All Aboard The Lees Train...Destination Unknown!
So for the first time I decided to take part in the annual York Open Studios event and now I'm taking the time to reflect on how it went. When people have asked me 'how did it go?" I hesitate to answer because it is hard to sum it all up, there were positives and negatives to taking part and ultimately I guess that I need to decide if it was all worth it? Is it something that I want to do again...year on year?
The biggest take-away was that I managed to actually take part in this event in the first place! Honestly, the thought of opening the front door of our family home to anybody who happens to be walking by is one of the most daunting things that I ever done. We used to live on a culture-de-sac when our sons were very young and most of us who had children would leave our front doors open all day allowing often not really knowing who was in your downstairs loo, but also not really giving that much thought either! Now we live on a busy main road and most of the people who pass our door are strangers so our front door is permanently locked and out of view. Images in my head consisted of potential thieves staking our family home and nosey neighbours just coming round to look at your personal stuff were hard to shrug off. It was pretty fair to say that negative thoughts were getting in the way of the main objectives of this event.
Talking of the main purpose, what exactly was it? As it was something new I had a relatively open mind about what to expect and who I would meet during the five days that it was running for. These were long full days and thankfully I had the most amazing friends (and my youngest son) to help me, I have no doubt that it would have been a very different (and less positive) experience without them. So, first rule of thumb would be to surround yourself with lovely, positive and helpful people if you were ever thinking of hosting an event like this too.
My daughter once introduced me to the phrase 'shit sandwich' which made me laugh! Its basically a verbal formula that employers use to sugar-coat negative feedback and starts with something positive (like delicious bread). So the top layer of my sandwich is as follows:
Being surrounded by lovely supportive and generally gorgeous people who love my work, believe in me as an artist and as a friend and make me strong enough to be able to do this in the first place. The preview evening took place on a Friday evening and lasted for just a few hours so I invited a handful of lovely friends who lived nearby. I was genuinely blown-away by how excited and enthusiastic they all were, it was honestly one of the best evenings that I could have possibly wished for and set the event up perfectly!
So the shit bit (the sandwich filling): Firstly, having to hand-deliver/post over 50 brochures to neighbours. Initially this felt so uncomfortable due to the apprehension that I felt about promoting my 'open-house' to the general public. However, it did feel a little bit better after I convinced myself that I was promoting over 100 local artists (a shared community rather than just me). Secondly, having to give my house a thorough 'spring clean' at a time when I was so busy preparing other stuff like artwork for the event (and realising just how badly our house needed it). Thirdly, providing refreshments to people who just wanted a good nosey around our family home before stealing my...wait for it...my bloody mouse-mat!!! Fourthly, having no idea about what to expect, I spent way too much money on refreshments and packaging. My son was sick (after eating way too many chocolates), my printer broke (after I produced enough flyers for Glastonbury) and we now have dining room stacked high with paper bags and bubble-wrap!
The bottom layer of the sandwich is two-fold in terms of being both positive and negative. The majority of people who came to visit are fellow artists that want to know all about how I create my artwork and what materials I use. I spent hours repeating the same information. Now this can be viewed in two very different ways. So the cynical side of me could say that I've just passed on all of my trade secrets to competing local artists for free, enabling them to take away any future prospective business from me. As someone who has worked in the marketing industry for most of my previous working life, I have to say that freely giving away all of my artistic knowledge to other artists was an alien concept for sure. So, what made this into a positive experience? Well as my beloved friend Maggie said: "they are asking you for this information because they see you as the professional artist and therefore admire what you do and how you do it!" She went on to say that I should feel proud of myself as she felt proud to hear me speak so passionately and knowledgeable about my artwork! Thank's to Maggie, I began to see this very differently and more positively. After all, I have learnt so much through other artists who have also shared their knowledge so freely.
Not only did the York Open Studios generate more sales in those few days than I would normally have achieved during my busiest month of the year, it also introduced me to some wonderful new neighbours, friends and collectors. I think that all of this makes it an overall success and I feel very proud to have taken part. Most of all, it was about spending time with beautiful people young and old and I very much look forward to welcoming them back into my studio in April 2023 (although the mouse-mat theif need not return thank you!).