV. An historical overview, too much work or too many disparate periods can be overwhelming. Instead, edit current work to its highest quality. Provide a mixture of up-to-date, gallery-ready work and current works in progress. Consider entirely omitting older work.

Be prepared to communicate what your work is about without explaining in too much detail your technical process. Leave room for silence, too.

If you’re selling from your studio, a printed, universal price-list can soften the need for over-zealous salesmanship. If you’re in the gallery system, respect the work your galleries do by redirecting collectors back to them.

This is a ritual that helps me prepare for visitors in a sanctuary that is 99 percent of the time, shared only with a handful of intimate beings. If it all sounds like it’s not you, then be yourself, too.



PS: “As far as outdoor work is concerned, a studio is only a garage; a place in which to store pictures and repair them, never a place in which to paint them.” (Joaquin Sorolla)

Joaquin Sorolla in his studio, Madrid, Spain

Joaquin Sorolla in his studio, Madrid, Spain

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  1. Sarah, I love your approach to studio visits, even the books placed on comfortable chairs. When I shifted from having visitors to my home studio to a small gallery space, I kept these same principals. Right down to the not too comfortable chairs. The process falls apart a little on a summer Saturday hen I can get 40 visitors coming through the 12 x 14 foot space. But even then a hearty “welcome to the gallery” and following the visitors’ lead and answering one person’s questions to everyone in the room seems to still work. People frequently book private viewings though and then this process is the same in the gallery as it is in the studio… sometimes even with a work still in progress and paint still onto palette. Visitors like to be right near the heart of the work I think. The closer they can feel to the brush it seems, the more they become invested in the finished work.

  2. Loved the Sorolla pictures! I’m always intrigued to find when an artist whose work I like is asked which artist inspired him or her, the same three names invariably come up: Sorolla, Sargent and Anders Zorn.

  3. Sheri-Lee Langlois on

    Thank you so much for the Sorolla pieces and wise words, Sara. I was so fortunate to see the major exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Ireland last summer-the Master of Light!
    Your suggestions about studio visits would apply to many situations and are much appreciated.

  4. Good studio visit tips! I’m one with a high tolerance for studio visits. As well as getting to see firsthand how people respond to my work, it gives me an opportunity to hear what I have to say about it. Sometimes a guest will show or tell me something I hadn’t appreciated before. The few studio visits I’ve made stand out in my memory. Once on Martha’s Vineyard, after dropping in during open hours to his dining room gallery, Allen Whiting showed me his barn studio. There he generously shared information with my about his palette. I didn’t buy a painting from him, but I did buy his book A Painter at Sixty when it was published several years later. It’s nice to think I might make that kind of impression on a studio visitor. Consider it bread upon the waters ….

  5. Hello Sara,
    Did you know that NoraCora (alias Rotita and other names) the clothing line that advertises on your web page not only has a bad reputation for cheating people out of money for products that conveniently get lost in the return mail to Hong Kong? I’m one of the stupid people that fell for their add and yes they say they lost my return package (unsatisfactory, cheap flimsy, product, photography was great) but because I could not find the tracking # in time and they refused to resend it to me ……tuff luck . So I am out $49.74 Can. I have seen these adds and it seems there is nothing to be done except what others are doing. warning others.

  6. I like the tip for later in the day as well as copies of price lists. Later in the day means I can focus on painting in the morning. Although I find after a solid morning of painting I am not a very personable person if I have made it into “the painting zone”. When I am in the zone I lack ability to communicate with people … even my husband, so he knows if I am painting just to leave me alone. I used to be in a large shared studio and I realized a studio mate could destroy my painting time with a harmless comment. Noise cancelling headphones are critical investment in those settings.

  7. I too need to be in a quiet place to produce work. Visitors are invited when the studio it is kinda cleaned up. I enjoy answering all the questions and have copies of a current price list.

  8. Thanks Sara!
    Great advice! My mom was a caring, thoughtful hostess. That thread runs deep. I’m not formal myself, but when company comes, the focus changes and i lose site of whats important during the event. 1 guest or 10…thanks for reminding, and the list.
    Joaquin Sorolla….Yikes! Never heard of or seen his work til now. Just added him to my top 10!
    Absolutely phenomenal!

  9. I allow limited studio visits. I show only a limited amount to art. Too much confuses people.
    I show some of my small shoe box art on my porch , sold a good number of those small works.

  10. Pingback: LEARNING TO SEE Part 2: Checking Our Assumptions – Luann Udell

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